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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Stolen Art Watch, Stanley Spencer Painting Theft, French Art Heist, Strad Violin Snatch, Undercover Police Posing as Insurance Agents Or Buyers, Always Waiting, Offering False Reward Hope







The $5 Million Violin and the Telltale Taser: Inside an Epically Stupid Crime

By Justin Rohrlich
It was a little after 10PM when Frank Almond, the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO), walked out of Wisconsin Lutheran College into the sub-zero January night. He had just finished a chamber music performance at the small school, located in the quiet suburb of Wauwatosa, and he was headed home.
As Almond opened the passenger door of his car to put his violin inside, a 41-year-old ex-con named Salah Salahadyn allegedly walked up to Almond and tased him unconscious. Almond came to just in time to see his attacker speed away in a burgundy minivan driven by a woman in a black hat. Almond’s iPad was gone. As were two 19th-century bows, which were worth a combined $50,000. And so was the violin, a 1715 Stradivarius he had been playing since a wealthy benefactor loaned it to him in 2008.
It was worth $5 million.
“There is now exactly one documented case of a Strad-level violin specifically targeted for an armed robbery," Almond tells VICE News. "Lucky me.”
* * *
He actually was pretty lucky.
Salahadyn, who had previously spent five years in prison for swiping a $25,000 statue from a Milwaukee art gallery in the mid-1990s and then trying to sell it back to the gallery owner, once described stealing a Strad as his "dream theft." But when he allegedly stole Almond's, it wasn't exactly the perfect score. Somehow Salahadyn had failed to realize that each time a Taser is fired, it disperses tiny ID tags imprinted with bar-coded serial numbers — kind of like guilt confetti. A phone call from police to the manufacturer of the Taser identified a 36-year-old Milwaukee barber named Universal Knowledge Allah as the man who'd bought it.
Allah (born Shaudell Johnson) planned to tell cops that the Taser had been stolen if they started asking questions, but according to court documents, he managed to implicate himself and Salahadyn before that ever happened. Four days after the robbery, Allah gave a haircut to a customer identified only as “W.D.” W.D. then gave Allah a lift home. It was during this ride that Allah told W.D. all that had happened, right down to Salahadyn having “used the electric, not the heat.” By that point, the robbery was big news, and a $100,000 reward had been offered by the MSO.
The following day, W.D. went to police and told them everything he knew.
Allah was quickly arrested, followed almost immediately by Salahadyn, who had neglected to dispose of two key pieces of evidence: a binder filled with magazine articles about Strads, and a note he wrote to himself reading, “Taser.com $500-$1000.” Salahadyn then led investigators to an associate’s home where he had stashed the stolen violin. In the attic, hidden inside a suitcase, was Almond’s undamaged Stradivarius, along with Salahadyn’s own ID. The alleged getaway driver, LaToya Atlas — also Salahadyn’s on-again, off-again girlfriend and the mother of his child — was arrested and released without charges. Officials have thus far declined to explain why.
Famous Strads 'have been photographed from more angles than a porn star.'
Dick Ellis, the detective who founded New Scotland Yard’s Art & Antiques Unit in 1989, describes the world of rare instrument theft as “a small subset of a niche area of criminality.” In other words, Strads are almost never stolen, despite the fact that so many of them — like Almond's — are absurdly easy targets. And there's one overarching reason why.
There are lots of dumb things you can steal. A Stradivarius may be the dumbest.
* * *
Of the approximately 1,000 violins, violas, and cellos Antonio Stradivari made in his lifetime, the most coveted come from what is called his “golden period,” which lasted from 1700 to 1725. Of these, two are considered the cream of the crop. One is the 1716 Messiah, which is in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, UK. The other is Almond’s 1715 Lipinski.
There are various theories about what makes the 450 or so surviving Stradivarius violins so sublime. Some experts have speculated it has to do with unique climate conditions experienced only during a brief time in the 17th century, which gave special acoustic properties to the wood used by Stradivari. Others believe it had something to do with the varnish, a secret formulation whose recipe disappeared when Stradivari died in 1737 at the age of 93. Still others think river fungi got into timber being floated down from the Italian Alps to Stradivari’s home base of Cremona, which somehow altered the wood’s cells in a magical way that has never been duplicated.
All of those theories may be total BS. Beyond dispute, however, is the fact that Stradivari’s creations are a testament to a singular brand of genius, an artisan who spent his life relentlessly trying to improve upon his past work.
But Strads don't cost millions of dollars simply because they sound good. They are pieces of art. The 1721 Lady Blunt Stradivarius is worth, ounce-for-ounce, 625 times the price of gold. Next month, Sotheby’s will open sealed bids for Stradivari’s 1719 Macdonald viola. There are far fewer Stradivarius violas still around than there are violins; if the Macdonald realizes the estimated sale price of more than $45 million, it will be the most expensive musical instrument ever to change hands.
It's no wonder Salahadyn got ideas.
“People read these articles about a Stradivarius worth millions of dollars and think, ‘Hey, if we just get 10 percent of its actual price, that’s still a lot of money,’” says former FBI agent Robert K. Wittman, founder of the Bureau’s Art Crime Team and author of Priceless. “The real art in an art heist isn’t the stealing, it’s the selling.” To that end, three things are absolutely vital if you’re going to get any value out of a Strad: authenticity, provenance, and proper documentation. This is where the deal tends to fall apart for a thief. A stolen Strad “might be real as rain,” Wittman says, but once it’s out of the rightful owner’s hands, it becomes relatively worthless.
"I call high-value stolen art ‘headache art’ because it disrupts the everyday handling of lesser stolen art, therefore causing everyone a fucking headache."
Strads derive their value in part from the fact that their provenance is so well-documented. Every nick, bump, and scratch has been analyzed and pored over, as has the grain of the wood. Modern-day violin makers use Stradivariuses as models for their own instruments, which makes the makers intimately familiar with the violins, violas, and cellos. Famous Strads “have been photographed from more angles than a porn star,” says Laurie Niles, a concert violinist and the editor-in-chief of Violinist.com. Privately run organizations like the Art Loss Register and Art Recovery International have dedicated databases focused solely on tracking stringed instruments for dealers, auction houses, collectors and buyers, police, museums, insurance companies, and anyone else with an interest in their recovery.
“Morons — low-level idiots,” is how ex art thief “Turbo” Paul Hendry describes Salahadyn and Allah, who are both due back in court May 15 and face up to 15 years in prison. Hendry, who claims to have been Great Britain’s most prolific trafficker of stolen art before he went straight in 1993, says most crooked dealers will handle only lesser-known pieces, which can be blended back into the legitimate market at, or close to, full price. Since most thieves know not to steal internationally recognizable items, the overall recovery rate for art and antiquities is a paltry 5 percent to 10 percent.
“Give me 100 stolen pieces worth $10,000 over one worth $1 million any day,” Hendry says. “I call high-value, iconic, stolen art ‘headache art’ because it disrupts the everyday handling of lesser stolen art, therefore causing everyone a fucking headache.”
The chances of a legitimate buyer taking a stolen Stradivarius off a thief's hands are, effectively, zero. According to Niles, a multimillion-dollar Strad without the right papers “might fetch $500” in a pawn shop. That said, there are a handful of famous Strads that have disappeared and remain missing. So where are they?
“So far I've seen absolutely no evidence that a black market for high-end instruments even exists — in contrast to paintings,” Almond says. “I'm aware of exactly three great Strads that have disappeared since 1994 and have not resurfaced; that's not much of a market.”
He’s right. As one dealer explains, the rarer the item, the smaller the world becomes. This is one reason why Ellis believes many stolen instruments — like the Le Maurien, Colossus, and Davidoff-Morini Strads Almond mentions — could very well have been fenced for, essentially, nothing. Today they may be hiding in plain sight.
Says Ellis: “I suspect they have been sold on to students and [other people] who have no idea what they bought on the cheap."
* * *
There are only two police officers in the United States who serve as full time “art cops.” One of them is Detective Don Hrycyk of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Back in the late 1980s, when Los Angeles was seeing roughly 1,000 murders a year, Hrycyk was working homicide in South Central’s violent 77th Street Division. When the relentless bloodshed got to be too much, he put in for a transfer to the commercial burglary unit. Hrycyk’s caseload initially included a handful of art crimes, and in 1993 that became his sole focus. Today, the 40-year veteran is in charge of the LAPD’s Art Theft Detail, which currently consists of one person: Don Hrycyk.
Over the past 20 years, he has orchestrated the return of seven of eight rare violins stolen in LA. (A Luigi Mozzani 1917 model known simply as “#108” remains missing.) In his experience, there is no common MO among art thieves; Hrycyk has seen rare instruments get swept up as part of a larger haul in ordinary burglaries, snatched out of spite during domestic disputes, and stolen by everyone from highly organized crews to domestic laborers. Although he says he’s encountered the odd targeted theft, the kind of advance work Salahadyn did before allegedly stealing Almond's Strad is rare.
Twice on Hrycyk’s watch, high-end stringed instruments have walked away when distracted musicians left them unattended. In 2004, the $3.5 million General Kyd Stradivarius, a cello on loan from the LA Philharmonic to cellist Peter Stumpf, disappeared when he absentmindedly left it overnight on the front porch of his Los Feliz home. The following year, a 1742 Sanctus Seraphin violin, on loan from Southern California philanthropist Peter Mandell to music student Lindsay Deutsch, was snatched from the back seat of her car while she shopped at a West Hills supermarket. Both were quickly returned in exchange for rewards: $50,000 put up by an anonymous donor in the case of the General Kyd, and $10,000 put up by Deutsch’s parents for the safe return of the $350,000 Sanctus Seraphin — and the $160,000 bow that was stolen with it.
Both were crimes of opportunity, and Hrycyk didn’t have much doubt the cello and the violin would turn up eventually. What still disturbs him is that the crimes seem to have paid off; the thieves were never caught.
“Our feeling was that the people who ‘found’ these things were probably sent in as mules for the thief to get the reward,” Hrycyk says.
That tactic is becoming less and less feasible. In fact, according to Hendry, stealing a Strad in hopes of collecting a reward — or ransom, as he calls it — is almost as foolish a plan as Salahadyn’s was in Milwaukee.
“Rewards are a load of bullshit,” Hendry says. “It used to be common for stolen art to be recovered quietly and payments made, but recent money-laundering laws in Europe and the US have made those deals harder to make. Law enforcement will not allow the private sector to recover stolen art without arrests anymore; anyone acting as a conduit knows to get a legal agreement in place before helping recovery. I have done this many times and when no agreement is forthcoming, I walk away.”
“I never met a drug dealer who would be willing to trade good heroin or coke for a Stradivarius he can’t do anything with.”
Of course, rules are sometimes broken. In 2010, solo violinist Min-Jin Kym’s 1696 Strad, worth about $2 million, was stolen while she chatted with a friend at a Pret-a-Manger in London’s Euston Station. A closed-circuit camera later identified the culprits as John Maughan, a 30-year-old Irish Traveler with 46 known aliases and 123 criminal convictions to his credit, and two teenage accomplices who were too young to be named publicly. After pleading guilty, the boys were sentenced to undisclosed terms; Maugham was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison, which was reduced on appeal to 3 1/2. But the violin remained missing.
After a £30,000 reward offered by the violin’s insurer failed to turn up anything conclusive, Kym was paid by her insurance company for the loss. For three years, cops chased leads all over Europe, but Maughan clammed up and the trail seemed to have gone cold. Then, last June, British Transport Police (BTP) announced that investigators had miraculously found the Strad. The BTP said nothing else, other that the violin had been located at “a house in the Midlands.”
Further details were never revealed. So we asked Hendry to tell us what he knows.
The violin that became known as the “ex-Kym” Strad was auctioned for $2.3 million last December, and the public was told that a portion of the proceeds were donated to the authorities who had recovered it. But Hendry says the sale proceeds “donated” to police actually went to Maughan’s associates.
“The truth is, it was handed back by fellow gypsies who had taken possession of the Strad from Maughan, the original thief,” Hendry tells VICE News. “This was an illegal act under UK law, but done because there was simply no other way of recovering the Strad. It’s a grey area that happens when the desire to recover the stolen artwork overrides the ability to make arrests.”
Authorities’ desire to recover the Strad was motivated in part by the fact that it was being used as collateral for drug deals, Hendry says. But that's an extremely unusual circumstance.
“I never met a drug dealer who would be willing to trade good heroin or coke," Wittman says, "for a Stradivarius he can’t do anything with.”
* * *
Musicians say each Strad has a distinct personality. Most have names, and Hrycyk believes this adds to the huge sense of loss when one gets stolen.
Almond was no exception. The day after the robbery, he addressed the media at a news conference. “It is difficult to fully articulate, but the main thing about instruments in this echelon is that your interaction with them on so many levels becomes something very similar to a primary human relationship, with all its twists and turns," he said. "For many years I have been incredibly fortunate to be passing through its life, not the other way around.”
And it’s not just the musicians who feel an acute loss. After the theft, a local Milwaukee music critic named Rick Walters wrote, “Hearing its rich tones has been a defining aspect of classical music in Milwaukee. As the violin’s audience, we are also violated by this robbery. My reaction is some combination of outrage and grief.”
According to British cultural critic Norman Lebrecht, a violinist in 1960 could expect to pay about $1,600 for “a fine 19th-century instrument,” or roughly double his annual salary. Today, Lebrecht says, the ratio is 10 or 12 times average orchestral earnings.
More than $100,000 in Bitcoin was stolen in a ridiculously low-tech heist. Read more here.
In recent years, Stradivarius investment funds have started to appear, pushing already astronomical prices even higher. Not entirely unlike oil prices that started to rise when speculators got involved, the market for rare violins became even more distorted once Strads became an asset class. The instruments remain coveted not only because they are a finite commodity almost guaranteed to appreciate, but also because loaning one to an elite musician bestows upon the owner — whether a corporation, foundation, or private individual — a level of status that a barrel of oil never could. Plus, regular use is part of a Strad’s maintenance; many believe the sound becomes more exquisite each time the instrument is played.
That's why it’s important to remember that violins are instruments, says Dorit Straus, an insurance advisor for Art Recovery International and herself a professional-level violinist. That is, they are tools, not museum pieces. Yes, a Strad is a work of art and a cultural artifact — but it is meant to be played. High-value paintings or sculptures, which are rarely if ever transported, are often accompanied by specialists and guards when they are.
Two weeks after the robbery, Frank Almond played the Lipinski Stradivarius at a sold-out recital.

