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Friday, August 22, 2014

Stolen Art Watch, Noah Davis Proves Honest, Raw Journalism Lives, Presents Turbo Paul, Unpaid Warrior For Gardner Art Recovery

Turbo Paul Hendry M.A.

Turbo Paul: Art Thief Turned Art Crime Ombudsman

• August 22, 2014 • 


There’s art theft, there’s law enforcement, and, somewhere in between, there’s Turbo Paul.
I stumbled across Turbo Paul Hendry somewhere in the gray areas of the Internet. He runs Art Hostage and Stolen Vermeer, two happily abrasive sites dedicated to speaking the truth about art thefts around the world. The proprietor, a former “knocker” himself, sees his position as an advocate and a go-between, providing the true story behind the investigations to recover stolen art. “Maybe I’m just a sucker for Dickens and silver-tongued nutters,” Virginia Heffernan wrote about Hendry a few years ago, “but it’s people like Turbo Paul who, to me, exemplify the possibilities of the open Web.” We spoke over instant messenger, which is how he prefers to communicate.
Why start Art Hostage? Was/is the goal to be an informational source, to drum up work for yourself, or something else?
I saw the reporting of art crime by the MSM [mainstream media] in a way like yellow journalism so I wanted to tell it like it is. I agree I can be toxic, but I am at least even-handed with my toxic views about the criminals and those who pursue stolen art. A paradox is sometimes the so-called good guys act like foxes guarding the hen house. When it comes to negotiating the recovery of stolen art, the bad guys want to deal and tell the truth, the so-called good guys lie and prevaricate to avoid any payments, even if those who provide vital information have nothing to do with the theft or subsequent handling of the said stolen artworks.
Do you see yourself as a middleman? You’re open about your past as a “knocker,” which I would imagine establishes some level of credibility with the so-called bad guys.
Noah, we live in a propaganda-filled world and sadly, journalists have to temper their articles a bit because of fear of being blackballed if they reveal too much truth.
I don’t set people up and do act as a middleman for stolen art when all other avenues have been exhausted. Kinda like The Equalizer for stolen art so to speak.
I like that. How many cases have you been directly involved with? Can you give me an example of one?

“It must be said, however, I am not all bad, as I do advise law enforcement on how to prevent art theft and act as a conduit between law enforcement and the underworld. But being an honest broker means I cannot sting people, otherwise I would lose 30 years of trust built up.”

