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Saturday, September 14, 2019

Gold Toilet Stolen From Churchill's Birthplace, Police Going Through The Motions, September 2019 round-up


An 18ct gold toilet by the artist Maurizio Cattelan, titled “America 2016”, was stolen from Blenheim Palace between 04:49 and 04:54 on 14 September 2019. The five culprits arrived in two vehicles and smashed their way into the Palace.

A Substantial Reward is being offered for its safe return “subject to specific conditions.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact:

Philip Austin
Fine Art Specie Adjusters Ltd.
Tel: +44 (0) 2380 428833
Ref: FASA19091393

An 18-carat solid gold toilet has been stolen in a burglary overnight at Blenheim Palace.
A gang broke into the Oxfordshire palace at about 04:50 BST and stole the artwork, Thames Valley Police said.
The working toilet - entitled America, which visitors had been invited to use - has not been found but a 66-year-old man has been arrested.
The burglary caused "significant damage and flooding" because the toilet was plumbed into the building, police said.
It was part of an exhibition by Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan that opened on Thursday.
The 18th Century stately home is a World Heritage Site and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. It is currently closed while investigations continue.
Speaking last month, Edward Spencer-Churchill - half-brother of the current Duke of Marlborough - said he was relaxed about security for the artwork.
"It's not going to be the easiest thing to nick," he said.
Visitors to the exhibition were free to use the palace's throne for its intended purpose, with a three-minute time limit to avoid queues.
Det Insp Jess Milne, said: "The piece of art that has been stolen is a high-value toilet made out of gold that was on display at the palace.
"We believe a group of offenders used at least two vehicles during the offence.
"The artwork has not been recovered at this time but we are conducting a thorough investigation to find it and bring those responsible to justice."
In a tweet, Blenheim Palace said it would remain shut for the rest of the day, but would reopen on Sunday.
Palace chief executive Dominic Hare said they were "saddened by this extraordinary event, but also relieved no-one was hurt".
"We hope that the wonderful work of our dear friend Maurizio Cattelan becomes immortalised by this stupid and pointless act," he added.
The gold toilet was famously offered to US President Donald Trump in 2017.
The arrested man is in police custody.


An 18ct gold toilet by the artist Maurizio Cattelan, titled “America 2016”, was stolen from Blenheim Palace between 04:49 and 04:54 on 14 September 2019. The five culprits arrived in two vehicles and smashed their way into the Palace.

A Substantial Reward is being offered for its safe return “subject to specific conditions.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact:

Philip Austin
Fine Art Specie Adjusters Ltd.
Tel: +44 (0) 2380 428833
Ref: FASA19091393

Valuable and historic antiques stolen as thieves raid Gloucestershire Castle

Historic and valuable antiques were stolen in a daring darkness raid on Sudeley Castle, police have revealed.
Gloucestershire Constabulary have revealed details of a burglary committed at the Winchcombe stately home earlier this month.
In the early hours of Sunday, September 8, offenders forced their way into the exhibition area of the castle, smashed a display case and stole valuable jewellery and artefacts.
In a statement released today, Police have revealed that the offenders arrived and departed in a 4x4 vehicle with a number of items - including a chair.
The statement said: "The detectives are examining CCTV footage which shows four offenders approach the property with a chair, sledgehammer and large garden or builder's bag."They made off in a 4x4 vehicle which was parked nearby."
The stolen property includes:
  • A presentation gold box, Swiss late 18th Century, with a miniature of Edward VII set in diamonds;
  • A presentation gold and enamel box with the Prince of Wales feathers set in diamonds;
  • A Cartier watch monogrammed AK (Alice Keppel) 1910; a Faberge gold cigarette case set with diamonds;
  • A Faberge silver caviar box and silver mounted vodka glasses, c1910;
  • A gold snuffbox, Paris 1783;
  • A silver cigarette case by Marshak, Kiev 1908;
  • and a book of extracts from Sydney Smith, given to Alice Keppel by King Edward VII.
Detective Superintendent Steve Bean said: "This burglary happened under cover of darkness, but it is still possible that someone may have witnessed suspicious behaviour at or near the property in the hours leading up to it or afterwards, and may be able to help us identify the offenders.
"Clearly the stolen items are very distinctive and have a great deal of historical, as well as financial, value.
"They should be easy to identify and if anyone is aware of them being offered for sale I would urge them to report it to police as soon as possible".
Sudeley Castle's owner Lady Ashcombe said: "We are all saddened to learn of this burglary. There were beautiful artefacts on display for everyone to enjoy and were very precious to me personally".
Anyone with information about the burglary is asked to call Gloucestershire Constabulary on 101 quoting incident 110 of 8 September.

