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Sunday, November 02, 2014

Stolen Art Watch, November, Bonfire of The Vanities


The 'Rathkeale Rovers': 13 men charged with stealing rhino horns and museum antiquities

Police investigating a team of jewel and rhino horn thieves dubbed the “Rathkeale Rovers” have charged 13 men over a string of museum raids across the country that netted millions of pounds worth of precious artifacts.
The 13 have been charged with conspiracy to steal after Chinese antiques and horn were targeted in seven burglaries in four months at an auction house and four museums.
Thieves stole jade figures and bowls from the Ming and Qing dynasties worth £15m in one of the raids at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. None of the 18 items have been recovered from a raid that authorities said had tarnished the museum’s reputation as a guardian of treasures. Furthermore, the bogus "Substantial" reward offer has done nothing to smoke out the stolen Jade and has only re-enforced the truth about rewards being paid are "Fools on a Fools errand, chasing Fools Gold"
Twelve men, aged between 25 and 67, were arrested in a series of raids across Britain in September last year in an operation coordinated by the National Crime Agency.
It was combined with further searches in Rathkeale, a town in County Limerick, in the southwest of Ireland, that gave the name to the men, who allegedly have roots in the Irish travelling community.
A thirteenth man, Daniel O’Brien, 44, from a traveller site at Smithy Fen, Cambridge, was arrested this week and will appear in court in Birmingham on Thursday November 6th. The other men, from London, Cambridgshire, Wolverhampton, Billericay and Southend in Essex, and Belfast, will appear at the same court in three/four weeks.
Three of the criminal raids were carried out at the Durham University Oriental Museum, with some of the items recovered, including a figurine and bowl that were found in a field.
Another raid was foiled when members of the public intervened at the Norwich Castle Museum. Gorringes auction house in East Sussex and the Powell Cotton Museum in Kent were also allegedly targeted.
The burglaries highlighted the high value of rhino horn to criminals that can provide a higher profit margin than gold or cocaine. It also has the advantage of being difficult to trace and less identifiable than other commodities.
It is highly prized in Vietnam and China where it is ground down and used in traditional products and commands huge prices, despite having no medicinal properties. Most rhino horn has now been moved from public display in Britain and scientists have started putting samples of horn on a DNA database to try to prevent such crimes. Private homes with Victorian hunting trophies have also been put on alert to avoid being targeted for the valuable horn.
They are: Alan Clarke, 26, of Newham, London; Ashley Dad, 34, of Wolverhampton; Michael Hegarty, 42, of Smithy Fen; John O’Brien, 67, of Wolverhampton; John O’Brien, 25, of Smithy Fen; Richard O’Brien, 29, of Dale Farm, Essex; Paul Pammen, 48, of Southend-on-Sea; Richard Sheridan, 46, of Smithy Fen; Chi Chong Donald Wong, 55, of Lambeth, London; Patrick Clarke, 32, of Melbourne Road, London; Terrence McNamara, 45, of Belfast; and Robert Gilbert, 26, of HMP Lewes.

Past masters ... in the art of the heist

They are paintings by three of the best-known Irish painters of the 20th­century. When raiders lifted valuable by art works by Jack B Yeats, Sir John Lavery and Paul Henry, from a private house in Wicklow in the past few days, they seemed to know exactly what they were looking for.
No other items were taken in the robbery, leading gardaí to believe that the criminals were well aware of the value of the art in the house at the end of the a long driveway near Baltinglass. It was not the normal opportunist crime.
All three painters targeted have works hanging in the National Gallery in Dublin, and have featured in the private collections of wealthy individuals across Ireland in recent decades.
The most valuable painting in the haul, Portrait of a Lady by Sir John Lavery, is believed to be worth up to €100,000 on the open market. Lavery is perhaps best known for his portraits of his wife Hazel; one of these iconic images appeared on the old one pound notes.
If they were sold legitimately, the paintings would have been worth up €200,000 in total, but it is most unlikely that underworld figures would receive anything like that price on the black market.
If anything the fame of the painters may make the paintings almost impossible to sell in Ireland, according to Dublin art auctioneer Ian Whyte.
"They wouldn't be sold through a regular art dealer. When someone comes to us we would always check a painting's provenance, and if we were suspicious of the sellers we would check them out."
Stolen or missing paintings are logged by the London-based Art Loss Register, a database that is led by the insurance industry.

