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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Leonardo Da Vinci Madonna of the Yarnwinder Intoxicating As Ever !!

Leonardo Da Vinci mystery still to be solved after trial let-down, says art expert

BRITAIN’S leading Leonardo da Vinci expert has spoken out over the “deeply unsatisfying” result of the trial of five men, arrested in the recovery of Scotland’s only painting by the artist three years after it was stolen.

Martin Kemp, a former University of St Andrews art historian with nearly 50 years’ work on Da Vinci behind him, was an expert witness in the two-month court case.

It ended last year with all five defendants cleared of an extortion plot to extract £4.25 million for the return the Madonna of the Yarnwinder.

“I thought it was deeply unsatisfactory. I’ve been involved in three major court cases as a witness,” he told The Scotsman. “My view is that the full story hasn’t come out. There is still a lot more to be unearthed.”

Mr Kemp has co-authored a new book about Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder, long owned by the family of the Duke of Buccleuch and a similar one owned by a New York collector.

In it he concludes the two paintings were worked on in Leonardo’s studio at the same time in about 1501 – though art critics have long argued over the two works, and which is better authenticated.

The Buccleuch Yarnwinder, showing Mary with the Christ child holding a winding stick for yarn, is a star exhibit in the exhibition, Leonardo da Vinci: Painter in the Court of Milan, at the National Gallery in London.

The once-in-a-lifetime show of Da Vinci works, which ends in early February, has brought huge crowds and reports of touts selling advance tickets for hundreds of pounds.

Yesterday, the duke told The Scotsman that he hopes the painting will return direct from London to go on show again at the National Gallery of Scotland. It went on display there in 2009 after its recovery.

“The London exhibition ends in February, my hope is that she will come almost immediately back to Edinburgh,” he said.

But the duke said he is also eager to see the picture hang again in Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire, from where two men armed with an axe stole it in a daylight raid in 2003.

It was almost a “point of honour” marking the huge effort by the Dumfries and Galloway Police to get the painting back, he said, but security was a major issue. “I’m very keen that she should be back there. At some point, during the summer opening season, next year,” he added.

“It’s an instinctive feeling, that whoever perpetuated the theft, and we don’t know who it was ultimately, shouldn’t so disrupt everything that the picture is never seen there again.”

Mr Kemp said he has had three queries a week recently from people who believe they have a Da Vinci, along with conspiracy theorists who think they have solved bizarre mysteries of the Mona Lisa or other works.

It was “part of the Leonardo insanity that has been escalating since the 19th-century”, he said. “He does attract a following and corresponding levels of lunacy,” he said. “I’m besieged on a daily basis by the Leonardo loonies.”

His book, Madonna of the Yarnwinder, a historical and scientific detective story, is the latest of several on the painter.

With the Buccleuch painting, Scotland is uniquely privileged in having a Da Vinci, he said, with only about 20 paintings accredited to him.

But it is becoming increasingly difficult to stage exhibitions, he said. “The difficulty now is to get the loans. There are things in the National Galleries exhibition that won’t travel again.”

Owners, are being asked to show works again and again, and he has seen drawings suffering from light exposure during his career, he said.

The Buccleuch Yarnwinder was described in the National Gallery’s exhibition catalogue as a work “devised and to a great extent executed by Leonardo” with help from other hands in his studio. Praised for its “warm, softly blurred colours and the strongly accented, beautiful controlled passages of light and shade”, it is thought to be worth £60 million.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Family Affair Under The Radar

Father and son in court over hidden treasures

Police raided a storage centre in Sydney this week and made a remarkable discovery: a treasure trove of cash, jewellery and antiques worth A$6.5 million ($8.5 million), allegedly stolen by a father and son targeting homes in affluent suburbs of two cities.

The pair - likened by one detective to Dad and Dave, characters in a classic Australian comedy - are suspected of breaking into more than 200 homes and properties, cracking safes and covering their tracks so carefully that some victims had no idea they had been burgled.

Christopher See, 56, and Phillip See, 33, were arrested in Sydney this month after a detective spotted them at Melbourne's airport shortly before the final crime of their alleged seven-year spree, the theft of cash and valuables from security deposit boxes in a city storage facility.

According to the Herald-Sun, the two men - who were charged with that break-in in a Melbourne court this week - were "cat burglars" who could scale high buildings. They led quiet lives - the father lived with his aged mother while the son stayed in a cheap boarding-house - and did not associate with known criminals or splash their alleged wealth around.

The stash uncovered at the Sydney storage centre included A$4 million in cash, a large quantity of foreign currency, 120kg of silver bullion and thousands of pieces of jewellery, as well as antiques, heirlooms, precious stones, five handguns, ammunition, false identification documents and a World War I Victoria Cross.

The Acting Assistant Commissioner of NSW Police, Mal Lanyon, said the burglaries - many of them targeting homes on Sydney's leafy north shore - involved tactics so sophisticated that some victims had been unaware they had been robbed until their valuables were returned.

"They are using a method that if you were the first to walk into a room, you wouldn't realise that a break and enter had happened," he said. "We believe there may be a number of owners of both commercial and residential premises who are unaware that their safes have been tampered with ... They certainly have been prolific, the persons responsible."

Police found nearly A$40,000 of cash and valuables at the house Christopher See shared with his mother in the wealthy Sydney suburb of Bellevue Hill, the Herald Sun reported. Bellevue Hill is home to James Packer, of the publishing and gambling empire, and Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert's eldest son.

Police intercepted mobile phone conversations by the Sees during their alleged robbery of the safety deposit boxes. They allegedly bought specialist power tools enabling them to break into the strongroom.

After being arrested on December 19, the men were extradited to Victoria, where they were wanted on outstanding warrants. They have been remanded in custody until March 19.

One police source told the Herald Sun: "They don't gamble or take drugs. The dad lives with his old mother and drives a cab part-time, and the son lives in the cheapest boarding house you could find."


IT is not unknown in policing circles for a stroke of good luck to be claimed as "good detective work".

But not in this case.

The arrest of two men alleged to be the most prolific burglars Victoria has ever seen - or not seen - had little to do with luck and everything to do with long, dogged detective work.

It also seems to have been a case of interstate police co-operation - something that can't be taken for granted.