Avoiding trial: Plea hearing scheduled for “mastermind” in Stradivarius theft

MILWAUKEE (WITI) — One day after it was announced Universal Allah has reached a plea deal for his role in the theft of the valuable Stradivarius violin — we’ve now learned the second man charged in the case — Salah Salahadyn has reached a plea deal as well.
Salahadyn faces one count of robbery in the case. Prosecutors say Salahadyn was the mastermind behind the theft.
He appeared in court for a scheduling conference on Thursday, May 15th — and a plea hearing was scheduled for June 30th.
Salahadyn previously pleaded not guilty in the case.
Allah was in court on Wednesday, May 14th.
Allah faces one count of robbery, and one count of possession with intent to deliver THC (less than 200 grams).
Allah’s attorney requested a plea hearing — and it is expected Allah will plead guilty.
Prosecutors say Allah was the one who purchased and provided the stun gun that was used to attack and rob Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra violinist Frank Almond.
The plea hearing will take place on May 28th — and a sentencing hearing is set for July 24th for Allah.
The violin was stolen on January 27th.
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond had just finished up a concert at the Wisconsin Lutheran College on Bluemound Road. Almond was exiting the performance hall, and he approached his vehicle and opened the rear door on his car to put the violin inside.
That’s when a man walked up to him, “produced a flashlight-style Taser-type weapon, and fired that Taser at Mr. Almond.”
Almond told police the “ejected probes of the Taser struck him in the wrist and chest.
Almond said he fell to the ground, and was momentarily incapacitated.
Upon gaining control of himself, Almond said the Stradivarius Lipinski 1715 violin was missing.
The Milwaukee Police Department eventually recovered the stolen 1715 Lipinski Stradivarius violin from a home in the city’s Bay View neighborhood.

