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Friday, November 24, 2006

Recovery of Tate Turners Investigated By German Authorities

Row over Tate's stolen Turners

By Dayla Alberge

German police suspect gallery may have broken federal law in the recovery of £24 million paintings

German police are investigating how the Tate secured the return of two Turner paintings stolen from an exhibition in Frankfurt, where they had been on loan.

The gallery announced two years ago that it had recovered Shade and Darkness — the Evening of the Deluge, and Light and Colour (Goethe’s theory), which were stolen in 1994.

The Times learnt yesterday that German police are investigating whether the Tate had broken German federal law.

One source said that the police were outraged when they discovered that the Tate had not only paid €3 million (£2 million) for information that led to the recovery of the paintings but, they believe, had put at risk investigations into the Serbian underworld figures thought to have staged the robbery.

The source said that German police had tried for years to catch the gangsters, who are also believed to be involved in drugs and arms.

Through the stolen Turners, detectives thought that they were getting close to catching the gangsters. Then they discovered that they had not been involved in the final negotiations for the recovery of the paintings.

Disclosing that German police had contacted the Tate’s insurers about the case, the source said: “In a situation like this, the gallery should have worked with the police.

“They failed to involve the police sufficiently, which is what has made the authorities so angry.”

The Tate has said that it paid only for “information” and the costs of the investigation leading to the recovery of the paintings. But experts say that paying money to get stolen property back could encourage other thefts.

The paintings were stolen from the Schirn Kunsthalle, in Frankfurt. A security guard was tied up in the raid.

The two thieves and their getaway driver, who were caught in 1999, were given sentences ranging from three to eleven years. The mastermind behind the theft remains free, however.

The insurers and the Tate are said to remain angry over revelations about the case in the autobiography of Geoffrey Robinson, the former Paymaster General. Before the paintings were recovered he disclosed that they were insured for £24 million, confirming their value to the gangsters, who were then able to use the figure when making their ransom demands.

The paintings were fully insured. The insurers included Hiscox and AXA Art, who paid the £24 million in full.

But in 1998, before the works were recovered, the Tate paid the insurers £8 million to buy back the rights, leaving it with a potential profit of £16 million if the pictures were recovered. Soon afterwards one was. The second turned up in 2002. As the millions generated interest, the Tate not only got its paintings back but also an extraordinary windfall from the insurance payout.

The German police have contacted Hiscox and AXA Art.

The German police and the Tate declined to comment. But a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office in Frankfurt confirmed that an investigation was taking place.

Selby Whittingham, a Turner scholar and editor of the journal J.M.W. Turner, RA, welcomed the news. He said: “We’ve never got to the truth of the matter about the payments.”

An art expert who declined to be identified said: “A lot of people will be pleased to learn about an investigation. It’s been smoke and mirrors until now.”

Art Hostage comments:

This really was a case of "The Foxes Guarding the Hen House"

The two Scotland Yard Detectives, Detective Superintendent Mick Lawrence and Detective Sergeant Jurek Rokoszynski (known as Rocky) were working on the Turner case before they suddenly retired, subsequently, they were employed by the Tate Gallery as private detectives.

They were instrumental in the recovery, but along the way billed the Tate Gallery for nearly $2 million dollars for security.

The scam was to hire Polish bodyguards, who were friends of the now ex-Scotland Yard detective, Sergeant Jurek Rokoszynski (known as Rocky), for $100 dollars a day per man, then bill the Tate Gallery for $2,000 a day per man, sometimes there were up to Ten bodyguards used, round the clock, the false bills were presented to the Tate, Sandy Nairne, and these were duly paid by the Tate Gallery.

The Tate Gallery knew that one painting was about to be returned and that recovery was delayed whilst the Tate negociated the settlement with the insurers. Once the Tate had bought back legal title to the Turners for $16 million it left the Tate with $32 million dollars in the bank.

The first Turner came back within a short time, as previously promised to the Tate, and so the Tate had one picture, $32 million and was ready to recover the other Turner.

The lawyer for the Serbian mastermind of this plot, German Edgar Liebrucks signed a contract with the Tate gallery, (who had gone to the British High Court to seek judical approval for the deal to take place in Germany), but also asked the Frankfurt public prosecutor's office for legal immunity and, according to Liebrucks, this was granted. He received in total $6 million approx and the other Turner duly surfaced.

The immoral part of this unsavoury story is the dishonest dealings by the Tate towards the insurers, Hiscox, AXA, and their shareholders, coupled by the dishonest billing for $2 million dollars by Detective Superintendent Mick Lawrence and Detective Sergeant Jurek Rokoszynski (known as Rocky) who were the original official police officers to investigate the case.

There is a case for recovering stolen art by making payments, however, the Tate and the ex-cops seem to pose the question:

"who are the bad guys, and who are the good guys"

Another person to do well out of the Turners theft is Sandy Nairne, he was rewarded by being given the Directorship of the National Portrait Gallery.

As for "Old Nick" Serota the Demonic Director of the Tate, since this all transpired, he has had the balls to try and use the ill gotten gains from the Turners theft to buy Modern art, circumventing the wishes and terms of the Turner bequest, which stipulates that any monies from the bequest be only, I repeat only, be used to purchase further works by Joseph William Mallard Turner.

His excuse at the time was there are not many Turners out there to buy.

He failed to mention the several Turners that have been sold on the open market recently, they fetched some tens of millions of Dollars.

Why, this April 6th,2006, Steve "Mr Magoo" Wynn, yes him of the "Elbow through the Picasso" paid $35.8m (£20.5 m) for JMW Turner, Giudecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio.

Two Venice scenes in watercolor have been sold this year for nearly $20 million.

If "Old Nick" was sincere, he would have used the insurance money to buy these Turners, not go off galavanting and buying his own modern art tastes for the Tate collection.

To be continued........

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