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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Stolen Art Watch, Art Crime Is All Around Us

Harry Winston robbery trial
French lawyer Philippe Stepniewski (l.) arrives with his client Mouloud Djennad on Feb. 3 at the courthouse in Paris for the opening of the Harry Winston robbery trial.
 French lawyer Philippe Stepniewski (l.) arrives with his client Mouloud Djennad on Feb. 3 at the courthouse in Paris for the opening of the Harry Winston robbery trial.

PARIS — When diamond thieves struck a Harry Winston jewelry store with clockwork precision, it appeared to be a perfectly executed $100 million heist. But a video of their 2008 caper in the capital’s golden triangle of luxury boutiques, playing in a courtroom here, offers a grainy trailer of comedy and greed.
On the video are glimpses of four men, most dressed as caricatures of women in flowing dark wigs, handbags and sunglasses, and one with a silky scarf knotted under the chin, granny-style. There are telling moments when a Harry Winston guard, ignoring the thieves’ peculiar costumes, unlocks the revolving doors to allow them to storm inside. And the video shows how, about 10 minutes later, he held the door as they fled, rolling a bag of gems into the chic quarter of Avenue Montaigne.

Now that guard, Mouloud Djennad, 39, is admitting he was the “inside man” — one of eight men on trial in a Harry Winston holdup in October 2007, in which the thieves were disguised as painters, as well as the one in December 2008 that was carried out in women’s clothes. Between the two, more than 900 gems were stolen, including emeralds, diamonds and a 31-carat solitaire ring that itself was valued at more than $8 million.
Mr. Djennad’s defense is no less audacious than the robberies. “I was stupid, impressionable, lost,” he said. “I was not able to say no.”
The trial began on Feb. 3 and is expected to last through the end of the month, offering a rare glimpse of the scheming of a diamond theft ring that shook up the French capital, amid a wave of organized attacks on high-end jewelry stores and other luxury shops in the last decade.
The most recent occurred in November, when thieves robbed a Cartier store near the Champs-Élysées and fired a Kalashnikov rifle when they stumbled into a police patrol.
In retrospect, the Harry Winston robberies lacked the flawless execution of a George Clooney-Brad Pitt Hollywood heist.
Frédéric Ploquin, the author of a new book about the evolution of organized crime in France, said that the robberies reflected a new wave of gangsters who have emerged since 2005 — a “Kalashnikov generation” with a zest for arms, no fear of death, and a taste for quick and easy profits, usually through drug trafficking.
“In this case, there was no unnecessary violence,” said Mr. Ploquin, who visited the courtroom to watch the trial. “But the main suspect is not a robber or a thief. He is a drug dealer who seized opportunity. What strikes me is the lack of preparation. The old generation did not steal booty they couldn’t sell. Were they going to recycle these jewels in 10 years?”
At times the Harry Winston trial has shifted from crime noir to soap opera. Mr. Djennad — a tall, lanky man with a shaved head — buried his face in his hands and wept in court after facing one of his former Harry Winston co-workers last week. He apologized for his betrayal — months in which he fed security information to the others, who befriended him over cigars, whiskey and shared stories of their common family roots in the Kabylie region in northeast Algeria, though all grew up in France.
“If I had not been fired, I think there would have been three or four robberies,” Mr. Djennad testified, describing how he penetrated a murky world far from Harry Winston’s wrought-iron doors. He became trapped in a vise of friendship with a convicted drug trafficker who, he said, used threats to pressure him to participate in the second robbery.
His own loose lips led to his involvement, Mr. Djennad admitted. After he talked freely about sloppy security at the jewelry store, a friend from his gym introduced him in 2007 to his brother-in-law, Daoudi Yahiaoui, nicknamed “Doudou,” which in French means stuffed toy.
Mr. Yahiaoui, 50, was a broad-shouldered businessman and hotel owner in the eastern suburbs of Paris with a long prison record for drug dealing. But he was warm and friendly, like a “big brother,” according to the testimony of Mr. Djennad; his lawyer, Philippe Stepniewski, described the guard as naïve and searching for a sense of family.
The former guard said he believed Mr. Yahiaoui’s assurances that no one would be hurt in the robberies and that the jewelry store would be reimbursed by insurers — which ultimately did pay $33.6 million to Harry Winston for actual costs. But the potential for violence upset him, Mr. Djennad said, so he distanced himself until the businessman pushed him to participate in a second strike.
The 2008 theft drew huge international attention because of the gang’s coldblooded style and meticulous approach — calling employees by first name, demanding the opening of a secret vault and threatening to use a grenade. Their accents initially raised suspicions that the men were part of a loosely knit international network of jewel thieves and ex-soldiers from the former Yugoslavia nicknamed the Pink Panthers.
Only later, piecing together complex clues, did investigators realize that the victims had actually overheard the thieves speaking in the street argot of the city’s suburbs. The investigators’ suspicions about the calm behavior of the Harry Winston guard intensified when they noticed his Facebook connection to his gym buddy, Mr. Yahiaoui’s brother-in-law. And they benefited from a mistake: In his haste, one thief left behind his Max & Enjoy Paris handbag, with a fingerprint.
Through the years, investigators tapped telephones, tailed people, bugged a Jaguar driven by Mr. Yahiaoui, and listened as the suspects spoke in code — playing a ring tone of the Marseillaise to signal a payday with a potential Israeli diamond buyer, or making references to carats and the Rapaport monthly bible of diamond prices.
In the courtroom, below the tribunal where the four judges, all women, are seated, a showcase is stocked with seized evidence: pistols and an automatic weapon found in Mr. Yahiaoui’s home. It was there in March 2011 that investigators, on their fifth search, discovered a freshly cemented patch covering a drainpipe outdoors. In it was a hand cream bottle that contained three pairs of earrings, assorted rings and the 31-carat diamond solitaire.
In court this week, Mr. Yahiaoui — represented by the lawyer Frédéric Trovato, a veteran defender of organized crime figures in France — minimized his role. He said he was simply an intermediary who passed information from the guard to the robbers and hid the jewels.
At one point, an exasperated prosecutor pressed him to explain how such a meticulous robbery lacked a leader, as his testimony suggested.
“Oh, people communicated by word of mouth, among their friends,” said Mr. Yahiaoui, who faces up to 30 years.
Farid Allou, 49, who has spent almost half his life in prison, was one of the few suspects who emphatically admitted his participation in the robberies, but refused to identify anyone else. To date, there are still about 500 gems that have not been recovered.
“I was invited and the door was open,” he said, glaring at the judges. “It was not a game. Not at all. I went to Harry Winston for the money and it was very serious.”

