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Thursday, November 01, 2018

Stolen Art Watch, November 2018

Police back on the trail of ‘world’s most wanted’ stolen Caravaggio painting
Police back on the trail of ‘world’s most wanted’ stolen Caravaggio painting
The oratory of San Lorenzo, Palermo, showing the space where the painting once hung.
There are new hopes of finding a lost Caravaggio masterpiece nearly 50 years after it vanished, with recent developments pointing to the artwork being hidden somewhere in Eastern Europe.
The Vatican called a meeting of experts in Rome to discuss new developments in the search for the stolen Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco, a priceless Caravaggio painting stolen from a Palermo church 49 years ago.
The theft of the Nativity takes second place on the FBI’s list of the top ten unsolved art crimes, and the lost painting is often described as the world’s “most wanted.”
The painting depicts Mary gazing at the newborn baby Jesus. It hung in the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, until it was cut from its frame one stormy night in October 1969 by thieves using razor blades or box-cutters.
The theft happened the day after the painting was mentioned on a TV show about 'forgotten art treasures', Ansa writes.
Since its disappearance in 1969 the artwork’s fate has remained a mystery, the story of the as yet unsuccessful search has been filled with intrigue, espionage and allegations of mafia involvement.

The painting was at first thought to have been destroyed shortly after it disappeared. For years, it was thought that the Nativity might have been damaged beyond repair after being stored in a barn in the Sicilian countryside.
Despite this, investigators, both local and international, never gave up searching for the lost painting.
Past leads all led to dead ends. Earlier this year, mafia turncoat Gaetano Grado led investigators to believe the painting may have been smuggled to Switzerland, where he claimed it was cut into smaller pieces by a Swiss art dealer to make it easier to sell on behalf of the mafia.
But investigators now say they believe the Nativity is actually still intact and have hinted at its possible whereabouts.
Police investigators specialised in hunting down stolen art have found traces of the work and are convinced it’s still in one piece, Colonel Fernando Musella of the Carabinieri told a press conference on Friday.
Investigators have recently visited an unspecified city in Eastern Europe in connection with their enquiries, he added, hinting that there could yet be a happy ending to the story.
It appears that the recent investigations have disproved the claims of the repentant mafioso, as well as others before him, finding that he’d got it confused with another painting stolen from a Palermo church a year later.

“Many repentant mafia have talked about the theft of this masterpiece, each one providing a different version,” Philosopher Vittorio V. Alberti, one of the meeting’s organisers, told local media today.
The painting has become “a symbol of the fight against the mafia,” a Vatican spokesperson stated, adding that the meeting aimed to "reiterate the opposition to the mafia on the part of the Church” and get the search for the painting back into the public eye.
Alberti described the theft as a “civil and moral wound” that affects the whole of society.
"Organised crime has repeatedly attacked religious and cultural symbols. This painting is a symbol, an element of property, in quotation marks, of the church, but it’s a work that speaks to everyone,” he said.
Caravaggio is believed to have painted the Nativity in 1609, just one year before his death in Porto Ercole, Tuscany. The hell-raising artist was just 38 when he died.
He’d fled Rome after murdering a man in a fight over gambling debt, and spent the rest of his days on the run, passing through Naples and Malta before arriving in Sicily.
Today a high-quality copy of the Nativity, produced by an art laboratory in 2015, hangs in place of the original artwork above the altar in the Oratory of San Lorenzo.
ROME - The Vatican has called a conference of experts to try to find "the world's most sought-after lost painting", a Nativity by Caravaggio stolen from a Palermo church allegedly by the Mafia in 1969.
The meeting at Palazzo della Cancelleria on Monday will "reiterate the opposition to the mafias on the part of the Church, according to the example of the Blessed Giuseppe Puglisi", a priest gunned down by Cosa Nostra in Palermo in 1993, the Vatican said.
It aims to "put the Nativity at the centre of international debate so that the painting can finally be found".
The priceless painting by Caravaggio was first believed to have been destroyed shortly after it disappeared in 1969.
But investigators now say it is actually still intact and could be hidden somewhere in Eastern Europe.
Police specialised in hunting down stolen art have come upon traces of the work and are convinced it is still in one piece, Colonel Fernando Musella of the Carabinieri police told a press conference.
Investigators travelled recently to an unspecified city in Eastern Europe in connection with their enquiries, he added, hinting that there might be a happy ending to the story in the near future.
The painting is called The Nativity and it was painted by the Renaissance master in 1609, shortly before his death.
It was stolen from a Palermo church 39 years ago, the day after it was mentioned in a TV show about 'forgotten' art treasures.
News that the police were back on the trail came during the presentation of a new book - The Wall of Glass, by Giuseppe Quatriglio - which tells the story of the painting and the mystery of its disappearance.
A few years ago a Mafia turncoat alarmed art lovers by claiming that Caravaggio's last work was destroyed by the people who stole it. He said the thieves caused irreparable damage to the canvas as they tried to roll it up, making it unsellable even on the black market.
It was assumed by many that the painting had then been burnt in order to destroy all evidence of the theft.
But it appears that recent investigations have disproved the claims of the repentant mafioso, establishing that he was referring to another painting stolen from a Palermo church a year later.