MASTER: Gardai are hunting the thieves who stole three paintings including Portrait Of A Lady by John Lavery
MASTER: Gardai are hunting the thieves who stole three paintings including Portrait Of A Lady by John Lavery
"I think there is a good chance that the paintings were taken to England and sold there very quickly," Mr Whyte told Weekend Review in the middle of this week as gardaí tried to trace them.
"These painters are not so well-known in England, and the theft is not big news there. They could have been sold at an antiques fair, and whoever bought them probably doesn't know they are stolen. The thieves would probably have been happy to get €10,000 for them."
Mr Whyte said burglars usually target goods that are easy to dispose of such as gold, silver and jewellery, but there are some dedicated art thieves.
"Usually, they pick paintings that are slightly less valuable, and sell them for under €5,000, because there is less fuss over them."
In one of the few cases where a thief accumulated a private collection of art, gardaí recently discovered a haul of 48 paintings in a Dublin home.
The collection, which included works by Graham Knuttel and William Ashford, is thought to have been built up over three decades.
While the recent Wicklow art robbers knew what they were looking for, in another reported heist in Co Armagh two years, a gang sought help from outside.
In what became known as the "iPhone raid", raiders were said to have taken two paintings by the Italian artist Canaletto from a retired Protestant vicar. After tying up their victim and gagging him, they used a smartphone to send images of his collection to an outside accomplice.
They then received instructions from the criminal connoisseur about what to take.
Private houses are more likely to be the target for thieves than galleries or museums, because of heightened security. Museums have security devices such as motion sensors and contact detectors that sound alarms when contact between the painting and a wall is broken.
There is a popular image of a villainous art collector sitting in a darkened room, with his collection of masterpieces around him.
In the 1962 film Dr No, Sean Connery's James Bond visits his enemy's lair and spots Goya's stolen portrait of the Duke of Wellington.
In real life, Goya's painting had actually been stolen from the National Gallery in London by an unemployed truck driver, who escaped with his haul through a toilet window. The thief said the raid had been carried out as a protest against the cost of TV licences.
Art auctioneer Ian Whyte said the idea of the rich art-collecting villain in his lair is actually a myth.
The two most famous art robberies in Ireland, both at Russborough House, show how raiders are more likely to steal extremely valuable paintings in order to seek a ransom, or to use them as security in major drug deals.
In 1974, an IRA gang including Dr Rose Dugdale, tied up Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit, and made off with a haul that included works by Rubens, Goya and Vermeer.
They sought a ransom of £500,000 and the release of IRA prisoners. The paintings were found only a few days afterwards in the boot of a car in West Cork.
In the second major raid at Russborough, the Dublin criminal Martin Cahill ("The General") got away with 18 paintings.
Cahill's use of the art followed a pattern where a criminal hopes to use the paintings as bargaining chips in deals with other villains.
Gangs use valuable paintings as security on loans or as a form of currency when they are trading in drugs or weapons. One of the Russborough paintings stolen by Cahill's gang turned up in Istanbul as part of a heroin deal.
According to the book, Art Theft, by the director of the British National Portrait Gallery Sandy Nairne, the annual market for stolen art and antiquities in the early part of this decade was $5bn (€4bn).
As the first Russborough theft showed in 1974, raiders may try to secure a ransom with valuable paintings.
A bold demand for cash ransom from a museum, a collector or an insurance company is unlikely to be successful.
However, in an article in the Daily Telegraph, art critic Alastair Sooke said a museum or an insurance company will often offer a reward for information leading to the recovery of a work.
There seems to be a grey area between a ransom demand and information leading to a painting's recovery.
As Sooke puts it: "While rewards are never paid to criminals, this can be circumvented with the help of one or two shady middlemen - with authorities turning a blind eye, so long as the stolen goods are returned."
According to the Art Loss Register, which logs missing work, the recovery rate of stolen art is only about 15pc. Of the other 85 pc, around 20pc has been destroyed.
In Ireland however, the recovery rate of stolen paintings after high-profile robberies has been high. All but two of the 18 paintings stolen by the "General" Martin Cahill were eventually recovered.
The owners of the paintings stolen in Wicklow in recent days, would have been hoping that there was a good chance that they could be recovered. The artists are so well known that criminals who are trying to off-load them could find they are a liability.
As Dublin art auctioneer Ian Whyte puts it: "Many a criminal has found himself in jail after a painting they had stolen was traced."

