The case against Jonathan Rees, which has already cost the local taxpayer an estimated £1 million, was quietly dropped last week by the Bristol Complex Case Unit after a three-year legal battle.
Rees will now seek substantial compensation through the civil court, which it is hoped will shine light on the curious decision making in this strangest of cases that the Cable first exclusively reported in its Dark Arts true crime series earlier this year.
It can now be reported that prosecutors ignored damning criticisms by four senior judges about the quality of evidence against Rees and continued throwing money at the case until their humiliating climbdown last Wednesday at Bristol crown court.
That case is the longest running unsolved murder in British policing history and a major embarrassment for the Met and crown prosecution service (CPS) whose efforts have been mired by incompetence, corruption and cover ups.
Kieran Galvin, Rees’ barrister, who confirmed that a claim for damages is underway, said: “The case in Bristol against my client is a scandal, a significant waste of public funds and a serious and deleterious affront to justice.”
The private investigator believes Avon and Somerset police were pressured by the Met to pursue the art heist case against him.
The Bulmer art heistRees was being prosecuted over his role in the recovery of a private art collection stolen in 2009 from the Somerset mansion of Esmond Bulmer, the cider baron and former Tory MP.
Court documents show there was liaison between the two forces, but the CPS redacted discussions about Rees when the documents were disclosed to his legal team in preparation for the trial last year.
The court file also shows that Bulmer lobbied then home secretary Theresa May and the chief constable of Avon and Somerset police to investigate the theft after describing initial efforts by Yeovil police as “brain dead”.
A new team of organised crime detectives based at Portishead HQ were appointed but remained largely clueless until Rees came forward in July 2015 with information about the whereabouts of the paintings.
The private investigator is a resourceful operator with connections in the underworld, law enforcement and the press. He featured prominently during the inquiry by Lord Leveson into media standards due to his work for The News of The World.
On this occasion, Rees was acting as an intermediary for an ex-SAS soldier who had access to those controlling the stolen Bulmer art collection.
Between July and August 2015, the pair recovered 11 of the 12 stolen paintings. Avon and Somerset police oversaw the recovery and the National Crime Agency authorised the payment of a £175,000 reward by the insurance company Hiscox. They were happy to recover the art having already paid out £1.2 million to Bulmer immediately following the robbery.
However, in August 2016 Rees was suddenly arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit fraud on the insurance firm.
At the time of his arrest, Rees was suing the Met for malicious prosecution and misfeasance in a public office in relation to the Morgan murder. That trial had collapsed in 2011, largely due to police corruption by the senior officer in the case.
The Met was facing a substantial damages claim and, to make matters worse, Theresa May had ordered an inquiry into corruption in the Morgan murder, which is due to report this year.
Rees said: “The Met provided a substantial amount of historic documents from the Morgan murder trial in order to persuade the Bristol prosecutors and police to ensure they continued the case against me. I was informed by an Avon and Somerset officer that the Met wanted the case to continue as it undermined my civil case against them.”
Acquitted but not off the hookThe Bulmer case was weak from the start and then fatally undermined at trial when two key prosecution witnesses told the jury that Rees had acted as an “honest broker”.
Judge Lambert threw out the case and acquitted all defendants on 6 July 2018. The trial judge went on to blast the prosecution case as having no more than “fragments of suspicion and coincidences”. Evidence, he said, was “signally lacking” and amounted to “conjectural theorising”.
However, the CPS surprised many by immediately appealing Lambert’s ruling. But in February 2019 the appeal court ruled that Lambert was correct to throw out the case. Three judges described the prosecution case as “unacceptably tenuous” and “nowhere near” meeting legal requirements.
In normal circumstances such judicial condemnation would signal the end. But instead, the CPS announced in April 2019 that it was going to prosecute Rees on a new charge of perverting the course of justice.
By this time, the CPS had appointed a new lead prosecutor because Stephen Mooney QC had been made a judge. A new trial was set for January 2020.
This decision-making by the CPS in Bristol was done against the backdrop of serious embarrassment for the CPS and the Met in London.