I have been involved in too many cases to mention but the Da Vinci Madonna case is a fascinating case I was directly involved in. Also, I have consulted in most high-profile cases in recent years. My best work is done when I dance in the shadows and allow others to claim the limelight.
Very little stolen art is recovered these days, and I do get offers of stolen art every day but, sadly, law enforcement won’t allow many deals to happen, so I walk away and tell my contacts to walk away.
Does the visibility your site has gained surprise you?
Not really, because there are only a handful of art crime experts in the world, say six or seven, and I am the only one with the background of being a former trafficker.
Also, being a character and being able to articulate myself helps get over my message as the other experts are ex-law enforcement, insurance loss adjusters, etc., and they are one-dimensional and wooden.
My academic chops, having an M.A., B.A., Hons, etc. helps me and gives me some credibility, but I retain my street cred because I don’t do stings and set people up. Think about it: Where can you read about art crime other than the usual spin in the MSM? I am the only alternative who shoots from the lip.
That’s fair. How has what you do changed in the seven years you’ve had the site? Also, were you doing the same type of work before you started the site?
I got to the top of the stolen art world and retired. I then went to university, rather than play golf or go fishing. In the seven years since I started the site the amount of stings and recoveries has been reduced markedly. People with information have grown wise to the old stings and double-dealings of insurance loss adjusters, etc. so the flow of information has dried up for those investigating art-related crime. However, the dumb crooks still fall for the ruses of ex-law enforcement art crime investigators and loss adjusters, but most seek my council first.
It must be said, however, I am not all bad, as I do advise law enforcement on how to prevent art theft and act as a conduit between law enforcement and the underworld. But being an honest broker means I cannot sting people, otherwise I would lose 30 years of trust built up.
Look, when I comment that a case might be a set up or rewards are bullshit, I am not revealing a secret as most criminals can research the past cases of stings, although they may be referenced on my site.
Before the Internet, law enforcement and insurance agents could use and abuse informants and threaten them with exposure. All of this would happen in secret. Nowadays, the Internet provides a database of previous cases where stings have happened so less recoveries and less information is passed through.
The Gardner case proves the point of credibility. Every time anyone has stepped forward they have been hounded and threatened and even jailed to try and lever them to reveal all. The underworld firmly believes the Gardner museum reward offer of $5 million is bullshit. Think about it: The offer is for all the Gardner art back in good condition, even though when stolen back in 1990 it was cut from the frames therefore it is impossible to be in good condition, another get out clause to prevent payment of the reward. The immunity offer has conditions: Anyone offering help loses their right to take the Fifth and has to reveal all and be prepared to testify against those who have the Gardner art. Therefore, anyone with knowledge stays quiet.
The $5 million Gardner reward offer was made back in 1997 and not raised since so raising it may help?
If authorities really wanted just the Gardner art back, they would offer pure immunity for help and the reward would not have any conditions. So, until then we have to hope the Gardner art is found by authorities stumbling upon it, perhaps during another investigation, but that has been the hope for over two decades.
How can you help get it back?
When I say pure immunity I mean immunity only regarding the Gardner case, not any other cases, etc.
Give me a real immunity deal and concrete proof the reward will be paid, then I could help. I have stated many times I seek not one dime of the reward, but if I could guarantee the reward would be paid and immunity offered to those who could help, then the Gardner art would come home. I also said the Gardner art should be left in a Catholic church confession box to prevent a sting and that would be a kind of absolution for the art. The deal in place would need to be legally watertight so the post-recovery reward would be paid. Again, I seek none of the reward.
Where is the so-called reward? All we have is cheap talk. Why not put the Gardner reward in an escrow account? Why not announce the immunity is blanket and those stepping forward do not have to reveal anything other than the location of the art and then collect the reward. Of course, whomever stepped forward would have to stand the scrutiny of not being involved in the Gardner theft or handling of the art, but I am sure someone could be appointed to take point. But up until now anyone stepping forward gets hounded.
You see the MSM never ask these questions about the Gardner art, just make bullshit repeating the spin about reward and immunity.
What would it take for that to change?
I must say if law enforcement does not want the reward to be paid and want arrests, fine. But don’t try to bullshit all the time.
Each case is different. It depends on what gets stolen and if the desire to recover it overrides the desire to make arrests, then deals can be made. Case in point: the Turners stolen in Germany, which were on loan from the Tate gallery U.K. This is a classic buy back. By the way, buy backs are not illegal, go check. It is not illegal for a victim or an insurance company to buy back stolen art. They try to spin that line, “it’s illegal,” but in reality buy backs are perfectly legal.
Noah, you know the MSM play the game, and in a post-9/11 world, the MSM are terrified to really conduct investigative journalism. Step out of the MSM line and your career is over.
I agree with some of that, but also I think stolen art is pretty low on the priority list of most MSM organizations.
I am not saying rewards or fees should be paid all the time and encourage art theft, but art theft happens because thieves can and will continue regardless. But if someone has information that helps recover stolen art, then they should be paid. Information is a salable commodity but sadly authorities expect it for free.
What does that have to do with MSM and investigative journalism?
I agree with you and much reporting on art crime is one of lazy journalism, therefore just trot out the usual spin under a banner headline. Take the Jeffrey Gundlach case in L.A. He offered a huge reward and got his art back within weeks, and the informant got paid.
Why has the MSM not questioned the Gardner case more? Why not seek answers to the immunity offer and reward offer to smoke out the truth. Then perhaps by firming up both immunity and reward offers people may believe it and come forward?
I see your point. I thought it was interesting that you used Google for everything. Do you trust them with your information despite the sensitive nature of some of it?
Noah, Google guys are great. They provide me with their security so hackers cannot disrupt my site like they may be able to do with an independent site. To hack my blog, hackers would need to bypass Google security and being in California I get the benefit of freedom of speech, so I can be toxic.
I mean less about hackers and more about Google themselves. They have shown in the past that they will work with law enforcement to turn over emails, etc. I’m not saying you’re doing anything illegal—I don’t think you are at all—but I can imagine a situation in which you might have some information like that which someone sends you.
I love Google, America, and of course Israel.
You can say, however, I am even-handed with my toxic viewpoints.
I am a thorn in the side of crooks and law enforcement, as well as the insurance industry. I say what journalists would love to say, I do not have the burden of office.

Gardner Art Heist, Alex Boyle Names Actual Thieves, Robert Wittman, The French Connection

William Merlino
David Turner

The Gardner Museum Art Thieves, Unmasked at Last?

By | August 2014
March 18, 1990, saw the biggest museum heist take place in American history as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was robbed by thieves dressed up as police officers. Since that time numerous stories have surfaced with the result being the same—nothing found, nothing recovered, and a museum, still bound by deed of gift, hangs empty frames on the wall where once hung masterpieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Manet, and Degas.
In the year 2001 this writer was handed an extraordinary letter from a confidential FBI informant outlining how the job was done, who the “players” were, and how the paintings were spirited overseas, first to Italy then France where they were sold via the connivance of a New York dealer for upward of $25 million.
One small problem: Despite this writer being flown abroad in February 2005 in the company of the FBI to meet the French National Police on the Isle de France in Paris—nothing was found. Noted FBI Agent Robert Wittman gave his best efforts on his trips to France in 2006 and 2007. He came close, but again, aside from Corsican mobster innuendo, nothing was found.
In 2013 this writer started to write the outline of a TV series on the project, then tentatively titled “Raiders of the Lost Art,” and the first item on the agenda was revisiting the Gardner Heist. The joy of a complete reboot is that one can go in the past and start over how one looks at a story, which helps because the original story development was so convoluted by wise guys seeking to cover their tracks, that a writer in the center of this story might be forgiven for getting vertigo or the spins.
Two names from the start remained of interest, and while the paintings were long since gone, getting a lock on the guys who did the job might help get closure for Boston, and put the story back on the right track, and hopefully confirm what the informant stated in 2001.
But the FBI refused to help when a Freedom Of Information Act request was put in for one William Merlino. This would take some doing to get around.
In 2008 a friendly writer named Ulrich Boser sent me the first photo of the other suspect, David Allen Turner, and that really matched the initial police sketch. It would take another five plus years for the William Merlino photo to show up. As the reader can now see, it was worth the wait.
Who are these guys and where are they now? William Merlino is 53 years of age and serving out the remained of an armored car conspiracy case in Lee Federal Prison, Pennington Gap, Va. According to Federal prison records, he is due to get out on Aug. 6, 2025.
His cohort, David Allen Turner is now 47 year of age in Danbury Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, Conn. and he is scheduled for release on March 25, 2025. William Merlino’s uncle, Carmello, supposedly the “made guy” in the family, and the link that could have confirmed the organized crime connection to this story, died in federal prison on Dec. 7, 2005.
All three were sent away for lengthy prison stints from an arrest made in 1998 for a job they never got a chance to pull off, but conspiracy remains a valid charge in federal courts.