The paintings recovered in the 2014 sting operation shown during a press conference<br>Photo via: Los Angeles Times

The paintings recovered in the 2014 sting operation shown during a press conference

Man Who Tried to Sell Stolen Art in Los Angeles Gets 4 Years

A man who tried to sell stolen paintings worth a fortune, including works by Marc Chagall and Diego Rivera, was sentenced Friday to more than four years in state prison.
Raul Espinoza pleaded no contest to one count of receiving property stolen in 2008 from the Encino home of an elderly couple, Los Angeles prosecutors said.
The whereabouts of a dozen modern paintings from the home of Anton and Susan Roland remained a mystery for more than six years until a Los Angeles police detective got a tip in September that someone in Europe was trying to broker a deal to sell the art.
Meanwhile, police said their investigation led them to a man named “Darko” in Europe. He had allegedly claimed to know the man who had the stolen art. Detectives said that man turned out to be Espinoza.
The FBI set up a sting and Espinoza, 45, was arrested Oct. 23 when he tried to peddle the works to undercover agents at a Los Angeles hotel.
He was asking $700,000 for works he said were worth $5 million, though the paintings have since been valued for as much as $23 million, said Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the Los Angeles district attorney.
Officers recovered nine of the stolen artworks, including paintings by Arshile Gorky, Emil Nolde and Chaim Soutine. Three works remain missing. Most of the paintings were works of expressionism.
The art was stolen Aug. 23, 2008 in broad daylight while the Antons, who had round-the-clock care, were in their bedrooms.
The heist occurred when the sole caretaker on duty went to the grocery store and left a side door unlocked. She returned less than an hour later and discovered the burglary.
"I believe the original burglary could not have been accomplished without the assistance of inside help from one of the employees who worked for the victims," detective Donald Hrycyk wrote in a search warrant affidavit to examine Espinoza's phone for more evidence.
The FBI is still investigating and there's a $25,000 reward.
Espinoza, who has prior burglary convictions, is due in court March 25 for a restitution hearing.
The Antons have since died and their children could not be reached Friday for comment. The works were insured by Lloyd's of London, according to a police report.

The strange case of the painting in the private dining room: Trinity College art piece stolen for second time in 21 years

A painting of Venice in the style of artist Francesco Guardi that was stolen from the University of Toronto's Trinity College earlier this month.
A painting of Venice in the style of artist Francesco Guardi that was stolen from the University of Toronto's Trinity College earlier this month.
The private dining room at Toronto’s Trinity College is tucked behind the main dining hall and across from the senior common room. It’s a small chamber — intimate even — scene of private meals and cozy events at the exclusive post-secondary school.
Unlike most rooms at the college, the dining room is also usually locked. Which is why many at Trinity were surprised recently when it became the scene of an unlikely crime.
Sometime between Sunday, Feb. 8, and Tuesday, Feb. 10, someone sneaked into the room and made off with a small painting done in the style of the 18th-century Venetian painter, Francesco Guardi.
The unknown thief cut the canvas from its frame and hustled it out without being detected. There were no signs of forced entry, no alarms were raised.
Peter J. Thompson / National Post
Peter J. Thompson / National PostTrinity College at The University of Toronto, pictured in 2011.
Toronto Police
Toronto Police"Morning at Peggy's Cove" by William E. DeGarthe, which was also stolen in the art theft spree at University of Toronto.
It was only on Tuesday morning, when a cleaner noticed the empty frame — still bolted to the wall — anyone realized it was missing.
Police believe the theft was part of a larger spree on the University of Toronto campus. Since Jan. 30, two other paintings have been stolen from nearby buildings, both also cut from their frames.
Just before Christmas, Trinity also lost a large tapestry from its main dining hall, said Sylvia Lassam, the college archivist.
The Guardi look-alike, however, is in a class by itself — though not because of its value. It is not, as police claimed last week, an original. It isn’t worth any grand sum, but it does have history.
Remarkably, it was stolen once before. More than 20 years ago, in January 1994, someone nabbed the same canvas, this time still in its frame, from the same building at Trinity. That theft, too, was part of a larger spree.
According to press reports at the time, Toronto’s Martin Swinton stole the painting, a 36- by 44-centimetre depiction of a Venetian church, along with two other paintings by the Canadian 19th-century artist, Cornelius Krieghoff.
Swinton was eventually charged and convicted for stealing a host of other works, too, including a $5,000 statue of a Chinese warrior on a horse. He lifted that one from the Royal Ontario Museum, where he worked at the time, watering plants.
He was only caught, according to a 1996 report in the Toronto Star, when friends noticed some of their stolen goods in Swinton’s house. He later admitted he had broken into their home when they were on vacation and made off with a pile of their jewelry, along with a Chinese plate and a prayer rug.
Swinton was sentenced to 10 months in jail, the Star reported. Trinity got its paintings back, unharmed. And the Guardi-look-alike hung once more on the college walls.
For years afterward, it was in the senior common room, said Ms. Lassam. But in 1997, the college’s art committee moved it across the hall to the private dining room. It remained there, unmolested, until last week.
Toronto Police
Toronto Police"Credit River" by Yee Bon, which was one of three paintings stolen from Trinity College in an art theft spree.
The work itself is no giant loss to the college, said Ms. Lassam.
“It’s a very pretty little painting,” she said. But it isn’t signed or dated, and is not, in the opinion of appraisers, worth much.
When Toronto Police sent out a press release last week announcing the crime, they said the work was by Guardi himself, and thus potentially valued at tens of millions of dollars.
But Ms. Lassam insists that’s not the case. It is instead, “after Guardi,” she said.
Honestly, if we had a painting that was worth $10-million we would sell it and give students scholarships
“Honestly, if we had a painting that was worth $10-million we would sell it and give students scholarships.”
The painting is also far from the only thing to ever go missing from Trinity.
The college, a heap of Gothic revival stonework centred on a beautiful grassy quadrangle, looks like the setting for a British murder mystery. But of late it’s been home more to petty larceny than homicide.
In 2003, the University of Toronto student newspaper noted things “have been known to go walking at the prestigious college.”
At one point, two men strolled out of the college with an antique carved bench, loaded it into their pickup truck and drove away. An antique silver candelabra has also gone missing during Ms. Lassam’s tenure.
Then there’s the tapestry. “That was totally bizarre,” she said.
It was there for the college’s Christmas dinner and the next day it was gone.
“It was hung up quite high on a wall,” she explained. “It would have been heavy and quite difficult to move. We’re completely mystified by it.”
Still, despite the recent rash of thefts, Trinity has no plans to lock start locking its art away, she says.
“We do try to be as careful as we can,” she said. “But we also have made a decision that the things we own are to be enjoyed.”

