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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Weekend Round Up

The World of Stolen Art

Art heists are mysterious, and mythological. In the real world, art theft is an international labyrinth of petty criminals and hot shot detectives. We go inside the international black market for stolen art, a market that fuels organized crime and one in which Canada plays a prominent role.

The World of Stolen Art - Joshua Knelman

We started this segment with a clip describing a real-life art heist.

The international black market for stolen art is rife with malicious -- and considerably shrewder -- characters than the two we just heard about. And many of them operate here in Canada. Joshua Knelman goes inside that world in his new book, Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art. Joshua Knelman was in Toronto.

The World of Stolen Art - Joshua Knelman

One of the detectives Joshua Knelman chronicled in his book is Robert Wittman. He's a former FBI agent who spent years undercover tracking down stolen art. Robert Wittman is also the author of Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures. He was in Philadelphia.

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Home is Where The Art Is

WEST COBB — Cobb Police have arrested two people and are seeking others who police say broke into a west Cobb home over the summer and got away with collectible antiques, art, precious metals, coins and artifacts valued at $150,000.

The homeowner’s wife and daughter discovered the burglary on Aug. 12. The burglars apparently went through the house, which the owner said was vandalized and damaged.

The thieves even took a 900-pound Champion safe, according to the police report.

A rare, first-edition signed book was among the items stolen, along with a priceless painting, said the victim.

“It was a great deal of very valuable property,” he said. “I’ve been collecting since I was 10 years old.”

Arnold Wayne Nix, 54, of Smyrna, and William David Ingram, 48, of Powder Springs, have been charged with the theft, according to arrest warrants and jailhouse records.

Nix was arrested by Cobb police on Aug. 31, and charged with felony burglary. He remains in the Cobb Jail on a $125,000 bond.

Ingram was arrested by Cobb police on Sept. 8 and charged with felony burglary. He was released from the Cobb County Jail on a $10,000 bond on Sept. 10.

Ingram’s warrant states that the safe was taken to a residence in Smyrna, but according to police and the victim, neither the safe nor its contents have been recovered.

Cobb Police Officer Michael Bowman said investigators are seeking additional suspects in the case, but declined to provide more details about the case.

The homeowner said he and his family are still dealing with the aftermath of the burglary.

“This is a life-changing event,” he said. “I don’t like leaving the house anymore, unless I have to. The loss of personal security, no longer feeling safe in our home … isn’t anything that’s going to go away fast. … The only leverage that we have is that they look at many years in prison.”

Court records show that Nix was previously arrested by Cobb police on July 18, at Macland and Corner roads and charged with schedule I and II drugs, possession of marijuana, less than one ounce, and vehicle with a false secret compartment. He was released on a $10,000 bond on July 19.

— Three people were behind bars Friday as the result of warrants served in a residential burglary investigation that netted more than $100,000 worth of stolen property, including artwork and firearms, a Riverside County sheriff's captain said.

Philip Sena and Denise Swearingen of Bermuda Dunes and Rick Sena of La Quinta were arrested in a two-day search that netted property stolen from residences throughout the Coachella Valley, Capt. Raymond Gregory said Friday.

“The (recovered) property includes a number of distinctive art pieces, as well as a large cache of firearms,” he said.

Police served search warrants at a residence on Bermuda Dunes Drive in the Bermuda Dunes Country Club and another residence on Avenue 70 in the unincorporated area of North Shore. They found “large quantities” of property stolen from residences in La Quinta, Bermuda Dunes, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage and other communities in the Coachella Valley, Gregory said.

Philip Sena, 46, was detained on suspicion of possession of stolen property, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a silencer, possession of a deadly weapon and committing a felony while on bail.

Rick Sena, 45, was detained on suspicion of possession of stolen property and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Swearingen, 41, was detained on suspicion of possession of stolen property.

The investigation, which is ongoing, was headed by the La Quinta Police Special Enforcement Team and the warrants were served with sheriff's investigators and personnel from other law enforcement agencies, said Gregory, who serves as the chief of police for La Quinta, which contracts for police services from the sheriff's department.

Looters plunder $8.5M from Ivory Coast museum

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Looters stormed Ivory Coast's national museum during the country's bloody political crisis earlier this year, plundering nearly $8.5 million worth of art including the institution's entire gold collection.

Five months later, the museum's gates still open and close at the posted hours, but empty display cases gather dust. A lone set of elephant tusks sits in the dark in the museum's main exposition room.

And staff member Oumar Gbane now spends his days making a handwritten inventory of what was stolen since his computer was among the items taken.

"No tourists can come here. There is nothing to see," he laments. The pillage was the first in the museum's 70-year history.

Doran Ross, former director of the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles, says the Abidjan museum used to be "one of the best maintained in Africa."