Money Trail

Assuming the photos of Merlino and Turner match the Gardner Heist suspects, this corroborates the story heard years ago, that William Merlino was behind the heist. In underworld structure of the Boston, William was affiliated with uncle Carmello Merlino, a known La Cosa Nostra member. Carmello Merlino was known to be in a crew under former boss of the Boston Mob, Francis P. “Cadillac Frank” Salemme. 
Now when a crew in La Cosa Nostra (LNC) does a score, they have to kick upstairs to the boss, or else they get clipped, and along those lines the story provided to this writer in 2001 it implicated Francis P. “Cadillac Frank” Salemme and his brother Jackie Salemme. That too followed the respected pattern of doing business. There would be a problem if the Merlinos went off the LCN reservation.
A sideways development in this convoluted story was that somebody in the Department of Justice put Francis P. “Cadillac Frank” Salemme in the federal witness protection program, presumably in exchange for Salemme agreeing to testify in court against his Boston enemies Stephen Flemmi and James “Whitey” Bulger. It all goes to show that local problems with law enforcement, compounded by strategic errors made in the Justice Department contributed to the perfect storm that enabled the heist to become the perfect crime.
So many distracting elements kick in to convolute the Gardner Heist story that it is best to keep it simple. Look at the photos. Do they match? If so one has to ask why was this buried for so long? Even though much of the insider story had been heard, the evolution of the official story raises even more disturbing questions. If Merlino et al worked for Salemme, why was Salemme given immunity and put into witness protection? That is just the tip of the iceberg, but it illustrates the problems inherent to this case.
Alexander Boyle is a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, Conn., where he majored in history. He has worked for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, PBS, galleries, and an auction house as well as having published articles on 19th and 20th century American painting. This article was originally published in AAD,
Art Hostage Comments:
Alex Boyle has been consistent over the years in his theories about the Gardner Art Heist.
Alex Boyle said that after the Gardner Art Heist there was a "Sit down" at Friar Tucks where the deal for the Gardner art was struck for an alleged $25 million.
From there the art was moved via Halifax Nova Scotia to Genoa by New York Art Dealer & Sexual deviant Andrew Crespo.
From Genoa the Vermeer and possibly Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea was sold to none other than Hans Henrik (Hans Heinrich "Heini") Ágost Gábor Tasso Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon who hung the Vermeer at his Swiss villa until his death in 2002.
After Heini died his widow Carman passed the Vermeer and possibly the Rembrandt to Jean Marie Messier the French financier, via the Art Dealer Simon De Pury.
Alex Boyle led FBI Agents to Paris to search the home of Jean Marie Messier back in 2005 to look for the Vermeer etc but sadly the French authorities did not co-operate with the FBI but did make a search of the Jean Marie Messier Paris mansion and found some stolen fresco's looted from Italy and recovered them.
According to ex-FBI Agent Robert Wittman the Corsican Mafia have possession of at least some of the Gardner art and he was trying to smoke them out before he retired, but was thwarted by in-fighting at the FBI and a distinct lack of etiquette by the then Boston FBI Head Richard Des Lauriers towards the French authorities.

Robert Wittman said in an interview with the Huff Post:
The Gardner Heist
Two events that erupted in 1990 forever changed Wittman's, and America's, outlook regarding art crime. The former was a dreadful, painstaking experience. The latter was a pivotal moment in how art crime would be viewed by law enforcement, the media and the American public.
A car accident with Robert Wittman at the wheel in a South Jersey suburb would take the life of his friend and FBI Special Agent Denis Bozella. As if his four broken ribs, the guilt, grief and loss of his friend weren't enough, a prosecutor went through with a case he knew he would lose in court. The ordeal by trial, drawn out over five years for Wittman to clear his name, became the impetus to dedicate his career in solving art crime, which is what he considers to be crimes against society, history and the heritages of people.
A decade later, it would also place the agent in an even more special role, as he became the FBI's pointman in dealing with grief victims, primarily families suffering traumatic loss in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. At the time, that was hard on Wittman, the person, but it became valuable when he would begin to investigate and solve international art crime cases and go undercover as "Bob Clay," art broker and financier. The grief counseling -- "All I had to offer was empathy" -- and his own loss allowed him to see the other side of the good, bad and ugly in people, and put him in the perps' shoes and minds of master thieves.
On March 18, 1990, two robbers dressed as Boston Police gained access to the locked down Gardner Museum with a fake bench warrant. They duct-taped two young guards in the cellar and then spent an astounding 81 minutes rifling through the museum. They cut out ten priceless paintings -- a Vermeer, five Degas and three Rembrandts -- and three lesser art objects that included a gilded Corsican eagle finial and a Napoleonic War banner. The latter two were no "red herrings," but a clue to law enforcement as to where the stolen bounty would end up: in the organized crime orbit of Corsica, France and Spain.
With little to go on except police sketches and the data from the motion-detecting cameras, the trail went cold, fast. On the 23rd anniversary of the greatest art crime in history -- valued at 500 million -- the FBI's Boston Office (not the Art Crime Team) held a press conference, announcing the reward for the recovery of the stolen art was 5 million, and that they had fresh leads on the case "in Philadelphia and Connecticut."
Wittman said point blank: "It's definitely not in Philadelphia."
That press conference wasn't anything more than a reminder to the public on the reward and that that the famous case remained unsolved. It also served as a smoke screen, as those paintings are clearly in Europe -- with Wittman confirming: "We know who they were with, based on the French police wiretaps of the criminals I dealt with."
That was 2006 to 2008. Or two years that Wittman as Bob Clay went undercover in a sting operation that can be found in detail in his New York Times bestselling book Priceless: How I went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures (Random House/Broadway Books).
Unfortunately, human nature intervened. "Too many chiefs," the French Police pointman told Wittman. "Solving the case by committee doesn't work," Wittman later wrote.
Like the failed launch of the Obamacare website, throwing more people to fix a poorly designed platform doesn't work. Same with an undercover sting operation. The sting teams need to operate small to allow for "flexibility, creativity and to take risk," he stated in Priceless.
The human side to the promising undercover operation-turned-debacle was the FBI turf war, infighting with the Boston Office -- they knew nothing about art -- the Art Crime Team and the bureaucrats in FBI headquarters in D.C.
The same problem emerged in France. The French split their police groups in two with a new undercover unit called SIAT, producing evermore "chiefs."
All of those competing factions, instead of working in harmony, wanted to micromanage aspects of the case, while clamoring to take credit for solving the biggest art theft case in history in a press conference that would never materialize.
Robert Wittman's investigation into the Gardner Heist led him to the south of France by the way of Miami. "Although we didn't solve the Gardner case," Wittman said, "we did recover four valuable paintings stolen from the Nice Museum."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stolen Art Watch, Foxes Guarding The Hen-House