Four arrests after burglars tie up victims in multiple raids in West End, Hambledon and Bishops Waltham

FOUR MEN, including infamous Christopher Doughty, have been arrested following a string of burglaries across Hampshire including two where homeowners were tied up and threatened.
Southampton men aged 29, 36, 48 and 53 are being quizzed by officers after eight warrants were executed at addresses in Southampton, Eastleigh and Hedge End today.
They came after burglaries in West End, Bishops Waltham and Hambledon.
As previously reported by the Daily Echo, a retired couple were tied up and threatened during a burglary at their home in West End on August 6.
Jewellery, watches and firearms were taken from the address.
Another burglary took place during the early hours of September 3, when entry was forced to a house in Bishops Waltham and items of china along with other antiques were stolen.
Finally at around 2am on October 9, three men entered a house in Hambledon and tied up two women aged 90 and 27.
Antique items of jewellery and silver were targeted.
Detective Superintendent Victoria Dennis from the Hampshire Major Investigation team said: “Each of these burglaries would have been very frightening for the victims involved.
“We have previously appealed for witnesses for these three burglaries separately but following extensive enquiries we are now treating them as linked.
“We are taking these incidents very seriously and have made a number of arrests today as part of our ongoing investigation.
“We are still appealing for witnesses and would urge anyone with information to contact us so that we can bring those responsible for these terrifying incidents to justice and recover stolen property.”

Detectives charge man with two burglaries

A MAN has been charged with two burglaries.
Police executed warrants at eight addresses after burglaries on September 3 in Bishop’s Waltham, October 9 in Hambledon and on August 6 in West End, Southampton.
Christopher Doughty, 53, from West End, is charged with two counts of aggravated burglary and is due to appear at Southampton Magistrates’ Court on November 18.
Three men from Southampton, aged 29, 36 and 48, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to burgle have been bailed until January 7.
A 24-year-old man from Southampton arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to burgle has been bailed until January.
A 43-year-old man from Southampton is being quizzed on suspicion of conspiracy to burgle.

Sculpture worth £7,000 stolen from a central Newcastle art gallery

CCTV image of a man police want to speak to in connection with the theft of a sculpture from Castle Fine Art gallery in Newcastle

A sculpture worth £7,000 was snatched from a central Newcastle gallery.
The piece, by artist Lorenzo Quinn, was taken from Castle Fine Art Gallery on Grey Street in a move that staff say occurred in a matter of minutes.
The artist is an Italian sculptor whose work mainly focuses on human hands. His work includes both large scale sculptures as well as smaller pieces. The work stolen featured a small hand with a man sat in its palm.
The man made off with the sculpture in a bag despite its substantial weight, according to staff.
Gallery manager Sarah Manghan said the thief had headed straight for the sculpture, called ‘The Hand of God’, as though he knew what he was looking for.

The sculpture called 'hand of god' which is worth around £7000 was stolen from Castle Fine Art gallery in Newcastle
The sculpture called 'hand of god' which is worth around £7000 was stolen from Castle Fine Art gallery in Newcastle
 She said: “The theft happened so quickly. A man came into the gallery, immediately headed for the sculpture, put it in a gift bag that he was carrying and then left.
“It seemed like he knew what to take and exactly where it was. The entire incident lasted no longer than a couple of minutes.”
The piece was part of a two part set called ‘The Hand of God’. It was snatched from the ground floor of the gallery, but the thief left the second piece in the set behind.
Police are carrying out an investigation and have now released CCTV images of a man they want to speak to in connection with the theft, which occurred at the beginning of October.
The gallery is home to local artists including Alexander Millar, Jeff Rowland and Keith Proctor.
Ms Manghan said: “We have a high turnover of exhibitions and artwork in our gallery, but thefts are extremely unusual.
“We have excellent security systems and a prosecution policy for any shoplifters caught. We greatly appreciate the support of the police and their call for witnesses, and hope that the public can help us locate the beautiful ‘Hand of God’ sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn and bring it back to the gallery where it can be admired.”

Three religious paintings worth more than £30,000 stolen in Plungington home raid

Three paintings worth more than £30,000 have been stolen from a home in Preston.
Police are appealing for information after the raid at around 10pm on Thursday.
An unknown number of people have forced access to the rear of a property in Emmanuel Street, Plungington.
The owner returned home from work and is believed to have disturbed the offenders.
Three original Italian religious works of art are around 2ft by 2ft in size and are housed in dark Oak antique frames.
One painting features Jesus on the cross, another the Virgin Mary and Jesus, and the third features Our Lady Virgin Mary.
Two sewing machines and a laptop were also taken.
DC Warren Gibson from Preston Police said: “This has understandably been an upsetting experience for the victim and we are keen to trace and return the valuable paintings to her as soon as possible.”

Balochistan’s stolen antiques found in Italy

ISLAMABAD: Antiques pertaining to the Buddha era stolen from Mehrgarh area of Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan have been recovered in Italy.