When "the double-storey house burglars" first appeared on Page 1 of the Herald Sun on October 11, 2005, they had been credited with at least 140 burglaries in Melbourne suburbs from Keilor to Doncaster.

They stole only cash and jewellery, mostly from big two-storey homes.

Their haul was then believed to be more than $4 million.

They often disabled alarm systems, sometimes raiding two homes a night.

One burglar was agile enough to scale walls to upstairs rooms.

By the time Melbourne's "Spider Man" burglar was finally unveiled in the Herald Sun on April 23 this year, the tally of stolen cash and jewellery was estimated to have reached $15 million.

By then the thieves were believed to have broken into more than 400 homes of Melbourne's affluent.

The targets had spread to include Kew, Balwyn, Camberwell and Brighton, but the signature was the same.

Walls and drainpipes were scaled, alarm systems and CCTV cameras disabled, and safes opened in bedrooms while families were asleep nearby or eating.

On February 15, in the back yard of a house in Kew, detectives finally got their stroke of good fortune: a burglar was fleetingly caught by a security camera.

Two months later, detectives had been unable to identify him and so they went public.

But wide publicity drew little public response, which confirmed the suspicion of some detectives that they were looking for an interstate "fly-in" team.

The publicity extended to Sydney, where police believed the Melbourne burglars' methods were similar to those of a successful team in wealthy Sydney suburbs.

Even more significantly, the NSW detectives had a name - "an outside, maybe chance", they told their Boroondara colleagues who had worked almost full time on it for eight months.

Details of what had been known at Boroondara as "Operation Trapeze" were kept close to police chests yesterday. But the key development was the all-night raid on an Ivanhoe storage centre this month.

Until then, detectives told the Herald Sun, Spider Man had "stopped cold in Melbourne from the day the article was published at Easter".

The Ivanhoe job made them feel they were closing in.

The next stop was another trip to Sydney - this time with an extradition warrant.

"It was a long haul and a lot of hard work," said one detective yesterday.

"But it's a great pinch."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, From Russia With Lust

The Road by Isaak Levitan tracked down by Interpol

Russian art wanted by Interpol

Russian art rakes in millions at auctions the world over, but items can turn out to be illegally exported or stolen. Right now, Interpol is searching for nearly a thousand rare objects of art that have gone missing in Russia in the last two decades.

­Moscow hopes to track down the lost treasures with the help of the world’s largest international police organization, Interpol.

In the past two decades, 250 works have been returned to Russia, including sought-after canvases by leading landscape artist Isaak Levitan, Russia’s deputy Interior Minister says.

Historical artifacts such as official decrees signed by Catherine the Great and Tsars Nicholas I and Nicholas II, stolen from the Russian State Archive, are also among the key relics recently brought home.

Interpol has a system for circulating information in the form of a database accessible not only to law enforcement agencies, but also to members of the public with access rights. Users can go through the list of most recently stolen works of art, as well as view recovered works.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Angel Takes Wrap With Six Years Jail Term

Art thief to get six years

When police arrested a Medford carpenter in the spring for taking up to $600,000 in artwork from upscale houses across the East End last winter, few thought he was acting on his own. He was accused of taking 30 works of art and other valuables from homes in Southold, Shelter Island, Southampton and East Hampton during this past January and February.

He was employed by a painting contractor on the North Fork and was a carpenter on Shelter Island.

“Nobody believes that this defendant was working by himself,” Suffolk District Attorney Tom Spota said during a press conference announcing the arrest of 24-year-old Angel Palencia, who was indicted on multiple counts of felony burglary and one grand larceny charge. “He certainly wasn’t running around to houses in East Hampton and looking in windows.”

But in entering a guilty plea on all counts on November 15, Mr. Palencia insisted he had acted alone. He was sentenced on December 14 by County Court Judge Stephen Braslow to six years in prison and five years’ probation.

“It’s possible he did have help with it but there’s nothing we could confirm,” said Southold Town Police Detective Ned Grathwohl, who worked the case. “It could have been just him, but that seems unlikely.”

Mr. Palencia had worked at several of the homes from which art was stolen, police said. There was no evidence of forced entry at any of the burglarized homes and property owners said their windows had been locked and their alarms set. Police linked him to the thefts when a North Fork art dealer, whose name was never revealed, told police he had been contacted by Mr. Palencia, who offered to sell him several pieces. The dealer said he grew suspicious after learning that some of the art had been reported stolen in East Hampton.

While some questions remain unanswered, most of the art has been returned to its owners, the detective said.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Hepworth Reward Offer, Too Little Too Late, Unless !!

Reward for Hepworth art stolen from Dulwich Park increased

Barbara Hepworth's granddaughter has increased a reward to £5,000 to find the sculpter's bronze artwork which was stolen from a south London park.

Dr Sophie Bowness said she hoped the money would help in the search for Two Forms (Divided Circle) sculpture.

The piece, insured for £500,000, had been in Dulwich Park since 1970. It was found cut from its plinth on Monday.

Southwark Council had offered a reward of £1,000. It is thought the artwork was stolen by scrap metal thieves.

Councillors have since urged the government to pass legislation to crack down on scrap metal theft.

'Much-loved' sculpture

Dr Bowness, a trustee of Barbara Hepworth's estate, said: "In support of Southwark Council's efforts to recover Barbara Hepworth's Two Forms (Divided Circle), the Hepworth Estate have offered to increase the reward for information to £5,000.

"This is a much-loved and irreplaceable bronze, and its position in Dulwich Park is one that Barbara herself particularly admired when she saw it in 1970."

A life-size bronze statue of former MP and social reformer Alfred Salter was also stolen from Southwark some time ago.

Southwark Council is carrying out a risk assessment of 165 pieces of public art and sculpture in its area and is also considering temporarily removing valuable pieces or installing CCTV to monitor them.

The leaders of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups on the council have written to Prime Minister David Cameron asking him to bring in "tough" new laws.