The Murky World of the Art Detective

Alexi Mostrous
The theft of artworks is now the world’s third most lucrative crime. Old Etonian Julian Radcliffe tracks down stolen Picassos and Cézannes – so why is he such a controversial figure?

In December 2007, an art exhibition opened in Pfäffikon, a small lakeside town in Switzerland, around 20 miles east of Zurich. The exhibition included 20 original Picasso paintings, as well as more than 150 etchings, prints and linoleum cuts by the artist, all of which had been loaned to the Pfäffikon cultural centre by the Sprengel Museum in Hanover. This type of arrangement is not uncommon across Europe; large museums and galleries will often allow their works to be shown in smaller provincial institutions. But such generosity carries a certain amount of risk: big galleries used to showing precious artworks will often boast elaborate alarm systems and large numbers of security personnel. Smaller galleries will often not. Plus, owing both to their great number and great value, works by Picasso are stolen more often than any other artist’s. So when the paintings came to Pfäffikon, it was not just a boon for local art lovers, but a potential opportunity for thieves.

It was one they seized. On a cold Wednesday night in early February 2008, the alarm at the Pfäffikon cultural centre sounded. Police arrived to find that two of the Picassos were missing. One was Tête de Cheval (Head of Horse) from 1962, the other was Verre et Pichet(Glass and Pitcher) from 1944: works that, between them, had an estimated value of more than £2.5 million. The Sprengel Museum immediately offered a reward for any information leading to the recovery of the paintings. Investigators hypothesised that the thieves may have remained hidden inside the gallery until after it had closed, but they could not be sure. The authorities were left with no firm idea as to how the crime happened, who had carried it out or, most vitally, how to get the Picassos back.

This last question quickly came to be pondered by a raffish figure from within a shabby office in London. The International Art and Antique Loss Register occupies the first floor of an anonymous five-storey block in Farringdon and is considered by many, despite outward appearances, to be the world’s foremost art detection agency. Founded by Julian Radcliffe, a slender man aged 65, the Art Loss Register (ALR) claims to have returned more than £150 million worth of paintings, artefacts and sculptures to their rightful owners in the 22 years since business began.

Radcliffe’s pale face, though often inscrutable, breaks into a smile when discussing his own exploits, and he clearly enjoys the sense of danger that comes with his status as an internationally renowned art detective. He has a caddish charm and the sort of self-confidence you would expect of an Old Etonian. Throughout his anecdotes – which mix references to hardened European criminals and attempted arrests by South American police – Radcliffe portrays himself as a Briton trying to bring order to foreign chaos. An Oxford graduate, Radcliffe was first employed as an insurance broker for Lloyd’s, specialising in political risk, before going on to found a company that would evaluate security in dangerous countries and regions. He later spent some time working as a hostage negotiator. In his pinstripe suit, he’s a little like something from a Graham Greene novel.

Radcliffe formed the ALR following a conversation with a director of Sotheby’s auction house who bemoaned the lack of a comprehensive worldwide database of all stolen and missing artworks. Such a database would ensure that reputable art dealers and private collectors could check that any piece they were purchasing did not, in fact, belong to somebody else. Over the past two decades, Radcliffe has built the ALR into a vast roll-call of stolen art, with more than 400,000 objects currently listed. Dealers and collectors pay Radcliffe fees to check the register.

Were the ALR a business built solely around this database, then Radcliffe would be a useful, if uncontroversial member of the art world, something like a particularly proactive lost property clerk. But Radcliffe is no clerk, and he and his company enjoy a far more glamorous sideline, earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a year tracking down and recovering stolen art on behalf of insurers and victims of theft. It works like this: Radcliffe’s network of sources around the world tip him off about the locations of stolen paintings. For a substantial fee, they may provide “information” which somehow leads to the stolen artwork landing in Radcliffe’s hands. The ALR man has collected paintings left for him in the boot of a car and by a layby. It’s a system shrouded in mystery but then, Radcliffe claims, it gets results.