French Art Heist Mastermind Says Ex-FBI Agent Robert Wittman Framed Him


Jan Brueghel the Elder, <em>Allegory of Earth</em> (circa 1611). Photo: courtesy Musée des Beaux Arts, Nice.
Jan Brueghel the Elder, Allegory of Earth (circa 1611).
Courtesy Musée des Beaux Arts, Nice.
Convicted art thief Bernard Ternus now claims that he’s been framed for his alleged role in a French art heist, the AFP reports. The 2007 theft at Nice’s Musée des Beaux-Arts took place in broad daylight and was carried out by five armed robbers who made off with four paintings by Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Jan Brueghel the Elder.
The Miami-based Ternus was convicted in US court of masterminding the crime in 2008, and after serving a five-year prison sentence, has been transferred to France. While testifying in Aix-en-Provence, Ternus claimed that he had been framed for the crime by an FBI sting operation.
According to Ternus, two men approached him asking for paintings by Dutch masters. “I was manipulated, I have never in my life asked anyone to steal paintings,” he said in court. Ternus went on to claim that the supposed FBI operatives, one of whom he described as a “mysterious Frenchman,” were quite insistent, and eventually threatened him.
Claude Monet, Cliffs near Dieppe (1897).
Claude Monet, Cliffs near Dieppe (1897).
Courtesy Musée des Beaux Arts, Nice.
All four paintings—Monet’s Cliffs near Dieppe, Sisley’s The Lane of Polars at Moret, and Brueghel’s Allegory of Water and Allegory of Earth—were eventually recovered in Marseille. FBI art crimes investigator Robert Wittman led the effort that resulted in the arrest and conviction of five men, all of whom were sentenced to between two and nine years by French courts.
The burglars, who were disguised as cleaning workers, pulled off the blockbuster heist in just five minutes. According to a New York Timesreport, the Sisley was previously taken by thieves in 1978, and recovered in a Marseille sewer a few days later. It was also stolen, along with the Monet, in 1998, but turned up shortly thereafter on a boat in a town not far away. The latter robbery was overseen by Jean Forneris, the museum’s curator at the time.
Ternus’s trial is scheduled to end today, May 14.
Word has it Bernard Ternus was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in jail.

Thieves ransack Daylesford church stealing $100K of historic items

Police are appealing for witnesses after more than $100,000 worth of historic items were stolen from a church in Daylesford in central Victoria.
It is believed the antiques were stolen from the Anglican Church on Central Springs Road on Tuesday night.
The items taken include a 17th century mirror and wooden screen-print, a gem-encrusted brass and silver cross and a 140-year-old lectern.
Detective Sergeant Tony Coxall says it is unclear whether the property was secure at the time of the theft.
"Yes there are indications that there could have been a vehicle involved," he said.
"Unfortunately we don't have a description of the vehicle but we believe either a van or a wagon of some sort must have been involved with the number of items.
"We're still getting a full list of the items stolen but we believe it must be well in excess of $100,000 at the moment."
Detective Sergeant Coxall says it is believed multiple offenders were involved due to the weight of some of the items.
Father Jeff O'Hare says most of the furniture has also been taken and the community will be bringing their own seats for this weekend's services.
He says the parish is devastated by the loss of such rare items.
"They've all been given, and the cross, for instance, from the high altar, has stood in place since the 1860s," he said.
"So it's historic value as well as for some people extremely sentimental value."

Burglars steal antiques in raid in Twyford near Winchester

ANTIQUE furniture and jewellery were stolen from a house in Twyford near Winchester.
Entry was forced and raiders stole items including an eight foot grandfather clock and 6ft by 4ft cabinet along with Chinese-style pottery and antique jewellery.
The burglary in hazeley Road was between 8.30pm on Thursday, May 8 and 10.30am on Friday, May 9.
PC Jasmin Connolly from Winchester police station said: “This burglary has been devastating for the family as many precious family belongings have been stolen including very large pieces of furniture.
“The offenders must have used a van to remove the items and there are likely to have been at least two offenders.

Painting returned to Dublin gallery 20 years after theft

 
A small but valuable painting stolen from a Dublin art gallery more than 20 years ago is back hanging on its walls after being recovered by detectives.
In The Omnibus by the French artist Honore Daumier has been returned to the Hugh Lane gallery in Dublin after being found by proceeds of crime officers late last year.
The drawing in watercolour and gouache was stolen on a Saturday afternoon in June 1992 when the gallery was open to the public and a thief ripped it from a wall.
It was valued at the time in the hundreds of thousands but gallery chiefs refused to be drawn on its value today.
Dr Barbara Dawson, appointed director of the Hugh Lane a year before the theft, suggested the remarkable discovery may have been thanks to the keen eye of detectives running a wider investigation.
“It was shocking for me at the time. It was literally pulled off the wall,” she said.
“It was a very particular theft, and interesting that it was that painting that someone went for. We weren’t sure if it was a ’magpie’ that liked to have things to look at themselves or was it stolen to order.
“We haven’t been told. Maybe it was someone who was covetous and liked to have things for their own enjoyment.”
It is understood that the stolen painting was discovered when Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) detectives began investigating other proceeds of crime and the unusual work was uncovered.
In The Omnibus was part of the original collection presented by Hugh Lane to the city of Dublin for the Gallery of Modern Art which first opened to the public in 1908.
Daumier was a satirist, caricaturist and renowned for his social commentary on life in France in the 1800s.
Detective Garda Philip Galvin, of the CAB, has been credited with the work that led to the discovery.
CAB chief, Detective Chief Superintendent Eugene Corcoran, praised the work of his officers.
“The Bureau is particularly pleased that as part of its investigative work in 2013, this significant piece of artwork has been recovered and restored to the gallery, having been stolen in 1992,” he said.
Based in Paris, Daumier was famous for chronicling modern French urban life.
His works began focusing on satire and he criticised the social, legal and political systems in France under King Louis Philippe.
He spent six months in jail after drawing a caricature of the monarch as Gargantua eating gold coins.
In The Omnibus shows a crowded group of workers and a young child in quiet contemplation as they travel through the city and is regarded as having a powerful resonance as social commentary. Daumier’s work is held in public collections worldwide including the Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum New York and The National Gallery London.

Security tightened to beat jewel thieves at Cannes Film Festival

Security tightened with 700 police deployed for opening of blockbuster movie festival today after a series of audacious jewellery thefts last year

While movie stars shine on the red carpet, security is being tightened in Cannes this year after a spate of increasingly audacious raids highlighted the ease with which jewel thieves can strike.
A year ago, as film festival luminaries partied into the early hours, a thief broke into the hotel room of an employee of Swiss jewellers Chopard and made off with a US$1.4 million haul.
The theft came hours after the premiere of The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola's film about a group of Californian teenagers who break into celebrity mansions to steal designer items while their A-list owners are out on the red carpet.
Twelve months on, with the jewels still missing, Cannes authorities are preparing to deploy nearly 700 police for this year's festival, which begins today.
Scott Selby, co-author of Flawless about the US$100 million Antwerp Diamond Centre heist in 2003, said the thieves at last year's festival took advantage of "relatively lax" security to snatch items that were normally well protected.
"The Chopard employee left the jewellery in a hotel safety deposit box in her hotel room. That was a mistake," he said.
"All someone needed to do was rip the safe from the wall. The thief did not even need to know how to break it open. He or she simply took it with them."
Also during last year's festival, a US$1.9 million diamond necklace by de Grisogono was taken from under the noses of a reported 80-strong contingent of security guards during a party at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc near Cannes. Two months later, thieves raised the stakes when they struck again, this time taking jewellery worth US$142 million from the Carlton Hotel.
A man with a semi-automatic pistol walked into an exhibition in a wing of the hotel with direct access to the street. He cleared the display cabinets before melting into the crowd on the Croisette, the Cannes promenade.
Selby said the theft had at least some of the hallmarks of the gang of robbers known as the Pink Panthers. They are wanted for stealing items worth US$450 million from luxury stores around the world since 1999.
Insurers Lloyd's of London have offered a reward of up to US$1.3 million for information leading to the recovery of the Carlton exhibition jewels.
But jewel thefts are notoriously difficult to solve. "It's very hard to catch people because it's not the sort of thing people talk about and there is a short window to catch someone," Selby said.
"It's possible that later there's some kind of snitch or they catch somebody for something else who tells them about it. But the loot will have been long gone."
The Carlton jewels would have been smuggled out of France and the stones resold after any certificate numbers inscribed on the sides had been polished off.
Unlike art theft, jewel theft was lucrative because it was relatively easy to get away with, Selby said. Only the most unusual stones would present a problem for the thieves.
"A really nice necklace that's got a giant pink stone or a giant yellow stone that is going to be very identifiable becomes tricky.
"That's where you have a choice to either sell to a buyer willing to buy a stolen item, often in Hong Kong or in the Emirates.
"Or what you have to do is find a corrupt polisher and cleaver in Antwerp and to turn it into two stones or shave a little bit off and put it in a new shape," he said.
The vast majority of these stones would have been one or two carat white or yellow stones that were easy to resell.
Such stones were very probably in engagement rings "that someone is wearing in London right now", he added.
Cyprus authorities have requested information on the notorious ‘Pink Panther’ jewel theft gang after four suspected members of the operation were recently apprehended by the Greek police.
Police spokesman Andreas Angelides confirmed that the request to the Greek authorities will hopefully shed light on the gang’s method of operation and help local detectives in the ongoing investigations of jewellery heists on the island which the Pink Panthers are suspected of involvement in.
The suspects - four Serbian nationals, believed to be ex-military - were arrested in the Kypseli district of Athens last week.
Greek police believe the gang members are responsible for at least 30 jewellery shop heists in the country to the tune of €800,000.
The Pink Panthers are suspected of robbing items worth €450 million in luxury jewellery shops in more than 20 countries since 1999, according to Interpol.
They got their nickname from British police in 2003 when gang members in London hid a stolen diamond in a pot of beauty cream, a trick used in one of the Pink Panther comedy films.
The gang – believed to be a network of around 200 people - commit elaborate armed robberies with extreme precision. Suspected members of the operation have disguised themselves as Hawaiian tourists, workmen and pensioners for jobs and have made their escapes in cars, speedboats, and on scooters or bicycles depending on the location.