In a statement, they said: "We believe there should be much tougher regulation of the industry including a ban on cash payments to sellers and a requirement that dealers keep a log of sellers' details."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Czech Mate As Filla's Found & Six Arrested

Czech police found 4 stolen paintings by Czech cubist artist Emil Filla, arrest 6 suspects

PRAGUE — Czech police say they have found four valuable paintings by Czech cubist artist Emil Filla that were stolen last month from a northwestern gallery, and six suspects have been arrested in the case.

The paintings — "Still Life With a Fruit Basket and Clarinet," ''Woman with Picture Cards," ''Still Life with a Fruit Bowl" and "Blind Man" — were stolen Nov. 18 from the Peruc Chateau, which hosts a permanent exhibition of Filla's work.

Filla painted the pieces after the World War II when he spent several years at the place. He died in 1953.

The owners estimate their value at tens of millions of koruna (several million dollars).

Police declined to give more details Monday, citing an ongoing investigation.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Art Theft Aplenty

Appeal after antiques stolen

POLICE investigating the theft of paintings and antiques are asking the public to be vigilant and tell officers if they see the items for sale.

A house in the Hope Valley was broken into some time between 5.15pm and 8.10pm on Tuesday, December 6.

The burglar took silverware, including Victorian dishes, six goblets with a gold trim around the top and a pair of candlesticks. They also took an antique silver cake basket and a three piece tea set, dated from around 1820.

Royal Crown Derby, a marble lion and a pair of bronze busts were stolen, along with two oil paintings.

Officers are urging anyone, particularly people in the antiques and fine art business, to contact police if they are offered items such as these for sale, or if they have information as to who may have stolen them.

The victim’s black 4x4 was taken and found abandoned in a field off the B6051 at Barlow the following day.

Thieves stole paintings following heist at Altrincham art gallery

THIEVES stole £1,375 worth of artwork following a heist at a gallery in Altrincham.

The offenders broke into County Galleries, on Railway Street, and escaped with two paintings.

Painting one was a Huw Jones oil measuring 20 by 34 inches and was valued at £675.

The second was a Derek Eland painting measuring 24 by 28 inches and valued at £700.

Detective Constable David Stevenson, from Stretford CID, said: “It is likely the offenders will look to sell on the stolen paintings.

“If you have been approached with a view to buying any of this art, heard about someone selling these pictures or have any knowledge about this burglary please get in touch.”

County Galleries has been dealing in artwork for the past 30 years and has introduced a host of distinctive artisits and exhibits in that time.

The gallery building was recently awarded Grade II listed status by English Heritage. This means the Edwardian gothic structure can be celebrated as having exceptional architectural interest.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Paintings Pilfered

High value painting stolen

POLICE are appealing for information after a high value oil painting was stolen from a lorry on the A1.

The artwork – called Le pont d’Lena by Tanislas Lepine – was taken from a vehicle parked overnight at Barnsdale Bar near Wentbridge on Monday.

The painting, which depicts a bridge in Paris, is in a guilt frame.

Historic Portrait Stolen

Thieves have stolen a 19th century painting from the Assembly House, donated by the family which stopped the iconic Georgian building falling into disrepair.

Top of Form

The painting of John Copeland, who had links to Henry Sexton, who refurbished the Theatre Street venue after the Second World War, was ripped from a wall last week.

Bottom of Form

The watercolour portrait, worth £700, was wrenched from the first floor corridor where it had hung for almost six years, between noon on Thursday, November 17 and noon on Friday, November 18.

John Copeland was the great-grandfather of Joan Sexton who was married to Henry’s son Eric. Eric and Joan donated the painting to the Assembly House in their will. The portrait, painted by an artist called W. Waite in 1826, is eight inches long and six inches wide.

Secretary of the Assembly House Trust, Michael King, said: “I was horrified but unfortunately it is a sign of the times.

“It has been a place of tranquillity for some time but now it is in the centre of a busy area. It doesn’t mean anything to any one else. It means far more to the establishment.”

Henry Sexton bought the building in 1938 and redeveloped it after the war.

In 1950 he presented the Assembly House to the city as an arts and social centre.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Hot Art Sends Joshua Knelman Uptown

Inside the secret world of stolen art

Journalist Joshua Knelman delves into a much-mythologized realm of theft in his book, Hot Art

Imagine an art thief and whom do you picture? A wily and debonair connoisseur who steals masterpieces for his private delectation?

That’s what journalist Joshua Knelman had in mind when he followed up on a small art theft in Toronto, thinking of a real-life Pierce Brosnan admiring his ill-gotten Monet.

But after he spoke with some of the handful of detectives worldwide who are art-theft specialists, civilian experts on the subject and even a charismatic ex-thief, Knelman discovered the truth was far more interesting. Six years later, he’s published Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives through the Secret World of Stolen Art (Douglas & McIntyre).

Although thefts of works by Vermeer or Munch or Van Gogh get the international headlines, they form just a small part of one of the biggest black markets in the world.

"Famous artworks are about 5% of the art stolen," Knelman says. One of his contacts (a former thief) calls them the ‘headache cases’ because they’re so difficult to dispose of. Nonetheless, the money involved is staggering, even if no one knows the exact figure. And despite the millions of dollars involved, there are surprisingly few police officers investigating art theft, a speciality that requires an interest in art and a willingness to spend years on individual cases.

"There aren’t many people tracking art theft," Knelman says. "In Canada, we have an art-theft unit in Montreal, and there’s one in Los Angeles, but those are secondary art markets. There’s nothing in New York or Toronto.

"Every detective in the book says their main priority is recovery. Arrest is secondary," he adds. "They all think of it as an epic game of hide-and-seek, with recovery years later in a different country."

Knelman discovered that a lot of the art stolen from private homes, art dealers and museums eventually winds up in respectable galleries.

The criminal market for art relies on legitimate dealers, whether innocent or complicit. The art business deals in discretion and gentlemen’s agreements. One expert told Knelman that the art market reminded him of drug deals in East L.A. — no paper trail, just cash and personal relationships.

"It’s opaque, unregulated and completely interconnected with the black market, almost like Siamese twins," Knelman says. "It’s a transportation machine for art and money."

And what of Thomas Crown?

"It’s a beautiful myth," Knelman says. "It’s seductive. It plays to our romanticism. Anyone can sympathize with stealing things because they’re beautiful.