In 1999, Radcliffe identified and reunited with its owner a stolen Cézanne, Pitcher and Fruits, which had turned up in Panama and which went on to sell at auction for £18 million. This month, Christie’s will sell several Old Masters stolen in 1987 from the gallery of art dealer Robert Noortman, which were recovered thanks in part to the ALR. Radcliffe worked with Dutch police to set up a sting operation, resulting in two criminal convictions and the recovery of all but one of the pictures.

But what makes Radcliffe such a contentious figure is his work with a shady network of informants in Serbia, whom he uses to recover stolen artwork, sometimes without obtaining explicit police approval, and occasionally in the knowledge that part of the payments he makes to these informants will filter back to the art thieves themselves.

While the ALR states publicly that it never pays anyone involved in the original theft, privately Radcliffe admits to me that the situation is rather different.

“You have got to understand that we are operating in the real world,” he says, sitting back in an old leather chair in his office when we meet. “The law tries to treat all this stuff as black and white and actually, in most cases, it’s shades of grey. The public policy has to be: we don’t pay … But in certain cases some payments have to be authorised. We keep them to a minimum.”

Radcliffe estimates that 20 per cent of stolen art is destroyed or lost for ever. It’s a useful statistic to keep in mind; collectors and institutions want their paintings back in one piece, and often they don’t mind how this is facilitated.

“The only thing I care about is my artworks, and Mr Radcliffe can do what he wants with whom he wants,” says Jean-Louis Loeb-Picard, a millionaire property developer. Loeb-Picard had employed the ALR following the theft of more than €3 million (£2.3 million) worth of art from his Parisian apartment, and under such circumstances he was not squeamish about Radcliffe’s methods. “It’s my right to do what I have to do to recover my works,” he maintains.

To use police language, theft victims are allowed to pay rewards “for information leading to the recovery of a stolen object”. That is not in itself controversial, even when payments amount to thousands of euros and the informants have criminal records.

Indeed, having a good network of informants is crucial to Radcliffe and other art detection companies’ ability to track down stolen art. Both the police and private companies regard the payment of rewards as often the only way to recover paintings.

But while rewards are uncontroversial, paying money to anyone directly or indirectly involved with the original theft is anything but. Some payments may not only be illegal but, like a government paying a kidnapper to turn over his hostages, may actually fuel art theft rather than prevent it.

The art recovery industry, murky and unregulated though it may be, is further boosted by the fact that police budgets for fighting art crime have been slashed, leaving organised gangs – especially gangs from Eastern Europe – able to tap into a global market worth billions. Art crime is now ranked the third highest-grossing criminal enterprise, behind drugs and arms dealing respectively. In 2013 figures suggested that thefts of art and antiques in the UK alone totalled more than £300 million. “I am not naive,” says Loeb-Picard. “I don’t insist on the matter. I know. Why would the criminal give back the works if they are not paid? But I asked two different lawyers, ‘Am I right to give money to Julian Radcliffe, knowing that part of the money may be going to criminals?’ My lawyers said I could do what I want.”

Radcliffe’s methods have provoked criticism at the highest level of European law enforcement. Some criminal investigators view him as little more than a fence, one who provides a means for the very people who stole the art to sell it back to their victims.

“Radcliffe ruins everything,” says Thomas Erhardy, head of the BRB (Brigade de Répression du Banditisme), the Parisian police force tasked with investigating serious crime. “He doesn’t play by the rules. All he wants is his percentage. He’s in contact with thieves. I simply don’t trust him.”

The Frenchman has crossed paths with Radcliffe several times. He accuses the ALR of creating a dishonest market in stolen art, one that flows from the thieves who steal it in European cities, through Serbian intermediaries, onwards to Radcliffe and the ALR, and finally back with the insurance companies or victims themselves.

Radcliffe bats away the criticism. “Erhardy may call me tomorrow and ask me to help on a case,” he says. “But for very good political reasons, he’s got to be critical of us in public.” He denies Erhardy’s claims, however, saying he has never handled stolen goods or himself acted illegally, and insists that he seeks permission from relevant police forces before paying over money.

In some rare cases, the ALR accepts that money will be paid directly to criminals, but only as part of what they have come to term the “Balkan strategy”. This approach involves secretly offering sums of money, which the ALR claims are relatively small, to criminals to recover pictures on behalf of their rightful owners, while at the same time using its extensive database to make it impossible for those same criminals to sell to anyone else. Radcliffe insists that no payment has been made for thefts after 2010 and that his strategy has been effective at reducing crime.

“There are fewer than 12 cases out of more than 1,600 in the past 21 years in which we suspect the payments made to intermediaries might have been passed on to those involved in the original theft,” says Radcliffe.

“We absolutely understand that some of the cash paid results in money going back to people who may have been involved in the original crime. No one is fooling anyone about the fact that [an intermediary] will pass on some of the money.”

Radcliffe says he has taken legal advice and the position is not always clear. Ultimately, “It comes down to intent. A prosecutor would find it very difficult to say what you are doing was wrong if it was part of a clear strategy to reduce crime.”

Thanks to a series of internal aides-memoire written by Radcliffe between 2004 to 2012, and leaked to The Times, it is possible to reveal for the first time just how far the ALR is willing to go to recover stolen masterpieces.