A provincial government spokesman said yesterday that the Italian government had informed the authorities in Islamabad that they had recovered the antiques smuggled from Pakistan.

“The antiques, including statues of Buddha, had been found during digging at Mehrgarh in the mountainous region of Bolan Pass. They were later stolen and smuggled to Italy,” he said. He said smugglers sold the antiques in Italy at a lucrative price.

Earlier, Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch said a request had been made to the federal government to approach the Italian government for bringing the antiques back to Balochistan.

A senior official said that the theft took place in connivance with some government employees and smuggled to Europe via sea. “Some black sheep in government departments helped smuggle the antiques out of Pakistan.”

The excavation at Mehrgarh was carried out by French archaeologist Jean Francois Jarrige and the French Consulate in Pakistan had extended financial cooperation for the purpose. The Mehrgarh civilisation is said to be 8,000 years old.

Officials said that a mafia was involved in the smuggling of antiques from centuries old civilisations of Loralai, Zhob, Bolan and Jhal Magsi districts of Balochistan.

Mafia is a type of organised crime syndicate that primarily practices protection racketeering — the use of violent intimidation to manipulate local economic activity, especially illicit trade.

Clerkenwell gallery hit by ‘theft to order’

Four of eleven wooden sculptures stolen
A gallery in Clerkenwell, north London has been broken into and four sculptures stolen in what has been described as a “steal to order” theft. In a press release issued yesterday, 29 October, Kim Savage, the owner of Fold Gallery, says he initially thought that “opportunistic thieves” looking for laptops and office equipment committed the break in.
But Savage says he soon realised that four out of eleven sculptures by the British artist Tim Ellis on show were taken, while none of his paintings, which could be “easily transported”, were touched.

“The police have told us this is a ‘steal to order’ situation, which is very rare for a gallery of our size,” Savage says. “We thought we should make people aware as this is an unusual event; I have never come across this before.”

Savage is offering a “substantial reward” for the return of the four wooden sculptures; he says the exact figure is being negotiated with the police. According to the press release, the value of the stolen works is around £20,000, but because Ellis did not sign the sculptures they are now “valueless”. Savage says the works were due to be signed when they were sold along with their certificates of authentication.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police says they received a call at 9.05pm on Saturday 25 October logging the break in, but that no arrests have been made. Savage says by publicising the theft he hopes to retrieve the works and draw attention to the crime. “The best thing we can do for our artist is get the word out. We are trying to make something good out of something terrible,” he says.

$23 Million Arlington Mansion Target of Possible Home Invasion Robbery

The $23 million mansion at 201 Chain Bridge Road in Arlington was the scene of a possible home invasion robbery this morning.
The robbery is at least the second time the 23,000-square-foot, Mediterranean house overlooking the Potomac River has been broken into in the past seven months. This time, police were dispatched around 10:30 a.m. for a report of a burglary in progress, according to Arlington County Police Department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.
Police arrived with a large response; more than two dozen vehicles were at the scene, blocking off one lane of Chain Bridge Road and occupying the entirety of the hilly driveway. Sternbeck said police took two subjects into custody and had multiple K-9 units sweeping the massive house to ensure no one else was on the property.
“This is a known residence to police,” Sternbeck said, referencing previous calls for “a variety of incidents,” including when valuable art was stolen from the home.
The mansion near the border with McLean belongs to Rodney P. Hunt, the former CEO of RS Information Systems who sold the I.T. company for $1.2 billion, he told in April. The April incident was also allegedly perpetrated by two individuals, who made off with some crystal ware, Hunt said.
Sternbeck could not confirm if anything was taken from the house before police arrived. Hunt and another person were inside the home when the break-in occurred, Sternbeck said.

The Masterplan: fans steal Oasis painting in daylight raid

The one-of-a-kind piece was taken from a Manchester art gallery
The Masterplan: fans steal Oasis painting in daylight raid