"That was the story I was hoping to write," he adds. "But the reality is so much more mysterious and complex. I started out writing a short piece and ended up overturning that myth."

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Two Continents, Same Result, Art Stolen !!

'Unknown' Czech art star's paintings stolen in daring heist

He may be one of the most sought-after painters you have never heard of, but Emil Filla's name is doing the rounds of newsrooms and international art-loss registers following an audacious theft of his works from a collection in the Czech Republic.

Four oil paintings by the Czech Cubist artist, who lived from 1882 until 1953, were stolen on November 18 from a collection at a castle in Peruc, northwest of Prague.

The works, which date from the 1920s to the 1940s, are estimated to be worth between 50 million and 80 million Czech crowns (approximately $2.6 million and $4.2 million) according to the Art Newspaper.

A spokesperson for the Art Loss Register, an international database of stolen and missing works of art and antiquities, confirmed the works were still registered as stolen on their database.

Chris Marinello, Executive Director and General Counsel of the Art Loss Register, said that if any of the paintings were offered to the register's subscribing auction houses, they would be notified immediately.

"Either they are recovered relatively quickly or they will go underground and won't resurface for years," he said.

The theft comes as interest in Filla's work is rising both in the Czech Republic and abroad.

In November, a painting by the artist dating from 1911 and entitled "Utesitel" ("Comforter" in English) was sold at an auction in Prague for 12 million Czech crowns (approximately $640,000), according to Galerie Art Praha, which staged the auction.

A spokesperson for the gallery told CNN Filla is undoubtedly "a major figure" in avant-garde European painting, having exhibited across Europe and even in the U.S. between World Wars I and II, but has not had much exposure over the last 50 years.

All that is changing, according to Czech art historian Vojtech Lahoda.

"Even though there are more collectors of Filla from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, there are more and more foreign collectors (interested in his work)," he said.

The reason may be down to his famous contemporaries, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Guillaume Apollinaire, whom Filla knew when he lived in Paris before World War I and who inspired him to adopt their Cubist style.

According to Lahoda, his work presents "the other face of Cubism, something that is very parallel (to French Cubism) but also different," and therefore increasingly sought-after by collectors of work from that style and period.

"It's very difficult to buy the original Cubist works of Picasso and Braque from the 1910s but you can still buy Filla's works from those years," said Lahoda.

Though he cannot say whether the theft of Filla's paintings from the collection in Peruc is related to his recent upswing in popularity, Lahoda believes it may have been an opportunistic heist, with the thieves taking advantage of the collection's reportedly limited security.

"The Peruc case is a very strange one, because the paintings that were stolen are known, they were published in catalogs and journals, so I would say they are publicly unsellable," he said, echoing Marinello's fears they may go underground.

Works by the artist are currently on display as part of an exhibition on Czech Modernism at the Gallery of Visual Art in Ostrava, Czech Republic, entitled "Black Suns: Reverse Side of Modernity 1927--1945."

"If you want a good collection of Czech modern art from the 1920s and 30s, you can't miss (Filla)," said Lahoda.

FBI Seeks Rare Tortoiseshell & Silver Box Stolen From Private Residence

Boston, Mass.
Agents from the Boston field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are trying to recover a rare antique tortoiseshell and silver box that was stolen from a private US residence in August 2011.

The Seventeenth Century Dutch tortoiseshell box features a barrel-shaped top, silver fittings, hinges and handles on its sides, as well as ball and claw feet. The piece exhibits a warm brown tortoiseshell veneer, sterling silver fittings and red velvet lining. Deemed to be of museum quality with original silver key inside, the box has a silver lock plate decorated with standing lions on either side. The back hinges and lock plates are surrounded by scrolled etchings in silver. It measures 7 inches high by 4¾–5 inches wide by 8¾ inches deep.

The stolen box can be identified by the following unique features: vertical cracks in the tortoiseshell veneer on the domed box top; similar vertical cracks on the back of the domed box top and around the lower body; evidence of repair to a water damage spot on the upper right of the domed box top; and three nails holding one leg in place.

This item has been reported to the FBI and is listed on the Art Loss Register (ALR) database of stolen artwork. The ALR is working in conjunction with the theft victim and authorities in seeking information on the current location of this rare and valuable piece.

Anyone who believes to have seen this item or has any information on its location can contact the FBI's Boston field office at 617-742-5533

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Rhino Horn, Judges Heirlooms, All Fair Game

Rhino horn thieves gas Paris museum guards

PARIS (AFP) - Thieves used stun gas to overpower guards before stealing a white rhinoceros horn from a museum in the heart of Paris Tuesday, in the latest of a string of heists targeting the rare ivory, the museum said.

Two people, backed by an accomplice, burst into the museum of hunting and nature in Paris historic Marais district at around 2:00 pm, neutralized the guards and made off with the horn of a rhino captured in South Africa in the 1980s.

The security guards were briefly treated for the effects of the stun gas.

European museums, zoos and auction rooms are on alert following a spike in robberies involving rhino horns, fuelled by an illegal trade towards Asia and the Middle East where a horn can fetch tens of thousands of euros.

The rhinos' ivory is ground up and used in traditional medicines for fevers, convulsions and as an aphrodisiac.

This year alone in France, horns were stolen from western Rouen in March and from central Blois and the western Island of Aix in July, in addition to a botched robbery in central Bourges.

Thoiry zoo west of Paris has put its three white rhinos under surveillance to protect them from poachers.

Elsewhere in Europe, two horns were stolen in recent months in Vienna, from a taxidermist and an auction room. In Lisbon police arrested two Australians with six horns in their luggage, while in Britain thieves stole two horns from the natural history museum in southern Tring -- which were, in fact, copies.


Koswatta Police in the Marawila Police area yesterday produced a leading businessman who is alleged to have stolen several millions worth of antiques from a residence of a former Senior Supreme Court judge, before the Marawila Chief Magistrate and Additional District Judge Chandana Kalansuriya.

On an application by the Police the judge remanded the businessman, of Dankotuwa till December 15. Police informed court that they are conducting investigations to trace three more suspects who are alleged to have been involved in this racket.

They are from Matara, Pannala and Chilaw Police areas, the Police said.