Art Crime Team Logo, Black Background
Art Crime Team Celebrates 10th Anniversary
Part 1: A Decade of Successful Investigations and Recoveries
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, recently discussed the team’s history, mission, and accomplishments with Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, who manages the Bureau’s art theft program.
Q: How did the Art Crime Team get started?
Magness-Gardiner: The FBI has always had agents who investigated frauds and thefts related to art, but in 2003, there was substantial looting of Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad. Thousands of works were stolen. Because of the U.S. presence in Iraq at the time, it was clear that somebody would have to investigate. It was also clear that the U.S. government didn’t have a team organized, in place, or with the expertise required to do that kind of investigation. But the need for such a team was apparent, and the FBI took that on. The Art Crime Team was formed a year or so later.
Q: What were those early days like?
Magness-Gardiner: When I first arrived, the team consisted of eight agents located in field offices around the country, as well as three trial attorneys from the Department of Justice assigned to assist with prosecutions. Today, the agent component has almost doubled to 15 men and women. One of the great benefits of having the agents located in so many cities in the U.S. is that we literally cover the country.
Q: Describe some of the team’s accomplishments over the past decade.
Magness-Gardiner: One of our earliest successes was the recovery of a Rembrandt self-portrait valued at $40 million. The painting had been stolen from the Swedish National Museum in Stockholm in 2000. We recovered it during an undercover operation in 2005. Since the Art Crime Team’s creation, we have made more than 11,800 recoveries, and the value of those recovered objects is estimated to be more than $160 million. We have also helped to convict more than 80 individuals for a range of art crimes.
Q: The National Stolen Art File has also been a success, hasn’t it?
Magness-Gardiner: Yes, and particularly since it went online on in 2010. The National Stolen Art File is a database listing art stolen primarily in the United States. To be included in the file, the art must be valued at $2,000 or more, and we require a theft report and a description of the work providing its unique characteristics. Unlike automobiles, for example, art does not have a serial number on it. So we need specific descriptors that allow us to positively identify the works. Most submissions to the file come from local police departments or from victims. Currently there are about 8,000 listings, everything from fine art to collectibles—anything that has a cultural value that can be uniquely identified.
Q: Is there a particular kind of art that is more susceptible to being stolen or forged?
Magness-Gardiner: Unfortunately, it’s an equal opportunity market for thieves and fraudsters. Over the last 10 years we have dealt with everything from fossils stolen from South America to modern art that’s been forged and put on the market in New York. We have investigated cases involving fine art, manuscripts, letters, baseball cards, and textiles from pre-Colombian to modern. Everything that you can imagine that has a monetary value or cultural significance is subject to theft or fakery.
Next: Investigators use team approach, time-tested methods.