In 2011, on the trail of the Pfäffikon Picassos, Radcliffe flew into Belgrade to meet some of his contacts who claimed they knew of the paintings’ whereabouts. A few hours after arriving, he found himself being hustled into a car by a young Serb he knew only as “X”. The Serb had already warned Radcliffe “No police”. They drove in silence into the hills behind the Serbian town of Krusevac.

“We climbed up through open fields with a small church just on the right,” Radcliffe wrote afterwards. “‘X’ told me not to remember where we were since the pictures would only be there for ten minutes. At a junction we went into a house which he seemed to know well.”

The pair then entered a garage where they were met by a heavy-set man, who moved aside a lawnmower before carrying out two pictures wrapped in a large zipped cover. Radcliffe examined the contents. One was Tête de Cheval. The other was Verre et Pichet. He had been led to the missing Picassos.

The question is, who had helped get him there in the first place? After seeing the two stolen masterpieces for himself, Radcliffe met three of his Serbian contacts at a nearby restaurant. The first was a tough-talking man called Wolf Minic, a 48-year-old chain-smoking private detective with contacts deep within the country’s criminal underworld.

Minic introduced Radcliffe to a prominent Serb businessman aged about 60, whom everyone knew simply as “the Boxer”. He boasted of once fighting Evander Holyfield. According to ALR notes, the Boxer had “financed many gangs of thieves overseas” and had “directed criminals to steal in Zurich”. But now, apparently, he wanted to “go clean”. The final contact was a young café owner called Marko, who appeared to be in charge. He showed Radcliffe pictures of other allegedly stolen artworks, telling him: “There are many other cases if we give him a list of what we are after.” As the men talked, Radcliffe noticed a man standing guard with a submachine gun. Eight months after he first met him, Serbian police filed criminal charges against Marko “due to the fact that he possessed stolen paintings”, according to a spokeswoman for the Ministry of the Interior in Serbia.

Through Minic, the ALR paid them tens of thousands of pounds for information on a number of stolen artworks.

Speaking today, Radcliffe says he then had “no grounds to suspect” that any of his Balkan contacts had any direct involvement in art theft – although Marko was obviously in contact with people who were – and that he was comfortable doing business with them. Minic says that, “Marko is trusted by both sides,” and, “The Serbs know that he was not involved with the crime.” That same year, the three men helped Radcliffe locate Constructivo Blanco, a painting by Uruguayan artist Joaquín Torres-García, a work worth a six-figure sum. After the painting was returned, its insurers, Catlin Insurance, paid the ALR €60,000 in fees and expenses. €30,000 of this was kept by the ALR and the other half distributed between the Boxer’s group and the “criminal holders”.

Radcliffe says that the insurance company knew this was the case. In a note of his meeting with a Catlin representative, Radcliffe recorded that he and the insurance company agreed that at least some of the money would go “to the thief”. A Catlin spokesperson strongly denied this, and said the company would never have authorised such a payment. Radcliffe’s response is to suggest that the established art world authorities – the police, the insurers – cannot afford to admit what everyone else knows is the truth.

“Catlin have got to take that public position,” he says. “We kept the insurers fully informed and they knew that some payment would eventually end up with criminals.” Catlin continues to deny this.

When it comes to art recovery, Radcliffe is by no means the only game in town. Despite locating the two missing Picassos, it was not the Old Etonian who would ultimately take the credit for the safe return of the paintings. Radcliffe tried to obtain a contract to recover them with AXA Art, the insurers, but was rebuffed. AXA preferred to deal with a competitor of his, Dick Ellis, with whom it had a long-standing relationship. Ellis is a former police officer who set up the Art and Antiques Squad at Scotland Yard and now runs his own art recovery business, the Art Management Group. In person, Ellis exists as an almost exact counterweight to Radcliffe: ruddy-faced, bald and thickening where his competitor is pale, slender and with a sweep of well-groomed hair. You wouldn’t have to guess who is the ex-policeman and who is the aesthete.

Ellis even used the same contacts – Marko, the Boxer and Minic – to obtain information about the Picassos’ whereabouts. In fact, Ellis has an even closer relationship with the three. In 2011, he set up a company in Serbia called Art Management DOO with the Serbs listed as directors and equal owners. Like Radcliffe, Ellis maintains that these men are simply intermediaries in a part of the world where the legitimate and the illegal often intertwine.

“If you are investigating crimes and using information, then it’s quite common for the informants to have criminal connections,” says Ellis. “Marko is clearly well connected, but the degree to which he’s criminally involved is unclear to me. Despite my having provided law enforcement investigators with his details I saw no evidence to connect him criminally with any of these activities.” (He declines to say if he was aware that charges had been filed against Marko in 2012, however.)

The line between paying a ransom to a crook and paying a reward for information leading to a painting’s recovery is, in this world, easy to blur. Radcliffe believes that Ellis knew perfectly well that some of the fees he paid his contacts during recovery of the two Picassos would end up in criminal hands.

“AXA stated publicly that they had not paid criminals, on the rather shaky grounds that the payments were for information, not for stolen art,” he noted. Ellis says this description is “manifestly inaccurate and wrong”.

On a clear winter’s day, I meet a third player in this field, at a café beside Richmond Bridge in London. Charley Hill has operated as a private art investigator since 2002, having previously worked with Ellis at Scotland Yard. In 1994, he posed as an American collector as part of a sting to recover The Scream by Edvard Munch, which had been stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo. Today, he is seeking to recover a number of gold snuffboxes stolen from Lord Rothschild’s Waddesdon Manor home, collectively worth £5 million, goods that Radcliffe also happens to be on the trail of.