Jewellery store owner purchased £12,000 stolen necklace from East Anglian burglary gang, court hears

A jewellery store owner who purchased a stolen £12,000 diamond necklace from an East Anglian criminal gang was “too busy” to ask for their ID, a court heard.

James Pateman, 55, of Wollens Brook, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire 
Picture: Staff photographer 
James Pateman, 55, of Wollens Brook, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire Picture: Staff photographer
Ammir Kohanzad, who owns Danesh International Jewellery in Hatton Garden, London, is one of four men on trial in connection with a gang which carried out more than 200 burglaries.
Norwich Crown Court previously heard how members of the gang targeted premises across the region between February and December 2017 - stealing more than £2m worth of property.
Kohanzad, 68, of Ingestre Road, Calver, London, is accused of handling stolen goods, which he denies.
Prosecutor William Carter told a jury on Wednesday a necklace was sold to the defendant on November 2, 2017, by Charlie Webb and John Eli Loveridge.
Both men have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle.Mr Carter said the necklace was later identified as being stolen from a property in Brinkley, Cambridgeshire, on October 18 last year.
During that incident, burglars stole around £51,000-worth of items which belonged to a semi-retired antiques dealer.
Mr Carter said Webb and Loveridge were monitored by police as they travelled to Kohanzad’s shop in London on the morning of November 2.
All three men were caught on the shop’s CCTV cameras as the transaction was made.
Thomas Pateman, 54, of Fen Road, Chesterton, Cambridgeshire Picture: Staff photographer 
Thomas Pateman, 54, of Fen Road, Chesterton, Cambridgeshire Picture: Staff photographer
Mr Carter said: “Webb had a small brown case in his hand, which he had taken from underneath his top and he placed it on the counter.
“The item [inside] was an antique necklace worth £12,000 or more.”
The court heard how Webb wrote “something” on a piece of paper and was paid in cash. Both men left the store within five minutes.
Mr Carter said: “He was asked what steps did he take to establish the people who were selling it had the right to sell it.”
“He [Kohanzad] said he had not asked them for any identification. He said it had been a busy day and he did not really have the time.
Mr Carter said after the two men left, “a slightly odd thing happened” at about 2.24pm.
He said a text message was sent to Kohanzad’s phone from someone who said they were “John’s mum”.
“The message says ‘can you get this? It’s John’s mum’,” Mr Carter said.
“He [Kohanzad] responds ‘I can try to get something like that’.”
Simon Oakley, who owns Stratton Quick Fit in Long Stratton, is one of four men who went on trial yesterday (October 16) in connection with the break-ins. 
Picture: Staff photographer 
Simon Oakley, who owns Stratton Quick Fit in Long Stratton, is one of four men who went on trial yesterday (October 16) in connection with the break-ins. Picture: Staff photographer
“It is curious and the crown would say that message is somewhat undermining of Mr Kohanzad’s claim that he did not know the men.”
The court heard that police executed a search warrant on his store at 5pm that day.
He was interviewed by officers on November 3.
Mr Carter said: “The significance of the arrival of police might have put Mr Kohanzad on notice that dealing with these individuals was not good for his professional health.”
But he said that on November 5, Kohanzad received another visit from Webb, Loveridge, Joseph Holmes - who has also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle - and another unidentified man.
This time, Mr Carter said Kohanzad paid £5,300 for gold they were selling.
Two days later on November 7, police again raided his shop.
Kohanzad was arrested in January 2018.
During a police interview he told officers he paid £1,500 for the necklace.
Mr Carter said: “He said he would have asked them for ID but he had been so busy he had not.”
Kohanzad told police he asked the men where the necklace had come from, and was told they had “inherited” it, the court heard.
James Pateman
Also standing trial accused of handling stolen goods was James Pateman, 55, of Wollens Brook, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.
Mr Carter said Pateman was found with stolen silverware worth up to £30,000 in the back of his car on October 19 – one day after the Brinkley burglary.
Pateman, who has denied the charge against him, was arrested after being spotted buying silverware from two men in Royston, Hertfordshire.