Art Crime Team Celebrates 10th Anniversary
Part 2: Dedicated Investigators Use Time-Tested Methods
Part 2 of an interview with Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, manager of the FBI’s art theft program.
Q: Is investigating art crimes different from investigating other types of crimes?
Magness-Gardiner: Much of what we investigate is art theft, which is basically a theft of property. Most of our agents have a background in investigating property theft and interstate transportation of stolen property. So in one sense they are using time-tested investigative methods. It’s the objects they are dealing with that make these cases special. The items are often fragile, so if they are recovered they must be handled with special techniques. We also have to determine if they are authentic. Is this actually the work we are looking for, or is this a forgery?
Q: What kinds of agents are drawn to the Art Crime Team and what backgrounds do they have?
Magness-Gardiner: Some of our agents have a fine art or art history background, or are themselves artists or collectors. But that’s fewer than half of the individuals on the team. The other members have an interest in art, culture, and historyand to my point of view, that is just as significantand being on the team allows them to expand their knowledge while doing good by investigating thefts or frauds in these areas.
Q: How serious a problem is art crime?
Magness-Gardiner: Here in the U.S., we are a market for all sorts of art. There is a big community of collectors, museums, and dealers. But because we are such a big market for legitimate art, we are also a market for illicit art that is being brought in from other countries. Sometimes the works are stolen from collections, while much of it—artifacts and antiquities—is looted directly out of the ground, which complicates things because often there is no record of it. Objects might come from archeological sites or from poorly inventoried churches and monasteries. These objects, whether in museums, other collections, or in the ground, can be very valuable in a monetary sense, and in their countries of origin they have an even greater value as cultural heritage.

Q: So the Art Crime Team works closely with international law enforcement and other countries?
Magness-Gardiner: Yes. More than half of our cases have some international element. But we also work closely with our domestic law enforcement partners and with the art community in general. We work with foreign governments to identify stolen pieces and attempt to recover them when we can find them in the United States. These are usually items that relate to the history and ethnicity of that culture. When these things are lost, a culture is made poorer for it.
Q: It must be gratifying to return items of such significance to their country of origin.
Magness-Gardiner: It is very satisfying to return things to people, whether to individual victims, institutions, or countries. Many of these objects have great personal significance, and huge institutional significance when a museum or archive is involved. When a country gets something returned, of course this has a great deal of meaning. People are very grateful for our help. We have been very successful in these areas.
Q: And to what do you owe that success?
Magness-Gardiner: A big part of our success is the team approach, because it allows us to work throughout the entire country with a highly trained group of individuals who communicate with each other and are passionate—and determined—about the work they do.

Gang Who Smuggled Antiques Have Been Caught After Being Accused Of Selling Stolen Antique To Support Islamic State Terrorists

Gang who smuggled  antiques  have been caught after being accused of selling stolen antique to support Islamic State terrorists

Gang who smuggled antiques have been caught after being accused of selling stolen antique to support Islamic State terrorists

Via 17 days ago
A gang of alleged antique smugglers have been arrested after being suspected of selling stolen Egyptian relics to fund Islamic State terrorists.
Spanish police claim the network were operating out of mosques in Barcelona after they raided a shipment which they believe originated in Egypt.
They added that the gang had gone to great lengths to try and hide what they were smuggling – which included human figurines, animal figurines and small bronze statues worth several hundred thousand euros.
The plundering of antiquities, particularly from the Middle East, has sky-rocketed since the fighting, with much of the money landing in the pockets of terrorists, say archaeologists and international watchdogs.
Egyptian relics to fund Islamic State terrorists
Treasures: Police have recovered Egyptian relics that were allegedly being sold by the network
Priceless pieces of history snatched from illicit diggings or swiped from museum cases have become one of the four most common commodities – next to drugs, weapons and human beings – to be trafficked by smugglers, according to United Nations investigators.
Iraqis have been urged to protect the nation’s trove of antiquities as assaults waged by the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) left relics there at risk from looting.
UNESCO has also reported that in Egypt, terrorist attacks in recent years have targeted pieces of cultural heritage.
Officials from the Spanish civil guard who carried out the operation said they believed money raised was going directly to fund jihadists.
Egyptian relics to fund Islamic State terrorists
Terrorism: Spanish police believe the money was being used to fund ISIS
Four Egyptian men and one Spanish man were arrested in the city as a result of the police operation that also led to the seizure of 36 pieces of artwork in Valencia, which are believed to have originally come from Egypt.
Experts from the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid say they suspect the antiquities had been looted from sites around the Egyptian towns of Saqqara and Mit Rahina south of the capital Cairo.
They were in a container that came from the northern Egyptian port city of Alexandria and was being shipped to Barcelona.
Egyptian relics to fund Islamic State terrorists
Arrests: Police held a press conference for an update on the investigation
A police spokesman said: “This gang had gone to extreme lengths to avoid discovery. They operated in a network that was centred around mosques and other venues located in downtown areas in the city of Barcelona.”
They said that the one Spanish man arrested had been a dealer in antiquities who appeared to be the gang”s local contact and who was supposed to sell the items on the black market.
Those arrested face charges of smuggling cultural goods, money laundering, and membership of an international criminal organisation.
Spanish police also confirmed that they were stepping up monitoring ports, airports and border control points following fears that there would be an increase in similar types of smuggling in particular with regards to shipments from the Middle East where conflicts are being fought.