Firstly, Rees' acquittal in the art heist case coincided with him winning his malicious prosecution claim over the Morgan murder.
Therefore, when the Bristol CPS decided to appeal Lambert’s judgment, their colleagues in London were already looking at ways to reduce the compensation pay out due to Rees.
“The Met would have to pay fewer damages to Rees if they could show he had a propensity for on-going criminality – a conviction in Bristol would help them,” Rees’ barrister explained.
He believes this could well explain why the CPS in Bristol took the remarkable decision to bring a new charge against Rees for perverting the course of justice and keep the art heist case alive.
The Morgan case: corruption and compensationThe decision was all the more peculiar because in London the CPS had already decided in November 2018 not to prosecute Dave Cook, the senior officer in the Morgan case, for a similar offence.
Cook's corrupt acts had collapsed the murder trial and led to a finding of malicious prosecution. Five high court judges said he had perverted the course of justice by coaching witnesses to implicate Rees and others in the murder.
Nevertheless, the CPS in London decided there was insufficient evidence and it was not in the public interest to prosecute Cook for perverting the course of justice.
The retired officer refuses to comment but a source close to Cook said he had made it clear to the Met that if he stood trial he was not going quietly.
In a further twist, the CPS claimed on 13 June 2019 in a letter to Rees, who had asked for a review, that Cook’s conduct didn’t reach "the high level of culpability calculated to injure the public interest so as to call for condemnation and punishment”.
But weeks later on 31 July, that was exactly why Mrs Justice Chema-Grubb awarded Rees £155,000 in damages for malicious prosecution. £50,000 was punitive damages to show the court’s concern at Cook’s conduct.
Her ruling said: “Adequate punishment and public censure requires a separate award of exemplary damages to mark the court’s denunciation of DCS Cook’s unconstitutional behaviour as an agent of the state … This award is to highlight and condemn the egregious and shameful police behaviour of a senior and experienced police officer. He was warned about his behaviour on several occasions and misled superior officers. Axiomatically, honest belief in guilt cannot justify prosecuting a suspect on false evidence … there is no place for any form of ‘noble-cause’ justification for corrupt practices in those trusted to uphold the law.”
With the Met’s fight lost – it is estimated that the Morgan case has cost near to £100 million – on 24 October the CPS in Bristol quietly offered no evidence against Rees over the Bulmer art heist.
If they hoped this would draw a line, they are wrong as Rees is preparing to sue.
At the time of publishing, the Bristol Complex Case Unit had not replied to the Cable’s request for comment.
Christie’s Auctioned a $40 Million Diamond. Was It Stolen?
Diamond Worth $1.84 Million Stolen From Jewelry Exhibition At Yokohama
A diamond worth 200 million yen has been reported stolen from an international jewelry exhibition near Tokyo. Japanese police are investigating the matter
A diamond worth 200 million yen ($1.84 million) has been reported stolen from an international jewelry exhibition near Tokyo. The Japanese police are investigating the matter. The exhibition officials told police that the 50-carat diamond was initially kept inside a glass showcase, which was last seen at 5 pm on October 24. An hour later, the diamond was missing.
Diamond went missing during the last hourAccording to the police, the diamond was missing from its glass case an hour after the exhibition was over. The jewelry case was found left open. The police have registered a case of theft which they suspect happened during the last phase of the exhibition organised in Yokohama, near Tokyo. The police are still investigating the suspects, and no one has been taken into custody yet.
Police are checking all the surveillance camerasThe Yokohama exhibition is a trade fair organised by the Yokohama Museum of Art. The exhibition witnessed thousands of footfalls that led to overcrowding, making it difficult for the police to hunt down the culprit. Investigators are inspecting a CCTV footage which shows a man reaching toward the case during the suspected time of theft.
The three-day exhibit which ended Friday saw the participation of around 410 jewelry shops from around the world. According to the organisers, the fair witnessed footfalls of around 10,000 visitors.
Despite being one of Leonardo’s most famous works, the Louvre decided not to relocate the “Mona Lisa” from her recently renovated viewing room to the exhibit space created to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. Visitors will instead have to traipse across a hall through the selfie-taking crowds to see her where she normally hangs.