Lost Van Gogh painting found in Spain

A painting by Dutch Post-Impressionist artist Van Gogh that has been missing for 40 years has reportedly been recovered in Spain.

Reports are indicating that tax collectors who were going through the contents of a safe-deposit box discovered the long-lost work.
The artwork, titled "Cypress, Sky and Country" disappeared from the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum in Vienna.
Spanish newspaper El Mundo has reported that the painting, which they say was found in December, measures just over 1ft by 1ft.
According to the authorities the landscape painting, which is dated 1889, bears three seals on its back, indicating that the work resided in different museums throughout the 20th century.
The most recent mark appears to be from the Museum of Fine Arts, also known as the Kunsthistorisches Museum, in Vienna.
El Mundo says that the painting may have been created during Van Gogh's stay at the Saint-Rémy-de-Provence asylum in the south of France – the same place the artists created his beautiful painting "The Starry Night".
The safe-deposit box was one of hundreds targeted by Spanish officials in an in-depth tax-evasion investigation.
Authorities in Spain are said to be working on authenticating the painting.
  • West Yarmouth man charged with theft from antiques show

  • FRAMINGHAM - A West Yarmouth man and his father stole a minivan full of antiques from a Holliston antique show last year and admitted to the theft when busted for drugs in Barnstable, authorities said.

FRAMINGHAM - A West Yarmouth man and his father stole a minivan full of antiques from a Holliston antique show last year and admitted to the theft when busted for drugs in Barnstable, authorities said.
Ronald D. Kimball, 27, pleaded not guilty at his Framingham District Court arraignment on Wednesday.
Holliston police issued a warrant for Kimball's arrest last May, but he has been in jail on drug charges since before the arrest warrant was issued. He went to Framingham District Court on Wednesday to answer the charges.
On April 25, 2013, a vendor working at the annual antique show at Holliston High School reported his van full of antiques was stolen from the school parking lot. Police began an investigation and in early May, the Barnstable Police contacted them, according to a police report filed in Framingham District Court on Wednesday.
Barnstable Police had arrested Kimball on several drug charges, and while being interrogated, he offered that he and his father, Ronald Kimball Sr., committed a theft in Holliston, the report said.
He told police they went to the antique show on April 24 to look around, and returned the following day, planning to steal from someone. The plan was to follow one of the vendors home and to steal the car after it was parked, the report said.
However, they saw one vendor load a minivan full of antiques and then go back inside the school, while leaving the van running.
"He stated they took advantage of this opportunity and stole the van," the report said.
The pair drove the van to a nearby location where they had stashed a rental car. They transferred all of the antiques from the van to the car and ditched the van.
They then went to another location and dumped seven bins worth of antiques they thought would be to hard to sell, Kimball told police, the report said. The items were later found and returned to the owner.
Police issued warrants for both Kimball and his father's arrest. Ronald Kimball Sr. has not been located.
The younger Kimball, of 9 Rosetta St., West Yarmouth is charged with larceny of a vehicle and larceny of property worth more than $250.
Prosecutors did not ask for bail because Kimball is already being held. Judge Douglas Stoddart did not set bail. Kimball is due back in court on June 19 for a pretrial conference. 

Federal agents go on the hunt for stolen treasures

NEW YORK - Art theft is nothing new. And it turns out, the U.S. government has a special unit that seeks out - and returns - stolen artwork.
A 2,000-year-old sarcophagus was found in a private collector's Virginia home. He said it was passed down from his father.
But the ancient coffin was actually stolen from Egypt, and sold on an international black market.
"By looking at the cracks and the cuts, it was probably cut up in many pieces and air shipped," said James Dinkins, former director of the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations division.
In doing so, the sellers risked ruining the sarcophagus, Dinkins said, "but to them it's just money."
HSI tracks down stolen antiquities smuggled into the United States and returns them to the rightful owners.
"It goes from everything from dinosaur fossils to looted art that the Nazis may have stolen during World War II," Dinkins said.
He said the majority of the buyers know that they're getting stolen items.
"These are usually businessmen, taking advantage of opportunities to sell them to wealthy businessmen," he said.
A CBS News crew was with HIS agents in March when they followed an informant's tip and searched a storage facility in the New York City borough of Queens. They found hundreds of items worth an estimated $8 million.
The items were allegedly stolen by Indian dealer Subhash Kapoor, a man international authorities say has been smuggling artifacts for decades. He is currently on trial after pleading not guilty to looting and smuggling charges.





nair07.jpg
Thieves steal treasures like these from temples in India and sell them on the black market.
CBS News
How do the thieves get the artifacts in the first place? "They'll hire folks to go out to a temple in India and literally chip away and take off decorative pieces from those temples," Dinkins said.
He pointed to one of the recovered items. "This is a real skull."
In the last seven years, HSI has returned more than 7,100 stolen items, such as fossils of a Tyrannosaurus given back to Mongolia, gold ornaments sent back to Afghanistan, and paintings that went back to Peru.
Dinkins says agents often volunteer to work with HSI because the department is unlike any other.
"In many of our cases that we investigate, you can't undo the crime that has happened. In this case, you are literally about to right a wrong, set the clock back and return that item back to rightful owner as if it never left," he said.
They're not only recovering priceless art; they're restoring stolen history.

Gallery holds out hope for missing Spencer painting

The Stanley Spencer Gallery is appealing for the safe return of a painting two years after it was stolen in a smash-and-grab raid. 'Cookham from Englefield' was taken during an early morning break-in at the gallery in High Street on Tuesday, April 29 in 2012.
A drain cover was thrown through a window to gain entry and two other paintings were damaged when they could not be removed from their frames.
DC Iain Watkinson) of Thames Valley Police appeared on BBC's Crimewatch in 2012 to appeal for information regarding the theft, which carries a reward of £10,000 for a recovery and arrest.
Despite a number of positive leads, the painting has yet to be found.
Chairman of trustees at the Stanley Spencer Gallery, Stuart Conlin, said the gallery is still confident it can be returned.
"We're still hopeful the painting is around," he said.
"Looking at other cases, you see instances of stolen art turning up more than two years later, sometimes its 10, 20 or 30 years after the event.
"If anybody has seen the picture or come across it on their travels in antique shops or jumble sales then please come forward and talk to the police.
"Someone might have it on their wall enjoying it, you never know."
The painting measures about 90cms by 60cms.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Stolen Art Watch, Art Crime Conference Responds To Global Menace

Press Release - Art Crime Conference 2014


Art Crime Conference 2014


4-6 June, New York City
New York University & Art Recovery International

Art Crime and Cultural Heritage: Fakes, Forgeries, and Looted and Stolen Art
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) currently ranks art crime as the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world. The increase in international art transactions has incubated a booming market for stolen and fraudulent art, and major U.S. arts institutions still grapple with repatriation of stolen or looted objects in their collections. Co-organized by Jane C.H. Jacob, art historian and provenance research expert, Jacob Fine Art, Inc., Chris Marinello, director and founder, Art Recovery International, and Alice Farren-Bradley, Museum Security Network, this forum brings together experts from major museums and auction houses, NYU School of Law, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and President’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee, as well as independent scholars and authors, art crime victims, art crime attorneys, forensic scientists, and other major players working to address art crime worldwide.
Topics include art theft and gallery scams, misappropriated use of work, looting and cultural repatriation, fakes and forgeries, art market drivers, insurance fraud, scientific and forensic approaches, provenance research, issues facing auction houses and purchasers, and current case studies.
CLE units and financial aid are available for those who qualify. Lawyers attending the symposium can earn 7.5 CLEs in Professional Practice: 2.5 CLEs (June 4), 3.0 CLEs (June 5), and 2.0 CLEs (June 6). CLEs are transitional.

