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Friday, December 01, 2017

Stolen Art Watch, Media's Facination With Art Crime Slows December 2017

How London became a hotspot for art theft - the world’s third most profitable criminal enterprise

It’s pouring with rain when I go to meet Charley Hill in the café at The National Gallery, and the sky is so moody one might be tempted to call it ‘Rothko grey’.
He is waiting for me with a white paper envelope and a golf umbrella, and has greying curly hair, kind crinkly eyes and round tortoiseshell glasses. In contrast to Hill’s usual meetings with gangland informers and kingpins of the criminal underworld, all that’s in my envelope are three postcards he’s bought for me from the Sir John Soane’s Museum where, 30 years ago, he foiled an armed attempt to steal two Hogarth paintings. Once DCI of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Unit, Hill has worked as a private detective since 1997 and has contributed to some of the biggest art crime recoveries in history.
‘I don’t break the law but I do deal with people you wouldn’t want to talk to,’ he tells me in his soft, mid-Atlantic accent. ‘Using informants is the only way to get these things back.’
The ‘things’ he refers to have included Goya’s Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate, which he discovered rolled up in a sports bag, Vermeer’s Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, retrieved from a multistorey car park in Antwerp, and Titian’s £5m Rest on the Flight into Egypt, stuffed into a red and blue striped laundry bag and found at a bus stop outside Richmond station. One of the best stories he tells me — over two pre-lunch Screwdrivers — involves accidentally bumping Munch’s The Scream on the headrest of his associate’s Mercedes sports coupé, having gone undercover at an Oslo hotel to retrieve the masterpiece. ‘It’s just on a piece of cardboard so it’s like carrying a big packing box,’ he says of rescuing one of the most famous paintings in the world, valued at the time at £35m.

Art work: private detective Charley Hill
Whether it’s an elaborate forgery of a Damien Hirst Spin painting, a Banksy swiped from an Islington flat by Airbnb-ers, or ISIS’s looting of historical antiquities in Palmyra, art crime is happening every day. It is now ranked the third highest grossing criminal enterprise, behind drugs and arms dealing respectively. In 2013, figures suggested that thefts of art and antiques in the UK alone totalled more than £300m. ‘London is an ideal site for moving art because of its position as a centre of the art world and global art market,’ explains Lynda Albertson, CEO of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art.
‘The British Art Market Federation reported that there were 48,500 people directly employed in the art and antiques market, and the UK has a 21 per cent share of the $56bn global art market, which gives you an idea of London’s muscle.’
Yet in August Scotland Yard announced that it had seconded the three remaining detectives from its specialist unit to the Grenfell Tower investigation, and there are fears that its Art and Antiques Unit might well be closed indefinitely. ‘The loss would be felt across the globe,’ says Vernon Rapley, who was in charge of the unit for 10 years before becoming head of security at the V&A in 2010. ‘We dealt with everything, from ancient Assyrian reliefs to contemporary painting to vintage wine — all sorts of things came through that office door. It takes a long time to understand these crimes, so having a small, specialist team frees up other officers’ time when these cases do come in.’ The Metropolitan Police did not respond to our queries about the future of the unit, but with police funding tighter than ever there’s a sense that picture-napping isn’t the most pressing concern.

Edvard Munch’s The Scream (Alamy Stock Photo)
‘I’m sympathetic to the view that knife crime is more important than art crime,’ says Saskia Hufnagel, a senior lecturer in criminal law at Queen Mary, University of London, who writes about art theft and forgery. ‘But when we think about how stolen art could be used as a currency to fund arms, drugs and terrorism, we’re talking about more than just losing cultural property.’
Although it’s the Thomas Crowne-style museum heists that make the headlines, art crime has now gone digital. This summer hackers stole sums ranging from £10,000 to £1m from nine galleries and individuals, including the Mayfair-based Hauser & Wirth gallery when they used an email scam to intercept payments between galleries and collectors. The notoriously unregulated art market, combined with large sums of money changing hands, make this type of con particularly lucrative. ‘You can’t buy a $1m condo without three weeks of paperwork and 100 checks and balances, but art dealers and their clients will wire $1m after a single conversation,’ says one US dealer who asked not to be named.
Then there are the inside jobs and questions of provenance. ‘A lot of theft from museums will be an item taken from the archives which isn’t detected for years and is never reported,’ says Hufnagel. For the V&A’s Vernon Rapley the most pressing concerns are ‘fakes and forgeries — not just those objects directly penetrating the collections, but also the attributions or provenance of those objects. Sometimes the things coming in to our collection are more dangerous than the things going out. There was a point in the past when people were borrowing a tray of coins for “study purposes”, taking the most valuable ones out and replacing them with forgeries.’

Christopher Marinello
From a nondescript office in Hatton Garden with a few watercolours on the wall, Julian Radcliffe runs The Art Loss Register, a global database of stolen art and antiques which has recovered over £100m worth of paintings, statues and sculptures since 1991. According to The Register (as it’s known in the trade), there are more than 500,000 stolen, fake or looted items floating around, including more than 1,000 Picassos — the most stolen artist. Clearly, criminals love a bit of fractured perspective.
Radcliffe is a former risk consultant for Lloyd’s of London, who once specialised in kidnap negotiations, a skill that presumably comes in handy now he spends his days trying to talk back Old Masters. ‘We often get calls from individuals who say they know where an item is and that they want money for [that knowledge],’ he says. ‘We fill in the gaps between the police, the governments and the art industry.’ The company charges people £10 to register their lost or stolen item on the database and takes a percentage of an item’s ‘ultimate net benefit’ if it’s recovered. It had a turnover of £1m last year. In 1999, Radcliffe made $2million for reuniting a stolen Cézanne painting, Pitcher and Fruit, with its owner. (There are more successes but not for such large sums of money. For example, he recently made £100,000 after recovering some pictures that were part of an insurance fraud.)
The sometimes murky distinction between paying rewards to informants, as opposed to ransom money to thieves which is illegal, means that the work of the private art detective can be controversial. In 2000, the Tate reportedly paid £3.5m to lawyers on behalf of informants with strong connections to the Serbian underworld, to retrieve two stolen Turners worth £20m. ‘There are a lot of disreputable companies operating in this grey area,’ says Christopher Marinello, who set up the non-profit register and the art recovery organisation Art Recovery International and has been dubbed the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Nazi-looted art’. ‘Paying criminals for information encourages art crime, and withholding information from victims or museums unless you get paid isn’t ethical.’ Marinello says he does a lot of pro-bono work, particularly for churches, museums and artists who can’t afford his fees. ‘I’m a sucker for religious artefacts,’ he says. ‘I recently recovered a Masonic sword which had been stolen and sold at a car-boot sale and ended up at an auction house in London. The auction house had done no due diligence whatsoever — if they’d even googled it they would’ve seen that it had been stolen.’

Titian’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Alamy Stock Photo)
The idea of masterpieces being stolen to order for a criminal mastermind, such as the James Bond villain Dr No with his misappropriated Goya, is nearly always Hollywood fantasy. ‘It’s almost never stolen because it’s a beautiful object,’ says Vernon Rapley. ‘Rather, it’s a commodity that can be used as collateral for other illicit activity.’ He adds that to understand art crime you need to look at the bigger picture (pun, presumably, not intended). ‘There are trends — a few years ago Chinese gangs were stealing Chinese antiquities to use as currency,’ he says. ‘Similarly, when drugs were being bought from Turkey there would be peaks in the theft of art that would appeal to that market. At the moment we’re quite concerned about our collections which feature rhino horn — they might not be the most valuable items but they’re high risk because they are desirable [in Asia].’
Technology may have led to cybercrime and more sophisticated forgeries, but it is also being turned on the criminals. ‘There are new inventions being tried such as genetic fingerprinting for paintings, analysing cryptocurrencies and blockchain software to track provenance,’ says Lynda Albertson. ‘Recently, a team of undercover operatives and Syrian archaeologists applied a tracing liquid to antiquities which uses nanotechnology to encrypt data into water.’ A solution of small particles suspended in water is painted on to objects to track where they’ve come from; it can’t be removed and it’s only visible under UV light.
For the most part, art crime cases are solved the old-fashioned way, and occasionally, quickly. Marinello recalls posing as a buyer for a job that took 15 days in total, from the time of the theft to the day the photograph — worth about £350,000 — was back on the wall of the museum it came from in Prague. ‘The stars aligned for that one,’ he admits. More often, though, unravelling the threads requires huge patience and skill. Julian Radcliffe recovered the Hooke manuscripts, original minutes of meetings at The Royal Society between 1677 and 1682, as recorded by scientist Robert Hooke, which were stolen 300 years ago. Charley Hill has been on the trail of the Mafia-inspired theft of a Caravaggio for 30 years. Will he ever give up? ‘Never — I’ll be doing this until I drop.’