Remanding the suspect the judge directed the Police to submit a comprehensive report in connection with the stolen items on the next date.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Joshua Knelman Addicted To "Hot Art "

Art Theft: Not Such a Pretty Picture

Canadian journalist Josh Knelman spent over four years immersed in the world of international art theft for his new book 'Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives through the Secret World of Stolen Art'.

By Síle Cleary | December 5, 2011

Art theft is fast becoming one of the most lucrative crimes in the world, so much so that Interpol and UNESCO now consider it the world’s fourth largest black market, trailing behind only drugs, money laundering and weaponry.

We talk to Joshua Knelman, award-winning investigative journalist and founding member of The Walrus magazine, about his new book Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art. A true crime story, Hot Art is the result of four years’ investigative work by Knelman into the world of international art theft.

How did you develop an interest in art theft? How did the idea for the book come about?
Hot Art began as a small story I was hoping to report on, focused on a local art gallery here in Toronto that had been burglarized. It turned into an international story, although that wasn’t what I had in mind. During the initial reporting, I began searching around Toronto for anyone with information about art theft. No one in the police force seemed to know very much about it. It all seemed very mysterious. I did, though, meet two people who changed my perspective, and pointed me in the right direction: one of them was a cultural lawyer—Bonnie Czegledi—and the other was a Toronto-based art thief. Though they were opposites in many ways, both of them encouraged me to look beyond the local gallery theft, to the bigger picture—the criminal interplay on the global level, and all the different ways in which the international black market in stolen art was exploding.

In Toronto, there was no unit that specialized in art theft investigations, even though there was, by all accounts, a lot of art being stolen from across the city. There was also no one at the RCMP level that seemed to have a lot of knowledge on this subject. So I began making phone calls and sending emails to the FBI, Scotland Yard, the LAPD, and also, a police unit in Montreal that was doing some groundbreaking work here in Canada. I also developed what turned out to be a three-and-a-half-year conversation with a very savvy former art thief in the UK.

Art crime, it turned out, can move from local to global in a heartbeat, so a piece stolen in
Toronto can be flown to Paris, London, or beyond in a matter of a day or two. This is a challenge for law enforcement, and an advantage for criminals. Toronto, by the way, is also a destination for stolen art. So, the story of art theft always seems to start local, but then the mystery involves following the story to any number of surprising destinations around the globe. Follow the breadcrumbs, remember to bring your passport.

Did your investigative work for the book require you to go undercover?
I never did go undercover, but a few of the sources in the book have a lot of undercover
experience. Tips I’ve heard a few times: be yourself, don’t stray too far from the truth, a sense of humour goes a long way. My research wasn’t so much about going undercover; it became a global manhunt for people with knowledge about how the black market worked. In some cases, it took months, sometimes a year, to earn the trust of a person, so it was a process of getting to know someone, and then meeting them. First phone calls, then travel: Cairo, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, London, or Brighton—the stomping grounds of the former art thief. Brighton is known for being a postcard-perfect resort town, but underneath the veneer, there’s a blueprint for how art theft evolved into an efficient international shadow industry. For me, the process of learning the story of art theft was less about going undercover, and more about being able to see what’s hiding right there in the open.

What was the most interesting discovery you made from your investigative
There were a few discoveries, but the most interesting, for me, occurred over a period of many months where I’d be on the phone with say, Donald Hrycyk, head of the LAPD Art Theft Detail in the morning, and then have a two-hour conversation with Paul, the UK-based former art thief in the afternoon. These are two people who have never met, who live on different continents, but their stories started to match. They were both dedicated to their causes—and had very different goals—but they’d had to learn many of the same rules to do their jobs well. So, through these interviews, I began to perceive some larger criminal patterns that seemed to be occurring in different countries, and were linked.

It also became clear that whether you were a police officer, or a criminal entrepreneur,
once you understood that the art market was global, and completely unregulated, it was a
market that could be exploited. These two coming-of-age stories and the lessons learned in them—of the thief, and the detective—form the core of Hot Art.

What cities around the world would you consider to be art theft hot spots at
present, and why?
Big centres that draw in stolen art are: New York, London, Montreal, Toronto, Zurich, Los Angeles and Paris. Basically, follow the money, and look at the art market. Wherever there’s a big trade in legitimate art, there will be a trade in stolen art. The trick, again, is being able to figure out what objects are stolen. This can be tricky. When you zoom out, though, and look at the world, there are other answers to this question. For example, when Iraq was invaded, their national museum was heavily looted, but there were also over 10,000 archeological digs that were left unguarded. We’ll never know what’s been stolen from those sites. Recently, Libya was in turmoil. Again, there are so many historical sites and digs in that country, and it is certain that they have been looted—in fact, are currently being looted. Those stolen pieces then begin to move across national borders, and are eventually drawn to the list of cities above. In that sense, art theft an epic, global game of hide and seek.

Do you think art theft is a crime on the rise?
There is still so little information about art theft, but there are many indicators that it’s on the rise. Globalization, greed, and a lack of regulation mean that there’s a huge market to exploit, and to make money from. We’ve seen a lot of example of armed gangs running into museums, during daylight hours, and ripping works of genius off the walls, then screaming away in cars with a Picasso, or a Rembrandt. These are the most visible edges of the problem—“Headache Art,” a term coined by the former art thief. He calls it “Headache Art” because it’s high-profile, attracts the attention of police and the media, and gives everyone involved a headache. His advice: Don’t steal a Van Gogh.

But beyond the “Headache Art” cases, there are all the lesser-known stolen pieces, many of them taken from private collections—residences, houses, condos. This is happening all over the world, and tied to criminal organizations that are much more sophisticated than our local police forces. Yes, I would say that art theft is a crime on the rise, and right now, the thieves—at all levels—are winning.

Did you experience many incidents of art forgery in your research? Do you think that this is a growing phenomenon in the world of art crime?
Yes, every detective I interviewed had experience dealing with fakes and forgery cases. When I was in Los Angeles, and spent a few days with the LAPD, I had a chance to see some great forgeries up close. One of them was a Renoir, and it was absolutely stunning. And there are many different kinds of forgeries. For example, another case at the LAPD involved a stolen painting that had been replaced, in its original frame, with a fantastic photo-replica of the original work. It was months before the owner walked up to the painting, and ran her finger across the canvas, only to discover it was a photograph. That work was supposed to be an oil painting, but of course, her finger found only the smooth surface of the photo. The original painting has already been flown from LA to Sweden, and sold at an auction for over half a million dollars.