Event Information

Dates: June 4–6, 2014

Time: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

Sign in Starts: 8 a.m.
Location:
Lipton Hall, NYU Law School
Registration Fees:
Full Symposium
General: $955
AAA, ISA, ASA, RICS, NYCBA, and NYSBA Members | NYU Students: $900
Single Day
General: $350
AAA, ISA, ASA, RICS, NYCBA, and NYSBA Members | NYU Students: $300
The NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies (NYU-SCPS) thanks the following sponsors for their contribution to the Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Symposium.

ARIS
DeWitt Stern
Cahill Partners LLP
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Participants
  • Amy Adler, Emily Kempin Professor of Law, NYU School of Law
  • Anthony Amore, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; coauthor, Stealing Rembrandts
  • Evan T. Barr, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, U.S. v. An Antique Platter of Gold
  • John Cahill, Cahill Partners, LLP; Chair, Art Law Committee, New York City Bar Association
  • Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, Art Collector and Advisor
  • Raymond Dowd, Partner, Dunnington Bartholow & Miller LLP
  • Milton Esterow, Editor and Publisher, ARTnews; art crime expert
  • Alice Farren-Bradley, Moderator, Museum Security Network and Associate Director of Recoveries, Art Recovery International Ltd.
  • Jack Flam, President and CEO, Dedalus Foundation
  • Robert Goldman, Robert E. Goldman LLC
  • Patty Gerstenblith, Director, Center for Art, Museum, and Cultural Heritage Law, DePaul University; Chair, President's Cultural Property Advisory Committee
  • Salomon Grimberg, author, Frida Kahlo Catalogue Raisonné
  • Scott Hodes, Senior Counsel, Bryan Cave, LLP
  • Thomas Kline, Andrews Kurth LLP
  • Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, Manager, FBI Art Theft Program
  • James Martin, Orion Analytical, LLC
  • James E. McAndrew, Grunfeld, Desiderio, Lebowitz, Silverman & Klestadt LLP; former Senior Special Agent, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • David McFadden, Retired Chief Curator, Museum of Arts & Design
  • Joe Medeiros, Writer and Director, Mona Lisa Is Missing: The Truth About the Man Who Stole the Masterpiece
  • Justine Medeiros, Producer, Mona Lisa Is Missing: The Truth About the Man Who Stole the Masterpiece
  • Judith Pearson, President, ARIS Corporation
  • Steve Pincus, Managing Partner, DeWitt Stern Group
  • Christopher Robinson, Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
  • Marianne Rosenberg, Attorney and granddaughter of Paul Rosenberg, who was one of the world’s leading dealers in modern art prior to World War II; working to recover family art looted by the Nazis
  • Lucian Simmons, Senior Vice President and Worldwide Head of the Provenance and Restitution Department, Sotheby's
  • Lawrence Steigrad, Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts
  • Geza von Habsburg, internationally renowned author and authority on antiquities and Fabergé; former Associate Professor, Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture and NYU
  • Yuri Yanchyshyn, Furniture Conservator and Head of Studio, Period Furniture Conservation LLC

*Please Note: This symposium, when attended in its entirety, counts as a 10-session elective. For additional information on the symposium, please call (212) 998-7289 or e-mail scps.libarts@nyu.edu.  


Browse the program for the three-day symposium, which includes the list of daily lectures, panel discussions, and presentations.

There will be tables available for books covering art crime topics and for book signings. For more information on book tables, please contact:
Jane C.H. Jacob
Jacob Fine Art, Inc.
Alice Farren-Bradley
Art Recovery International
E-mail: jane@jacobfineart.com E-mail: alice@artercovery.com

9:00 a.m.−5:00 p.m.

5:30−7:00 p.m.

9:00 a.m.−5:00 p.m.

5:30−7:00 p.m.

9:00 a.m.−5:00 p.m.

5:30−7:00 p.m.

Closing Reception

ATHENS, May 03, 2014 (AFP) -
Greek police said Saturday they have arrested four Serbian suspected members of a gang of international jewel thieves known as the Pink Panthers.
Police said the four Serbs took part in the theft of cars as well as in some 30 jewellery shop burglaries in Greece worth an estimated 550,000 euros ($762,900).
In one crime, they allegedly smashed into a jewellery shop with a stolen car, made off with the jewellery and fled with other stolen vehicles or motocycles, the Athens News Agency reported.
Police arrested one of the four suspects, a 26-year-old man, in the Athens district of Kypseli on Friday afternoon after he kicked and punched the policemen in an attempt to flee.
Forged documents such as a Bulgarian identity card and a driving licence were found in his possession along with a pistol and a balaclava.
The Pink Panthers are suspected of robbing items worth 330 million euros ($450 million) in luxury stores around the world since 1999, cross-border police agency Interpol says on its website.
They got their nickname from British police in 2003 when gang members in London hid a stolen diamond in a pot of beauty cream, a trick used in one of the "Pink Panther" comedy films.
Of the gang's estimated 220 members, most are thought to be from the countries of the former Yugoslavia, including some former members of the military.
- See more at: http://www.ntd.tv/en/news/world/europe/20140503/136831-greece-arrests-4-serbian-39pink-panther39-jewel-thieves.html#sthash.9BOatuFJ.dpuf

US bill would allow museums to knowingly exhibit stolen art

As Europe votes on a groundbreaking directive to help facilitate the return of stolen cultural treasures, the United States moves forward with legislation that would prevent claimants from recovering their rightful property. All in the name of museums.
We Americans enjoy some of the world’s finest museums, showcasing treasures from the ancient to contemporary. But with this privilege comes responsibility. This is owed to the masterpieces themselves, their previous custodians, and the individuals and civilisations that created them. These duties may seem one and the same and indeed they often are. Yet the right of museums to possess and display art, and the public’s to view it, increasingly clashes with the rights of those who may actually be its moral and legal owners.
Like so many conflicts, these rights are not decided by those most affected, whether they are the victims of Nazi looting or the trafficking of stolen antiquities and indigenous sacred artifacts. Instead, the fate of plundered cultural patrimony is now in the hands of US lawyers and lawmakers and the interest groups that control them.
As is often the case, the loudest voices are currently coming from a hardcore minority of people with the most vested interest in the outcome of this debate. Needless to say, this does not represent the larger community of museum professionals and cultural experts, let alone the general public. But if you want to keep American museums free of loot, including that taken from the UK and Europe, this issue concerns you. And you should speak up.

The bill in question

On March 25, backed by the art trade lobby, Republican Congressman Steve Chabot reintroduced the Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act to the House of Representatives. On its face, HR 4292 asks Congress to “clarify” a small section of the the law. But in truth, the bill goes far beyond mere clarification.
It would instead undo established US law and policy by allowing American cultural institutions to block legal claims to artwork on loan from abroad. Museums would knowingly be able to exhibit stolen and looted art and antiquities. It would leave the rightful owners without any legal recourse to recover their property in US courts.
This bill is just the latest attempt by the less responsible players in the art market to weaken US law. American legal principles have long held that a thief cannot transfer good title. The receipt, possession, and transport of stolen property is a crime. US legislation has carved out a narrow exception to prevent the judicial seizure of art imported for exhibition, but only in very limited circumstances, which it clearly enumerates. HR 4292 would greatly expand this exception by divesting our courts of all jurisdiction over such objects.