Gauguin Painting Is Said to Fetch $300 Million

Gauguin’s “Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?),” from 1892, was sold by a collector in Switzerland in a private transaction. Credit Artothek/Associated Press
LONDON — A sensuous Paul Gauguin painting of two Tahitian girls has been sold from a Swiss private collection for close to $300 million, one of the highest prices believed to have been paid for an artwork, according to European and American art world insiders with knowledge of the matter.
The sale of the 1892 oil painting, “Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?),” was confirmed by the seller, Rudolf Staechelin, 62, a retired Sotheby’s executive living in Basel, Switzerland, who through a family trust owns more than 20 works in a valuable collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, including the Gauguin, which has been on loan to the Kunstmuseum Basel for nearly a half-century.
Two dealers with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be named because of concerns over client confidentiality, said the painting had been purchased by a Qatari buyer, but Mr. Staechelin would not say whether the new owner was from Qatar, a tiny, oil-rich emirate. “I don’t deny it and I don’t confirm it,” Mr. Staechelin said, also declining to disclose the price.
The Qatar Museums (formerly the Qatar Museums Authority) in Doha, the emirate’s capital, did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
Guy Morin, the mayor of Basel, acknowledged news of the sale of the Gauguin and bemoaned its loss. On Tuesday, The Baer Faxt, an art world insiders’ newsletter, said Qatar was rumored to be the buyer of the Gauguin at $300 million, which would exceed the more than $250 million that Qatar reportedly paid for Paul Cézanne’s “The Card Players” in 2011.
Todd Levin, a New York art adviser, said of the Gauguin, “I heard that this painting was in play late last year.” He added, “The price quoted to me at that time was in the high $200 millions, close to $300 million.”
In recent years the Qatar royal family and the museums authority have been reported to be expansive buyers of trophy quality Western modern and contemporary art by Mark Rothko, Damien Hirst and Cézanne. In a move that jolted Basel as news of the sale trickled out, Mr. Staechelin said that his family’s trust was ending its loan to the Kunstmuseum as a result of a dispute with the local canton. He said that he was searching for a top museum to accept the Staechelin collection — which also includes works by van Gogh, Picasso and Pissarro — on loan, without a lending fee, with a promise to integrate the pieces into permanent exhibitions.
The works were amassed by his grandfather, a Swiss merchant also named Rudolf Staechelin, who befriended artists and made most of his purchases during and after World War I. Later, the elder Mr. Staechelin advised the Kunstmuseum, which accepted the loan of his collection after his death in 1946.
The grandson said that the works had never been hung in his family’s home because they were too precious and that he saw them in a museum along with everyone else. He has decided to sell, he said, because it is the time in his life to diversify his assets. “In a way it’s sad,” he said, “but on the other hand, it’s a fact of life. Private collections are like private persons. They don’t live forever.”

On the last few days before closing last weekend for renovations through 2016, the Kunstmuseum opened its doors for free and drew a record crowd of 7,500 people, many of whom caught the last glimpse of the Gauguin in its longtime home.
Gauguin’s Tahiti-period paintings are among the most admired and coveted artworks of the Post-Impressionist period. This particular piece, focusing on the enigmatic interplay between two girls in a Polynesian landscape, was painted during the first of the artist’s two spells living in Tahiti.
The painting will still be on display at a special Gauguin exhibition opening this month in Basel at the Beyeler Foundation and then the collection will travel to the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid and the Phillips Collection in Washington. The buyer will take ownership next January, Mr. Staechelin said.
Local institutions in Basel, which learned definitively about the loss of the collection on Thursday morning, were still trying to come to grips with the news. The Kunstmuseum issued a brief statement about the loss saying, in part, “We are painfully reminded that permanent loans are still loans.”
Mr. Morin, the mayor, said in a statement that the canton tried to persuade Mr. Staechelin to bring back the collection when the museum reopened in April 2016. But for months the canton and the family trust squabbled behind the scenes over an existing loan contract.
Mr. Staechelin said that he had sought a new contract after the museum announced plans to shut down. When canton officials failed to budge on a new contract, he said, he canceled the existing one because of a provision that requires that the artworks be on public display.
“The real question is why only now?” Mr. Staechelin said of the Gauguin sale. “It’s mainly because we got a good offer. The market is very high and who knows what it will be in 10 years. I always tried to keep as much together as I could.” He added, “Over 90 percent of our assets are paintings hanging for free in the museum.”
“For me they are family history and art,” he said of the artworks. “But they are also security and investments.”
James Roundell, a director at the London dealership Simon Dickinson, said that in the roiling global art market, “a new category of super trophy is emerging.”
“These items are generally in museums and they’re being sold privately, which explains the very high prices,” he said. “If they were offered at auction, would there be competition at that level?”

Thief may not know value of stolen paintings worth £100,000 say police

Thieves who stole two paintings worth £100,000 may not recognise the value of their haul, according to police.
The artworks by celebrated St Ives painter Bryan Pearce were taken from an isolated cottage in West Cornwall last month.
Police say they are keeping an open mind, but do not initially believe that the works by the artist were stolen to order or taken by a specialist art thief.
A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said two cottages had been raided where near to Zennor, which is a tiny village on the cliff tops between St Ives and St Just.
The thief had forced open a ground floor window and search both premises, taking nothing from one but four paintings from another, including the two works by Pearce, White Jug and Catkins and Portreath, both painted in 1960 and worth an estimate £50,000 each.
Pearce, who died in 2007, was recognised as one of the UK's leading naive artists whose flat style featuring bright colours and heavy outlines might appear almost childish to someone unaware of his work.
As a result, the police spokesman said: "It is possible the thief does not know the value of what they have."
'Pink Panther' fences arrested in Vienna
A surveillance camera image of the robbery in Switzerland. Photo: Police