How does Toronto fare when it comes to cases of art theft?
Toronto is a great place to steal art, to sell stolen art, and to hide stolen art. It’s an hour’s flight from the world’s largest art market—New York, and there is no unit here to patrol the business. So, it’s a perfect city for an art thief to work, or use as a gateway city for the international market. In other words, Toronto is an excellent place to hide in the open.

Are there any plans to write a follow-up to Hot Art?
Well, I’ve started a few conversations, and am waiting to see what comes of them. There are a few stories out there I have my eye on, and as I’ve learned, you never know where they may lead.

Join senior editor of The Walrus, Rachel Giese, in conversation with Joshua Knelman about his new book, Hot Art, at Indigo Books, Manulife Centre on Thursday, December 8th at 7:00 pm.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, "Hot Art" Global Reference Point For Art Related Crime

Hot Art was released exclusively in Canada September 2011 and has already become the global reference point for Art related crime.

Due for release in the United States of America/Europe next March, 2012, Hot Art is already the main source for art related crime discussions worldwide and the first port of call for anyone wanting to write about, talk about or even think about art related crime.

Details here:

The fine art of robbery

With financial institutions dried up, the pilfering of art and antiquities has developed into a $7-billion-a-year industry, creating a new generation of cops and robbers

When Paul Brachfeld heard about the heist of historic documents in Baltimore this summer, the National Archives' inspector general acted quickly.

First, he checked his records to see if the suspects - Barry Landau, a well-known collector, and his young friend, former Vancouver resident Jason Savedoff - had visited his facilities. They had.

Next, he reached out to federal investigators and offered the services of his in-house investigative group. The Archival Recovery Team - ART, for short - is now sorting through more than 10,000 items removed from Landau's Manhattan apartment. Their discoveries so far include treasures that trace back to Napoleon, Newton and Beethoven.

"The vast preponderance of those are not necessarily from my institution," Brachfeld said. "But if not me and my office, who would do this work?"

Brachfeld's full-time team, made up of four to five people, is one of just a few investigative groups in the United States that focus on the recovery of cultural property.

America is the largest consumer of artwork in the world, with a 40-per-cent share of the $200-billion global industry. It's also the scene of nearly half of the illegal art trade, estimated to be worth another $7 billion a year worldwide. According to the FBI, cases can drag on for years with upwards of 90 per cent never solved.

Art theft is roughly as old as art itself, going back millennia to the looters and opportunists who robbed castles and tombs. The Bible describes such thefts, as do the history books, which note plunderings by Vikings, Nazis and those who raided Iraq's National Museum after U.S.-led forces took Baghdad in 2003.

Today, pilfering art and antiquities is the new bank robbery, according to Robert Goldman, a former federal prosecutor and history major who specializes in cultural property cases.

"We all know banks have no money any more," Goldman said. "People watch Antiques Roadshow and Pawn Stars and all these other shows that are on cable, and everybody now believes that there's incredible value in old stuff."

That's made thieves out of all sorts of people, industry analysts said, from electrical contractors to garden-variety burglars who hit up a pizza joint one night and an archive the next.

"It's very easy sometimes to steal art; you just have to be brazen enough to do it," said Derek Fincham, a professor at the South Texas College of Law and the academic director of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art.

Over the years, the Mona Lisa has been stolen, along with a lock of George Washington's hair, Andrew Hamilton's snuff box and a presidential portrait from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, to name a few. Closer to home, 11 original Canadian works of art, including three paintings by members of the Group of Seven, were stolen from a Toronto gallery in July.

Landau, 63, and Savedoff, 24, were indicted in July on federal charges alleging they stole dozens of historic texts signed by American presidents and visionaries from three archives in Maryland and New York.

But prosecutors claimed in court hearings that the scheme was much larger, spanning many years and involving thou-sands of items taken from at least a dozen locations on both sides of the Atlantic, mostly by Landau.

Savedoff - a graduate of St. George's private school, who lived in Kitsilano with his father until last year - pleaded guilty in October to his role in the scheme.

He acknowledged in a lengthy statement of facts that he and Landau conspired "to steal and obtain by fraud objects of cultural heritage from numerous museums" between December 2010 and July 2011, when they were arrested in Maryland.

Savedoff identified high-value historic collections and posed as a researcher alongside Landau when they visited the various libraries that housed them, sometimes bearing cookies or cupcakes for employees. They slipped stolen documents inside coats that had been modified with extra-deep pockets, according to Savedoff's plea agreement, and they "collected the card catalog entries" and other museum identifiers to hide the thefts.

Savedoff could receive up to 15 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000 at his sentencing, scheduled for Feb. 10.

The charges shocked the art and antiques world, which knew Landau as a popular collector of presidential memorabilia, and they have drawn international media attention.

Art thefts make for good headlines and movie characters - à la The Thomas Crown Affair - but they usually don't get much notice from traditional law enforcement, Fincham said, in large part because they're property crimes: "the lowest on the enforcement-allocation ladder."

"I don't think law enforcement has caught up to the idea that there's a difference between presidential documents and jewelry or your car," Fincham said. "You want to preserve these objects and this historical record for future generations."

While the U.S. is home to nearly half the illegal trade, other countries pay far more attention to art fraud. Italy has several hundred detectives on its Carabinieri Art Squad, for example, while Greece, France, Germany and Belgium all have national units working the detail.

In contrast, the FBI's Art Crime Team is made up of one archeologist and 13 agents, who work the beat on the side. The Los Angeles Police Department's Art Theft Detail consists of just one investigator.

In Canada, the national art crime enforcement unit was founded in September 2008 by the RCMP and the Quebec provincial police, following a fouryear partnership between Quebec and Montreal police. Now comprised of four officers, the unit investigates an average 90 cases a year.

Most cases receive little publicity. Others are different.

That explains Brachfeld's quick reaction to the Baltimore theft. He knew that a hot case like Landau's presented the perfect public relations opportunity - a chance to remind the bosses who write the budgets that the work matters.