'The right thing to do is return them'

Almost eight months after two Gottfried Lindauer paintings were stolen from a Parnell art centre, the centre's director has once again made a plea for their return.
Together, the paintings, depicting Chieftainess Ngatai-Raure and Chief Ngatai-Raure, are believed to be worth about $1 million.
"The right thing to do is return them," says International Art Centre director Richard Thomson. "It would be nice to see, the nation wants them returned."
Mr Thomson is speaking out, after an anonymous seller recently posted a listing on the 'dark web', selling what they claim is one of the stolen Lindauer works.
The dark web is an untraceable part of the internet and special software is needed to access it.
But Mr Thomson believes what's been advertised on the listing is fake.
"I can tell by some of the photographs on it and the photoshopping," he says. "We know those paintings more than anyone.
"Yes, it's the painting, but it's a copy of it - it's a printed copy."
Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is taking the listing seriously and has asked officials for advice.
"I've referred queries to the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage, because I'm sure that there would be some way that they choose to respond to these kinds of issues - a policy on the way that they respond to stolen goods," she says.
"So I've left that for their advice. It seems pretty bold for someone to list a stolen item and actually state that it's a stolen item the way they have."
Art historian Penelope Jackson, the author of Art Thieves, Fakers and Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story, says whether the listing is authentic or not, it's brought the story back into the spotlight.
"Perhaps it might jog someone's memory about something they've seen or a conversation they've overheard that could ultimately provide the police with the information they need to find the culprits and the works," says Ms Jackson.
Mr Thomson says he's confident the paintings are still in New Zealand.

Mystery of the Admiral’s jewel: Remarkable story of Lord Nelson’s prized 300-diamond hat piece gifted to him after the Battle of the Nile that vanished from a museum 66 years ago

  • Nelson was gifted the stunning seven-inch chelengk by Sultan Selim III of Turkey
  • Hat decoration was sold in 1895 for £710 to ease the family's financial difficulties
  • It would end up in London's National Maritime Musuem until it was stolen in 1951
  • Career criminal sold the prized jewel to a gang who broke it into smaller pieces
The remarkable story of Admiral Lord Nelson's most precious jewel which vanished from a museum 66 years ago has been revealed in a new book.
Nelson was gifted the stunning seven-inch chelengk by Sultan Selim III of Turkey after the Battle of the Nile in 1798.
The hat decoration contained over 300 diamonds and a central diamond Ottoman star which was powered by clockwork to rotate and sparkle in candlelight.
Nelson was the first non-Muslim recipient of the chelengk and wore it on his hat like a turban jewel, sparking a fashion craze for similar jewels in England.
Nelson was gifted the stunning seven-inch chelengk by Sultan Selim III of Turkey after the Battle of the Nile in 1798.
A replica of the jewel
Lord Nelson (left) was gifted the stunning seven-inch chelengk (replica shown right) by Sultan Selim III of Turkey after the Battle of the Nile in 1798
London jeweller Philip Denyer has used 350 18th century diamonds to make an exact replica of the chelengk to coincede with the book launch of Nelson's Lost Chelengk
London jeweller Philip Denyer has used 350 18th century diamonds to make an exact replica of the chelengk to coincede with the book launch of Nelson's Lost Chelengk
It remained in his family for generations before it was sold in 1895 for £710 to ease the family's financial difficulties.
The chelengk was then bought for £1,500 by the Society for Nautical Research in 1929 following a national appeal and placed in London's National Maritime Museum.
But it was stolen in 1951 by career criminal George Chatham, who sold the jewel for a 'few thousand' to a criminal gang who he believes broke it up into little pieces.
The fascinating history of the jewel has been researched by historian and jewel expert Martyn Downer for his new book Nelson's Lost Chelengk.
To coincide with the book launch, London jeweller Philip Denyer has used 350 18th century diamonds to make an exact replica of the chelengk.
The jewel, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, is on display in the Victory Gallery at Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard alongside a black felt cocked hat.
The jewel was stolen from the National Maritime Musuem in 1951 by career criminal George Chatham, who sold the jewel for a 'few thousand' to a criminal gang
The jewel was stolen from the National Maritime Musuem in 1951 by career criminal George Chatham, who sold the jewel for a 'few thousand' to a criminal gang
A close-up of the replica
The goldsmith copied a newly discovered drawing of the chelengk which had been hidden away in the library at the College of Arms in London
For the replica (left), a goldsmith copied a newly discovered drawing (right) of the chelengk which had been hidden away in the library at the College of Arms in London
The goldsmith copied a newly discovered drawing of the chelengk which had been hidden away in the library at the College of Arms in London.
The drawing was commissioned by Nelson's niece Charlotte who inherited the chelengk after his death.
She asked Thomas King, a Norfolk-born officer at the College of Arms, to paint it alongside Nelson's other orders and decorations for a planned history of Great Yarmouth.
His watercolour is the most accurate record of the chelengk as it appeared during Nelson's lifetime, showing in unprecedented detail the delicate white enamelling on the petals of the flowers and a single ruby radiating from the jewel.
By the time the chelengk passed into the hands of the National Maritime Museum in 1929, its enamelled flowering and clockwork mechanism had been removed.
Martyn Downer, 51, said: 'Nelson knew it was an extraordinary jewel and asked for permission from the king to wear it on his hat as part of his official uniform.
'I visited the College of Arms last year and by pure serendipity King's fabulous drawing of the chelengk was unearthed in an album in the library.

'Forget Trafalgar... the Battle of the Nile was Nelson's finest hour'

The Battle of the Nile was one of the most significant clashes between Nelson (pictured) and his counterpart Napoleon
The Battle of the Nile was one of the most significant clashes between Nelson (pictured) and his counterpart Napoleon
Many historians agree that the Battle of the Nile was more significant than Trafalgar, the battle in which Nelson died. It was during this conflict that Généreux was nearly taken by the Lord Admiral's men but the ship managed to escaped - only to be captured two years later.
In August 1798, the French were at anchor in Aboukir Bay in shallow water, using the shore to protect the south-western side of the fleet, while the north-eastern faced open sea.
Although the ships were chained together, Nelson believed the chain between the last ship in the line and the shore was sunk deep enough to let a vessel pass.
In a daring night-time manoeuvre, his fleet slipped through the gap and attacked the French on their unprotected side.
The battle established Britain as the dominant sea power during the French revolutionary wars and was immortalised in the poem Casablanca, known for its opening line 'The boy stood on the burning deck'.
Nelson's flagship during the battle was the Vanguard. Other British ships commemorated by surviving copses include the Minotaur, Defence, Swiftsure, Theseus, Orion, Bellerophon and Alexander.
Stephen Fisher of the National Trust said: 'The Battle of the Nile in 1798 was one of Nelson's most significant clashes with Napoleon.
'Forget Trafalgar, this was Nelson's finest hour and at the time was his most famous victory.'
Divers pull out a 200-year-old canon (pictured) from the ship wreck of the Orient, the French fleet's flagship during the Battle of the Nile, in 1999
Divers pull out a 200-year-old canon (pictured) from the ship wreck of the Orient, the French fleet's flagship during the Battle of the Nile, in 1999'The level of detail in the drawing has enabled the jeweller to make an exact replica of the chelengk using 350 18th century diamonds which have been salvaged from jewels of that era.
'The enamelling has been done in the same colour and every detail I've researched has been included in the jewel.
'It is an extraordinary object which is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.'
During the heist, Chatham smashed the plate glass of the display case containing the Nelson relics and left a crowbar in the shards of broken glass.
Only the chelengk, the most precious object in the display, was missing.
Nothing else had been touched and the jewel's fitted case had been left behind.
Two ladders were discovered in an annex next to the gallery which had been used by Chatham to reach a window which he forced open.
A watch was immediately placed at ports and airports as there was speculation the chelengk had been stolen by an antiques gang to flog on the Continent or in America.
The replica jewel, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, is on display in the Victory Gallery at Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard alongside a black felt cocked hat
The replica jewel, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, is on display in the Victory Gallery at Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard alongside a black felt cocked hat
The jeweller used 350 diamonds (pictured when removed from the ornament) to recreate the famous gem
The jeweller used 350 diamonds (pictured when removed from the ornament) to recreate the famous gem
Within hours, a reward of £250 was offered for information leading to the recovery of the jewel, but no one was arrested for the theft.
However, in 1994 Chatham confessed to the crime during a TV interview.
He said he sold the chelengk for a 'few thousand' before the jewel was broken up into little pieces.
Chatham had previous as in 1948 he stole two glittering diamond-encrusted swords in an exhibition of Wellington relics at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, west London.
Mr Dormer, 51, of Cambridge, said: 'It seems remarkable now that a burglar who preyed on Mayfair's mansions was able to take it with such apparent ease.
'It certainly caused an enormous stink that such a special object had been left unguarded.
'Chatham appeared on TV and admitted he stole it and sold it for a 'few thousand'.'
  • Nelson's Lost Jewel: The Extraordinary Story of the Lost Diamond Chelengk, by Martyn Downer, is published by The History Press and coasts £20.