There are many looted sculptures from Cambodia’s Koh Ker region in American museums. BluesyPete, CC BY-SA
The bill’s stated — and it must be said commendable — purpose is to encourage cultural exchange (that its supporters hope Russia to be the main partner for such exchange is a story for another day).
But at what cost? Who can enjoy viewing an Egon Schiele on loan to a museum, knowing the Third Reich sent its previous owners to their deaths at concentration camp? Or an ancient Cambodian statue, knowing it was plundered during the country’s bloody civil war, perhaps even to fund the genocidal Khmer Rouge?
Even without HR 4292, claimants already face huge legal hurdles in US courts, despite clear evidence of theft or looting. For example, Cambodia had to fight for three years to recover a 1,000-year-old masterpiece from Sotheby’s, even though the feet of the figure were still in situ at an ancient temple complex. The case would have likely gone on much longer had the auction house not settled.
And the legal battle over Schiele’s Portrait of Wally – seized by a Nazi art collector from a Jewish art dealer fleeing Austria – raged for over a decade. That too ended only because a settlement was made. The vast majority of claims are never decided on their merits, but on procedural issues like statutes of limitations.
At the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets in 1998, 44 governments agreed to encourage claims from pre-World War II owners and heirs of Nazi-looted artwork in the interest of justice. The US was party to these principles, and yet, HR 4292 goes against everything they represent. The bill would in effect make American museums a haven for pieces of illicit art. All lenders need to do is jump through a single necessary hoop, undermining our nation’s time honoured tradition of property rights and cultural heritage preservation as they go.
Those who support this bill in the name of “culture” are misrepresenting it and the greater interests of most cultural institutions in the US.
In the absence of a Ministry of Culture, our government has never clearly defined its own cultural policy. But it’s one thing not to have a Ministry of Culture and quite another to let the market run roughshod over established legal principles.
In contrast, just this week the European Parliament approved Directive IP/14/430, which makes it much easier for member states to recover “national treasures of artistic, historic or archaeological value” from other countries in the European Union. When compared with its predecessor, this broadens the range of protected cultural objects and triples the time in which a nation can make a claim. If it passes a few more stages, it could be national law within 18 months.
If only Chabot and HR 4292’s other sponsors would learn from Europe’s example and support victims of plunder in seeking restitution. As it is, instead of promoting cultural exchange, they risk aiding and abetting its very destruction.
This piece is written in collaboration with Marc Masurovsky, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP). He has researched the question of assets looted during the Holocaust and World War II since 1980 and is the co-author of the 2006 book Le Festin du Reich.

Lost & Found: The Recovery of Stolen Art

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In January 2014, Darren Agee Merager was sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted of stealing millions of dollars of art from the home of Jeffrey Gundlach, a prominent bond trader. The stolen items, including artwork by Piet Mondrian, Jasper Johns, Joseph Cornell and Richard Diebenkorn, were all eventually recovered.
More often than not, stolen works of art are not recovered. According to the Interpol database, there are over 42,000 art objects listed as stolen with many relating to thefts which occurred during wartime.
Consider the activities that took place in Europe during World War II. According to the Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal, a website launched by the American Association of Museums, “From the time it came into power in Germany in 1933 through the end of World War II in 1945, the Nazi regime orchestrated a program of theft, confiscation, coercive transfer, looting, pillage and destruction of objects of art and other cultural property in Europe on a massive and unprecedented scale.”
While some objects were eventually recovered, others have never been found or returned. Following this time, museums around the world continued to collect art and artifacts without fully researching their history. As a result, the original owners of some of the pieces began making ownership claims. Today, museums have begun the long and arduous task of researching pieces in their collections, and in some cases returning them to their rightful owners.
What Can Be Done?
Despite locks, alarms and laws, it is inevitable that art will be stolen. So what can be done to protect items of value?
First, it is important to document fine art. Unlike jewelry which can be melted down and made into something new, artwork is usually not altered because the value of the work is in its original state. Therefore, art is one of the most likely objects recovered.
The object ID checklist is the international standard for describing cultural objects. A checklist should be created for each object and include the following: The maker, the type of object, the title, materials and techniques, measurements, date or period, inscriptions and markings, distinguishing features and subject. A brief paragraph describing the object should be written and clear photographs taken. Once the inventory is complete it should be stored in a safe, locked in a location away from the objects themselves.
This can be a time consuming project and for that reason some serious collectors opt to hire appraisers to collect and document the necessary information. If art has been stolen the theft should be immediately registered with one of the art loss databases such as the Art Loss Register, Interpol, and the National Stolen Art File, which is run by the FBI.
Finally, it is important to mention that, although rare, some insurance companies offer a buy-back provision. If an artwork is stolen and later recovered, this gives the original owner the opportunity to regain title. This can be particularly important if the work of art has gone up in value since the time of the theft. For example, if a painting was stolen when it was worth $50,000 and at the time of recovery it was worth $100,000, the original owner could pay back the insurance company the $50,000 and then retrieve their property now worth the full $100,000.
Recovery of stolen art doesn’t have to be a monumental task.
As many as 350 soldiers eventually enlisted and recovered five million pieces of Nazi-looted artwork, books and documents, according to the Monuments Men Foundation. Many were destroyed and remain lost. These men risked their lives in the name of provenance, stewardship and posterity. While certainly a noble endeavor, fortunately we have the insurance industry to cover our backs.
As long as art and artifacts have been viewed as precious, beautiful and valuable, there have been people willing to take risks to steal it for themselves or others. In recent years, these robberies are making headlines.
One of the most recent and shocking cases is that of a respected New York City antiquities dealer, Subhash Kapoor, who allegedly raided archaeological sites in Cambodia, Pakistan and India and then used ports of entry to ship the items back to the United States. Of the objects recovered so far, one sandstone sculpture of a woman is said to be worth $15 million.

Suspected Dubai jewel thieves arrested in Greece


Four Serbians suspected of being members of the Pink Panthers gang, which was involved in a AED55m ($15m) robbery at Wafi Mall in Dubai in 2007, have been arrested by Greek police, it was announced on Saturday.
Police said the four Serbian suspects had been involved in around 30 jewellery shop burglaries in Greece, the Athens News Agency reported.
The Dubai Wafi Mall robbery was a key driver in the creation of Interpol’s Project Pink Panthers in 2007 to coordinate global activities after DNA profiles sent by the UAE from the Dubai robbery were matched against others submitted to the Interpol General Secretariat from a robbery in Lichtenstein in 2006, revealing that the armed robbery ring was active not just in Europe, but around the world.
The main objective of Project Pink Panthers is to centralise information related to the suspects of such crimes, identifying material, the crimes in which they are involved in, and their criminal partnerships and contacts.
 The group is believed to include approximately 800 individuals responsible for nearly 300 robberies in 35 countries since 1999, with the value of stolen jewellery estimated at more than $485m.

Fourth member of Pink Panther jewel gang arrested in Kypsel




A fourth member of the so-called Pink Panther gang of international jewel thieves was arrested late on Friday.
Police said that the 26-year-old was arrested in the Athens neighborhood of Kypseli.
Like the other three suspects arrested earlier on Friday, he is also a Serbian national.
Officers recovered a fake Bulgarian identity card and driving license from his apartment, a replica gun and a ski mask.
The gang is believed to be behind more than 30 jewelry store burglaries in Attica alone, netting a total loot in excess of half a million euros.
It is also thought to have carried out robberies in Britain, Dubai, Japan and Switzerland.

Riopelle art theft ‘a complete con job,’ dealer says

 Riopelle piece of art stolen from a Toronto gallery that was recovered in Montreal

A Winnipeg art dealer whose painting by Canadian master Jean-Paul Riopelle was stolen from a Toronto gallery says the heist was more sophisticated swindle than brutish burglary.
An untitled Riopelle from the 1950s was found this week in a Montreal home during a police raid, Quebec provincial police said Friday. The painting was stolen April 1 from the Toronto branch of Mayberry Fine Art, the gallery confirmed.