Student groups and tourists once filled the museum's halls to view the corpse-like Senoufo statues depicting armless ghosts of ancestors and the dark wooden Baoule masks with elongated eyes and narrow mouths.

They saw delicate Akan pendants abstractly depicting animals in shiny gold, sacred Yohoure masks of antelopes with a human faces, and Baoule chest ornaments made of beads and golden disks etched with images of fish and crocodiles.

Ivorian artist and author Veronique Tadjo, who resides in South Africa, says the collection reflected "the various areas (of the country) that now need to reconcile."

"Young people will be deprived of these treasures that are part of our identity — what makes us proud, what makes us a nation," Tadjo says.

Museum director Silvie Memel Kassi says the thieves knew which pieces to take: The 17th century gold was stolen but less valuable pieces were not even touched.

In normal times, the museum property seems cut off from the billowing exhaust fumes and endless blocks of high rises outside. Stepping inside the museum walls, one enters a verdant place where tropical hardwoods, palm and banana trees flourish undisturbed.

During the violence, snipers made the property their own sanctuary, using the rooftop of the museum to stage attacks. Many of the bullet-shattered windows in towers across the street have not been replaced yet. When it rains, water leaks through bullet holes in the building's rusted metal roof.

In November, former president Laurent Gbagbo refused to leave office following a contested election, and five months later the country was on the brink of civil war. Members of the military, militia men and residents picked up arms in Abidjan.

On March 30, the ongoing violence that followed the election intensified around the museum, Gbane says. Museum workers went home not knowing they wouldn't return for weeks. Like most residents of the city, they locked themselves inside their homes, unable to leave except for perilous trips to find food.

No one was there to guard the museum. It was not a safe place to be, situated between the military headquarters and government buildings.

When Gbane returned on April 18, he found the thick cement walls were punctured on the front of the building and there was a pile of rubble on the museum's entrance.

After the looting Kassi contacted Interpol, and Ivorian customs officials have been ordered to watch for the plundered objects, Kassi says. But Ivory Coast's borders are porous and the pieces could be easily smuggled into neighboring countries without detection.

Museum pillages have been a byproduct of war for centuries. In 2003, looters in Iraq plundered 15,000 priceless artifacts that dated from the Stone Age and Babylon to the Assyrians. Afghanistan's museums have been systematically stripped of ancient artifacts for decades.

Often stolen art is only discovered when the thieves try to sell the pieces to museums or art collectors, says Ross, the art historian.

One danger is the gold could be melted down and disguised. Kassi thinks the thieves are too smart to do such a thing. "It doesn't have the same value. They know," she says.

Ross says the gold itself has low karat values and would not even be worth much melted down.

"The real value of the work is the artistic quality," he says. "This is a major loss, not just for Ivory Coast or Africa but for a much larger world," says Ross.

Paintings Stolen By Nazi's Returned to Poland

NEW YORK, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Two Polish paintings stolen by Nazis during World War II were repatriated in a ceremony in New York by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Both oil-on-panel paintings by Polish artist Julian Falat were returned to Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski during the Thursday night ceremony, CNN reported.

"Behind every person who is here, we can find a very difficult history ... very difficult ties, tangled Polish-American ties," the president said. "It is so good in difficult histories we were able to develop very good, strong relations between our nations. I want to thank you for your good actions, for everything you have done."

The paintings, titled "Off to the Hunt" and "The Hunt," both winter scenes, "are two magnificent and very important pieces of art," said Bogdan Zdrojewski, Polish minister of culture and national heritage.

The paintings, taken from the National Museum in Warsaw, were discovered in 2006 at an auction in New York

A complaint filed in December claimed the paintings were taken from the Warsaw museum in 1944 by SS Lt. Col. Benne Von Arent.

The United States customs agency has returned more than 2,500 items to more than 22 countries since 2007.

"No one can ever provide just compensation to the victims of the Nazis' atrocities, but it is very gratifying for our office to play a role in returning the art that they looted during World War II to its rightful owners," New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

Stolen XV century icon returned to Ukraine
A XV century icon "Crucifixion with Bystanders," which was stolen in 1984 from Lviv Museum of Ukrainian Art, has been returned to Ukraine.

The ceremony to hand over the icon to Ukraine has been held at the Sophia of Kyiv National Sanctuary. The icon was stolen from Lviv Museum of Ukrainian Art (currently known as the Andriy Sheptytsky National Museum in Lviv) in 1984, along with over 20 more icons. The values were removed abroad, and some of them were sold. In early 2010, it became clear that the Crucifixion with Bystanders was in the collection of Russian icon collector Mikhail de Boire (Yelizavetin). He acquired the icon in Germany in 2007. His widow Yelizavetina expressed a desire to return the shrine to the Lviv museu

OTTAWA - Some people are stealing more than a just glance at artwork in government buildings.