A one-of-a-kind Oasis painting has been stolen from a Manchester art gallery during a daylight raid.
According to police, thieves snatched the black and white painting around 5pm yesterday evening (28 October), after smashing through glass to get into the Art Gallery and Gift Shop. The piece by Olga Tsarevska, which features both Noel and Liam, is signed "otz2013".
"Quite what the masterplan behind this theft is I don't know, but a local business has been broken into and a one of a kind piece of artwork taken," said PC Katherine Gosling. "This was the only piece taken and some might say we are therefore looking for an Oasis fan - similarly it may have been stolen to order. Regardless we are keen to find it and return it."
The news follows on from the disbandment of Beady Eye over the weekend and the usual Oasis reunion rumours returning. Could this have been the work of some wounded Gallagher fan boys?
Wellness Center USA, Inc. (OTCQB:WCUI), today announced that wholly-owned subsidiary StealthCo, Inc. (dba: Stealth Mark) is ready to deploy its premier security technology in art galleries & museums. With brisk forgery activities, 350,000 + pieces of stolen artwork to date, and more than $10 billion in losses, the need for a bulletproof solution has never been greater. StealthMark™ microparticle technology use within art galleries & museums is set to begin in November 2014.
StealthMark™ intelligent microparticle technology is precisely suited to the Art industry because it provides unbreachable security, accurate reference data, unique combinations of covert and overt markings, and track and trace capabilities that can be used on highly valuable pieces of art and objects such as paintings, ancient artifacts, sculptures, historical documents, and more.
From a cost standpoint, when involving paintings and artifacts valued in the millions of dollars, the cost to museums, galleries, and collectors for implementing StealthMark™ technology can become insignificant. Expensive insurance premiums to protect such highly-valuable items can be drastically slashed to the point where such institutions can turn a profit when factoring the difference between cost of use and money saved.
Working closely with industry experts, Stealth Mark is poised to become a key player in combating the rise in illicit fraud, forgery, and theft of valuable goods; setting the bar for anti-criminal solutions in museums, galleries, and other applicable industries, globally.
"Although our target market continues to be the Healthcare & Pharmaceutical industries, the demand for our unique anti-counterfeit and data verification solutions cannot be ignored. Within the coming months, Stealth Mark is poised to demonstrate its technological versatility for use across a wide spectrum of products in several industries," stated Rick Howard, CEO of StealthCo, Inc.
Industries affected by counterfeiting, diversion, and theft include: Aerospace, Defense, Automotive, Electronics, Technology, Pharmaceuticals, Consumer and Personal Care Goods, Designer Products, Beverage/Spirits, and many others. In 2012, counterfeit Auto Parts accounted for $4 billion in the US and $12 billion globally, Electrical Parts were $15 billion, and Personal Care was $4 billion in the US. Furthermore, over 8% of the medical devices in circulation are counterfeit, Aerospace & Defense accounted for 520,000 counterfeit parts in the US, and greater than 5% of wine sold on the secondary market is counterfeit.
- See more at:

The art of theft: Why do thieves steal famous paintings when they're so hard to sell?

Edvard Munch's The Scream
Edvard Munch's The Scream, which was stolen from the Munich Museum in 2004
On a freezing Stockholm evening just before Christmas 2000, a group of six to eight Middle Eastern men put into action a plan they’d been working on for months. The group parked cars in the middle of the three central roads leading to the Swedish National Museum and set them ablaze. As fire engines screeched into the city centre and passersby crowded around the spectacle, three of the men – one armed with a machine gun, the other two with pistols – approached and entered the museum on foot. After ordering everyone to lie on the floor and screaming at them to remain calm, they went upstairs to claim their prize: two small Renoirs dated around 1870 and a Rembrandt self-portrait no bigger than a postcard. The Rembrandt alone was valued at $36m. Their multimillion-dollar cargo stuffed hastily into large black duffel bags, the thieves jumped into a getaway boat and chugged away into the icy Scandinavian night.
“Criminals who steal high-value art-works tend to be better thieves than businessmen,” says Robert Wittman, former undercover agent and head of the FBI Art Crime Team. “They don’t understand that the true art in a heist isn’t the stealing, it’s the selling.” The theft at the Swedish National Museum made news all around the world, the kind of exposure that makes a sale on the legal market impossible. The black market is another story, but it can be just as difficult for criminals to make money from their loot below board. As a general rule, stolen artworks’ black-market value is around 10 per cent of the actual value, but with paintings worth tens of millions of dollars, even this mark-down is way out of most illicit buyers’ price range. “The kind of people who have the wherewithal to pay that kind of money,” says Wittman, “aren’t interested in owning something that they could never sell on and that they could possibly go to jail for possessing.”
When it comes to stealing and selling art, going cheap pays. Paintings worth in the tens of thousands are less likely to be registered on international databases and don’t make headlines when they go missing. At this price range, only about 10 per cent of stolen works are recovered. With masterpieces worth tens of millions the rate of recovery improves to around 90 per cent.
So why do criminals steal expensive art? Ever since Dr No bragged to 007 about his stolen Goya (a portrait of the Duke of Wellington), the aesthetically-inclined super-villain having priceless paintings stolen to order has loomed large in the collective imagination. In reality, no international criminal would intentionally court the attention a missing masterpiece invites.

