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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stolen Art Watch, Bulmer Art Heist, Police Pursue End Game & Art Crime Round Up March 2017

Gold coin worth $4 million stolen from Berlin museum
FILE PHOTO - Picture taken in Vienna, Austria on June 25, 2010 shows experts of an Austrian art forwarding company holding one of the world's largest gold coins, a 2007 Canadian $ 1,000,000 ''Big Maple Leaf''.
A Canadian gold coin named "Big Maple Leaf" which bears the image of Queen Elizabeth II was stolen in the early hours of Monday morning from Berlin's Bode Museum.
The coin is made out of pure gold, weighs about 100 kilos and has a face value of around $1 million (794,344.27 pounds).
"The coin was stolen last night, it's gone," museum spokesman Markus Farr said.

Given the high purity of the gold used in the coin, its material value is estimated to be $4 million.
The museum said on its website that the coin was issued by the Royal Canadian Mint in 2007 and that it was featured in the Guinness Book of Records for its "unmatched" degree of purity.
The coin, with a diameter of 53 centimetres and 3 centimetres thick, was loaned to the Bode Museum in December 2010.
Police said it was probably stolen by a group of thieves who entered the museum undetected through a window, possibly with the help of a ladder.
we have so far we believe that the thief, maybe thieves, broke open a window in the back of the museum next to the railway tracks," police spokesman Winfrid Wenzel said. "They then managed to enter the building and went to the coin exhibition."The coin was secured with bullet-proof glass inside the building. That much I can say," Wenzel added.
"Neither I nor the Bode Museum can go into detail regarding personnel inside the building, the alarm system or security installations."
The Bode Museum has one of the world's largest coin collections with more than 540,000 items.


Bulmer Art Heist Back-Story:

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Cops hunt thieves who stole £2.5million worth of art from Bulmers cider tycoon’s mansion while he was on luxury Barbados holiday

Gang fled with art, jewels and silverware of sentimental value to Esmond & Susan Bulmer in horror burglary eight years ago
COPS have issued a renewed appeal for information on thieves who stole art worth £2.5million from the home of an ex-Tory MP and cider tycoon eight years ago.
Esmond Bulmer, 81, of the Bulmers cider dynasty, and his wife Susan, 75, were on holiday together in Barbados when the raiders broke into their decadent mansion and made away with the luxury goods.

Cops hunt thieves who stole £2.5m in art after raiding Bulmers cider tycoon

Fresh pleas … cops are calling for witnesses to come forward and help Esmond Bulmer, 81, and his wife Susan, 75, find artwork taken from them eight years ago
South West News Service
Cops have arrested 11 men in connection with the burglary at The Pavilion, but are yet to recover the majority of stolen goods
They are alleged to have threatened to pour bleach over house-sitter Deborah Branjum, and tied her to a stair banister before fleeing the property with the priceless haul.
Some of the gang are believed to have fled with the paintings, while others loaded the boot of the Bulmers’ Mercedes with a safe with £1million worth of jewellery inside.

Cops hunt thieves who stole £2.5m in art after raiding Bulmers cider tycoon
South West News Service
Italian landscape by Pieter Bruegel … just one of the 15 paintings taken in the raid has been recovered by cops
Cops hunt thieves who stole £2.5m in art after raiding Bulmers cider tycoon
South West News Service
Edward Poynter masterpiece … Esmond Bulmer and his wife Susan were on holiday in Barbados when thieves broke into their sprawling mansion
Up to 15 well-known artworks, along with jewels and silverware were stolen in the March 2009 raid.
The shocked house sitter was found at their house, The Pavilion near Bruton, Somerset, 18 hours after the break-in.
Cops have arrested 11 men in connection with the aggravated burglary.
All remain on bail pending further investigation.
The latest arrest was a 42-year-old man from Small Heath, Birmingham.
The unnamed man was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit fraud, and conspiracy to handle criminal property.