“It was a complete con job,” said Shaun Mayberry, the Canadian art specialist of the Winnipeg-based art dealing family. “This theft was very cleverly orchestrated. Nothing in my 40 years experience prepared me for that; nothing like that has ever happened.”
The Integrated Art Crime Investigation Team of the RCMP and Quebec provincial police released a photograph of a man they say is a chief suspect after they seized the painting. Provincial police spokeswoman Sergeant Mélanie Dumaresq said a person was questioned after the painting was seized in Montreal, but no arrests were made. “They’re still investigating,” she said.
The Riopelle painting, valued at about $225,000, was among the artist’s oil-on-canvas abstract works completed in Paris in 1958 – the same year he rose in international prominence with an honourable mention from the Guggenheim International Award.
“It’s a classic Riopelle canvas,” Mr. Mayberry said. “One of the great postwar paintings from a period where he was very influential. It’s a coveted period in the artist’s career, and that makes it very desirable from a collector’s point of view.”
Mr. Mayberry said the thief was clearly aware of the painting’s history when he walked into the gallery to conduct business, and was also intimately familiar with the transaction process for the purchase of a work of art worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from a reputable gallery.
Both the police and Mr. Mayberry were reluctant to go too deeply into theft methodology, citing the continuing investigation and, in Mr. Mayberry’s case, the security of other artworks. But he did say other galleries in Toronto have been victimized by similar frauds.
“These people were professionals, and we weren’t alone in being victimized,” Mr. Mayberry said. “Our communication, the transaction we conducted, there was nothing to suggest it was other than business-as-usual. Of course, in hindsight, I can now see gaps in our process.”
Riopelle artworks have been a favourite target of thieves for years. In 2011, a bronze statue titled La Défaite (The Defeat) was stolen from near his former workshop in Estérel, Que. It was discovered smashed in a nearby forest. Several of his lithographs were stolen in the early 2000s from a Montreal art supply store and turned up on Kijiji in 2010.
Mr. Riopelle, who is revered in his home province of Quebec and died in 2002 at 78 years old, was a prolific artist who created very marketable works, art experts say. Stealing art is one thing – finding a buyer willing to pay big money for artworks of dubious provenance is another.
“There are people out there who will turn a blind eye, but if the motivation is financial gain, it’s generally only a matter of time until someone gets tripped up,” Mr. Mayberry said.

German Stolen Nazi Art Collector Cornelius Gurlitt Dies

Cornelius Gurlitt
Some 60 paintings were found at the house of art collector Cornelius Gurlitt in Munich, Germany.Reuters
Reclusive German art collector Cornelius Gurlitt, who had previously been found hiding more than 1,400 paintings in his Munich apartment, has died according to local media.
Gurlitt, 81, made the headlines last year after tax inspectors chanced upon the artworks - a priceless collection of Picasso, Chagall and Matisse - behind a stack of tinned beans at Gurlitt's flat in the Munich suburb of Schwabing.
Gurlitt's father Hildebrand was an art historian when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 and operated as a Nazi-approved art dealer during the Third Reich.
He was one of the few dealers commissioned to handle artworks confiscated by the regime and he allegedly acquired hundreds of artworks sold for a pittance by Jews who were trying to escape Germany.
Gurlitt inherited the stock on his father's death in 1956.
He claimed that all the paintings had been bought legally from museums and other dealers. Jewish groups have called for the collection to be revealed in order to help ascertain if some are stolen art.
Gurlitt had been seriously ill following major heart surgery.

Swiss museum says it is ‘the unrestricted and unfettered sole heir’ according to the will of art collector who hoarded Nazi loot worth £1bn

  • Cornelius Gurlitt, 81, died at apartment in Schawbin, Munich, yesterday 
  • With no close relatives, the future of his collection had been in doubt
  • But a museum in Bern has announced it is sole beneficiary of his estate
Cornelius Gurlitt, 81, who hid a £1bn trove of suspected stolen Nazi art has died in his Munich flat
Cornelius Gurlitt, 81, who hid a £1bn trove of suspected stolen Nazi art has died in his Munich flat
A museum in Switzerland today said it has been named the 'unrestricted and unfettered sole heir' of reclusive art collector Cornelius Gurlitt.
The 81-year-old son of Adolf Hitler's art dealer, whose collection included many pieces looted by the Nazis, had made a will shortly before his death yesterday.
There had already been speculation that the beneficiary was a museum outside of Germany, possibly in Austria or Switzerland.
But now the Kunstmuseum Bern has announced it is 'surprised and delighted' to have learned that Mr Gurlitt's remaining paintings will be left to its collection.
In a statement it said the appointment brings “a considerable burden of responsibility and a wealth of questions of the most difficult and sensitive kind, and questions in particular of a legal and ethical nature.”
The museum says it never previously had any dealings with Gurlitt.
Mr Gurlitt died in the Munich flat where he kept many of the paintings, which included works by Renoir, Matisse and Picasso that were either looted or bought from Jews at knock-down prices.
He had been selling them over the years to support himself, until in 2012 Bavarian customs officials swooped and confiscated the collection of 1,400 works.
Authorities kept most, but allowed Mr Gurlitt to keep hundreds after investigators could find no evidence they were looted.
With his death, the ownership of those artworks had seemed to have been thrown into doubt. But now all eyes are on his final will.
 
Stephan Holzinger, Mr Gurlitt's lawyer, told the BBC that Mr Gurlitt wrote the will in the last few weeks.
'It now falls to the probate court to determine if the will is valid and whether a contract of inheritance exists,' he said. 'I can understand that there is now wild speculation, but I don't want to comment on that at this stage.'
Munich daily Süddeutsche Zeitung claimed it had learned that Mr Gurlitt intended his entire collection to remain together and go to a museum in Switzerland or Austria, where he had contacts.
The paper claimed that authorities in Germany were angry the controversial collector had chosen to leave the artworks to a foreign institution.
The Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland: The museum said it has learned it is the 'unrestricted and unfettered sole heir' of Mr Gurlitt, who died yesterday at his home in Munich, Germany
The Kunstmuseum in Bern, Switzerland: The museum said it has learned it is the 'unrestricted and unfettered sole heir' of Mr Gurlitt, who died yesterday at his home in Munich, Germany

Mr Gurlitt, who had been ill with a heart condition, learnt just two months ago that he would be allowed to keep several hundred paintings after prosecutors said they could find no evidence that they had been looted.
He claimed all the paintings were legally acquired by his father, but at least 500 were found to have been either stolen by the Nazis or were strong-armed from Jewish collectors at rock-bottom prices.
Mr Gurlitt’s father Hildebrand was Nazi Germany’s leading expert on modern art, personally tasked by Hitler to sell paintings he despised abroad to help fund the Third Reich’s war effort.
However, Mr Gurlitt Snr secretly kept many of the pictures for himself.
After the war, he was questioned by the American Army’s ‘Monuments Men’ unit but never charged with any crimes. He lied that the bulk of his collection had been destroyed in the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945.
In fact, the artworks survived intact and he passed them on to his son, a lifelong bachelor, who said before his death: ‘I never loved anything or anybody in life but my paintings.’
The collection, which includes works by Picasso, Matisse and Dix was discovered inside his Munich apartment
The collection, which includes works by Picasso, Matisse and Dix was discovered inside his Munich apartment

Under a new deal with prosecutors, art historians will have a year to examine the 1,401 works to establish where they came from and if they were stolen (pictured, a work by Otto Dix)
Under a new deal with prosecutors, art historians will have a year to examine the 1,401 works to establish where they came from and if they were stolen (pictured, a work by Otto Dix)
In 2011, he was investigated as a possible tax fraudster when he was found with money he could not explain, but investigators later found paintings hidden behind tins of beans and out-of-date food in his flat.
In February this year, more paintings, worth at least £100million, were found in a house he owned in Salzburg, Austria.
But a court decided he could get between 300 and 350 paintings back.
Under the terms of deal, the art will be held at a secret location for a year while historians carry out background checks on each of the paintings.

At the end of this year any painting which investigators had not finished studying would have been handed back to the 81-year-old.
Augsburg state prosecutor Matthias Nickolai said at the time: 'We have come across new evidence in the course of the investigation ... that leads us to re-evaluate the legal situation.'
Gurlitt's lawyer Tido Park applauded the decision to release the art, saying: 'It's a good day for Cornelius Gurlitt.'
The German government came under fire - especially by families whose relatives were robbed by the Nazis - for keeping silent for almost two years about the trove of art works.
Gurlitt was arrested in 2012 but it wasn't until last year that knowledge of the collection became public.
Separately, representatives for Gurlitt later secured a further 238 artworks at a dilapidated house he owned in Salzburg, Austria.
Gurlitt was never under investigation in Austria and those works weren't seized by authorities.