Brachfeld left the Federal Communications Commission, where he oversaw audits, to join the National Archives and Records Administration as its inspector general at the end of 1999.

He came into a "weak, little" office, he said, with no real capacity to track thefts from any of the agency's 44 facilities nationwide.

"We just were, I think, as an institution comfortably numb and blindly indifferent to the threat."

He focused initially on improving internal controls and security. His first big investigation came in 2002 after discovering that an NARA employee in Philadelphia had pocketed presidential pardons and autographed photos of the Apollo astronauts, among other items, and was trying to sell them.

Outraged, Brachfeld pushed for a full prosecution. He drove to Philadelphia to try to convince the U.S. attorneys that the case was worthwhile, even though it didn't involve violent crime, drugs or terrorism.

"I said basically ... 'Think how much attention you're going to get it if you have a news conference. These names, these iconic names, you're going to get on TV,' and it worked," Brachfeld said. "I basically did a PR campaign. I pushed, I pushed, I pushed."

He developed the ART program in a similar manner, he said - "the same way I got a puppy when I was a kid" - complaining and cajoling until the opposition relented. He also vowed to supervisors that he wouldn't allow that type of crime to happen at the august institution. "And if I didn't get the resources from the agency," he said, "then I was going to go to the Hill."

His team spent $50,000 recently to investigate an employee who admitted stealing $30,000 worth of recordings - including one of Babe Ruth on a hunting trip - and selling them on eBay. The cost was boosted by the required appraisals, storage needs and travel to recover items the employee had sold, according to court records.

"We don't put monetary value" on our items, Brachfeld said. "Once it's in our institution, it's our job to protect it. Something that looks to me like a scrap of nothing, to some researcher could be the hidden gem."

ART typically focuses on crimes against the archives, but took over the Landau sorting because members had the capability and the interest.

The documents - one of the largest volumes of stolen artifacts ever recovered - require certain handling and temperature controls, as well as professionals who know where they might have come from, Brachfeld said.

The group was about 20 per cent through the process last month, alerting victims and developing intelligence for the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office, which is prosecuting the case in Baltimore.

"Our No. 1 goal has been reached," Brachfeld said, "which is to preserve and protect these records."

The case is being watched by others in the field.


On the U.S. West Coast, Det. Don Hrycyk, of the Los Angeles Police Department's Art Theft Detail, calls it a "nightmare."

"It's hard enough for museums and special collections to guard against the dangerous stranger," he said - much less the respected collector.

Hrycyk is a 37-year force veteran who joined the newly formed Art Theft Detail in the mid-1980s after he got "tired of dealing with dead bodies." He was a homicide detective at a time when the homicide rate was sky-high, and he was ready for a change when the detail was developed.

It grew out of a centralized burglary unit that typically dealt with auto thefts but had discovered a pattern of artrelated crimes and fraud in the city.

Hrycyk has handled dinosaur eggs and Hollywood props.

"Anything that you might find in a museum," he said. "It's not the same old thing ... you never know what you're going to be investigating and also you run into interesting characters."

There was the Harvard professor who "suddenly got into art fraud" on a whim; the farmer who once conned a professor out of a bookcase full of Tibetan art; and the crime ring that boldly sold its booty on a cable-TV channel, auction style.

"A lot of these people are opportunists who really didn't plan to steal art," Hrycyk said. But they found an opportunity, and "the bug caught them."

The bug caught him as well. At 61, he's been thinking for a while about retiring but can't bring himself to leave because he's not sure the city-based detail would survive without him. He's the last person in it, and a hiring freeze has prevented him from filling a second position.

"I'd like to find somebody to train and take my place before I leave here, because there's not a school for this stuff," he said. "It's a minimum of three years to try to mentor somebody."

Robert Wittman, who helped develop the FBI's Art Crime Team and now owns a private art recovery company outside Philadelphia, said the work requires specific skills.

"They are not like most property crime investigations," he said. Investigators must tread lightly and know the way the art world operates to recover items before they're taken underground or destroyed.


Wittman, who was born in Japan but raised in Baltimore, knows the vulnerabilities of the art business. His American father ran Wittman's Oriental Gallery on Baltimore's Howard Street, stocking the shop with hundreds of intricate pieces from his Japanese wife's culture.

The younger Wittman inherited his father's interest and took it with him into the FBI as an agent in Philadelphia.

One of his first cases involved a Chinese crystal ball stolen from the Pennsylvania Museum. He teamed up with the like-minded prosecutor Goldman in Philly, and they formed their own art crime team well before the FBI formalized a unit years later.

"We were doing this work before it was sexy," said Goldman, who's now in private practice in Pennsylvania.

They bent the laws to fit the crimes they discovered, applying mail fraud statutes and environmental protections to their creative prosecutions.

In 1998, after discovering an electrical contractor's home museum full of items from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, they became the first to use a Theft of Major Art law, which made it a federal offence to steal from a library or museum.

In 1999, they used the Bald Eagle Protection Act to prosecute a man who tried to sell a war bonnet that had belonged to Geronimo.

And in 2001 and 2002, they won mail-and wire-fraud convictions against two former Antiques Roadshow experts who staged phoney appraisals on the show, sometimes lowballing property and then buying it.

"We found that if you did these cases, and got good press, then the managers would let us continue," said Wittman.

He tried to stay out of the spotlight to protect the undercover work he did in countries around the world as Bob Clay, posing as an art broker, collector, expert or buyer.

Between 1997 and 2004, he and Goldman racked up a dozen significant recoveries, including a rare copy of the Bill of Rights, a Norman Rockwell painting and a Civil War sword that belonged to the U.S. Naval Academy. They used those cases to propose an Art Crime Team to the FBI, which launched the program at the end of 2004.

Today, the group is made up of 13 agents - who do the work part time, in addition to their other duties - and archeologist Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, who oversees the operation.

Three federal prosecutors are assigned to handle their cases.

Most of the agents get on the team because they have an interest in art and antiques, Magness-Gardiner said, though there's quite a bit of turnover.

Wittman, who has been gone three years, says that's because it's not a career-making gig.

"It's not the type of job where you're going to become a manager; you don't get raised up because it's low priority," he said.