South West News Service
Back with rightful owners … George Frederick Watts’s Endymion was recovered by private investigators
South West News Service
Still missing … Sir George Clausen’s Apple Blossom was among paintings stolen
South West News Service
Richard Buckner masterpiece … thieves broke into Esmond and Susan Bulmer’s mansion eight years ago
South West News Service
Thieves managed to get away with art worth £2.5million after allegedly threatening to pour bleach over a house sitter
Officials have previously arrested suspects in Gloucestershire, West Midlands, London and the South East in connection with the heist.
Renewing their appeal for witnesses eight years on, Avon and Somerset Constabulary said all but one of the 15 paintings taken have been recovered by private investigators.
The outstanding painting is Sir John Lavery’s “After Glow Taplow.”
The jewellery and silverware taken in the heist have great sentimental value to the Bulmer family.

South West News Service
Sentimental value … the gang fled the scene with a number of jewels and silverware which are of great personal importance to the Bulmer family
South West News Service
The gang got lucky with a safe that contained around £1million in jewellery
Mr Bulmer is thought to have made £84million when he and his family sold their stake in the family’s Hereford-based Bulmers cider-making business.
Upon getting one piece of art back in 2015, Mr Bulmer, who was MP for Kidderminster between 1974 and 1983, said he was “thrilled”.
Police are appealing for jewellers and antique and second-hand shop owners who may have been offered the items to come forward.
Anyone able to help should call the Operation Shine investigative team via 101, quoting reference Op Shine 3559609.

South West News Service
Woman sitting at a window by Paul Maze … up to 15 well-known artworks were stolen in the raid
South West News Service
Police have renewed their appeal for witnesses eight years on from the burglary, in a desperate bid to return the goods to the distraught family
South West News Service
One down, 14 to go … upon getting one of the 15 pieces stolen back two years ago, Mr Bulmer said he was ‘thrilled’

Stolen Van Goghs back on display after years in criminal underworld

They spent years under wraps and out of sight in a criminal's safe - but two Van Gogh paintings are now back on show in the Dutch museum they were stolen from in 2002.
The canvases, Sea View at Scheveningen and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen, date from Van Gogh's early period and are described as priceless.
However, Dutch culture minister Jet Bussemaker said their real value would be in the eyes of those who can now see them again.
Thieves seized the canvases from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam - which contains the world's largest collection of Van Gogh works with more than 200 paintings and 500 drawings - after breaking in through the roof.
One of the men convicted over the theft, Octave Durham, has revealed that he was actually after the artist's better known works, but they were harder to steal.
He told a documentary to be aired later that he found it "trivially easy" to break in to the museum.
"The heist took about three minutes and 40 seconds," Durham says in the film, the New York Times reported. "When I was done, the police were there, and I was passing by with my getaway car. Took my ski mask off, window down, and I was looking at them."
He said he and his accomplice had wanted to steal Sunflowers but the artwork was too well guarded, Trouw newspaper reported. They then turned their attention to The Potato Eaters, considered the painter's first masterpiece, but decided it was too big to fit through the hole they had entered through.
Durham told the filmmakers he had selected the seascape because the thick paint convinced him it would be valuable. He was arrested a year later in the Spanish resort of Marbella and convicted in 2005, but had until now maintained he was innocent.
The theft was a case of "art-napping" by an opportunist burglar, art investigator Arthur Brand told the BBC.

"No art collector will pay for stolen art they can't display," he said. But stolen art could be used as leverage by criminals who offer its return in exchange for reduced sentences for their crimes.
Dutch criminal Cor van Hout - who became notorious for kidnapping the beer tycoon Freddy Heineken for an estimated $10m (£8m) ransom in 1983 - wanted to buy them but he was gunned down in a gangland hit before the deal could be done.
Another potential buyer met the same fate and the paintings were eventually sold to Raffaele Imperiale, a low-ranking mafioso who was at the time running an Amsterdam coffee shop.
Imperiale paid about €350,000 ($380,000; £305,000) for the paintings and his lawyers told the New York Times he had bought them because he was "fond of art" and they were a "bargain".
Imperiale was among several suspected dealers arrested by Italian police last January. Another suspected dealer arrested at the same time reportedly told investigators the paintings were at Imperiale's house.
The BBC's James Reynolds in Rome says mafia members are not known for their understated good taste and raids have often revealed a preference for ostentatious, kitsch decoration, so Imperiale was unlikely to have bought the paintings for display purposes.