Prized ornament gifted to Nelson by Sultan Selim III discovered by police divers and sold for £70,000

An ornate scabbard chape belonging to Admiral Lord Nelson - discovered on the bed of the River Thames by a police diver in the 1970s - was sold at auction for £70,000 in 2015.
It is believed the six-inch long enamel and diamond decoration that fixed onto the bottom end of the naval hero's sword case was tossed into the water by thieves decades before.
It was discovered in 1973 purely by chance by a police diver searching for a weapon used in a crime.
This ornate scabbard chape belonging to  Lord Nelson - discovered on the bed of the River Thames by a police diver in the 1970s - was sold at auction for £70,000 in 2015
This ornate scabbard chape belonging to Lord Nelson - discovered on the bed of the River Thames by a police diver in the 1970s - was sold at auction for £70,000 in 2015
The chape, like the seven-inch chelengk, was presented to Nelson by the Sultan Selim III of the Turkish Empire to commemorate the British victory over the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798.
It is decorated in diamonds with the star and crescent which matches the Ottoman Order of the Crescent granted to Nelson in 1799.
Five years before its discovery, an ornate locket with an identical decoration that was used on the top part of Nelson's scabbard was found during dredging work of the River Wey in Surrey.
The location was not far from the Thames at Windsor where the chape was found, nor from Nelson's palatial home at Merton.
The chape was presented to Nelson to commemorate the British victory over the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 (pictured in a painting)
The chape was presented to Nelson to commemorate the British victory over the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 (pictured in a painting)

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Stolen Art Watch, Art Crime Never Sleeps

Gambling butler jailed for stealing millions of pounds' worth of goods from Prince Charles' friend

Simon Dalton has been put behind bars for crimes against the Hanbury family.

A butler who stole possessions ranging from Picasso artwork to Faberge eggs and £1.9m worth of jewellery from a friend of Prince Charles' has been sentenced to a six years in jail.
Simon Dalton, 54, who worked for millionaire friends of the royal family, has been put behind bars after pleading guilty to six counts of theft from Major Christopher Hanbury and his wife Bridget. He used the proceeds to fund his gambling addiction.
Major Hanbury, 73, is a family friend of the Prince of Wales and has previously hosted Prince Harry at his Argentinian polo estate. He is a former member of the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars and aide to the Sultan of Brunei.
Among the stolen items are three pieces of artwork – a line drawing by Picasso, a Toulouse-Lautrec and a piece of art by singer Bob Dylan. They remain missing after Dalton has refused to reveal their whereabouts.
Manchester Crown heard that Dalton, of Finchale Drive in Hale, worked for the Hanburys since 2009 and committed the thefts between 2010 and 2012.
He was paid £19,000 after tax as house manager and lived rent free in a cottage with his wife on the family's estate in Loveslock House, Berkshire. Prosecutor David Harley said that Dalton managed the Hanbury's finances and had access to their accounts and safe.
Dalton left the family and his wife suddenly in 2012 without explanation. The only thing he left behind was a note which read: "I can't take it anymore, I'm going to Scotland to clear my head for a few months."
Despite the family making attempts to contact Dalton as they were worried about his well being, they heard no response. It was said in court that the family had "doubts" about their butler and proceeded to check their possessions to see if anything had been stolen.
They found that many valuables were missing including the Picaddo and Toulouse-Lautrec paintings, both worth approximately £650,000 each, the Dylan painting worth £100,000, and three Faberge eggs – which are jewelled eggs created by the House of Faberge.
Financial investigations found that Dalton had also stolen £725,000 from the family's bank accounts, gambling more than £570,000. Police also traced a pawnbrokers in Fleet Street, London, where the butler had pawned jewellery, watches and gems.
Pawnbrokers became suspicious when Dalton tried to pawn three Faberge eggs and a Faberge stamp, subsequently cancelling the transaction. The items were later returned to the Hanburys.
The court heard that Dalton fled to Lille in France on a ferry where he rented a safety deposit box. 1.9m of jewellery and watches were later recovered from a suitcase full of his clothes from the deposit box. Dalton was arrested on 3 January 2013 after returning to the UK.
Defending Nick Cotter claimed that Dlaton was a heavy gambler and "obsessed with death". Now separated from his wife, Cotter apologised to the Hanburys on his client's behalf.
Judge Martin Steiger QC informed Dalton that he would be "well served" at sentence if he revealed the location of the missing artwork.
The judge said: "The defendant was the trusted steward of a wealthy family involved in all things when it came to finance."

Zurich admits to ‘losing’ nearly a thousand works of art over the years

The city of Zurich has misplaced more than 900 works of art from its public collection over the years, Swiss media reported on Tuesday.
Of the 34,500 works of art belonging to the city, the whereabouts of 946 are unknown, lost over the years due to lackadaisical management, reported Tages Anzeiger
The most significant loss is a painting by Swiss-French artist and architect Le Corbusier, dating from 1927, which has an estimated value of 1.5 million francs. 
Zurich city authorities obtained the painting in 1964. It was initially displayed in a maternity hospital, before being put into storage. It later disappeared, probably in the 1990s, authorities told the media. 
Considerable effort has been made to find it, Marc Huber, a spokesman for the city’s construction department, which is responsible for the art collection, told the Tages Anzeiger. 
In 2007 the city lodged a complaint with police, and the artwork was entered into an international database of lost and stolen artworks, but as yet it hasn’t been found. 
The department has now published a list of the missing artworks in order to try and get them back.
After the piece by Le Corbusier the next most valuable is probably worth around 10,000 francs said Huber. He estimated the total value of the missing art to be around two million francs. 
The artworks were most likely lost due to mismanagement, said the paper. Over the years many were loaned out without being properly documented or tracked. 
It wasn’t until 2009 that the city took a proper inventory of its artwork, despite starting the collection a century earlier. 
The authorities now have stricter controls which have prevented more going missing, and several dozen missing artworks have been recouped in recent years, six in 2017 alone, Huber told the Tages Anzeiger.
Zurich isn’t the only the place to suffer such embarrassment. 
According to Le Matin some 2,000 works are missing from the Zurich cantonal collection, while the city of Bern has misplaced up to 200 artworks.
Other cities have remained tight-lipped about the extent of their art collections, said the paper.

Nearly 300 paintings stolen from the back of a truck in Los Banos

Read more here:
Nearly 300 paintings and sketches were stolen from the back of a truck in Los Banos over the weekend and the artist is asking for the public’s help locating the art that represents more than six years of his life.
Artist Maximo Gonzalez has been working on a project since 2011 aimed at raising environmental awareness through art. The paintings and drawings — about 268 in total — were being transported from Dallas, Texas to the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, Gonzalez said in a telephone interview Monday.
The artwork was stored in boxes in the back of a locked truck. The driver stopped to rest Friday night at the Maple Inn on East Pacheco Boulevard in Los Banos. On Saturday morning, he returned to the truck and found the artwork had been taken, Los Banos Police Cmdr. Ray Reyna said.

Read more here:
Reyna said the artwork consisted of about 130 paintings and 138 drawings or sketches on canvass.

Persian Bas Relief Seized at European Art Fair

An ancient limestone bas relief of a Persian soldier with shield and spear was seized by police at the New York edition of The European Fine Art Fair at the Park Avenue Armory.
The relief is worth about $1.2 million and was being offered for sale by Rupert Wace, a well-known dealer in antiquities in London, the New York Times wrote.
The bas relief is a 51.5-square-centimeter piece of carved limestone that was part of a long line of soldiers depicted on a balustrade at the central building on the Persepolis site. It dates to the Achaemenid dynasty - the first Persian empire - and was made sometime between 510 and 330 BC.
Wace said he had bought the relief from an insurance company, which had acquired it legally from a museum in Montreal, where it had been displayed since the 1950s.
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts displayed the work until 2011, when it was stolen. Three years later, the Canadian authorities recovered it from a collector in Edmonton and returned it to the museum, according to CBC News. But the curators opted to keep the insurance money and let the AXA Insurance Company take possession.
The bas relief is the latest in a string of antiquities the Manhattan district attorney’s office has seized from art dealers and museums in New York City as part of a concerted effort in recent years to recover ancient works.
Experts on artifacts from Persepolis say the bas relief was first excavated in 1933 by a team of archaeologists from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
The Persian government passed a law in 1930 making it illegal to transport such antiquities out of the country.
According to an earlier statement by  Ebrahim Shaqaqi, the director of legal affairs at the Iran Cultural Heritage, Handcraft and Tourism Organization, the bas relief had been stolen from Persepolis decades ago prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“Legal follow-ups are underway to first prove that the relic belongs to Iran and finally repatriate it,” said Shaqaqi.   The European Fine Art Fair is an annual art, antiques and design fair, organized by The European Fine Art Foundation in Maastricht, Netherlands.