Records kept by the Canada Council for the Arts show thieves have made off with pricey works of art on display in federal offices, airports and universities.

A list obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act shows more than $80,000 worth of art has disappeared over the years.

Not all of it was stolen.

One piece was sold at auction after someone at Montreal's Mirabel Airport mistakenly put it in the lost-and-found.

The government bought Canadian artist Ann Newdigate's tapestry, "Creatures of Habit," for $5,570. No one knows how much it sold for at auction, or where it is today.

"It was taken down by Transport Canada, and it was placed with goods from the lost-and-found department, and it was sold at auction," said Victoria Henry, director of the Canada Council Art Bank.

"So someone owns it, and has the name of the art bank, the label on it, for sure."

Henry said insurance covered the loss of the tapestry.

Other stolen works include paintings, photographs and soap stone sculptures.

The Canada Council Art Bank is the largest collection of contemporary Canadian art in the world, with around 17,000 works by some 2,500 artists in its working collection.

The entire collection was originally valued at $18 million. Now it is worth $70 million.

Companies and government departments and agencies can rent art from the collection to display in their offices and public spaces. It costs between $120 and $3,600 a year to rent a work of art.

The Canada Council says around 5,000 works are currently rented out to government offices, hospitals, schools and businesses.

The most valuable piece to be swiped was a small floor sculpture by Toronto-based artist Noel Harding. The 16-millimetre film-loop projection with moving props cost the government $13,055.

Henry defended the art bank's track record. She said only 201 works of art have been stolen since the art bank opened in 1972.

"We have rented well over 250,000 art works," Henry said.

"So it's a very limited number of works that have actually been lost or stolen during the 40 years that we've been in existence. So, it's a pretty good record."

Crooks struck CBC buildings most. The public broadcaster has been hit 16 times at its bureaus across the country.

Public Works has been robbed nine times at its Vancouver, Montreal, Gatineau, Que., Halifax and St. John's, N.L., offices. Thieves struck the Finance Department six times and the offices of the taxman five times.

Not even Public Safety Canada was safe. A soapstone sculpture by Inuit carver Enook Manomie and black-and-white photos by Robert Boffa were nabbed at two of the agency's offices.

"The public spaces are public," Henry said.

"I would say in all cases, there's usually in the lobby area some kind of a receptionist, if it's a government building, or a commissionaire in fact.

"So it is a bit of a surprise when a major work like that disappears."

Scenes of some other heists include immigration offices, hospitals, universities and colleges.

Meanwhile, around 100 works of art collectively valued at $413,884 have been damaged beyond repair.

Most of the too-damaged-to-display pieces were heavy fibreglass sculptures. Warehouses and loading docks were where most of the damage occurred.

Henry said many of those works simply deteriorated over time.

Church of Cyprus Announces Return of Stolen Frescoes
he Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus announces the return of the frescoes of the St. Themonianos (Euphimianos) Church at Lysi, situated within the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus.

The frescoes will be returned by the Menil Foundation in Houston, Texas, USA, in accordance with the terms of the relevant loan agreement, between the Holy Archbishopric of Cyprus and the Menil Foundation, which expires on February 14, 2012.

''The return of the frescoes, which were illegally detached from the St. Themonianos Church by Turkish looters, after the violent Turkish invasion in 1974 and the continued illegal occupation of the northern part of Cyprus by the Turkish armed forces, as well as the destruction and looting of the religious heritage of our country, all in violation of International Law and Human Rights, constitutes a symbol of hope for the entire Cypriot people and strengthens its faith in the justification for its struggle for freedom and return to its ancestral homes'', the press release says.

The Church of Cyprus notes that the return of the frescoes has been a personal vision and goal of Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos II, and was achieved after the concerted efforts of the Church of Cyprus and the competent authorities of the Republic of Cyprus.

''The Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus would like to cordially thank the Menil Foundation for its commitment to return the frescoes and, especially, for its unique initiative in promoting those symbols of Christian faith and masterpieces of Byzantine art, as well as for their first rate preservation and maintenance'', it is added.

The Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus expresses hope that this act of honour by the Menil Foundation shall constitute an example for many other organizations, museums, foundations and even private individuals to follow.

''The Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus expects that the Menil Foundation shall return the frescoes safely with the utmost diligence and care. The Church will work with the competent authorities of the State for the safe placement of the frescoes in our country and their keeping under the best conditions'', the press release concludes.

Since the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, hundreds of valuable artefacts have been stolen from the northern Turkish occupied areas of the island and found their way into the black market overseas.

More than 500 churches have been pillaged, destroyed or turned into museum, inns or silos. Many archaeological sites and other places belonging to the country’s 9,000 year old cultural heritage have been abandoned to the elements.

The Church of Cyprus has, at different times, managed to secure the return of stolen religious items, illegally stolen and sold on the black market abroad.

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