They were found wrapped in cloth in a safe in a house in the picturesque seaside town of Castellammare di Stabia, near Pompeii, last September.
Van Gogh Museum Director Axel Ruger said it was wonderful to have the works back on display.
"I think it's one of the most joyous days in my career really," he said.
The museum has not made any comment on the upcoming documentary, Trouw said.

Why are the paintings significant?

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) is widely considered the greatest Dutch artist after Rembrandt.
Seascape at Scheveningen was one of only two seascapes he painted while he lived in the Netherlands.

It shows a foaming, stormy sea and thundery sky, and was painted in 1882 while he was staying in The Hague.
Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen (1884) was painted for Van Gogh's mother, but also partly for his father, who had become a pastor at the church in 1882. When his father died in 1884, Van Gogh added churchgoers, including a few women wearing shawls used for mourning.
Van Gogh committed suicide in France in 1890.

Recovering stolen masterpieces

The 2002 Van Gogh museum raid was one of a series of thefts that shocked the art world.

In 2004, two Edvard Munch masterpieces, The Scream and Madonna, were seized by armed men who raided the Munch museum in Oslo. Several men were jailed and the paintings later recovered after painstaking detective work in 2006.
Another version of The Scream was stolen from the National Art Museum in Oslo in 1994 and that too was later recovered in a sting operation by UK detectives.
In 2012, seven artworks were stolen from Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum, including paintings by Picasso, Monet and Matisse. Two thieves were later jailed, telling a Bucharest court that security at the museum had been lax. Some of the paintings were destroyed in an oven.
Earlier this year, four paintings out of a haul of 24 stolen from a Dutch gallery in 2005 were recovered in Ukraine.

As Stolen Van Goghs Return to View, a Thief Tells All

“View of the Sea at Scheveningen,” a van Gogh seascape stolen in 2002. Credit Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (State of the Netherlands, bequest of A.E. Ribbius Peletier)

AMSTERDAM — “Some people are born teachers. Some people are born footballers. I’m a born burglar.” So says Octave Durham, who stole two priceless Vincent van Gogh paintings on the evening of Dec. 7, 2002.
More than 14 years after he and an accomplice clambered onto the roof of the Van Gogh Museum here, broke a window with a sledgehammer and lifted the canvases off the wall, Mr. Durham has finally come clean about his involvement in one of the most infamous postwar art heists.
He did so in a 45-minute documentary that will show on Dutch television on Tuesday, the same day the museum plans to return the two canvases — recovered in September from the home of an Italian mobster’s mother — to public view.
The confession has no legal impact for Mr. Durham, who was convicted in 2004 and served just over 25 months in prison, but it sheds light on the paintings’ tortuous journey and ultimate rescue, and on the intersection of art theft and organized crime.
“The heist took about 3 minutes and 40 seconds,” Mr. Durham says in the documentary. “When I was done, the police were there, and I was passing by with my getaway car. Took my ski mask off, window down, and I was looking at them.”
He adds: “I could hear them on my police scanner. They didn’t know it was me.”
Mr. Durham, in details that he shares for the first time, after years of claiming innocence, brags of doing “bank jobs, safety deposit and more spectacular jobs than this.” He says he targeted the museum not because of any interest in art but simply because he could. “That’s the eye of a burglar,” he boasts.
The works are of inestimable value because they have never been to market: View of the Sea at Scheveningen” (1882) is one of only two seascapes van Gogh painted during his years in the Netherlands, and “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen” (1882-84), showing the church where the artist’s father was a pastor, was a gift to the artist’s mother.
(Prices for van Gogh landscape paintings at auction range from about $10 million to about $70 million.)
But Mr. Durham did not know the historical background of the paintings. He said the paintings were the smallest ones in the gallery he targeted, and closest to the hole through which he entered. He stuffed them into a bag, and escaped by sliding down a rope he and his accomplice had put in place. When he hit the ground, he came down so hard that he smashed the seascape, chipping the paint. He left behind a black baseball cap. A security guard called the police, but she was not permitted to use force to try to stop the burglars.
“It was really a terrible day,” Nienke Bakker, a curator at the Van Gogh Museum, recalled in an interview with The New York Times. “A burglary or robbery is always traumatizing, but when it’s a museum and it’s art that belongs to the whole community, and the whole world, really, and it was stolen in such a brutal way, that was really a shock.”
When he returned home, Mr. Durham said, he removed the frames and plexiglass covers from the paintings. He tossed paint chips from the seascape into a toilet. Later, he dumped the frames in a canal.
Mr. Durham could not sell the canvases on the open market, but he put out the word in the underworld. At one point, he said, he met with Cor van Hout, who was convicted in the 1983 kidnapping of the beer magnate Alfred H. Heineken. Mr. van Hout agreed to buy the paintings, but was killed on the day of the planned sale.