“It is not suggested by prosecution that the meeting had anything at all to do with the property stolen at Brinkley the day before,” Mr Carter said.
“What did happen was that the dealings with these two men led to his arrest and search of his vehicle.”
Mr Carter said Pateman was arrested after a member of the public, who witnessed the deal, grew suspicious and called police.
At 3.20pm on October 19, Pateman, who was driving a red Range Rover, was stopped by officers.
Mr Carter said there was a quantity of cash in the lining of the ceiling of his vehicle, a red suitcase containing silver jewellery in the rear footwell, and silverware in a basket on the back seat.
Pateman told police he bought the items from a man he did not know at a car park in Peterborough.
Mr Carter said the silverware was later shown to the victim of the Brinkley burglary.
“He has identified almost all of the silverware in the car as his property,” Mr Carter said.
“He gave a value of around £25,000 to £30,000.”
Mr Carter added that some of the items in Pateman’s car were not linked to the Brinkley burglary.
Pateman was arrested but chose to answer “no comment” to the questions, the court heard.
He was later interviewed by police in January 2018, where he produced a receipt for the items, dated October 18.
Attempts to trace the name of the seller on the receipt had “drawn a blank” with police, Mr Carter said.
He added: “On the face of it, Mr Pateman is producing a receipt for items bought before they were stolen.”
In a police interview, Pateman said two men he did not know turned up at his dad’s yard on October 18 asking if he dealt in gold or silver.
Mr Carter said: “They told him they had a shop in Peterborough which had closed down and they wanted to sell stock.”
Pateman told police he paid £4,600 for the items.
When asked about his previous comments regarding the purchase from a man in Peterborough, Pateman told police he had been “misunderstood” by the officer who had “got it wrong”, the court heard.
Thomas Pateman
The court heard how Thomas Pateman, who runs TTJ’s Cash for Gold, a company which buys and sells precious metals, was raided by police in May last year.
Mr Carter said police found various gold and silver items which were subsequently identified as belonging to burglary victims.
He added that when officers searched his home address, they found more than £12,500 in cash.
The court heard the majority of stolen items were found in a plastic bag in a grey bin towards the rear of Pateman’s shop.
Mr Carter said as of May last year, police were “well aware” there had been a spate of burglaries.
In order to identify the owners of jewellery, police held open days where victims could come and see the recovered items.
Mr Carter said: “They did identify stolen property amongst the property seized.”
Pateman, 54, of Fen Road, Chesterton, Cambridgeshire, denies a charge of handling stolen goods.
Simon Oakley
Simon Oakley, of Alburgh Road, Hempnall, is accused of conspiracy to commit burglary.
The 45-year-old, who owns Stratton Quickfit in Long Stratton, denies the charge.
Mr Carter said Oakley supplied false number plates for stolen vehicles used by the gang.
He described him as an “integral part” of the conspiracy.
The court heard how Oakley’s business had equipment designed to print licence plates.
Mr Carter said when officers checked the printing machine, they found a “very large number” of plates which they knew had been used for vehicles involved in burglaries.
The court heard how the gang would take high-end vehicles from homes, change the number plates, and then use them for other crimes.
Mr Carter said that on February 6 a black Audi RS4 was stolen from Spalding in Lincolnshire.
Two days later, Oakley received a text message containing a number plate from a man called Timothy Stone-Parker.
Mr Carter told the jury Stone-Parker had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burgle.
“It does beg a number of questions,” he said. “It may be that there is a perfectly innocent explanation for this, but simply texting a number plate does tend to suggest that no other information was needed at that time as far as Mr Oakley was concerned.”
Mr Carter told the jury that Oakley’s phone records showed he was contacted by other individuals who had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to burglary. He said when Oakley was interviewed by police, he told officers he did not know everyone he was making number plates for or “what they were doing with them”.
The trial continues.