Stolen Stanley Spencer Painting Worth £1m Recovered From Drugs Den

Read more here:
 A painting by Sir Stanley Spencer titled Cookham from Englefield, that was stolen five years ago from the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Berkshire has been uncovered in a raid on a drug dealer’s home in Kingston- Upon-Thames. The work of art valued at over £1m has now been returned to the gallery, police have revealed.
The robbery took place when a window was smashed at the Stanley Spencer Gallery in High Street, Cookham at 01:00 BST on a Sunday evening in 2012. The thief took the painting (dated 1948) by the artist once dubbed ‘the divine fool of British art’. The painting is privately owned and had been loaned to the gallery.
It is now suspected to have been used as collateral by the gang. Harry Fisher, 28, was arrested on June 15, after police found a kilogram of cocaine and £30,000 in cash in his Mercedes. Fisher’s flat in Kingston-upon-Thames, west London, was then raided by officers who discovered the painting along with three kilograms of cocaine and 15,000 ecstasy tablets. After a search of Mr Fisher’s family home in Fulham, more Class A drugs were uncovered, making a total street value of £450,000, and £40,000 in cash.
The defendant, of Seven Kings Way, Kingston, has been incarcerated for eight years and eight months at Kingston Crown Court on Friday. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, acquiring criminal property and handling stolen goods. The judge also sentenced 32-year-old Zak Lal, of Columbine Road, Rochester, Kent, who admitted conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, acquiring criminal property and possession of an offensive weapon.
He was jailed for five years and eight months
A spokesperson from The Stanley Spencer Gallery said, “volunteers are immensely grateful to the various police sections who have contributed to the recovery of this remarkable painting which was stolen from us more than five years ago.”
Sir Stanley Spencer CBE RA (30 June 1891 – 14 December 1959) was an English painter. Shortly after leaving the Slade School of Art, Spencer became well known for his paintings depicting Biblical scenes occurring as if in Cookham, the small village beside the River Thames where he was born and spent much of his life. Spencer referred to Cookham as “a village in Heaven”, and in his biblical scenes, fellow-villagers are shown as their Gospel counterparts. Spencer was skilled at organising multi-figure compositions such as in his large paintings for the Sandham Memorial Chapel and the Shipbuilding on the Clyde series, the former being a World War One memorial while the latter was a commission for the War Artists’ Advisory Committee during World War Two. As his career progressed, Spencer often produced landscapes for commercial necessity and the intensity of his early visionary years diminished somewhat while elements of eccentricity came more to the fore. Although his compositions became more claustrophobic and his use of colour less vivid he maintained an attention to detail in his paintings akin to that of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Stolen Art Watch, October 2017

Irish National Pleads Guilty to Rhino-Horn Smuggling Scheme

An Irish national pleaded guilty in Miami on Friday to participating in a plot to smuggle a libation cup fashioned from the horn of an endangered rhinoceros.
A statement from the Justice Department on the conviction of Michael Hegarty, 40, offers no insight as to whether Hegarty belongs to a gang of Irish Travelers called the Rathkeale Rovers who were accused by Europol of a conspiracy to plunder tens of millions of dollars worth of rhino horn and other priceless Chinese artifacts from British museums.
Reporting on the UK case from the Irish Times and The Independent mentions a man with the same name as the defendant, but describes him as older. In separate 2016 articles, the Times called this Hegarty 43, and The Independent put his age at 46.
The 40-year-old Hegarty who pleaded guilty Friday in Florida admitted that he and a co-conspirator joined a Miami resident in mid-April 2012 at an auction in Rockingham, North Carolina, where they entered a winning bid for the libation cup made of rhinoceros horn.
Though no full name is given for the Miami resident or Hegarty’s co-conspirator, the Justice Department identifies the bidder just as “Sheridan.”
It is unclear whether this Sheridan is the same individual as Patrick Sheridan, an Irish national who was extradited to the United States in 2015 on charges of rhinoceros horn trafficking.
After picking up the cup with Hegarty in Florida, according to a statement from the Justice Department, Hegarty’s “co-conspirator then smuggled the libation cup out of the United States in his luggage.”
Metropolitan Police arrested the co-conspirator, along with two other Irish nationals, in London, while attempting to sell the same rhinoceros horn libation cup to a Hong Kong native.
Prosecutors say a government forensics laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, confirmed that the libation cup was fashioned from the horn of a great Indian rhinoceros, which is protected by the Endangered Species Act. 
Hegarty was extradited to the United States from Belgium after he was arrested through an Interpol red notice. His co-conspirator is currently incarcerated in England meanwhile; the government notes he was convicted there on unrelated charges and is still wanted to face wildlife-trafficking charges in the Southern District of Florida. 
U.S. District Donald Middlebrooks accepted Hegarty’s guilty plea and will conduct sentencing on Nov. 14, 2017 at 2:20 p.m.
Hegarty faces up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or up to twice the gross gain.  
Europol says the Rathkeale Rovers have been involved in an epidemic of raids on museums in Europe involving the theft of rhinoceros horns. The group allegedly leverages the rising price for rhinoceros horns on the black market to be used for traditional medicines and carving.
Some Chinese people believe that drinking from rhinoceros horn cups with bring good health. The giant, prehistoric beasts are protected by U.S. and international laws. More than 90 percent of wild rhino populations have been slaughtered illegally since the 1970s, because of the price their horns can bring, the Justice Department says.
America’s multiagency crackdown on the illegal rhino trade is known as Operation Crash, a nod to the term for a herd of rhinoceros.
The only predator of the rhinoceros is humans. Prosecutors said increasing demand is partly responsible for fueling a thriving black market that includes fake antiques made from recently hunted rhinoceros.
Among members of the gang who have been charged with smuggling crimes in the United States are Michael Slattery Jr. and Patrick Sheridan.
Another Irish traveler, Richard Kerry O’Brien, sued Bloomberg Businessweek in 2014 for reporting that he belonged to the Rathkeale Rovers.
O’Brien was a resident of Rathkeale in County Limerick but said there was nothing criminal about his business of importing antiques from China.

Cartier diamond ring among missing museum treasures worth over £1m

More than 600 items worth more than £1m have been either stolen or misplaced from collections at UK museums, figures reveal.

Dippy the Diplodocus was removed from the Natural History Museum in early 2017 but curators know where he is, unlike hundreds of other artefacts.
Image: Dippy the Diplodocus may have gone from the Natural History Museum but curators know where he is, unlike hundreds of other artefacts

More than £1m worth of artefacts have gone missing from some of Britain's most famous museums.
Figures obtained by Sky News reveal over 600 items have been lost, stolen or misplaced from collections including the Science Museum group, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum.
The Science Museum group, which includes the Science Museum in London, Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry and the National Railway Museum in York, told us they have a further 5,315 "unlocated" artefacts.
This means curators believe they are in storage, but don't know exactly where.
The Science Museums group's deputy director, Jonathan Newby, said: "Any object that we can't locate is unfortunate but this does come down to the record-keeping of museums.
"In the past, record collections started with a card index hand-written, then transcribed into databases that are now not what you would expect from a modern system."
The other problem is that museums don't have enough space for their collections. The Science Museum has only 5% of its 400,000 artefacts on display, the rest are kept in storage facilities.

More than a million pounds worth of artefacts has gone missing from some of Britain's biggest museums.
Image: This rare piece of quartz went missing from the National Museum of Scotland
Among the items missing from the museum are an old tin of talcum powder and an old-fashioned Hotpoint washing machine.
Other items lost include a rare piece of quartz from the National Museum of Scotland, an important black tie from the Imperial War Museum collection and perhaps most staggering of all, a £750,000 Cartier diamond ring from the British Museum.
A freedom of information request by Sky News reveals 947 artefacts have been reported lost or missing since 2010, and £80,000 worth of objects have been stolen.
But those in charge of museum security insist the systems are secure.
The Arts Council head of national security, William Brown, said the figures are not cause for concern.

More than a million pounds worth of artefacts has gone missing from some of Britain's biggest museums.
Image: The Imperial War Museum's missing black tie
"I liaise nationally and internationally with other security experts from around the world. Our systems are the envy of many. The government indemnity scheme and the DCMS actually support visits to venues, and fund myself and a team through the Arts Council to ensure collections are safe."
Britain's biggest museums receive £435m of government funding every year, and all museums rely on donations from the public and benefactors.
Some say they have a responsibility to improve security.
Professional art recoverer Christopher Marinello said: "It's an obligation to the public, the public who fund these museums through very high taxes, and we have a right to be able to know where our objects are.
"If there is a loss it needs to be reported to the police almost immediately so we can put the object onto a database try to find it as quickly as possible."

Art Dealer for Celebrity Artists Goes to Prison After Swindling His A-List Clients for Nearly 30 Years

Jonathan Poole was a dealer for high-profile clients that included musicians Miles Davis, John Lennon, and the Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood.