Axel Ruger, right, in Naples, Italy, with the 1880s van Gogh painting “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen,” also stolen in 2002. Credit Ciro Fusco/European Pressphoto Agency

Later, Mr. Durham and his accomplice, Henk Bieslijn, contacted an Italian mobster, Raffaele Imperiale, who at the time sold marijuana out of a “coffee shop” in Amsterdam. He agreed to buy the two paintings in March 2003 for around 350,000 euros (roughly $380,000), divided equally between the thieves.
Mr. Imperiale’s defense lawyers, Maurizio Frizzi and Giovanni Ricci in Genoa, Italy, confirmed that Mr. Imperiale bought the paintings even though he knew they were stolen, because “he is fond of art” and they were “a good bargain.”
He sent them to Italy within two weeks, and never displayed them.
The thieves spent the money over about six weeks — “Motorcycles, a Mercedes E320, clothes, jewelry for my girlfriend, a trip to New York,” Mr. Durham recalls.
Those purchases helped investigators, who were already wiretapping him, catch Mr. Durham. They went to his apartment, but he escaped by climbing up the side of the building — a skill that earned him the nickname “the Monkey.” They searched his house, but the paintings were long gone.
Mr. Durham fled to Spain, where the police arrested him in Marbella, a southern resort town, in December 2003. The next summer, Dutch forensic investigators confirmed a DNA match from the baseball cap he left behind during the museum robbery. Mr. Durham and Mr. Bieslijn were convicted that year.
Mr. Durham was released from prison in 2006, but still owed 350,000 euros in fines; he has paid about 60,000 euros. He returned to prison after a failed bank robbery. In 2013, he approached the museum and, although he still insisted he was innocent, offered to help retrieve the works. The museum rejected his offer because he suggested that they buy them back.
In 2015, he met the documentary filmmaker Vincent Verweij through a mutual friend. Mr. Durham told Mr. Verweij that he wanted to help find the paintings so that he could clear his debt to the museum and abandon a life of crime. But he still maintained his innocence.
“I told him frankly that I didn’t believe him,” Mr. Verweij recalled in an interview. “One day he sent me a WhatsApp message and asked me to meet him in a cafe, and he admitted that he’d told me a lie and that he did the break-in.”
Mr. Verweij began filming in earnest. Along the way he learned about a big break in the case: Mr. Imperiale had sent a letter on Aug. 29, 2016, to Vincenza Marra, a public prosecutor in Naples, informing them that he had the paintings.
In a phone interview, Ms. Marra said the letter merely confirmed a “much-whispered-about” rumor that investigators had already begun looking into.
“I know that if we hadn’t handed the paintings over to the Dutch authorities, they never would have found them,” she added dryly.
Willem Nijkerk, a Dutch prosecutor, credited the Italian police with solving the case, and noted that Mr. Durham played no role in the recovery of the paintings.