Thieves nab €2 million haul from vaunted French chateau

The Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau. 
The Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau.
The owners of a 17th-century French palace said to be the model for Versailles were tied up as their opulent home was ransacked Thursday by robbers who fled with a haul worth €2 million, police said.
The Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau, set amid sumptuous gardens about 50 kilometres southeast of Paris, has been owned by the same family since 1875.
A police source said six hooded but unarmed robbers found neckties belonging to Patrice de Vogue, 90, to tie up him and his wife Cristina, 78, in their lodging on the grounds of the palace.
The thieves targeted a safe and stole emeralds and other items, but did not attempt to make off with the chateau's works of art.
The couple was not injured during the robbery, which occurred shortly before dawn, according to prosecutors in the nearby city of Melun.
"The owners are doing fine and the chateau remains open for visits as usual," the palace's management told AFP.
Patrice de Vogue opened the estate to the public in 1968, and it is now run by the couple's three sons.
The chateau was built by Louis XIV's finance minister Nicolas Fouquet, who according to legend fell from grace in 1661, shortly after the building work was finished, when he staged an elaborate party there and aroused the Sun King's envy.
Fouquet spent the rest of his life in jail. The monarch then seized the palace and moved its most precious artworks and other objects to Versailles.
It is the largest privately-owned heritage site in France, sprawled over 500 hectares, and has some 250,000 visitors each year.
The chateau often stands in for Versailles for movie and television productions, from the Roger Moore Bond hit "Moonraker" to Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette".
It has become a prize spot for celebrity wedding parties, such as the lavish 2007 bash for French basketball star Tony Parker and "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria.

The lost video, the stolen Caravaggio – and the mafia boss’s razor blade
Masterpiece was kept in the home of notorious Sicilian, who sliced off a piece in order to make a deal with Catholic church
Monsignor Rocco Bendetto testifies about Caravaggio's Nativity - video
A Caravaggio masterpiece stolen from a Palermo church 50 years ago and listed among FBI’s “most wanted” stolen artworks, was kept in the home of a powerful mafia boss, who sliced off a piece of the canvas in order to convince the Catholic church to make a deal for its return, according to previously unseen testimony from the priest who tried to recover it.

In an video interview filmed in 2001, but locked in a drawer and now revealed exclusively to the Guardian, the parish priest of the Oratory of San Lorenzo revealed astonishing details of the October 1969 theft of Merisi da Caravaggio’s Nativity With St Lawrence and St Francis.
Monsignor Rocco Benedetto, who died in 2003, said the painting was in the home of notorious Sicilian mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti – a claim only confirmed for the first time by investigators last year – and said he had attempted to extort the church for its return.
“A few months after [the theft], a letter arrived at my home,” Benedetto explained to film director Massimo D’Anolfi, who had filmed the interview for a documentary he was working on at the time about stolen artworks. “In the letter, the thieves declared: ‘We have the painting. If you want to make a deal, you have to submit this advert in the Giornale di Sicilia [Sicily’s daily newspaper].’

The advert was intended to be a signal to Cosa Nostra that the Church was ready to talk. Benedetto told the superintendent of cultural affairs of Palermo, who then had the advert published in the newspaper. Two weeks later, the priest received a second letter – this one with an added mafiosi threat.
“The letter was accompanied by piece of the painting, a tiny piece of the canvas, which was intended to make clear to me that they really had the Caravaggio in their possession,” Benedetto told his interviewer. “I went straight to the superintendent and informed him of what was happening. I left him the letter and the piece of canvas.”
“The mafia was doing with the painting what they normally do with kidnapping victims”, says D’Anolfi, who, at 45, is now an acclaimed director and will be screening the full interview next month in Palermo. “They had sent a piece of the painting just like they normally send a finger or an ear of a kidnapping victim.”