The second painting that Leonardo aficionados will miss is what many believe is an earlier version of the “Mona Lisa,” which shows a much younger—and dare we say—prettier version of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, who commissioned the work in the early 1500s.
The existence of an earlier “Mona Lisa” has dogged art experts for centuries. Those behind the Zurich-based Mona Lisa Foundation claim on their website that Leonardo used the earlier “Mona Lisa” as a model for the “Mona Lisa” he created under the patronage of Giuliano de Medici in 1513. If it is indeed an authentic Leonardo, as many believe, it is worth millions. And since the painting hanging in the Louvre is owned by the French state, the idea of a privately owned “Mona Lisa” someday being auctioned off is titillating to many collectors.
Theories about why there would be two paintings are varied. First, Leonardo did paint two versions of many of his masterpieces, including a portrait of Jesus in Renaissance era clothing called “Salvator Mundi” that has gone missing and that the Louvre has replaced with an earlier less polished version recently attributed to Leonardo. Many believe that Leonardo started the earlier “Mona Lisa” painting for Del Giocondo when Lisa was in her early 20s and painted the one hanging in the Louvre with his own version of age progression techniques he dreamed up to depict how she would surely look a decade later. Forensic art specialists have tried their own versions of modern age enhancement on the earlier version and come up with an uncanny likeness of the painting that hangs in the Louvre.
The 16th-century artist and art critic Giorgio Vasari, an expert in all things Leonardo, describes the “Mona Lisa” as an unfinished painting in the famous book The Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Painters, Sculptors and Architects. The portrait in the Louvre is clearly not unfinished. But the details of Lisa’s hair are unfinished in the so-called earlier “Mona Lisa” painting, and she is sitting in front of two marble columns that do not appear in the Louvre version. Those columns have been depicted in other paintings, though, including a pen and ink sketch the artist Rafael created after a 1508 visit to Leonardo’s studio, where the earlier version might have been leaning on an easel.
The authenticity is why the battle over who owns it is heating up. Londoners Andrew and Karen Gilbert say they own 25 percent of the painting, and who exactly owns the other 75 percent remains murky.
The Gilberts have launched a legal battle in Florence to claim their share with the help of the acclaimed group Art Recovery International. In August, Giovanni Battista Protti, a lawyer working for Art Recovery International on the Gilberts’ behalf, filed a writ of summons in Florence to force the Mona Lisa Foundation, which says it doesn’t own the painting but seems to be the only entity with control over it, to name the secret international consortium that does own it as Mona Lisa, Inc. In a court case last week, Protti was able to file another brief to lay the legal groundwork to smoke out just who is behind Mona Lisa, Inc. so that the Gilberts might make their claim.
The earlier “Mona Lisa” is thought to have been kept in Rome after it was abandoned by the artist in the 16th century. It was acquired by a British nobleman during the era of the Grand Tour two centuries later and brought to England, where he kept it at his Somerset estate. The painting showed up again in 1913 when Hugh Baker, the curator of a museum in Bath, England, bought it on auction and stored it in his Isleworth, London home, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the “Isleworth ‘Mona Lisa.’” But as World War I broke out, Baker feared for the safety of the painting and sent it to the U.S. where it was housed in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts until 1918. When the war ended, Baker brought it back to the U.K..
When Baker died in 1936, his sister Jane Urquhart apparently let it go to an eccentric art dealer and historian named Henry Pulitzer, who wrote about it in his 1966 book Where is the Mona Lisa? So concerned was he for the safety of the painting, he locked it away in a Swiss bank vault for 40 years. During that time, a porcelain maker named Leland Gilbert bought a 25 percent share of the work from him, according to Protti and backed up by a BBC documentary.
When Gilbert died, that share was passed down to his heirs, who have the certificate of purchase, according to Protti. When Pulitzer died, the 75 percent went to his partner Elizabeth Meyer, whose own heirs have no idea what happened to the work of art. The Swiss-based Mona Lisa Foundation instead says that when Meyer died, the entirety of the painting went to the international consortium known as Mona Lisa, Inc. and that the Gilberts’ “alleged” share is of no consequence.