Jonathan Poole. Courtesy of Jonathan Poole.
Jonathan Poole. Courtesy of Jonathan Poole.
It’s four years behind bars for British art dealer Jonathan Poole, who pled guilty to 26 charges of fraud and theft. The 69-year-old, who specialized in selling artwork for celebrity musicians, confessed to stealing both art and money from his high-profile clients for nearly three decades, between 1986 and 2013.
Among Poole’s notable victims was Ronnie Wood, guitarist for the Rolling Stones and a prolific painter who studied at London’s Ealing Art College and will publish a book, Ronnie Wood: Artist, next month. Poole poached a number of Wood’s portraits, featuring fellow celebrities such as Stones frontman Mick Jagger, musicians Bob Dylan, and Ringo Starr, and actress Marilyn Monroe, according to Reuters,
Rolling Stones British guitarist Ronnie Wood poses in front of his painting called <em>A Study of Carlos and Darcey Rehearsing</em> in 2008. Courtesy of Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images.
Poole also represented the estates of jazz musician and artist Miles Davis and musician John Lennon. He admitted to stealing works by the former Beatle, as well as works by contemporary German artist Sebastian Krüger and 19th-century French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Most of the stolen pieces depicted celebrities. In some of his scams, he also took a larger percentage than he was due from some of his art sales.
Altogether, Poole, who worked out of two galleries in the Cotswolds in rural south central England, is said to have earned over £500,000 ($664,000) from his illicit dealings. He told the court his business had faced financial difficulties due to Internet competition. Poole was sentenced on Tuesday after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing.
Sebastian Krüger's painting of Kate Moss was stolen by Jonathan Poole. Courtesy of Sebastian Krüger.

According to the Guardian, prosecutor James Ward compared Poole’s crimes to the 1999 film The Thomas Crown Affair at trial. “[B]oth Thomas Crown and Jonathan Poole stole the paintings in broad daylight,” he said. “Whilst Thomas Crown stole as a challenge because his world had become too safe, Jonathan Poole stole either to fund a gambling habit, or to stash away money for later life.”
Poole isn’t the only art world professional to run into legal trouble with his celebrity clients. In New York, the case between art advisor Darlene Lutz and her former client, pop star Madonna, is currently awaiting a hearing. The singer claims that a planned auction of her personal effects featured objects that were stolen from her by Lutz.

Police appeal for witnesses after 2000 pieces of silver stolen from Kent antiques dealer

An antiques dealer and Kent Police are calling on the trade to be aware of stolen silver items from a shop in Tenterden in Kent.
Richard Brunger’s Re-Memories Antiques was burgled earlier this week and it is believed more than 2000 items of silver were taken including carriage clocks, jewellery, dishes and cutlery.
Although there are concerns that much of the jewellery will be melted down, Brunger said every item has a small sticker with the letters RB and a serial number.
Brunger has asked the trade to look out for items that the thieves may try to sell on including a Bernard Freres brass carriage clock, a miniature silver hallmarked 1900 eight-day French movement clock with embossed Art Nouveau decoration, a Christopher Dresser style toast rack hallmarked early 1890s and a 1929 silver cigarette case engraved with a shipping route of SS Crynssen.
The robbery took place overnight between September 25-26. The thieves removed the back door and frame to the shop before moving a cabinet to gain entry and carefully removing a collection of character jugs and placing them on the floor in an alleyway.
Seven silver cabinets were emptied and the contents are believed to have been placed in a wheelie bin.
Anyone with information should contact Kent Police on 01843 222289 quoting crime reference 26-0245. Alternatively contact Kent Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

Hatton Garden watch dealer jailed for selling over 100 stolen watches after the ALR’s Watch Register identifies stolen Rolex

Rolex GMT Master ‘Eye of the Tiger’ watch, valued at £13,500, stolen from Swiss Time Machine in London in 2016 and identified two months later by the Watch Register when offered for sale with 50 others stolen ones by Nadeem Malick 
Detective Constable Kevin Parley of the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad 
A man has been jailed for dealing in high-value watches after the Art Loss Register’s (ALR) specialist service for watches – the Watch Register – identified his attempt to sell a stolen Rolex.
On Friday 23 June 2017, Nadeem Malick, 45, a dealer from Greater London operating around Hatton Garden, was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment on two counts of Concealing and Converting Criminal Property.
On 21 March the previous year, the ALR had identified him selling a stolen Rolex worth £13,500 to a Hatton Garden dealer, who had checked the watch against the Watch Register before purchase. The watch was listed on the database as having been stolen during a brazen smash-and-grab in Mayfair, London, on 6 January 2016, when four men broke into the luxury watch store Swiss Time Machine brandishing knives, hammers and an axe, which they used to break open display cases, grabbing the expensive timepieces inside. They made off on mopeds with 81 watches valued at £1.1 million.
The thieves fled the scene on motorcycles but while being pursued by officers, one of the men was seen to discard a bag. When officers recovered the bag it was found to contain 41 watches from the robbery valued at £650,000. The man who discarded the bag of watches is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence for the robbery. Shortly afterwards, the store owner supplied details of the outstanding 40 stolen watches to the Watch Register.
After checking the Rolex and hearing the news of its stolen status, the Hatton Garden dealer brought the watch and Malick to the Watch Register’s offices. The Watch Register called the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad, who had been investigating the theft. Following a brief initial questioning, they arrested Malick and seized a further 27 watches that he was carrying in a plastic shopping bag. Later that day the Police searched Malick’s property and found a further 60 watches. In total, 50 of the watches seized from Malick that day were identified as stolen, with a value of £113,450.
Over the course of the next year, Detective Constable Kevin Parley of the Metropolitan Police obtained records of the watches that had previously been sold by Malick. He began to investigate the provenance of these watches with the close co-operation of the ALR, whose multi-lingual staff assisted in contacting watch manufacturers and police forces abroad, in addition to checking their own database to establish whether the watches had been registered. The searches carried out on these watches showed 56 of them to be stolen, with Malick having been paid £180,000 for their sale. The actual retail cost of the watches would have been considerably higher.
DC Parley stated, "Despite purporting to be a small-time player on the watch dealing field, I compiled overwhelming evidence of handling stolen goods against Malick.” No provenance checks ever seem to have been carried out, and watches usually seem to have been purchased by Malick in cash with no invoice. Malick had fenced watches from all types of thefts, including smash-and-grabs, residential burglaries, snatches and credit card frauds, with a significant quantity of the watches being sold by Malick between 1-14 days after the original offence.  This was the largest discovery of stolen watches ever seen by the ALR in their 27 years’ experience in dealing with stolen property.
DC Parley concluded, "Each of the 106 stolen watches that he handled represents a victim of crime and I am pleased that the sentence handed down today reflects that.”
For the Metropolitan Police report please see:
For more information on the smash-and-grab from Swiss Time Machine see:

Night at the museum: Why the great skylight caper at the MMFA remains unsolved, 45 years later

Thieves made off with dozens of works in the spectacular 1972 heist

Landscape with cottages, dated 1654 and attributed to Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn, hasn't been seen in 45 years.
Landscape with cottages, dated 1654 and attributed to Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn, hasn't been seen in 45 years. (Wikipedia)
The year was 1972 and under the cover of darkness, three men descended into the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts through a skylight, tied up several guards, and made off with $2 million in stolen art, precious jewels and artifacts.
Among the loot, a canvas attributed to Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn valued at a cool $1 million.
The heist, regarded as one of the largest in Canadian history, remains unsolved; any and all leads on suspects or the fate missing art evaporated decades ago.

How did they do it?

It was past midnight on the night of Sept. 3rd, when the thieves, clad in ski masks and hoods, crept on to the roof of the museum.
"It was a very cinematic theft," said Catherine Schofield Sezgin, a Montreal-born writer and contributor to the Association for Research into Crimes against Art.
In 2009, while taking an association course in Italy, Schofield Sezgin decided to research the skylight caper.
She returned to Montreal for the first time in years to dig through stacks of paper archives and conduct interviews.
Her blog faithfully chronicles the heist and its aftermath.
Bill Bantey, the museum's then spokesperson, speaking with CBC after the 1972 heist. (CBC Archives)
The thieves were careful in their execution, striking at a moment when the roof skylight was being repaired and the alarm covered by a plastic sheet.
Police believed the robbers accessed the roof by climbing an adjacent tree or propped a ladder up against the building.
Once inside the museum, the three men jumped a first guard as he was making his rounds, then two more, all of whom were bound and gagged. They threatened the guards with guns, firing two warning shots from a 12-gauge shotgun into the ceiling.
Then they set about their work. "They were discriminating thieves and had a fairly good idea of what they were looking for," the museum's spokesperson, Bill Bantey, told CBC at the time.
Montreal museum of fine arts
The thieves broke in through a skylight in what is now called the Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion. (Wikipedia)
Along with the Rembrandt, the thieves made off with works by Jean-Baptiste Corot, Gustave Courbet and Pierre-Paul Rubens.
The Rembrandt, Landscape with Cottages, was originally purchased by Canadian railroad baron William Van Horne. It was given to the museum by his daughter years later.
Also stolen was a 18th century French gold watch that once belonged to the wife of Jacques Viger, Montreal's first elected mayor.
The whole robbery took about 30 minutes.
All was going according to plan for thieves — until an alarm was triggered at the service door they planned to use for their escape.
Instead, according to Schofield Sezgin, they had to hurry off on foot with 18 canvases and 39 other items in tow, leaving behind a stack of 20 paintings they couldn't carry.
When interviewed by police, the guards were not able to give descriptions of the thieves, except for noting they had long hair and that two spoke French and the other, English.
Corot's 1865 painting, Jeune fille accoudée sur le bras gauche, was among the other works to go missing.
Schofield Sezgin spoke at length with Bantey about the skylight caper before his death in 2010. "Everyone forgot about the theft except for the insurance companies," he told her. "Like a death in the family, you have to let it drop."