The letter requested a second advert in the Giornale di Sicilia, but this time the superintendent refused and instead reported Benedetto to the police on suspicion of having organised the theft himself. Benedetto was for a short period placed under investigation.
“They even fingerprinted me. Later the superintendent apologised,” he told D’Anolfi. “[He] admitted that he had made a mistake. But at that point, the damage had been done.”
The fate of the Nativity has been the subject of speculation for nearly half a century, ever since two criminals used razors to cut it from its frame in the Palermo church where it had hung for more than 350 years.
Among theories that have captured the imagination of art history enthusiasts is that the painting may have been eaten by rats after being left to rot in a barn.

Benedetto’s claim of the mafia’s involvement was borne out 17 years after he spoke to D’Anolfi when Italian investigators revealed in May 2018 that a turncoat, Gaetano Grado, had told them the painting had been held by Badalamenti and that a member of the boss’s crime family he had been put in touch with an art dealer in Switzerland – where the Caravaggio could now be.
But it wasn’t until after Benedetto was no longer under investigation that he had corroboration of mafia involvement when a priest in Carini, 12 miles from Palermo, called him in early 1970 to say he had seen a photograph of the stolen masterpiece.
“He said that he had had a painting restored, which had been stolen shortly afterward,” Benedetto claimed. “He told me that he was convinced it was the local mafia, and that he had contacted some mafiosi in order to get it back. Then he said a young man had come to see him with two photos: one, a photo of his painting; the other, the Nativity. He then pointed to his missing painting – a work by a Tuscan artist of lesser renown – and they returned it.”

Badalamenti was the boss of nearby Cinisi and at the time one of the most powerful mafia figures in Sicily, running a $1.65bn (£1.33bn) heroin trafficking network to the US. He was arrested in 1984 under the leadership of the then US attorney in New York, Rudy Giuliani, and died in a Massachusetts hospital in 2004.

Benedetto went back to the police with his new information but told his interviewer nothing had happened. “[The police] had known for years the location of the painting. It was in the province of Palermo. The Mafiosi would use it to flaunt their power,” he said.
A mafia informer, Salvatore Cancemi, had separately told prosecutors in the late 1990s that the Nativity had been put on display for meetings among the most powerful bosses in Sicily as a symbol of their prestige. The current investigation suggests that the painting could have been transferred to Switzerland after the death of Badalamenti.
The head of Italy’s anti-mafia commission, Rosy Bindi, stated last year: “We hope to find it and bring it back to its home in Palermo.”
D’Anolfi said Benedetto’s interview provided important new information on one of the most notorious art thefts of the 20th century. “Twenty years earlier, and just two years after his death, he revealed what the authorities would only disclose last year,” he said.
In the interview he tells D’Anolfi of the mafia boss’s feared crime family: “The Badalamentis have the painting. I’m sure of it.”

Benedetto, who after the theft always refused to speak to journalists, disclosed more on the circumstances surrounding it. He said a few months before the theft, he received a visit from a journalist from Italian state broadcaster Rai, who wanted to interview him about the Caravaggio for a programme called The Forgotten Masterpieces. He declined the offer. “I told the journalist that if the public learned such a painting existed, then its theft was assured because there were no security measures in place for that painting.”
Rai did however obtain permission from the same Palermo superintendent who later reported Benedetto to the police, to broadcast images of the Caravaggio. The priest’s warning became prophecy – mere months later, the Nativity was stolen.

The 2001 interview lay locked in a drawer until last year, when the the Sicilian association Amici dei Musei, which is promoting the restoration of the Oratory of San Lorenzo, learned that Benedetto had given an interview and got in touch with D’Anolfi. It asked him to organise an exclusive screening in Palermo on the 50th anniversary of the theft.
The director said he had not realised the importance of what Benedetto was telling him at the time. He said: “The priest said he had informed the police about all this. To be honest, I thought that the information contained in that interview was already in the possession of the authorities.

“However, in hindsight, Benedetto’s revelations look more credible now that the recent investigation has confirmed his version of the facts. Sometimes I think that if this interview came out before, maybe people would have thought he was just a crazy priest.”
The unedited interview will be shown at Palermo’s Teatro Biondo on 15 October, during a week of cultural activities supported by the association Le Vie dei Tesori featuring other stolen artworks still missing

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