A mild, bespectacled figure, Hill boasts good contacts within the traveller community, and has enlisted James Quinn McDonagh – a championship bare-knuckle boxer – to set up introductions with individuals connected to the Rothschild thefts. “He and I are after all of Jacob Rothschild’s gold boxes, the Ashmolean Cézanne, and the Caravaggio stolen in Palermo in 1969,” says Hill. “He gets me into the travellers.” There is no suggestion that McDonagh had any involvement in the snuffbox thefts, but the very presence of a bare-knuckle boxing champion only serves as a reminder of the types of characters often involved in the recovery of artworks. In 2004, Radcliffe’s own notes show him visiting the Hyatt Regency Belgrade to meet someone known only as “the Boss Man”.

“He had thin aquiline features, slim build, balding, speaks Russian, certainly knowledgeable about where the pictures were stolen,” he noted. The Boss Man’s associates took Radcliffe “to a ground-floor office with a caged locking door where they showed me a Van Dyke stolen from a castle”. On another occasion, Radcliffe met a Bosnian general and an arms dealer, both of whom “controlled” stolen works of art, he said. He paid one group of “holders” €50,000 and another €25,000, ALR documents record.

Again, you wonder whether these artworks would ever be recovered without paying such people. “Paying criminals a ransom has to be wrong,” says Hill. But paying people for information “leading to the recovery of masterpieces” would be in the public interest. “You wouldn’t get it back any other way,” he says. “None of us are fools.”

Two individuals close to the Art Loss Register told me that Radcliffe’s forays into the Balkans were as much a desperate attempt to wrestle his company into financial health as an idealistic endeavour. The ALR, which has not made money for six years, had liabilities of more than £1 million in 2012.

“Distributing money to these individuals in Serbia I thought was wrong,” says one source close to Radcliffe, who wishes to remain unknown. “It’s in an absolute financial mess. If it wasn’t for Julian’s personal cash infusions the company would be insolvent.” (Radcliffe says he is confident the ALR will eventually make a profit.)

Last year, the ALR’s general counsel, a man called Chris Marinello, defected in order to set up his own art detection agency, Art Recovery International. He too questioned the methods of his former company. “The direction of the ALR, with these ingrained practices and questionable affairs of its management and board, was not aligned with my vision of how a due diligence business (or any business for that matter) should be run.” Upon announcing the creation of Art Recovery International, Marinello stressed that his own company would be run “ethically, responsibly and with respect for the rule of law”. Radcliffe is not surprised a competitor would criticise the ALR.

But even an experienced police officer such as Erhardy has, in a roundabout way, benefited from information sold by men like Marko. In November 2012, a Serbian thief called Goran Arsic stole a €500,000 Delacroix painting called The Arabs of Oran from a gallery near the Louvre. In May 2013, Dick Ellis travelled to Paris to seek permission from Erhardy and a French judge to recover the painting. When this was granted, Ellis travelled to Belgrade where, with the assistance of Marko, he was able to locate the stolen painting. Even though telephone records linked Arsic to Marko, Erhardy states he was satisfied that Ellis had acted appropriately. “His goal can help my goal,” the Frenchman says. A year after the original theft, Erhardy arrested Arsic in Paris.

Nevertheless, Erhardy maintains that the very nature of the art recovery industry means it is unlikely ever to become less murky. “Everyone is happy and everyone gets money,” he says, speaking of the cycle of theft, recovery and payments. “But you have to stop the situation otherwise you are encouraging more thefts.” Which may be true. But then, if you were to wake to find that two of your Picassos had gone missing, who would you call? There is no shortage of men ready to help you get them back. At least, for the right price.

Additional reporting by Katie Gibbons

Police find priceless armour and paintings after tracking charity bag thefts

Tracking device placed in charity bags in an attempt to catch thieves led police to discover priceless suits of armour and paintings stolen from castle hundreds of miles away

Brian Dalley was subjected to a seven hour ordeal, as thieves stripped his property in Rushton Spencer, Staffordshire, stealing his priceless collection of armour, weaponry, paintings and jewellery
Brian Dalley was subjected to a seven hour ordeal, as thieves stripped his property in Rushton Spencer, Staffordshire, stealing his priceless collection of armour, weaponry, paintings and jewellery  
An investigation into thieves who had been stealing charity bags from outside shops inadvertently led police to discover priceless suits of armour and paintings stolen in a violent raid on a castle last year.
Five suits of armour, paintings of Oliver Cromwell and a sword owned by Saddam Hussein were among items taken in a raid at 10-bedroom castle in Rushton Spencer, Staffordshire, last September.
Brian Dalley, who is now 80, was tied up and subjected to a seven hour ordeal as thieves stripped his property stealing his priceless collection of armour, weaponry, paintings and jewellery.
It was thought the haul had been quickly sold off and taken out of the country, meaning much of it would never be recovered.
However, a tracking device planted in a charity bag in Staffordshire following a spate of thefts led police in Humberside to a lock up in Hull where, along with a number of charity bags, they found half of the property stolen in the raid on historic castle.
The items are believed to have been stolen by an Eastern European organised crime network.
There are still half of the items missing, including Saddam Hussein's sword.
Mr Dalley said: "It was my dream to live in a castle and I've been collecting these antiques, swords and armour for the last 70 years. I feel most distressed about what happened, only some of my things have been returned. They are priceless.
"I would like the police to catch all the culprits."
He was tied to a chair and blindfolded, and repeated beaten with an iron bar during the ordeal. The raiders also attacked his dog with a baseball bat.