Robert Wittman poses next to a Goya painting he helped recover
That said, it isn’t always about profit. Between 1995 and 2001, French waiter Stephane Breitwieser stole over 200 paintings and objets d’art, eventually amassing a collection worth over $1bn. After he was arrested he recalled the first painting he ever stole, a minor portrait of a woman by 18th century German painter Christian Wilhelm Dietrich: “I was fascinated by her beauty, by the qualities of the woman in the portrait and by her eyes.” Breitwieser never tried to sell the art he stole, and instead used it to decorate the home he shared with his mother, who destroyed most of it after hearing her son had fallen foul of the law.
Another unusual motive lay behind the 2004 theft of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The masterpiece, a version of which was sold at auction for $119m two years ago, was stolen from the Munch Museum by armed robbers. In the subsequent investigation detectives began to link the suspects to another armed robbery that left a senior ranking Norwegian police officer dead. In light of other peculiarities about the case (the robbers hadn’t done their homework and needed to be shown the location of the painting) officers began to suspect the work was stolen to distract police from investigating the death of the policeman; an “illustrious corpse” as the mobsters say. The criminals were right, international attention did pressurise Norwegian police into prioritising the stolen Munch. In the end, though, the painting was recovered and both thief and police killer were brought to justice.
When a painting as famous as The Scream goes missing, the authorities have no choice but to focus their attention on getting it back. But thousands of lower-value works are stolen every year, and law enforcement agencies don’t have the resources to go after them all. Scotland Yard has just three people working in its arts and antiques unit. Given that the vast majority of thefts are non-violent, and that most losses are covered by insurance, art-retrieval is largely left to the private sector. The Art Loss Register, a London-based company part owned by Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonham’s, maintains a database of over 400,000 missing works. Before each sale, dealers and auction houses have a duty to check the item against the Register. If it’s listed as lost or stolen, the ALR will then handle negotiations leading to its return in exchange for a fee.
“Often, when an item is found,” says Julian Radcliffe, founder of the ALR, “it’s owned by someone who is not the thief, but who bought it not knowing it was stolen. There has to be a private negotiation because going to the courts is too expensive.” When this happens, does the unwitting owner of the stolen work ever get to keep it? “It’s different in every country, but generally if someone has bought it in good faith, not from the thief but from someone who has bought from the thief, and they’ve held it for six years, they may have a chance of holding on to it... But if it’s a professional member of the trade [a dealer or an auction house] and they’ve not checked the Register, they won’t be able to claim good faith.” 
In the world of high-value art theft, the Munch Museum heist and Stephane Breitwieser are exceptions. For organised criminals, top-dollar loot is most useful as collateral; while it may be difficult to sell masterpieces for a fat sum, information about their whereabouts can be used to leverage shorter sentences in the event the thieves find themselves facing criminal charges, whether artrelated or otherwise. Most European courts accept these kinds of plea bargains, though similar negotiations are not permitted in the US.
An art thief’s plunder, then, is most valuable to him after he’s been caught, a fact that explains the high recovery rate of high-value pieces, and why antsy thieves tend not to destroy their haul as police investigators close in.