Gurlitt was set to have the paintings returned at the end of the year if investigators could not unearth whether they were stolen (painting by Henri Matisse)
Gurlitt was set to have the paintings returned at the end of the year if investigators could not unearth whether they were stolen (painting by Henri Matisse)

One of the pieces of work discovered in his flat was this masterpiece by Franz Marc
One of the pieces of work discovered in his flat was this masterpiece by Franz Marc

Last year it transpired that Mr Gurlitt had given four of his paintings to his brother-in-law. They may also have been looted by the Nazis, according to the authorities.
What happens to the artwork now remains to be seen. It could go to Mr Gurlitt's younger sister, Benita, but she would have to be named in a will - and such a document has yet to surface.
Christopher Marinello, Director and Founder of Art Recovery International, told MailOnline: 'It's a pretty murky situation. We don't know if he left a will. If his lawyers were smart they would have cleared up the issue in advance. It'll get cleared up over the next couple of days.'
One of the works of art in the trove - a Matisse valued at up to £60million - has been claimed by the ex-wife of Dominique Strauss Kahn.
Sitting Woman is thought to have belonged to Anne Sinclair’s maternal grandfather, the late French art dealer Paul Rosenberg.
Mr Marinello is representing the Rosenberg family and added that he's confident it will be returned to them.
He said that a second claim for the painting had 'been dispensed with'.
Gurlitt stayed out of sight after news of his collection broke, barely talking to media, and was apparently overwhelmed by the publicity. In January, his representatives said they were considering claims for some of the works and that he was seeking ‘fair and just solutions’ to the case.
‘So much has happened in the past weeks and months, and is still happening,’ he wrote on a newly created website shortly afterward. ‘I only wanted to live with my pictures, in peace and calm.’
Gurlitt was born in Hamburg in 1932 and came from a prominent German family of artists, composers and collectors, but little is known about his life beyond his position as the heir of his father Hildebrand's art collection.
When U.S. investigators questioned Hildebrand Gurlitt after the end of World War II about the origins of his collection, they were doubtful whether all the pieces really belonged to him but eventually decided that he was the rightful owner of most of them.
After his father's 1956 death in a car accident, Cornelius Gurlitt lived together with his mother in Munich until she died in 1968. He reportedly lived a reclusive life, making a living by selling paintings from time to time.
Experts who examined the pieces seized in Munich said they included both ‘degenerate art’ and looted art.
In the frame: A painting by German artist Max Liebermann called Zwei Reiter am Strande (Two Horsemen at the Beach), which was found at Gurlitt's house
In the frame: A painting by German artist Max Liebermann called Zwei Reiter am Strande (Two Horsemen at the Beach), which was found at Gurlitt's house
Remarkable: A formerly unknown painting of French artist Marc Chagall was found at Gurlitt's apartment
Remarkable: A formerly unknown painting of French artist Marc Chagall was found at Gurlitt's apartment
Sa.Giustina in Pra della Vale (1751/1800) by Antonio Canaletto
Sa.Giustina in Pra della Vale (1751/1800) by Antonio Canaletto



The Nazis took so-called degenerate art - mostly avant-garde modern art, such as expressionism - from museums and public institutions because it was deemed a corrupting influence on the German people. Looted art was stolen or bought for a pittance from Jewish collectors who were forced to sell under duress during the Third Reich.
For the heirs of those collectors, the discovery raised hopes of recovering art, but the slow release of information by the German government stirred frustration.
After much back and forth, Gurlitt eventually agreed last month to a deal with the German government, under which hundreds of works owned by the collector would be checked for a Nazi-era past while staying in government hands.
Displayed: Auguste Rodin's 'Etude de femme nue debout, les bras releves, les mains croisees au-dessus de la tite' (undated)
Displayed: Auguste Rodin's 'Etude de femme nue debout, les bras releves, les mains croisees au-dessus de la tite' (undated)
Nine hundred and seventy of the works were believed to have been confiscated, stolen or looted by the NazisOtto Griebel's Die Verschleierte ('The Veiled', 1926)
Nine hundred and seventy of the works were believed to have been confiscated, stolen or looted by the Nazis. Pictured is Otto Griebel's Die Verschleierte ('The Veiled', 1926)
The works were first discovered in 2012. Pictured is Otto Griebel's Child at the Table
The works were first discovered in 2012. Pictured is Otto Griebel's Child at the Table
The remarkable find was first revealed in Germany's Focus magazine. Pictured is Carl Spitzweg's Das Klavierspiel ('Piano Serenade', about 1840)
The remarkable find was first revealed in Germany's Focus magazine. Pictured is Carl Spitzweg's Das Klavierspiel ('Piano Serenade', about 1840)
Sketch: Ludwig Godenschweg's Female Nude (undated)
Sketch: Ludwig Godenschweg's Female Nude (undated)
Prosecutors who initially confiscated all the works of art they found at his apartment then announced that they were releasing the rest of the collection. Gurlitt's lawyers had argued that the prosecutors acted disproportionately in seizing the entire collection, and that the art wasn't relevant as evidence for prosecutors' suspicion of import tax evasion.
Monika Gruetters, Germany's culture minister, said on Tuesday that Gurlitt's decision to work with authorities deserved ‘recognition and respect.’
‘It will remain to Cornelius Gurlitt's credit that he ... sent an exemplary signal for the search for fair and just solutions with this avowal of moral responsibility,’ she said.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2622256/Hoarder-kept-Nazi-artworks-worth-1bn-DID-write-died-left-museum-Austria.html#ixzz313BdKiWy
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ATHENS, May 03, 2014 (AFP) -
Greek police said Saturday they have arrested four Serbian suspected members of a gang of international jewel thieves known as the Pink Panthers.
Police said the four Serbs took part in the theft of cars as well as in some 30 jewellery shop burglaries in Greece worth an estimated 550,000 euros ($762,900).
In one crime, they allegedly smashed into a jewellery shop with a stolen car, made off with the jewellery and fled with other stolen vehicles or motocycles, the Athens News Agency reported.
Police arrested one of the four suspects, a 26-year-old man, in the Athens district of Kypseli on Friday afternoon after he kicked and punched the policemen in an attempt to flee.
Forged documents such as a Bulgarian identity card and a driving licence were found in his possession along with a pistol and a balaclava.
The Pink Panthers are suspected of robbing items worth 330 million euros ($450 million) in luxury stores around the world since 1999, cross-border police agency Interpol says on its website.
They got their nickname from British police in 2003 when gang members in London hid a stolen diamond in a pot of beauty cream, a trick used in one of the "Pink Panther" comedy films.
Of the gang's estimated 220 members, most are thought to be from the countries of the former Yugoslavia, including some former members of the military.
- See more at: http://www.ntd.tv/en/news/world/europe/20140503/136831-greece-arrests-4-serbian-39pink-panther39-jewel-thieves.html#sthash.9BOatuFJ.dpuf
ATHENS, May 03, 2014 (AFP) -
Greek police said Saturday they have arrested four Serbian suspected members of a gang of international jewel thieves known as the Pink Panthers.
Police said the four Serbs took part in the theft of cars as well as in some 30 jewellery shop burglaries in Greece worth an estimated 550,000 euros ($762,900).
In one crime, they allegedly smashed into a jewellery shop with a stolen car, made off with the jewellery and fled with other stolen vehicles or motocycles, the Athens News Agency reported.
Police arrested one of the four suspects, a 26-year-old man, in the Athens district of Kypseli on Friday afternoon after he kicked and punched the policemen in an attempt to flee.
Forged documents such as a Bulgarian identity card and a driving licence were found in his possession along with a pistol and a balaclava.
The Pink Panthers are suspected of robbing items worth 330 million euros ($450 million) in luxury stores around the world since 1999, cross-border police agency Interpol says on its website.
They got their nickname from British police in 2003 when gang members in London hid a stolen diamond in a pot of beauty cream, a trick used in one of the "Pink Panther" comedy films.
Of the gang's estimated 220 members, most are thought to be from the countries of the former Yugoslavia, including some former members of the military.
- See more at: http://www.ntd.tv/en/news/world/europe/20140503/136831-greece-arrests-4-serbian-39pink-panther39-jewel-thieves.html#sthash.9BOatuFJ.dpuf