City gets $750,000 insurance settlement for 2016 theft of 7 Warhol prints from museum

A digital image of American artist Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup I (Tomato), a 1968 screenprint that was among seven stolen from Springfield Art Museum April 7, 2016.
Springfield Art Museum
The city-operated Springfield Art Museum has received a $750,000 insurance settlement for the seven Andy Warhol Campbell's soup can prints stolen in April 2016.
Museum director Nick Nelson told the News-Leader on Friday the settlement was reached months ago and the museum has the $750,000 in hand.
The money will be used to purchase new art objects for the museum's collection, Nelson said. He has been director since 2012.
He did not know if it the money will be used specifically to purchase replacement prints for the seven stolen. They were taken in the early hours of April 7, 2016.
The News-Leader asked Nelson what would happen if any or all of the stolen prints were recovered: Would the city then have to refund money to the insurance company?
He also was asked for a copy of the settlement agreement as well as a copy of the city's insurance policy regarding theft of art from the museum.

Nelson referred the question and the document requests to Doug Stone, the city's risk manager. Stone could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Warhol, who died in 1987, painted 32 cans of Campbell's Soup. They were first displayed in 1962. A limited number of prints were made.
The Springfield Art Museum had a collection of 10 Campbell's Soup prints made in 1968; seven were stolen.
Gul Coskun of Coskun Fine Art is a major Warhol dealer in Europe, with offices in the United Kingdom, France and Switzerland.
In April of 2016, the News-Leader quoted Coskun; she estimated the value of a collection of all 10 at $750,000.
She said in an email to the News-Leader that "Tomato Soup I" is the most expensive and sought-after print, followed by the "Chicken Soup I" print.

Both were among the seven stolen from the Springfield Art Museum. The others taken were:
"Campbell's Soup I (Beef)"
"Campbell's Soup I (Vegetable)"
"Campbell's Soup I (Onion)"
"Campbell's Soup I (Green Pea)"
"Campbell's Soup I (Black Bean)"
"Consommé (Beef)," "Pepper Pot" and "Cream of Mushroom" were not stolen from the museum. They were left behind.
The museum acquired the collection in 1985 through a gift by Ronald K., Robert C. and Larry H. Greenburg.
No one has been arrested in connection with the theft. It has not been revealed how it occurred.
The museum reported the crime to Springfield police at 10:03 a.m. April 7, 2016.
A police report indicates three Springfield police officers worked the case that day, one of them a member of the department’s property crimes unit. Three days later, another officer followed up.
Five days later, a computer forensic analyst with the police department contributed to the investigation.
Robert Wittman headed the FBI National Art Crime Team. He retired and became a private art security and recovery consultant.
He was interviewed by the News-Leader in June 2016. He expressed surprise at the time that there had been no public developments in the case.
More: Art museum's security in the spotlight after Warhol soup cans theft (2016)
"I’m not criticizing anybody," Wittman told the News-Leader from his office in Chester Hills, Pennsylvania. "It’s just strange to me that after two months, there’s no movement on that case."
He was not retained by Springfield Art Museum.
Wittman said in 2016 he believes the Warhol prints eventually will be recovered.
"Absolutely, the chances are very high," he said. "Collectors are not going to spend a lot of money for something they can't openly own.
"Now, it may take some time," Wittman said: a few months — or many years.
He cited Norman Rockwell paintings stolen in the late 1970s that were found in 2001.
"We'll see them when they come back to market," Wittman said. "At one point or another, everything comes back to market.
"Because the artwork outlasts us. It's here after we’re gone."

The pros and cons of stealing fine art: An easy crime, but impossible to sell

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Jun 26, 2018, 06.38 PM IST

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