What happened to the art?

Despite calling in the international police agency Interpol to help track down the thieves, the stolen art was never recovered and the insurance companies were forced to pay the museum's claim.
No suspects were ever arrested and the trail of the missing art has long since gone cold.
That's one thing that Schofield Sezgin still can't quite reconcile: "What's really fantastic is that three people conducted this theft and got away with it, and nobody after all this time has gotten the bragging rights."
Two days after the robbery, the Montreal Gazette reported that it was, in fact, the second lucrative art heist to take place that week, with $50,000 in paintings having been stolen earlier from the Oka home of Agnes Meldrum.
Police said the two incidents bared similarities: both involved three hooded, armed men, two of whom spoke French and the other, English. In the Meldrum case, thieves scaled a 600-foot cliff from a waiting motorboat on the Lake of Two Mountains to access the home.
Following the museum break-in, officials circulated information about the stolen paintings far and wide, hoping to notify international sellers and buyers about their provenance.
It's estimated that most of the pieces have dramatically increased in value since 1972, especially the Rembrandt, which some art experts believe could be worth 20 times more than it was when it was stolen.
CRIME Museum Theft Reward
This Assyrian bas-relief was stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011, but was later recovered. (Canadian Press)
And while a haul like that may seem like a golden parachute for the thieves, some experts warn that selling this kind of high-profile material on the black market isn't so easy.
High-profile stolen works often need to lay low for years before they can be transported and sold, said Alain Lacoursière, a former art investigator for Montreal and Quebec provincial police.
Lacoursière, known as the "Colombo of art," made the skylight caper something of a pet project during the 1990s. He was never able to crack the case, but entertains some theories about what happened.
"There were rumours at the time that members of the Mafia here were trying to construct a ship and that the canvases would be rolled up and put in the hold during construction," Lacoursière told Radio-Canada.
"They are probably decorating the home or palace of a Russian, Italian or French Mafia member who may have exchanged them for drugs, weapons."

Not all attempts pay off

This wasn't the first or last attempt made on the Montreal museum's collection.
Alain Lacoursière
Alain Lacoursière, a former art crime investigator, suspects the stolen works ended up in the hands of organized crime. (Radio-Canada)
Schofield Sezgin's research turned up reports of two other attempted robberies years earlier.
In 1933, a thief passed a dozen paintings through an open bathroom window, eventually holding them for ransom. In 1960, thieves were foiled while trying to rob a Vincent van Gogh exhibition.
More recently, two valuable antiquities were stolen from the permanent collection in broad daylight. The 2011 robbery took place during visiting hours on the anniversary of the 1972 crime.
One of the pieces, a fragment of a Persian bas-relief dating from the 5th century BC, was recovered by the Sûreté du Québec in Edmonton three years later.
The second piece, a Roman marble statuette dating from the 1st century AD, was never recovered.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Stolen Art Watch, Bulmer Art Heist, Corrupt Dick Ellis Gets Away With Double Cross Yet Again, Art Crime Round Up August 2017

Corrupt ex-cop Richard (Dick) Ellis

Paintings Recovery Back-story:

One of them, Dick Ellis, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘What was very apparent to me was that the robbers had a very good understanding of the layout of the property and good knowledge of the Bulmers themselves. It was very well planned and orchestrated.’
He said his first move was to place an advert in the Antiques Trade Gazette, offering a £50,000 reward for information.
In June this year, 2015, Mr Ellis received a phone call from Mr Hill to say that ‘he had been contacted and told that someone he knew, knew somebody else, who knew somebody else who had information’. What followed was a period of tense negotiation. Mr Ellis said: ‘It is not an easy process. But you can be assured that the money went to those whose information led to the recovery, not the raiders themselves.’
Before the money was wire-transferred, Mr Ellis had to authenticate the pictures at a secret location and the Bulmers were finally given the good news two weeks ago.
Full article linked below:

Gang in court charged with £2.5m art and silver heist at home of Bulmer Somerset cider dynasty

File photo of Esmond Bulmer with his wife Susie and dog Echo outside their home
File photo of Esmond Bulmer with his wife Susie and dog Echo outside their home "The Pavilion" in Bruton, Somerset.

A group of men appeared in court today in connection with a multi-million pound heist at the home of a cider dynasty.The 12 are:
Liam Judge, aged 41, of Foley Close, Tuffley in Gloucestershire; Matthew Evans, aged 40, of Coral Close, Tuffley in Gloucestershire; Mark Regan, aged 45, of no fixed address; Skinder Ali, aged 38, of no fixed address; Donald Maliska, aged 63, of Abbey Place, Priory Road, Dartford; John Morris, aged 55, of Cowper Gardens, London; Jonathan Rees, aged 62, of Village Close, Weighbridge, Surrey; David Price, aged 52, of Virginia Court, London, London TBC; Ike Obiamiwe, aged 55, of Perryn Road, Ealing, London; Nigel Blackburn, aged 60, of Frederick Street, Hockley, Birmingham; Azhar Mir, aged 64, of Halstead Grove, Solihull; and Thomas Lynch, aged 42, of St Benedict’s Road, Small Heath, Birmingham.

The suspects face charges relating to a £2.5 million robbery of art and silver at the stately home belonging to Susie and Esmond Bulmer.

Twleve men were due to appear but a European arrest warrant was issued for one defendant, John Morris, 55.
Somerset County Gazette:

He booked a one-way ticket out of UK after being charged last month, Bristol Magistrates’ Court was told.

The eleven defendants appeared at court and denied involvement in the raid, in Bruton, Somerset, eight years ago.

They also deny having anything to do with valuable stolen goods as recently as 2015.

Somerset County Gazette:

Facing a charge of conspiracy to rob, Liam Judge, 41, and Matthew Evans, 40, both of Tuffley, Gloucester, denied the accusations.

They were released on unconditional bail, along with co-defendant Thomas Lynch, 42, of Birmingham, who was accused of assisting in the realisation of stolen property.

Also accused of conspiracy to rob was Skinder Ali, 38. He denied the charge, along with another of assisting in the realisation of stolen property, relating to 19 paintings.

Mark Regan, 45, denied the same charge of assisting in the realisation of criminal property.
Somerset County Gazette:

David Price, 52, of London, and Donald Maliska, 63, of Dartford, Kent, both denied conspiring to defraud an insurance company and assisting in the realisation of 19 stolen paintings.

Ike Obiamwe, 55, of Sutton, denied the same allegations.

Jonathan Rees, 62, of Weybridge, Surrey, denied perverting the course of justice by giving a false statement to police during an interview on November 25, 2015.

He also denied assisting in the realisation of stolen property, and conspiracy to defraud.

The defendants appeared before District Judge Lynne Matthews at Bristol Magistrates’ Court.

A European arrest warrant for Morris was applied for by prosecutor Ben Samples, who said: "A postal-requisition was sent on July 19.

"Police tell me he bought a one-way ticket out of the country on July 19 and left the country. We believe he is in Europe."

All were sent for trial at Bristol Crown Court and their next court appearance will be September 22.

Liam Judge
Matthew Evans
Liam Judge and Matthew Evans are accused of conspiracy to commit robbery and, like all the defendants, are pleading not guilty
Ike Obianiwe
Azhar Mir
Jonathan Rees
Ike Obianiwe is accused of conspiracy to receive stolen goods and conspiracy to defraud; Azhar Mir of controlling criminal property; and Jonathan Rees of conspiracy to receive stolen goods, conspiracy to defraud and committing a series of acts intending to pervert the course of justice
Donald Maliska
David Price
Donald Maliska and David Price are accused of conspiracy to receive stolen goods and conspiracy to defraud

Bulmers cider family art robbery: Eleven men in court

Eleven men have appeared in court charged in connection with a multi-million pound raid at a cider-making family's luxury home in Somerset.
Esmond and Susie Bulmer's home in Bruton was targeted in 2009 and the couple's housekeeper was allegedly tied to a banister.
A total of 15 paintings worth £1.7m, and £1m of jewellery were stolen.
All the defendants deny any wrongdoing and are due to appear at Bristol Crown Court on 22 September.