Lucian Freud's Woman with Eyes Closed was stolen from the Rotterdam Kunsthal
That’s not to say it never happens. On an October morning in 2012, a gang of Romanian criminals broke into the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam and made off with seven paintings including two Monets, a Picasso and Lucian Freud’s Woman with Eyes Closed. Experts speculated that if sold legally under auction the cumulative value of the paintings would reach well into the hundreds of millions. The theft caused a media storm that spooked the gang into a hasty return to Romania, where they attempted to flog the paintings out of plastic bags for about €100,000 each. When the authorities caught wind of stray Monets being loped around the streets of Bucharest they acted swiftly – three members of the gang were arrested in January, three months after the original theft.
The authorities got their men, but they didn’t get their paintings. In the subsequent investigation, Olga Dogaru, mother of the ringleader, Radu Dogaru, confessed to burning them in a fit of panic following her son’s arrest. Like much of Breitwieser’s collection, the seven masterpieces from the Kunsthal museum met their end at the hands of an anxious mother.
This is a nightmare scenario for the likes of Wittman. Lying face down on a museum floor while thieves wave guns around is scary; for many working in the field of art crime, the prospect of a masterpiece being destroyed is scarier. How does Wittman feel when a painting is lost forever? “It’s a terrible shame because it’s a piece of genius that humanity has created. It’s a terrible loss, but even worse it’s hugely disappointing that we didn’t protect it for future generations.”
In 2005, five years after the Stockholm heist, Robert Wittman was sitting in a stuffy Danish hotel room pretending to be Mr Big. A six month investigation linking criminals in Los Angeles, Iraq, Bulgaria, Sweden and Russia had led him, finally, to Copenhagen. Opposite sat a nervous young Iraqi called Kadhum. As far as Kadhum was aware, Wittman was an American art-loving mobster, or at least someone working for the mob (when going undercover it’s best to keep things vague). An elaborate plan had been hatched by Wittman’s FBI team, trust had been won, and now it was just a question of executing the hand-over. Wittman laid out the wads of cash (the agreed sum a trifling $250,000) and in turn Kadhum handed over the Rembrandt. Wittman took it into the bathroom to take a closer look. There was no mistaking it, that golden half-smile beaming back as if to say, “thank you”. Loudly and triumphantly, Wittman uttered the code phrase: “We have a done deal.” The swat team moved in.
Kadhum was eventually sent down for two years for his part in the crime. In the five years between heist and recovery, the Rembrandt had been kept wrapped in red velvet cloth and hidden in a bedroom closet in a flat in Stockholm. No damage was sustained during its time as a hostage. The Renoirs had been recovered a couple of years earlier in a separate operation.
“Generally speaking, the groups that carry out these kind of crimes, they’re not art thieves,” says Wittman, “they’re just common criminals involved in many different criminal activities; car theft, drugs, weapons. And then one day they just happen to do an art heist.” Why? Because they see on the news when an artwork exchanges hands for $200m and their heads are turned. As long as legally sold art continues to smash records and make headlines, thieves will continue to make their own headlines with daring raids on the world’s most prestigious collections.

Quirky Matisse exhibit rekindles art mystery in Venezuela

CARACAS - Venezuela is flaunting its newly-recovered Henri Matisse painting next to a sloppy copy that was put in its place when the original was stolen more than a decade ago, rekindling an art-world mystery.

The "Odalisque in Red Pants," worth roughly $3 million, was stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art at some point during a tumultuous period after the start of socialist Hugo Chavez's presidency in 1999.

The theft went unnoticed for months or even years because the robbers replaced it with a forgery.

To this day, no one has been charged with the crime nor have its exact circumstances been established.

The original was finally retrieved in 2012 after it was offered to undercover FBI agents at a Miami Beach hotel for about $740,000.

The striking topless odalisque, a word of Turkish origin meaning concubine, traveled back to Venezuela last July to great fanfare.

She now graces the same museum again, right next to the gaudy imitation that long duped visitors, allowing the public to compare the two and reviving interest in the mystery over who poached it and why the theft took so long to come to light.

"It's a very bad copy," said Venezuelan artist Elizabeth Cemborain, who was fascinated by the case. "It doesn't have the original's design, it doesn't have its elegance. I don't understand how no one realized."

The forgery is, indeed, shockingly amateurish.

It is in acrylic rather than oil, and has six horizontal green stripes instead of seven plus a big brown stain in the middle. The odalisque's sweet face looks contorted in the fake, and even her famous red trousers are off-color.

The museum touts the exhibit as an opportunity to learn about the illegal traffic of cultural goods, and an educational video explains the many differences between the two paintings.

"This exhibit just generates more questions. It's almost a piece of contemporary art in and of itself," said Cemborain.

Venezuela's culture ministry the National Museums Foundation did not respond to requests for comments.

Odalisque's odyssey

The museum says its coveted Matisse had been stolen by 2001 but Venezuelan journalist Marianela Balbi, who wrote a respected book about the robbery, argues it was snatched sometime between December 1999, when it was moved for protection from floods, and mid-2000.

While Balbi says the museum was negligent, she has not directly accused any officials of involvement in the heist.

In 2002, after a brief coup against Chavez plunged Venezuela into chaos, Matisse's muse surfaced in Florida.

A self-identified Venezuelan National Guard colonel tried to sell it to a Miami art dealer, according to Balbi's "The Kidnapping of the Odalisque."

In late 2002, Venezuela-born Miami gallery owner Genaro Ambrosino got wind the painting was on the market.

Ambrosino says he tried to corroborate the information with the museum only to be ignored or told there was a bogus painting circulating.

"I was furious," Ambrosino told Reuters. "So I sent an email to everyone I knew in the art world."

A stunned Caracas art scene started asking questions and Venezuela in December 2002 finally announced its Matisse, bought for $480,000 from a New York gallery in 1981, had indeed been poached.

Balbi says it changed hands several times between art thieves and apparently unsuspecting dealers over a decade, including stops in New York, Paris, and Mexico, before the FBI seized it back in Miami.