Protti told The Daily Beast that he does not know who the people behind the foundation are, though their website shows a collection of mostly Russian, French and British collectors. Nor does Protti know who is behind Mona Lisa, Inc. But the group appears to be financially based in Anguilla, tied to discoveries uncovered through the Panama Papers investigations. That secret cache of 11 million documents leaked to the press by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca pulled back the curtain on holding companies used to launder money, including many that trafficked in art of questionable provenance as an investment guarantee. The Florentine court now tasked with determining how the earlier “Mona Lisa” fits into that will meet again in March after international subpoenas for documentation are carried out.
Protti told The Daily Beast that he believes the Gilberts will get their 25 percent, despite efforts by the Mona Lisa Foundation to stop them. The foundation has pushed the theory of the authenticity of the painting which has increased its worth, but it is unclear if it will profit or what would motivate it from stopping others who might have a rightful claim to the fortune tied to the painting. Numerous calls and emails by The Daily Beast to those named on the Mona Lisa Foundation website over the last week were ignored. But Markus Frey, one of the board members, recently told the Art Newspaper that the Gilberts’ claim to ownership was “ill-founded and has no merit.”
After this story was published, Marco Parducci, the lawyer representing the Mona Lisa Foundation replied to earlier requests for comment. He argues that the Gilbert family has failed to prove that they own a quarter of the painting. “It is well known that the painting was publicly exhibited in several countries over recent years,” he told The Daily Beast. “It is amazing that, despite this, the Gilberts did not make any case or claim. This suggests that they do not have much confidence in their own claim and prefer to turn to the media in hopes of obtaining financial gain, particularly given the recent confirmation of the painting’s attribution to Leonardo.”
Parducci says he is confident the case will be closed at the next hearing. “The fact that the Gilberts’ claim to have identified the entity which owns the painting, which the Foundation can neither confirm nor deny, does not change this in any way,” he said.
The current location of the earlier “Mona Lisa” is unclear. The Mona Lisa Foundation website says it was displayed in Shanghai in 2016 and lists several successful authenticity tests carried out on it since then. Protti says the last he heard the painting is scheduled for display at a museum in Pavia, Italy, in November. The Daily Beast could not confirm that it is slated to show anywhere in that city.
Leonardo da Vinci feud: The 'earlier' Mona Lisa mystery
The so-called "Earlier Mona Lisa" is at the heart of a mystery that involves Caribbean tax havens, Swiss bank vaults, a mysterious international consortium, and the Sherlock Holmes of the art world.
So is it genuine? Who are the rightful owners? And could the portrait at the centre of this Da Vinci Code-style mystery be worth hundreds of millions of dollars?
A court case in Italy this week may finally help shed some light on the answers to these questions.
A second Mona Lisa?In 2012, an organisation called the Mona Lisa Foundation unveiled to the world, in a blaze of publicity, what it claimed to be a second painting of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.
Since the Mona Lisa is possibly the world's most famous painting, and its painter is regarded as one of history's greatest artists, such a find would turn the art world upside down.
The foundation set out an array of evidence to try to back up the claim that the painting was a second, previously unknown version of the portrait. But curiously the organisation claims it doesn't own the painting.
It says the picture is owned by an unnamed international consortium. When asked about this, the foundation's general secretary, Joël Feldman, replies: "The foundation, as a matter of policy and in compliance with its obligations, does not comment on the ownership consortium."
But at their home in south London, Andrew and Karen Gilbert have a different story - they say they own a 25% share in the portrait.
When they contacted the Mona Lisa Foundation after it unveiled the portrait in 2012 they claimed the organisation said it "didn't know anything about us, they weren't the owners and just tried to bat us away as someone inconvenient".
"Because we were unable to find out who the owner was, nobody was telling us anything, we didn't know how we could launch any kind of proceedings," Karen says.
This week has seen a dramatic development that the Gilberts believe may lead to a breakthrough in their claim.
But a claim in what? Is it possible for a near priceless Leonard da Vinci portrait to suddenly come to light?