Detailed shot of a suit of armour which was stolen during the raid
One Lithuanian man has been jailed for seven years three months for possessing firearms and handling the stolen goods which were found in the Hull lock-up, a second man has been charged in connection with handling stolen goods.

Painting of Oliver Cromwell
Police are also hunting two Lithuanians who have fled the country.
No one has been caught for the aggravated burglary yet.
Detective Sergeant Stuart Fox, of Humberside Police, said: "We believe this is part of an organised crime network and we are still searching for two men in relation to this.

One of the five suits of armour, which were stolen during the raid
"It was a surprising discovery to find all these items in the static container in Hull. The victim suffered an horrific ordeal and the perpetrators are still at large. He is pleased some of his property has been found and I hope the rest can be found and those responsible can be brought to justice."

Mail armour, which was stolen during the burglary
A gun and ammunition and drugs were also found in the container in a storage yard in Hull.
Items taken in the raid in Staffordshire included a Cromwellian pike, 30 paintings and a red velvet covered shield with an axe and a spiked ball and chain.

Renaissance masterpiece by Guercino worth £5m stolen from Italian church
Lack of funds meant the security alarm protecting the masterpiece, stolen from a church in Modena, was not working

The painting, completed in 1639, would be hard to resell in Europe because of stringent controls on stolen art works, but the thieves might try to off-load it in the Far East, experts said. Photo: ANSA
Nick Squires
3:01PM BST 14 Aug 2014
A Renaissance masterpiece worth up to £5 million has been taken from a church in Italy, amid speculation that it may have been stolen to order by a private collector or could be cut up into pieces in an attempt to sell it on.
The large oil painting of the Madonna with St John the Evangelist, measuring approximately 10ft by 6ft, is by Guercino, a Baroque painter whose mastery of light and shade has drawn comparisons with Caravaggio.
It was stolen in the middle of the night from the church of San Vincenzo in the northern town of Modena earlier this week.
Curators admitted that lack of funds meant the alarms protecting the painting were not working.
"There was an alarm in the church, but it was inactive," said Monsignor Giacomo Morandi, of the archdiocese of Modena.
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It had been paid for by a donation from a local bank but once those funds dried up it had been switched off, he told Corriere della Sera newspaper.
"It's very difficult to protect every single work of art," he added.
The painting, completed in 1639, would be hard to resell in Europe because of stringent controls on stolen art works, but the thieves might try to off-load it in the Far East, experts said.
Or it may have been stolen to order by a Bond-style criminal mastermind, one art historian speculated.
"It may have been taken on the orders of a very rich, passionate art lover who wants to have it for himself, a bit like the head of Spectre in the 007 films," said Claudio Strinati, an expert on Guercino.
Vittorio Sgarbi, a well-known art critic, said the painting was "a monumental work" that would be worth between five and six million euros.
"How is it possible that the authorities allowed a work this valuable to remain without any security?" he asked.
Art historians feared that the thieves might cut the oil painting into pieces and try to sell them individually.
The theft is being investigated by officers from a specialist unit of the paramilitary Carabinieri police force.
The stealing of the painting had shocked Modena, the city's mayor said.
"This precious painting is part of the cultural heritage of Modena," said Gian Carlo Muzzarelli.
"The theft has affected not just the church but the whole city." 

Historic coins worth £160k stolen from Swanton Morley

Selection of the 17th Century coins stolen from Swanton Morley  
The stolen coins range from 1642 to 1692

Seven historic coins worth about £160,000 have been stolen from a village in Norfolk, police said.

The 17th Century coins, including two Henry VIII sovereigns and a 1692 William and Mary five guinea, were taken from a home in Swanton Morley.

A man visited the house to buy a coin which had been advertised, but ran off with the hoard when the owner left him alone while making a phone call.

The man is described by police as white and in his early 30s.
Other coins taken by the thief on Tuesday morning include a 1642 triple unite, a James Rose Royal, an Elizabeth I sovereign and a 1679 five guinea.

Restored Wenlok jug is back where it belongs

editorial image

A medieval jug, stolen from Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton, has been restored to the museum.
The Wenlok Jug – which is made of bronze and decorated with coats of arms, badges and is inscribed with the words “MY LORD WENLOK” - was stolen during a burglary in May 2012 from a high security display cabinet.

Zurich, one of the UK’s leading insurance companies, insures the collection at Stockwood Discovery Centre and supported the Police in their investigation as well as offering a reward of £25,000 for its safe return. Following an in depth investigation the Jug, which was valued at £750,000, was discovered in September 2012.

However, before it could return to its home, the Jug required some minor conservation work and redesigned security protocols had to be put in place, both of which have now been completed.

Paul Redington from Zurich’s Major Loss Claims team said: “We fully realise the importance of the Wenlok Jug both to the museum and to the people of Luton, which is why we worked so determinedly and quickly to return this important artefact to its home. This irreplaceable piece of local history can now be enjoyed by future generations”.

Gloria Johnson-Ashman from Luton Borough Council commented: “Without the support of Zurich from the outset the recovery of the jug would not have been possible. The dedicated support and guidance has been invaluable”.

Karen Perkins, Director of Arts and Museums at Luton Culture added: “We are delighted that such a treasured artefact is going back on display for the whole community to enjoy.
“We have taken our time to make absolutely sure that all necessary measures have been put in place to keep the Wenlok Jug safe and secure, here, where it belongs.”