Octave Durham, who stole the two van Gogh works, is the subject of a new Dutch television documentary. Credit Vincent Verweij
Last September, Italian investigators raided Mr. Imperiale’s mother’s home near Naples, where the works were wrapped in cloth and tucked away in a hidden wall space next to the kitchen. The recovery of the works made global headlines. Italian investigators also seized about 20 million euros in other assets, including farmland, villas and apartments linked to Mr. Imperiale and an associate, prosecutors said at the time.
Ms. Bakker, the Van Gogh Museum curator, recalls receiving a call in late September asking her to travel to Naples the next day. She wasn’t given details, but she had her suspicions. She grabbed her files on the paintings.
“When I was on the plane, I remember thinking: I hope they’ve been preserved well and people haven’t taken them off the stretchers,” she recalls.
At the Naples police station, members of the Guardia di Finanza, the Italian police agency for financial crimes, took her to a room where the paintings had been placed on blue-and-white cloth on a table.
“I immediately thought and knew that these were the paintings from our museum,” she said. “But I took another few minutes to convince myself. They were all waiting and standing for me to say the words. I did say them, and then there were cheers.”
Ms. Bakker was surprised that the works seemed in relatively good condition.
“When I saw the damage in the lower left corner of one of the paintings, it was substantial, but I looked at the rest and realized it was the only big damage, and I was very relieved to see that,” she said of the seascape. “It was really like being in some weird movie, with all these police officers around me and this strange Mafia story they were telling me.”
After they were recovered, with much fanfare in Italy, the works were first exhibited for three weeks in February at the National Museum of Capodimonte in Naples, and will be restored to the walls of the Van Gogh Museum on Monday.
Mr. Imperiale left the Netherlands for Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, in 2013 or 2014. In writing to the prosecutor, he may have hoped for leniency, but in January he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Italian authorities are seeking his extradition. His lawyers said that he was not sure if he would return to Italy.
“He is homesick for his parents, but in Dubai he’s a free man,” Mr. Imperiale’s lawyers said through an interpreter in a telephone interview.
The Van Gogh Museum remains furious at Mr. Durham and did not cooperate with the documentary, which was funded by the Dutch national broadcaster KRO-NCRV. (Mr. Durham, who lives in Amsterdam and works mostly as a driver and an assistant for his daughter, a successful musician, was not paid for his participation, the filmmaker said.)
“The last 14 years have been a roller coaster of hope, disappointment and agony,” the museum’s director, Axel Rüger, said in an interview. “All the time this man is sitting on this information. He knew exactly what he had done and he never breathed a word. To us it feels as if he is seeking the limelight.”
He added: “The museum is the victim in this case, and I would expect very different behavior from someone who shows remorse.”
Mr. Verweij acknowledged the tricky ethics of giving Mr. Durham a platform in the documentary.
“The interesting thing is that you never see documentaries or articles about art theft from the perspective of the thief,” Mr. Verweij said. “It’s always the experts, the museum people, the prosecutors, but never the ones who actually do it, and I think that’s a unique perspective. It’s not meant to be a glorification of this guy.”

16 Years Later, Stash of Stolen Paintings Found Near Crime Scene

One of the stolen paintings ended up at auction.

This painting by Carl Vilhelm Holsøe showed up in the U.S., and led to the thief in Denmark.
This painting by Carl Vilhelm Holsøe showed up in the U.S., and led to the thief in Denmark.

The Art Loss Register announced yesterday, March 14, that a stash of stolen paintings was located in Denmark 16 years after their theft. The paintings were found with the help of local police only 50 miles from the scene of the crime.
Last fall, a painting that had gone missing from a private residence in Denmark re-surfaced at an auction in the United States. The work, by the Danish painter Carl Vilhelm Holsøe—which was consigned by a Danish auction house—came up on the Art Loss Register (ALR) in a routine search of the auction catalogue.
Working together with the Danish police, the ALR were granted a warrant to search the original consignor’s residence, who first sold the painting to the Danish auction house, located just an hour away from the place of theft. 
There, police found seven additional paintings that had been reported stolen from the same private residence over 16 years ago. 
With the Danish police unable to find either the paintings or the thief when the theft of eight paintings was initially reported in December 2000, an insurance company paid out the loss and the works were registered in the ALR’s database for lost and stolen art.
When the Holsøe painting came up during a routine search as part of the auction house’s due diligence, the ALR notified the auction house, the insurer, and the Danish Police.
After seizing the remaining seven artworks, the Danish police returned them to the insurer as the rightful owner, while the portrait by Holsøe remained in the U.S. auction for the benefit of the insurer.


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