The $450m paintingIncredibly, that's exactly what happened with a painting called the Salvator Mundi - or Saviour of the World.
Sold for just £45 ($55) in 1958, it was bought at auction for an incredible $450m (£357m) by an anonymous buyer two years ago.
The difference, of course, was down to the painting being authenticated by an international team of experts as a genuine Leonardo.
Could the painting dubbed the Earlier Mona Lisa by the foundation follow the same path?
'Had to be a Leonardo'"I was sceptical but intrigued," Professor Jean-Pierre Isbouts says from Santa Monica, California - he was flown to Switzerland by the foundation to view the painting.
"I walked into the vault, it was very cold in there, and I spent about two hours with that painting. But after five minutes I recognised that this had to be a Leonardo."
But it wasn't just the appearance that made the academic from Fielding Graduate University in California (whose work is recommended by the foundation) believe the portrait was genuine - it was also the historical evidence, he says.
"Giorgio Vasari, the [16th Century] biographer of Leonardo, clearly states that Leonardo worked on the Mona Lisa for four years and then left it unfinished."
This matches the appearance of the Earlier Mona Lisa, which has an incomplete background, unlike the famous portrait that hangs in the Louvre.
Professor Isbouts also points out that historical records mention Leonardo painting the Mona Lisa for two different clients, raising the possibility that he completed two separate portraits, one for each commission.
He adds that scientific tests appear to back up the claim the painting is genuine.
"With the Earlier Mona Lisa the science told us a) it is from the early 16th Century, b) it is definitely a composition by Leonardo because the configuration and the composition is identical to that of the Louvre Mona Lisa. And c) the histograms [digital graphs of the colours used] show that in terms of the 'handwriting' of the painting, how he applies the paint, [it] is exactly identical."
But not everyone agrees.
"A bit of rubbish""It's not the real article for a whole series of reasons," Martin Kemp, emeritus professor of art history at the University of Oxford, says.
"It really isn't a serious runner to be by Leonardo himself."
He thinks the reason Giorgio Vasari believed the Mona Lisa to be incomplete was because "Vasari's information was all Florentine", and the picture was probably completed after Leonardo had left the city of Florence.
And he disagrees that historical records suggest two Mona Lisas were painted.
Instead Professor Kemp says Leonardo probably never handed the portrait over to his original client, and a second person "might well have said if you finish that, I'll take it off you, as it were".
And the scientific evidence? Professor Kemp says the information offered by the Mona Lisa Foundation is only "permissive" and, while not ruling out the Earlier Mona Lisa from being by Leonardo, it certainly doesn't prove that it is.
However, he adds "examination by infrared and other technical means, shows that it [the Louvre Mona Lisa] underwent an evolution, as all Leonardo's pictures did.
"The infrared examination of the Isleworth Madonna [as Earlier Mona Lisa is also known] is just tediously exact and is clearly the kind of drawing that's made when you're copying something rather than generating it."
Professor Isbouts, however, is critical of Professor Kemp's analysis in part because "Martin has never seen the work, and that's the beef that David and Joel [Feldman of the Mona Lisa Foundation] have, and I think it's a legitimate beef."
In response Professor Kemp replies: "The old canard that you always have to go and see it in the original, even if it is a bit of rubbish, is not sustainable, particularly with modern imaging techniques. And some of the high quality digital images, you can actually see more in them than you can see in the painting, even with a magnifying glass."
Shifting evidenceThe experts may disagree about the evidence, but has all the material been presented clearly?
The BBC has seen sections of a pre-production copy of a book - written by several contributors but edited by Professor Isbouts - about the Earlier Mona Lisa, called "Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa: New Perspectives".
One of the contributors claims that in the final, published, version of the book, sections of his text seem to have been removed. He claims many of the deleted passages appear to be ones that are not helpful to the theory that the Earlier Mona Lisa is by Leonardo.
Professor Isbouts denied this: "I definitely edited some segments because I'm the editor. And in some cases there were passages that I don't think were scholarly defensible. I was just trying to keep the thrust of the argument intact - I certainly didn't remove anything of a contrarian nature. There were two chapters that were simply way too long."