Those charged are:
  • Liam Judge, 41, of Crypt Court, Tuffley, Gloucester, accused of conspiracy to commit robbery
  • Matthew Evans, 40, of Coral Close, Tuffley, Gloucester, accused of conspiracy to commit robbery
  • Skinder Ali, 38, whose address was listed as HMP Full Sutton in Yorkshire, accused of conspiracy to commit robbery and conspiracy to receive stolen goods. He appeared by videolink
  • Jonathan Rees, 62, of Village Close, Weybridge, Surrey, accused of conspiracy to receive stolen goods, conspiracy to defraud and committing a series of acts intending to pervert the course of justice
  • Donald Maliska, 62, of Old Brompton Road, London, accused of conspiracy to receive stolen goods and conspiracy to defraud
  • Mark Regan, 45, whose address was listed as HMP Long Lartin in Worcestershire, accused of conspiracy to receive stolen goods. He appeared in court by videolink
  • David Price, 52, of Virginia Court, Camden, London, accused of conspiracy to receive stolen goods and conspiracy to defraud
  • Ike Obiamiwe, 55, of The Drive, Sutton, Surrey, accused of conspiracy to receive stolen goods and conspiracy to defraud
  • Thomas Lynch, 42, of St Benedict's Road, Small Heath, Birmingham, accused of conspiracy to receive stolen goods
  • Nigel Blackburn, 60, of Broad Street, Birmingham, accused of controlling criminal property
  • Azhar Mir, 64, of Bufferys Close, Hillfield, Solihull, West Midlands, accused of controlling criminal property

At Bristol Magistrates' Court, all 11 indicated through their lawyers that they would be pleading not guilty to the charges.
A 12th defendant, John Morris, 56, of Cowper Gardens, Enfield, London, did not attend court and a warrant for his arrest without bail was issued by the judge. He is accused of conspiracy to receive stolen goods.

A Green Light for Art Criminals?

LONDON — The horrific Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed the lives of about 80 residents of an apartment block here in June, has had a number of unforeseen consequences.
Among them is the Metropolitan Police’s decision to temporarily transfer the three officers in its art and antiques unit to the team investigating the blaze. The redeployment of Detective Constables Sophie Hayes, Ray Swan and Philip Clare, first reported last month in The Art Newspaper, leaves London, the world’s second-largest market for art and antiques, after New York, unsupervised by any specialist police officers — for the moment, at least. In 2016, the British market, dominated by London’s auction houses and dealers, was estimated to be worth $12 billion in sales, according to a report compiled by Art Basel and UBS.
“It’s the wheel turning full circle,” said Richard Ellis, a former officer at the Met, as the police force is known, who founded the unit in 1989. His art and antiques squad of then-four permanent detectives revived a section that had been disbanded in 1984.
“It seems hugely irresponsible to close the unit at a time when terrorist activity is being funded at least to some extent by the illegal trade in antiquities,” he added. “We’re at a completely opposite pole from America.”
Mr. Ellis contrasted the Met’s three reassigned art crime detectives with the 16 special agents in the F.B.I.’s Art Crime Team. A further 6,000 special agents are deployed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, to protect cultural property from trafficking.
ICE contends that the Islamic State militant group has established “systematic procedures” in Iraq and Syria to “extort illegal excavation operations to generate revenue.” This illegal traffic has therefore become a hot-button issue for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington and for international bodies such as Unesco. But reputable antiquities dealers, while wary of handling looted works, remain sanguine.
“In 2011, we asked our members to report if they were offered anything suspicious,” said Vincent Geerling, a trader in Amsterdam who is chairman of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art. Seven of its 32 members are based in London. “To our astonishment, it just hasn’t happened,” said Mr. Geerling, who cited just two examples of suspicious items being offered to the association’s members.
But according to Édouard Planche of Unesco’s secretariat, looters are simply playing a waiting game.
“You don’t see the most valuable illegal pieces on the open market,” Mr. Planche said. “But we’ve seen the extent of the illegal excavations. Where does this stuff go? It either goes into private collections or is put in storage. Sooner or later, it will appear on the market, maybe in 20 years’ time.”
The United Nations Security Council announced in February 2015 a ban on all trade in looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria. The moratorium appears to have been effective, at least in the experience of London’s police force.
“The Met’s Art and Antiques Unit have had no referrals to support the claim that the London art market is experiencing an upsurge in artifacts emanating from conflict zones in Syria and Iraq,” said Asim Bashir, a Met communications officer, in an email. He said the Met was currently dealing with “a very small number” of investigations relating to illicitly excavated antiquities from those regions.
“Information gathered shows that the items left the source countries a number of years ago,” he added.
Martin Finkelnberg, head of the Art and Antiques Crime Unit of the Dutch police, said he had seen “no evidence” of antiquities being sold to fund terrorism. And he sympathized with the Met’s decision to reassign its art and antiques specialists. “When something major happens, it has to be all hands on deck,” he said. “Police forces only have so many officers.”
Originally founded in 1969, the Metropolitan Police’s art and antiques unit has accumulated specialist expertise in a range of art-related crimes including theft, forgery and fraud. Its London Stolen Arts Database contains details and images of 54,000 items. .
The Met declined to provide overall statistics about the unit’s recent investigations or prosecutions, and just one art-related prosecution features in the Met’s searchable news releases. In June, Nadeem Malick was sentenced to 18 months in prison for dealing in stolen watches.
Mr. Ellis, the former leader of the Met’s art and antiques squad, said that in the 1980s and ’90s, police resources were further stretched by fakes. Investigating master forgers such as John Myatt and Shaun Greenhalgh required the unit to take on five extra officers, according to Mr. Ellis.
“There’s less good faking now,” said Mr. Greenhalgh, who in 2007 was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison after making and selling forgeries of historic artworks. These included an “ancient Egyptian” alabaster statue of a princess that was bought in 2003 by the Bolton Museum in northern England in 2003 for 440,000 pounds, or about $700,000 at the time.
“It’s far more difficult to do with the science being what it is,” said Mr. Greenhalgh, 57. “Painting fake old masters is just not possible now. But any confident art student can do 20th century.”
Mr. Greenhalgh’s privately printed autobiography, “A Forger’s Tale,” was reissued by a mainstream publisher in June and has so far sold 5,000 copies in hardback. In the book, he controversially claims to have forged “La Bella Principessa,” a drawing, purportedly by Leonardo da Vinci, that has been valued at as much as $150 million.
The former faker described the Met’s specialist art and antiques detectives as an “occupational hazard” when he was active. He said he thinks that genuine artifacts, rather than forgeries, now present a bigger challenge to the police.
“Plundering antiquities in the Middle East and South America and legitimizing them with false provenances, that’s the major problem in the art world today,” Mr. Greenhalgh said.
Janet Ulph, a professor of commercial law at the University of Leicester in England, takes a similar view. “Cultural property is a specialist area,” she said. “You do need police experts who understand all the different laws relating to the illicit trade.”
She said she is concerned that Britain might be unable to fulfill its obligations to international agreements, such as a recent United Nations resolution which urges governments to take effective measures against trafficking in cultural property. “The absence of the unit cuts away at the U.K.’s response,” Professor Ulph said.
It might be too much to say that the scaling back of the Met’s art and antiques unit is a green light to criminals. But right now, there is no officer on the art beat keeping an eye on the traffic.

The Art World Calls This Man When Masterpieces Go Missing

Did you just discover your priceless family heirloom is about to be sold at auction? Has your church’s centuries-old relic gone missing? Christopher Marinello has got you covered.
Marinello has been dubbed the “Sherlock Holmes of Nazi-looted art,” and with good reason. A lawyer who cut his teeth as a litigator in New York, he is best known for founding Art Recovery International in 2013, a private company that negotiates title disputes over stolen and lost art. Art Recovery has helped negotiate some of the most high profile restitution cases in recent years, such as the discovery and return of Matisse’s 1921 painting Seated Woman/Woman Sitting in Armchair, a Nazi-looted masterpiece discovered in a trove of art inside German collector Cornelius Gurlitt’s Munich apartment in 2012. In 2015, Marinello helped negotiate the painting’s return to its rightful owners: the descendants of famed modern art dealer, Paul Rosenberg. That same year, the company also helped recover and return a sculpture by Auguste Rodin which had been stolen and missing for 24 years. And most recently, he oversaw the return of The Mark Provincial Sword of Kent, a stolen Masonic sword that popped up at an auction house in London.
We spoke with the stolen art expert about founding Art Recovery International, why due diligence is an important (and unavoidable) step for everyone in the art world and what he loves most about his job.

Chris Marinello, CEO of Art Recovery International. Art Recovery International
How did you begin working in art law?A very long time ago I was an artist and not a very good one. My art teacher encouraged me to become a lawyer as an alternative profession. But it was also something that I had always wanted to do. So, I became a lawyer, and I was a litigator in New York City for 20 years and developed an art practice as well. In this way, I was able to mix my love of art and the law. My very first case was representing an art gallery on the ground floor of 70 Pine Street.
What types of cases do you most like to take on? The company you founded, Art Recovery, does a lot of work in the cultural heritage sector and resolving claims of stolen art.We’ve been very successful in some of the restitution cases we’ve handled, and we represent a large number of insurance companies. Given the success we’ve had, it’s put us in a good position where we can do pro bono work for churches, museums and artists. We do a great number of pro bono cases, so we’re able to pick and choose what we want to work on, and we’re fortunate that we can do that. I’m a sucker for a charity, a church, religious institution or an artist’s studio that has suffered a theft. I know that funds are hard to come by, and I don’t mind taking on that challenge to help them get their property back.
Tell us about a recent case that you found particularly challenging, and one that exemplifies what Art Recovery does well.I would say it was the Gurlitt case—that case had everything. Our specialty is avoiding litigation and coming up with creative methods to resolve title disputes over found art. We think that there are so many lawyers out there who work in art law that love to pull the trigger on litigation, but we don’t believe that litigation is in the best interest of our clients. Many people who come to me either don’t want the publicity that comes with a court proceeding…or they are afraid that the object or the painting that they’re litigating over will be burned in the marketplace because of the litigation—which often happens. They don’t want it to affect other deals and relationships, and they want to protect their anonymity. Not to mention, the frightening cost of litigating a case today, and the time it consumes. We try to develop creative methods to resolve cases, and that we consider a specialty.

