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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stolen Art Watch, Balkans (Stolen Art) Buy-Backs Attracts Art Loss Grifter's

Above, Dick Ellis of   


Balkans targeted in hunt for stolen art

This is a prime opportunity for art recovery experts to retrieve works
When two paintings by Picasso, stolen from a Swiss gallery in Pfäffikon, turned up in Belgrade last October, the Serbian police refused to provide any information on the chain of events leading to their recovery. But The Art Newspaper has learned that Dick Ellis, the former head of the Metro­politan Police Art & Antiques Unit and now a private investigator, played a key role in the return of Tête de Cheval (horse’s head), 1962, and Verre et Pichet (glass and pitcher), 1944, which were on loan from the Sprengel Museum, Hanover, with an insurance value of “several million” dollars.
Ellis told us that he has set up a specialist art recovery firm, Art Management, with four Serbians, including businessmen and private investigators, to focus on the Balkan region. European art recovery experts are increasingly concentrating on developing their businesses in the Balkans to track down stolen works of art circulating in the region’s criminal networks. We understand that, in addition to Ellis’ firm, at least two other private investigators are active in the region, while the Art Loss Register (ALR) has launched a campaign targeting Balkan criminals.

The ALR, whose representatives made around eight trips to the region last year, presented a briefing document at a conference in Barcelona last October, setting out options for recovery in a notoriously difficult region. Since the break-up of Yugoslavia and the subsequent war, the authorities have largely focused on hunting war criminals and combating drug trafficking. However, the region has become an important transit point for art stolen from France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the former Czechoslo­vakia, Hol­land and Belgium by well-known gangs including the “Balkan Bandits” and the “Pink Panthers”. While Serbia is the main base for the gangs, many of the stolen works are emerging in surrounding Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro.

Charlie Hill, another former Met Police detective, says that, despite the silly names, “these … are all-singing, all-dancing criminals. The problem with art crime in the Balkans is that it’s a fascinating nightmare—the crim­inals are a nightmare but the art turning up is fascinating.”

A golden opportunity?

Criminals are thought to be under pressure from their own governments who are keen to improve relations with the EU and Nato. And while the economic outlook in Europe remains grim, the Balkan states are benefiting from increased inward investment in core infrastructure as well as tourism, providing legitimate business and investment opportunities for criminals. Meanwhile, increasing levels of due diligence by foreign art dealers and intensified efforts at recovery by police, insurers and victims, are further strong incentives for criminals to dispose of stolen goods.

Ethical issues

In its briefing document, the ALR says it hopes to offer people in possession of stolen works, or works with doubtful provenance, a “window of opportunity” in which to surrender them. The company says there is a risk that art will otherwise be destroyed, and adds it will only make payments “for the recovery of items stolen years ago, where those actually involved at the time are likely to be dead or incapable of further crime or in those cases where the individual has been turned into a useful source on other cases”. In an attempt to prevent the encouragement of further thefts by Balkan gangs, there will be no negotiations on thefts committed after 2010, “when [the company] made more direct contact with the gangs involved”.

Ellis, who is equally wary of encouraging the thieves, says he will offer rewards for information rather than buying works back, but only when he is confident the source was not involved in the original crime.

Concerns around making payments for stolen works were raised during the Tate’s recovery of two Turner paintings, Shade and Darkness and Light and Colour, both 1843, for £8m in 1999. The Tate sought approval to pursue the recovery, which was granted by a Frankfurt court, but Julian Radcliffe, the chairman of the ALR, says such a formal route can be slow and expensive. The “informal amnesty” being offered by the ALR does not have specific permission from authorities in the Balkan states, which could prove problematic if the region’s police forces expand their own investigations.

An EU-wide law, to strengthen intergovernmental co-operation, was discussed in Budapest last month, but is not expected any time soon. Meanwhile, a recovery of €1m worth of paintings stolen in France, including a work by Maurice Utrillo, is said to be imminent, according to trade sources.
Art Hostage Comments:
Seems Julian Radcliffe has done an almighty U-turn from when he said last September:

"Anyone, including lawyers, who thinks that they can obtain rewards for the return of stolen art without providing full information on who had them and why, should be prosecuted." — Julian Radcliffe, ALR Chairman, quoted in Antiques and the Arts Weekly, 2 September 2011.

If the Athens Picasso theft recently turns out to be destined for the Balkans then would the fact Dick Ellis facilitated in payments for the two Picasso's recovered in a bank vault in Serbia back in October 2011 be one reason behind the Athens Picasso heist ?

The outstanding Cezanne and Degas stolen back in 2008 from Switzerland are currently held in Montenegro having been sent there shortly after the theft and have been offered back for $100,000 a couple of years ago. They might make their way to Serbia proper, Belgrade or close by for collection in the coming weeks or months.
The Art Loss Register is offering an amnesty of sorts for stolen art taken before 2010, therefore the Cezanne and Degas are included.
This means if the Art Loss Register recovers them they are in line for their standard fee of 20% plus Value Added Tax up to the first Million and 15% plus Value added tax subsequently. Meaning the Art Loss Register stands to collect £27 million based upon the Cezanne and Degas being valued at £150 million.
No doubt the Art Management Group and Dick Ellis will have a similar fee system in place which means they would also collect a multi-million pound sterling pay-off if they recover the Cezanne and Degas.
So, to recap, Art Loss Grifters like The Art Loss Register, Dick Ellis, Art Management Group etc facilitate a small payment, say $100,000 for the Cezanne and Degas, filtered to the thieves or handlers via a patsy, e.g. the Serbian businessmen referred to by Dick Ellis he used in recovering the two Picasso's from a bank vault in Belgrade Serbia last October 2011, then the Art Loss Grifters like The Art Loss Register, Dick Ellis, Art Management Group etc collect multi-million pounds sterling payoffs from victims, museum's or insurers.

Are the Foxes guarding the Hen House with respect to art loss recovery in the Balkans?


Anonymous said...

Dick Ellis is trying to sting the Irish guys who hold some Gardner art.

He is going to get them all arrested soon, so beware of the Dick Ellis false promises and undercover sting operation happening now in Ireland.
July 3rd 2012

Anonymous said...

Let me tell you the truth about Dick Ellis.
He has stood in a court of law and committed perdury on more than one occasion.
Nobody can lie better than Dick.
He has stolen money, He has stolen paintings.
He was very very lucky I never had a tape recorder on me when talking to him once otherwise he would have got three years for perdury.
How he has never been arrested is amazing.
How he sleeps at night I dont know.
Just had a thought ask Mr Dick Ellis to take a lie detector test, questions to be asked 'have you ever committed perdury in a court of law'.
Let the real Dick Ellis stand up.
You are a crook who has managed to get away with it for years.
You will not make any complaints about what I have written Dick because you know if you were to take the lie detector test you would be found out.