'Pink Panther' fences arrested in Vienna

The four men (aged between 35 and 40) were arrested in a Vienna hotel with €500,000 worth of luxury watches and jewellery which had been stolen in a robbery in Montreux, Switzerland on January 15th.
They are not thought to have carried out the robbery themselves, but acted as the receivers of the stolen goods, and were planning to sell the watches to wealthy clients. 
"This is the first time in Austria that we have managed to identify and arrest members of the Pink Panthers redistribution channel," Ewald Ebner from the Federal Criminal Police Office said at a press conference. 
Police got a tip-off that a courier from Serbia was travelling to Vienna in order to buy luxury watches. After he crossed the border into Austria police put him under surveillance and he was observed meeting up with a Vienna-based Israeli man in the city's 2nd district, who drove him to a hotel. 
After money had changed hands and the Serb emerged from the hotel with €57,000 in cash police swooped and arrested him, along with two Israelis who are resident in Belgium and had been involved in the sale of the watches.
In the hotel room police found a 37-year-old Israeli man carrying a suitcase with a false bottom which contained 25 watches. One of the watches was valued at about €53,000. 
Ebner said that the men were "uncooperative" when they were arrested and pretended they knew nothing about the seized loot. If found guilty of handling stolen goods the men could face between six months and five years in prison. 
The operation was carried out in cooperation with Belgian, German, Serbian and Swiss police.
The Pink Panthers gang is known for lightning-fast armed robberies targeting high-end jewellery stores in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States.
They are believed to have carried out robberies worth in excess of €500 million since 1999. 
Many gang members are known to originate from the former Yugoslavia, but they work across countries and continents. The Pink Panthers have been responsible for several robberies in Austria.
In October, a member of the Pink Panthers was released early from prison in Austria, after an embarrassing gaffe caused by a computer error.
On Tuesday, there was an armed robbery by three men on a jewellery store in Graz, however there is no suggestion at this stage that the culprits are linked to the Pink Panthers.  

Church of Santa Maria della Salute by Francesco Guardi is one of three paintings reported missing by the University of Toronto, though the frames were left behind. Police say they believe the same thief (or thieves) is responsible.

Three paintings stolen from the University of Toronto

Toronto police are investigating the recent theft of three paintings from the University of Toronto, including one by the 18th-century Italian master Francesco Guardi, two of whose works have sold for tens of millions of dollars at auction in the last four years.
At this stage, police believe the thefts, done between Jan. 30 and Feb. 10, are likely the work of the same person, a spokesperson said Friday. The Guardi, a Venetian view painting titled Church of Santa Maria della Salute, was taken from Trinity College on a date a Trinity official declined to reveal Friday. The others – Morning at Peggy’s Cove by William E. deGarthe and Credit River by Yee Bon – were removed on, respectively, Feb. 3 and the Feb. 7-8 weekend from Victoria University, according to Gillian Pearson, curator of the collection. In each instance, the thief or thieves left the painting’s frame behind.

It’s presumed the Guardi is the most valuable of the trio. Just how valuable, however, is unclear as information on its dimensions, date of creation (Guardi lived from 1712 to 1793), exhibition history and provenance have yet to be disclosed.
A huge Guardi from the early 1780s, A View of the Rialto Bridge Looking North, 115 centimetres by 200 measurement , sold for a record $41.2-million at auction in London in 2011. Another, smaller painting (70 cm by 100), Venice, the Bacino di San Marco with the Piazzetta and the Doge’s Palace, went for $18.1-million at Christie’s auctioneers London last July.
The missing Yee Bon, an early autumn landscape, is 29.5 cm by 35.5 and was painted in 1931 or 1932. It came into Victoria’s collection as a bequest in the late 1940s. In recent years, the painting was stored in a room “that’s usually locked,” Ms. Pearson said, “but it’s also used for events and [on Feb. 7-8] there were a number of groups in.” Born in China in 1905, Yee came to Canada in 1918, enrolling in art school in Toronto in 1931. He lived in Hong Kong from 1935 on, returning in 1956 to mainland China where he died in 1995. Individual paintings by the artist tend to sell in the mid-five figures.
The Finnish-born deGarthe spent most of his life in Nova Scotia, dying at 75 in 1983. His stolen work, an Impressionist-like view of his beloved Peggy’s Cove, is 16 cm by 21. Painted circa 1956, it too entered Victoria’s collection as a bequest, in the early 1990s, and was housed just out of security-camera range at the university’s E.J. Pratt Library. A 46-cm-by-61-cm deGarthe sold at auction in Canada in 2011 for $2,340.
Interpol ranks art theft as the world’s third biggest criminal activity, behind drugs and arms-trafficking. By some estimates, the value of the art stolen each year is in excess of $6-billion.
However, it’s rare for thieves to score a big payday from their loot. Serious collectors like their purchases to have clear title, good provenance and, more often than not, they want to be able to show the works to friends, fellow collectors, art institutions and the public without the taint of criminality. When they do occasionally make a sale, it’s often not worth it: A Rembrandt self-portrait, lifted from the Swedish National Museum in 2000, had an appraised value of close to $40-million at the time of its theft. However, it took five years to sell and went for $250,000 – to an undercover FBI agent.

Trial over Picasso’s ‘gift’ to handyman and the murky world of art crime

Picasso: most prolific and most stolen artist. Anthony Devlin/PA Archive
The case of Pablo Picasso’s former electrician Pierre Le Guennec and his wife, Danielle, came to a close on February 12. The pair are accused of handling stolen goods – 271 of Picasso’s works. The French prosecutor seeks a symbolic five-year suspended sentence for the couple. The judge’s verdict and sentence (if found guilty) will be delivered on March 20.
Pierre Le Guennec was Picasso’s handyman at his house in Mougin in the south of France. He claims Picasso’s second wife, Jacqueline, gave him a box of the 271 works (among the pieces were lithographs, drawings, sketches) as a gift. For 40 years, the works of art apparently remained in their garage and the couple didn’t look through them properly until 2009. They only came to light in 2010 when Pierre Le Guennec asked the Picasso Administration to authenticate them.
The charge of handling stolen goods (rather than theft) meant that no proof about who actually committed the alleged theft was introduced. But the lawyer for the Picasso Administration, who brought the case to court, added an extra twist to the trial by accusing the couple of being involved in international artwork laundering and alleging that the art was passed to them on account of their past with Picasso.