He says he was the bureau's first and only full-time art investigator, both before and after the development of the Art Crime Team.

"I wasn't so interested all the time in catching somebody," Wittman said. "I was more interested in recovering the art. It always seemed more important to recover it and have it for our children than it was to catch some guy and have [him get] three years in prison."

Both he and his former partner worry that few people feel as they do, however.

"Not being there any more, my concern is that this isn't just a passing fancy by the federal government, that they continue to give these crimes the attention" they need, said Goldman. "The loss to civilization and the loss to our cultural heritage" is significant, he said.

"The best prosecutors and the best agents in these cases are the people that get it."

Baltimore Sun, with files from The Vancouver Sun


In the United States:

Art Crime Team (FBI): 13 agents work part time to recover lost and fraudulent cultural works. More than 2,600 items worth $142 million have been recovered since 2004.

Art Recovery Team (National Archives and Records Administration): Four-to five-person group within the inspector-general's office focused on theft and fraud within the National Archives' 44 facilities.

Art Theft Detail, (LAPD): A one-man unit focused on cultural property fraud in Los Angeles, it has recovered more than $80 million worth of items since 1993.

Cultural Property Crimes Program (U.S. National Central Bureau of Interpol): Publishes international theft notices making it harder to trade goods. Interpol also publishes a quarterly Stolen Works of Art Database bulletin and a biannual poster of the top-10 missing items.

Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities program (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement): Repatriates stolen items across borders, returning more than 2,500 items to 21 countries since 2007, when it ramped up agent training.

In Canada:

Art Crime Enforcement Unit: Based in Montreal, it was founded in September 2008 as a partnership between the RCMP and Quebec provincial police, with four officers. It replaced a unit created by Quebec police and Montreal police forces that between 2004 and 2008 investigated 450 art crimes, made 20 arrests and seized more than 150 stolen or forged artworks valued at $2 million.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Picasso Fiend Lugo New York State Of Mind

Mark Lugo, Picasso Thief, Due In Court Today

​Mark Lugo, the Hoboken wine steward accused of a number of art thefts including that of a $275,000 Picasso sketch in San Francisco, is due to be arraigned in New York today. Lugo just finished a 138-day sentence in California for the Picasso; the arraignment in New York is related to two art heists at Manhattan hotels, according to the AP's source.

Lugo became a suspect in several art thefts in New York after the San Francisco crime, in which he walked into the Weinstein Gallery, casually took the drawing "Tête de Femme" off the wall, and moseyed out into a taxi.

Police found about $500,000 worth of stolen artwork in Lugo's Hoboken apartment, including another stolen Picasso. It was all displayed prominently.

In New York, the charges against Lugo include the theft of a $350,000 Fernand Leger drawing from the Carlyle Hotel, and the theft of five works by South Korean artist Mie Kim from the Chambers Hotel, each worth $1,800.

It's not known whether Lugo has a lawyer in New York or whether the New York investigation will continue into other crimes he's thought to be related to.

Breaking News

NEW YORK (AP) — A wine steward suspected in a bicoastal art-theft spree lifted pricey art from New York hotels simply by walking out with the works in a canvas tote bag and then used them to line his own walls, prosecutors said Friday.

Mark Lugo, who just spent more than four months in jail for grabbing a $275,000 Picasso off a San Francisco art gallery wall, was being held without bail after pleading not guilty Friday to grand larceny and other charges in a Manhattan court.

"In an effort to display stolen art in his apartment, this repeat art thief boldly walked out of two Manhattan hotels in broad daylight" with valuable works, District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement.

Lugo's New York lawyer, James Montgomery, said the 31-year-old was a "pleasant, engaging" man "who's been struggling with particular difficulties," which he wouldn't detail.

"When the dust settles, and the DA's office calms down a little bit, we'll find that Mr. Lugo is a man who had no commercial motive at all" in the alleged thefts, Montgomery said.

The charges relate to two thefts of a total of six artworks, including what prosecutors called a $350,000 sketch by the French Cubist painter Fernand Leger. But prosecutors said a search of Lugo's former apartment in Hoboken, N.J., turned up four other pieces — including a Picasso work — that may have been stolen from Manhattan venues, and they said the investigation was continuing.

Lugo was publicly identified as a suspect in several New York heists since shortly after his July arrest in San Francisco, where police identified him as the man who walked into the Weinstein Gallery, lifted the 1965 Picasso drawing "Tete de Femme" ("Head of a Woman") off the wall, strolled down the street with the sketch under his arm and hopped into a taxi. Police tracked Lugo to a friend's Napa County apartment, where the Picasso was found unframed and prepared for shipping.

At his Hoboken apartment, investigators then found a $430,000 trove of stolen art, carefully and prominently displayed, as well as high-priced wine, authorities said.

Among some 19 artworks at the apartment was Leger's 1917 "Composition with Mechanical Elements," Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast told a judge. The drawing disappeared June 28 from an employee entrance area at a gallery in the Carlyle Hotel; prosecutors pegged its value at $350,000, though Montgomery said that figure warranted investigating.

Lugo also is charged with stealing a group of five works by the South Korea-born artist Mie Yim, known for her disconcerting images of toy bears and other toy-like creatures, from the Chambers Hotel on June 14. The hotel had bought the Yim works, together called "Pastel on Board," for $1,800 apiece, prosecutors said.

Representatives for the hotels didn't immediately return calls Friday.

The San Francisco district attorney's office has said Lugo also was suspected of several other New York art heists, including the theft of a $30,000 Picasso etching from the William Bennett Gallery on June 27.

The sometime sommelier and kitchen server at upscale Manhattan restaurants also is charged in New Jersey with taking $6,000 worth of wine - in the form of three bottles of Chateau Petrus Pomerol - in April from Gary's Wine and Marketplace in Wayne. He hasn't appeared in a New Jersey court yet to answer those charges.

Lugo pleaded guilty in October to grand theft for the San Francisco heist. He finished his 138-day sentence Nov. 21 but was being held until he could be transferred to New York.

Lugo's San Francisco attorney, Douglas Horngrad, has called him "more like someone who was in the midst of a psychiatric episode" than a calculating art thief.