Marinello with The Mark Provincial Sword of Kent. Art Recovery International
Can you expand a little on those creative methods?I don’t want to give away any secrets, but for example: in the Gurlitt case, we had the German authorities insisting that we follow the German process. When they told us that the Gurlitt family had filed a claim in the probate court, we went to the Gurlitt family directly and reached an agreement with them: if they were successful in challenging Gurlitt’s will, they would return the Rosenberg Matisse to the family. We made that same agreement with the Kunstmuseum in Bern. We essentially were going to receive the painting no matter which side won. We said to the German authorities, ‘You can’t expect us to wait seven years for the probate court to make a ruling…Because if the Gurlitt family wins we get the painting back and if the Kunstmuseum Bern wins we get the painting back—so give us the painting now!’ And that was something they were not prepared for and was quite surprising. That’s sort of an example of the things that we do. We try to think outside the normal processes.
What are some timely issues you’ve encountered in recent cases through Art Recovery? And are there areas where you feel the process for handling cases related to the illegal trade of antiquities can be improved?With respect to antiquities, I think the obvious answer is not to buy anything that doesn’t have a complete provenance. And that seems to be the problem and the message that needs to be put across. It’s shocking that Hobby Lobby didn’t get that message, nor did they listen to the advisors that they hired to help them with that acquisition. What we see here is people buying things without doing any kind of due diligence, and when they do due diligence, they’re not listening to their advisors. So, obviously, it’s a problem. The FBI tried to scare everybody by saying if you buy an unprovenanced antiquity and it came from Syria, you could be charged with aiding international terrorism. That’s enough to scare anybody with any sense. But apparently not enough people have heard this and they continue to buy unprovenanced objects. At the same time, I don’t side with the academics that believe every object of antiquity should not be traded in the marketplace. That’s completely absurd. There are fragments or Roman glass you can buy for $20; they have no contextual importance, no historical importance and no museum of collector really wants them. But to ban their sale is extremist. Just as it’s extremist to think there should be no regulation in the antiquities market. There needs to be a middle ground like anything else.
What about on the side of Nazi-looted art?With Nazi-looted art, it’s a totally different position. I feel that people are hiding Nazi looted works of art, hoping that the victims or the claimants will go away, that they will lose interest, or lose their records, that the claim itself will change or that the law will change—and that’s wrong. I can tell you many cases—I know of looted works of art in Mexico, Austria, Switzerland, Germany and in America. People know they are in possession of Nazi-looted art but they’re hiding them.

Auguste Rodin’s Young Girl With Serpent. Art Recovery International
Do you make spreading the word about due diligence a personal mission in your work?Every time I recover something there’s always a message. [With] the sword case, the auction house in London, if they had done a simple Google search: “stolen Masonic sword”…Up pops an ad that another group of Masons put out for this particular sword, saying it was stolen….
Every case I have has a message to the trade, or to the collector, to the auction houses, that they need to do something. It’s not just that I’m hard on the trade, I’m hard on collectors as well. Theft victims need to report their thefts; you can’t expect an auction house or an art gallery to do due diligence if you’re not reporting your thefts. They need to report things to a central database like Artive, which doesn’t charge anybody to report a theft…If your sword was stolen, you need to report it to Artive so that an auction house can check it and make sure they’re not selling something they shouldn’t be selling. It works both ways, it’s a message for everybody.
What is it that you enjoy most about what you do?I thoroughly enjoy the negotiating process. I love the give and take, and developing a strategy so that both parties will come to the table and work out an agreement. When that happens I take great pride in knowing that I avoided a major court case, which I know none of the parties really want. But the best part of my job is in that photograph that you saw with the sword, or in the Saint Olave’s church case, where I’m able to return an object to a church, museum, theft victim or charity; I get to talk to them about the object, and they tell me how important it is to their family, their organization or to their church, and what it means to have these objects back. That’s the best part of the job.

Meet 'Good Samaritans' who got stolen de Kooning painting back to UA

A painting worth millions, stolen in a brazen, movie-style heist has resurfaced after being missing for 31 years.
The iconic stolen painting worth as much as $160 million. In 1985, Willem de Kooning’s “Woman-ochre” disappeared from the University of Arizona’s Museum of Art.
Police believe a couple walked in and cut the iconic painting from its frame. It remained missing for more than 31 years. Then, in August, a man called the museum saying he’d found the painting at an estate sale.
Museum officials confirmed its authenticity and brought the piece back to UA, where, after some restoration, it will finally find its home once again.

University of Arizona officials hailed as heroes and Good Samaritans the three owners of an antiques store who returned a $100 million painting after it was stolen from the school 31 years ago.
But David Van Auker, who alerted authorities, was having none of that. He said he’s humble, he’s thrilled, but he’s not a hero.
“We returned something that was stolen, and that’s something everyone should do,” he said. “It absolutely had to come back.”
Van Auker, Buck Burns and Rick Johnson own Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques, a store they’ve operated for about 15 years in Silver City, New Mexico.
They were honored at a press conference on Monday in Tucson just days after they inadvertently purchased the valuable painting as part of an estate sale.
The oil painting was none other than “Woman-Ochre,” a Willem de Kooning masterpiece that was looted in a daring heist in 1985 from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson.
Since the UA announced the painting's recovery last week, university associates who remember the devastating theft firsthand, such as UA Police Chief Brian Seastone, have been smiling nonstop.
“Somebody saw something, they said something, and today she’s home,” said Seastone, who was a young officer assigned to the case three decades ago.

'Wow, what a horrible frame'

Facing a room full of local and national media on Monday, Van Auker recounted the tense days that led up to the valuable artwork being returned.
Van Auker took an immediate liking to the painting when he spotted it in early August in an estate sale of a ranch-style home about 30 miles outside Silver City. He, Burns and Johnson inspected the contents of the home and decided to buy the lot, which included furniture and African art objects.
Van Auker opened the master bedroom and was struck by an abstract painting of a nude woman just behind the door.
He called Burns in to take a look.
Burns liked the colors and the rich, thick paint strokes. He did not like the cheap, gold frame that encased the painting, however.
“My first thought was, ‘Wow, what a horrible frame,' ” Burns said.
But frames can be changed.
So they decided to take the painting home.
They loaded the painting into a truck on top of some mid-century modern furniture. Back at the store, they took the painting out and propped it against a coffee table. They intended to hang it in their guesthouse.

'Is that a de Kooning?'

The next day, about 15 minutes after opening, a man who had just moved to the community saw the painting and asked, “Is that a de Kooning?”
Two more visitors had similar inquiries.
Burns got nervous; he took the painting and hid it in the store’s bathroom.
Van Auker went online and discovered a 2015 article on about the de Kooning painting that had been stolen from the UA museum without a trace.
The photo online matched the painting he had in the store. He said he got a sinking feeling. He wasn’t sure what to do.
Realizing he probably “sounded like a crazy person,” he called the UA art museum, The Republic reporter who had written the 2015 story and the FBI.
He sent photos and measurements to Olivia Miller, the museum’s curator, and with each photo that arrived, she became more and more excited.
Van Auker took the painting home that night and hid it behind the sofa.

'We are so grateful'

The next day, Friday, Aug. 4, the museum curator and a group of museum staff made the 200-mile drive from Tucson to Silver City.
Once they saw the painting in person, there was no doubt.
By the following Monday, Aug. 7, the painting was back at the university. By Wednesday, Aug. 9, a university conservationist said preliminary authentication showed it was “Woman-Ochre.”
On Monday, Aug. 14, the antiques store owners made a trip to the art museum at the university’s invitation for a special ceremony to thank them, and the university unveiled the oil painting to the media.
“I’m so glad she’s back home,” whispered Johnson, before the ceremony began.
UA officials won’t put a price tag on the painting.
But a similar work in de Kooning’s “Woman” series sold for $137.5 million a decade ago. The university can't sell its de Kooning, though, because of a stipulation by the donor, architect and businessman Edward Gallagher Jr.
Once restored, the painting will be on display for generations to come.
“We all felt its loss, and we all wanted it recovered,” said Miller, the museum’s curator.
“We are so grateful — to David, to Buck, to Rick.”