Pablo Picasso and scene painters in 1917.

Art crime scene

This case shines another bright light on the fascinating, often violent world of art crime which internationally is often misrepresented by the media and not treated seriously enough by law enforcement agencies. In addition, there are many shades of grey that colour the interface between licit and illicit activities in the art world.
The unregulated art world itself can be strongly accused of not doing enough to prevent art crime. The artist Banksy summed up the challenge when speaking to the Sunday Times in February 2010:
I’ve come into contact with a lot more villains since I moved from vandalism into selling paintings. The art world is full of shady people peddling bright colours.
Driven by the belief that work would keep him alive, Picasso was a famously prolific artist. Owing to his huge output and his art’s value in heritage, artistic and economic terms, it is not a surprise that, according to the Art Loss Register, he is the artist with the most stolen work. To illustrate the scale, before this current case, more than 1,000 of his pieces were known to have been stolen.
There is a long and well-documented history of insider art thefts – the most famous of which is probably the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre by an employee in 1911. Another significant crime, highlighted in a security report in 1954, occurred at London’s V&A Museum, where an attendant called John Nevin stole an incredible 2,544 items over 20 years.

The accused. Patrice Lapoirie/EPA


The Le Guennec couple’s story is fascinating and confusing for a number of reasons. Despite the work being done by one of the most influential and famous artists in history, the couple claim never to have looked at the art properly and decided to keep it closed up in their garage for 40 years.
They apparently also had different stories. In contrast to Pierre’s claim that they were a gift in a box, Danielle has allegedly stated that Pierre was given the works in a bin bag after Picasso had been cleaning up his studio.
According to the artist’s biographer, John Richardson, Picasso never gave away work from his early periods, nor did he give anything away without signing the piece. Apparently, only one of the couple’s items is signed.
Although the Picasso Administration lawyer’s claim of international artwork laundering may seem far-fetched in this case, the art world’s lack of regulation coupled with the lack of law enforcement involvement in many countries makes an array of art crimes attractive for criminal gangs – so the claim should not be simply dismissed. The couple could have been viewed as easy targets by criminals.
The verdict in March could have ramifications much further afield than the south of France. As Degas once said: “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”. Art theft is often viewed by potential criminals as having a low risk of punishment, something not helped by different media frequently misrepresenting the crime as entertainment.
So the prosecutor’s call for only a “symbolic” sentence could continue to make others, whether they be potential criminals, the media or the public, see art theft as entertainment rather than as a serious crime worthy of more attention.
The criminologist Simon Mackenzie has highlighted how the effects of criminal law are negligible for art crimes, especially concerning the problem of illicit antiquities. This case, whatever the outcome, could reinforce his argument.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Stolen Art Watch, Picasso Hoard, Lets See Actual Evidence Of Wrong-doing, Otherwise Its State Sponsered Seizure, I Am Charlie, Chaplin That Is !!

Picasso's handyman accused of stealing £50m art hoarde
Danielle and Pierre Le Guennec  
Danielle and Pierre Le Guennec face up to five years in prison if convicted

Pablo Picasso's former electrician and his wife go on trial today in Paris, accused of having stolen 271 pieces of the artist's work.
The cache includes lithographs, portraits, a watercolour and sketches created between 1900 and 1932.
Pierre and Danielle Le Guennec say they were given the art, worth 80m euro (£50m) by Picasso's second wife.
The Picasso estate says their account is "ridiculous" and is suing them for illegal possession of the works
Picasso's son Claude has insisted his father would "never" have given such a large quantity of works to anyone.
He told the French daily newspaper Liberation: "That doesn't stand up. These works were part of his life."

The case is shaping up largely as one of “he said, she said” as some potential witnesses have died in the interim and because hard evidence of theft 40 years ago may be hard to come by; furthermore, even the state’s own case doesn’t mention who may have stolen it.

 Le Guennec began working as a general handyman at Picasso's estate in the South of France in 1970.
He says that he and his wife Danielle were given 180 lithographs, collages and paintings and 91 drawings in 1970 by the artist's then-wife, Jacqueline. He claims she gave him the works in a closed box containing the works, saying: "Here, it's for you. Take it home".
Danielle recalled that her husband came home with a stuffed bag, and told her that Picasso had given the works to him.
The works, which have never been displayed publicly, were kept virtually untouched in Le Guennecs' garage until the couple decided to put their affairs in order for their children in 2010.
According to Le Guennec's lawyer, he started worrying around five years ago about what might happen to the works after his death.
He contacted the Picasso administration, which looks after works held by his heirs.
In September 2010, Le Guennec travelled to Paris to have the works assessed by the administration.
But within days of art experts proving the works were genuine, police swooped on the elderly pair at their home in Mouans Sartoux, near Cannes, and arrested them on suspicion of receiving stolen goods.
The seized Picassos include a watercolour from his Blue Period, and nine cubist works which experts believe are worth 30m euro (£24.5m) alone.
Also in the collection are portraits of his first wife Olga, as well as a number of gouaches and lithographs.
Mr and Mrs Le Guennec were initially released without charge while an investigation was launched to establish how they had come by the paintings, but eight months later they were formally charged.
If convicted, the couple face up to five years in prison and a 375,000 Euro (£278,000) fine for concealing stolen goods.

Picasso trial: So how did French couple come by £50m art hoard?