A U.S. judge last year sentenced two people to prison for trying to sell the stolen painting, and Venezuela requested it be returned.

"It's absurd that they're showing the copy too," Balbi said of the new exhibit. "It legitimizes the object of a crime that Venezuelan authorities haven't done anything about in 12 years."

Thief caught for stealing antiques worth $25K from Brighton home

A thief who broke into a Brighton home, by forcing entry through a window, and stole anti
A thief who broke into a Brighton home, by forcing entry through a window, and stole antique goods has been caught.
BAYSIDE police have charged a man after he allegedly burgled a vacant Brighton home and stole antiques worth more than $25,000.
A break-in at a New St home was reported to police last month, with a large quantity of antique clocks allegedly taken.
The house was vacant and had been accessed at the rear through a window that was forced open.
Police officers conducted a routine traffic intercept on Sunday and allegedly spotted an antique clock in the man’s vehicle.
A later search of the man’s house allegedly uncovered several more antique items, which police believe were stolen from the vacant home.
A Bentleigh man, aged 48, has been bailed and will appear before court at a later date to face charges including burglary and handling stolen goods offences.

Antique paintings stolen from elderly couple with dementia

An elderly couple from Slough are appealing for information about three stolen pieces of art.
The antique paintings, belonging to a woman in her seventies and a man in his eighties, were taken at some point between March and June.
The couple, who both have dementia, noticed other paintings hung in their place to replace the stolen artwork.
If anyone has been offered these paintings for sale, or has seen them since March, please contact PC Jason Twine.

Mystic jeweler pleads guilty to possession of goods stolen in residential burglaries

Downtown Mystic jeweler Matthew L. Hopkins pleaded guilty Monday to being in possession of jewelry and antiques stolen in a series of residential burglaries in the Lyme and Old Lyme area and faces up to two years in prison when he is sentenced in January.

Hopkins, 42, owner of Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Co. at 9 W. Main St., pleaded guilty to second-degree larceny in New London Superior Court. Initially charged with first-degree larceny, he accepted an offer from prosecutor David J. Smith to plead guilty to the reduced charge in exchange for a sentence of five years in prison, suspended after two years served, followed by five years of probation.

Under the agreement, defense attorney Michael L. Cozzolino has the right, at Hopkins’ Jan. 9 sentencing, to argue for a reduced or fully suspended prison term. Judge Hillary B. Strackbein said she would be ordering Hopkins to make restitution along with brothers Justin and Karl Weissinger, who sold him the stolen goods in 2011 and 2012.

The total restitution amount is approximately $326,000, and Strackbein indicated that his effort at repayment would play a big part in whether Hopkins goes to jail or not. The two brothers are incarcerated and are not expected to be able to make restitution payments for several years, if ever. The judge said the restitution order will be enforceable for 10 years.

“You happen to run a business,” Strackbein told Hopkins when he stood before her to enter his plea. “It looks like the lion’s share of restitution could fall on you.”

Several of the burglary victims were in court to hear Hopkins’ plea and are expected to address the judge at his sentencing.

Hopkins, of 396 Post Road, Westerly, was arrested in July 2013 following an extensive investigation by state police and Old Lyme police. A year earlier, Trooper Gary Inglis was investigating a series of burglaries in the Lyme and Old Lyme area when he went into Hopkins’ store and ran into Karl Weissinger, who was attempting to sell two stolen watches and a gold chain, according to the court documents. He surrendered the items to police.

Inglis also spotted several stolen items on display in the store, including a Narwhal ivory tusk that had been taken during a burglary of a home on Selden Road in Lyme.

Sgt. John Mesham went to the store and recognized a Tiffany bamboo pattern bar set, black tooth fossil and mammoth vertebrae fossil set that had been reported stolen along with a Tiffany sterling silver baby pacifier.

Hopkins told police the Weissinger brothers had gone into the store 15 to 25 times with items they said they had obtained from storage unit auctions.

A week later, Hopkins and his attorney went to the Troop F state police barracks with financial records from the transactions with the Weissingers and several bags of assorted jewelry and silverware that Hopkins said he had purchased from the Weissinger brothers over the past several months.

Hopkins said he sold some of the precious metals to the Geib Refining Corp. of Warwick, which smelted them.

The Weissinger brothers both pleaded guilty to larceny charges and were sentenced in August. Justin Weissinger, who had a prior record, was sentenced to nine years in prison. Karl Weissinger, who had no prior record but was rearrested twice while his case was pending, was sentenced to 3½ years in prison.

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