Electrician and wife say they were given 271 paintings, collages and sketches as thank-you gifts but descendants of Pablo Picasso accuse them of fraudulently obtaining the haul

Pierre Le Guennec and his wife Danielle Photo: (AP)
A retired odd job man and electrician and his wife stand trial on Tuesday, accused of illegally possessing 271 works by Pablo Picasso.
Six of the legendary Spanish artists’ descendants accuse Pierre and Danielle Le Guennec of hiding the sketches and paintings thought to be worth £50m in a box in the garage of their Riviera home for 37 years despite knowing they were “fraudulently” obtained.
Mr Le Guennec, 75, claims that he was given the collection by the artist and his second wife Jacqueline when he carried out odd jobs for them more than 40 years ago at their Côte d’Azur home in Notre-Dame-de-Vie in Mougins. Picasso died in 1973. Jacqueline committed suicide in 1986.
“(Picasso) often invited me in to have some cake or a coffee. We talked about all things great and small with the master,” he told AFP in 2010. “One evening, I was leaving my work, when madame handed me a little package saying: ‘This is for you’,” he said.

Picasso's hand on canvas
The pieces, dating from 1900 to 1932, include portraits of Picasso’s first wife, Olga, nine highly-prized Cubist collages worth €40 million (£36 million), a watercolour from his blue period, studies of his hand on canvas, gouaches, around 30 lithographs and 200 drawings.
“When I returned home, I saw sketches, drawings – I knew nothing about it. If madame had given me a painting on the other hand, that would have been odd,” he said.
In 2010, Mr Le Guennec and his wife took 175 totally unknown pieces in a suitcase to the Picasso Administration headquarters in Paris, showing them to Claude Picasso – the artist’s son who administers his estate – and asking to have the works authenticated.
Art experts swiftly concluded that not even the greatest counterfeiter could have copied such a wealth of different styles, and there was no way they could have faked the classification numbers on some of them. Soon afterwards, police confiscated the works and launched an investigation.

Picasso's horse drawing
Jean-Jacques Neuer, lawyer for Claude Picasso, said the couple were deliberately vague. “They don’t remember whether they received the ‘gift’ in 1970, 71 or 72. If you are given 271 Picassos, you remember it,” he said.
“You have to imagine that Picasso kept hold of them for 70 years and suddenly decided to give the lot away.”
That did not make sense, he added.
“Picasso signed his works at the last moment, to give them away or sell them.”
All the electrician has to suggest he was close to the Picassos is a signed brochure of an exhibition.

Picasso's dice drawing
"When you give a present, you choose something precise that fits the person. Picasso here is giving away works that have nothing to do with each other- notably extremely precious cubist collages that represent 10 per cent of his production,” he said.
“But also two notebooks of drawings, work tools that he would never have given away.”

Picasso has become the most stolen artist in histoy
“The issue is not whether Picasso was generous or not. Picasso wasn’t someone who was careless about his works; he didn’t give away any old how.”
Charles-Etienne Gudin, lawyer for the couple, said the works came from the artist’s “Grands-Augustins” studio in Paris, and that there was no way the electrician could have stolen them from his final home, which was a “fortress” watched over by two security guards.
The trial is due to last three weeks.
It starts a week after Marina Picasso announced she was selling off a selection of his art work, as well as his famous French villa, for an expected $290m (£190m).
Miss Picasso, famous for her 2001 memoir Picasso: My Grandfather, in which she accused the artist of destroying her childhood, said she is putting at least seven pieces of art up for sale.
The offering includes a 1921 painting called 'Maternite' for $50m, his 1911 'Femme a la Mandoline' for $60m, and a 1923 portrait of his first wife Olga Khokhlova for $60m.
The announcement sent shock waves through the art market amid worries the glut could seriously dent the value of his work.
In modern times, Picasso has become the most stolen artist in history due to his prolific output, recognisable signature and valuable works.
He has more than 1,000 paintings registered as stolen, missing or disputed - more than twice as many as the next on the list.

Charlie Chaplin's honorary Oscar award stolen in Paris

Million-euro honorary Oscar awarded to Charlie Chaplin in 1929 at the first ever Academy Awards stolen from company in Paris

Charlie Chaplin receiving an honorary Oscar for the lifetime achievement in April 1972

Charlie Chaplin receiving an honorary Oscar for the lifetime achievement in April 1972 Photo:
An unknown number of robbers broke into a company in Paris in early January and made off with the 30cm-high, 24 carat gold trophy the British actor received in 1929 at the first ever Academy Award ceremony, Le Parisien newspaper reported.
They also stole a set of pens valued at around 80,000 euros (£60,000) apiece that also belonged to the star of the silent film era, famous for his down-and-out character, The Tramp, and his satirical portrayal of Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator, his first talking picture.

Charlie Chaplin in 1940 film The Great Dictator (Rex)
The "sensitive case" is being handled with "the utmost discretion" by the "Broc" division, a police unit specialising in the theft of artworks.
"The authors of this break-in only targeted these objects and nothing else. They were impeccably informed," a police source close to the inquiry told Le Parisien.
Police are pursuing all avenues, including the possibility that the theft was carried out by or for a specific collector.

Ringmaster of the wardrobe: Charlie Chaplin in 1928 in The Circus (Rex Features)
Charlie Chaplin only received three Oscars in a career that spanned more than six decades.
The first, now stolen, was for his "versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus" in 1929.
At the reception of his second honorary Oscar in 1972 for "the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century", he received a 12-minute standing ovation – the longest in the history of the Academy Awards. His third Oscar was for Best Score in 1973 for Limelight (shared with Ray Rasch and Larry Russell).
The British actor died on Christmas Day in 1977 at the age of 88.