He later emailed the BBC, having contacted the contributor to see which passages he was concerned about, and said: "We are working on the final version of the book, in hardcover, so we can still make some corrections within the available word count."
A Mona Lisa, but no moneyOne thing supporters of the theory that the Earlier Mona Lisa is by Leonardo da Vinci have to explain is where the painting came from.
It suddenly emerged in 1913, when Hugh Blaker bought it from a manor house in Somerset.
"Blaker believed he was on to something," says Professor Robert Meyrick of Aberystwyth University who studies the life of the art dealer.
Despite successfully tracking down genuine paintings by artists such as Rubens, Velázquez, El Greco, Manet, Constable, and Turner, Blaker's business dealings often went badly, and he never managed to sell his Mona Lisa.
"It was like a like a catalogue of failures really, despite his best efforts," says Professor Meyrick, of the man who struggled financially in later life.
Following Blaker's death, the painting ended up in the hands of an eccentric art dealer called Henry Pulitzer - he believed the Earlier Mona Lisa was actually more impressive than its more famous counterpart in the Louvre.
But Pulitzer needed some help in trying to convince the world that they were both by Leonardo.
A helping hand"He started running out of money to promote it, because he wanted to prove that it was a real Leonardo da Vinci," Andrew Gilbert says.
His family knew Pulitzer, bought pictures from him, and sold him some too.
They have shown the BBC a series of documents which they say shows the family bought a 25% share of the painting in 1964. About a decade later Pulitzer locked the portrait in a Swiss bank vault, and following his death, it eventually ended up in the hands of the international consortium in 2008.
The Mona Lisa Foundation vehemently disagrees with the Gilberts' claim, its president telling the press in July their case is "ill-founded and has no merit".
But the family have pressed on and called in the "Sherlock Holmes" of the art world to help.
"Well, I guess I don't mind it," Christopher Marinello, CEO and founder of Art Recovery International, says about his nickname.
"We've recovered about $510m (£400m) worth of art over the years. We're still heavily involved in some of the biggest cases going on right now in the art world, and we're proud of that."
But what does he think of the claim that the painting in this case might be by Leonardo da Vinci?
"I honestly don't care about any of it," he replies. "As far as I'm concerned, this is a simple matter of clients who have a contract of purchase for this painting, whatever it may be."
It's thanks to Mr Marinello that the Gilberts (who say they themselves are not sure if the portrait is a real Leonardo) began legal proceedings against the Mona Lisa Foundation in Italy while the painting was being exhibited in Florence.
The Caribbean connectionAhead of this week's court hearing, the Gilberts' lawyer, Giovanni Protti, said this is the "most tricky and interesting case I've ever worked on".
"We've had to service a writ of summons to a lot of countries all over the world."
And that work has borne fruit. After a court hearing on Tuesday, Karen Gilbert says: "The Mona Lisa Foundation declared in front of the judge that Mona Lisa Inc in Anguilla was the owner of the painting."
There is nothing to suggest such an arrangement implies any wrong-doing by the foundation or the international consortium, but the Caribbean island, which is a British Overseas Territory, is known for its discreet way of doing business.
"We're chipping away at it," Karen says. "We know therefore that we're on the right track with the research that we've done."
This doesn't establish that the Gilbert family do own a share in the portrait, but it is the first time that the Mona Lisa Foundation have disclosed who the owner is.
In response to Tuesday's hearing, the Mona Lisa Foundation's lawyer, Marco Parducci, says: "The Mona Lisa Foundation can neither confirm nor deny the claim, by virtue of the legal obligations it has towards the owners, unless it is explicitly requested by the judicial authority."
He adds that the Gilberts' claims suggest they are motivated by "economic interest and the desire to damage the foundation" and the next hearing in March will show "that there is no case".
FameThe legal battle will roll on, but what would Leonardo, the great renaissance scholar, make of puzzles like the Earlier Mona Lisa and the myths that surround his work, 500 years after his death?
"Oh, he would be incredibly pleased," laughs Professor Kemp. "He was interested in fame.
"He would have cringed at some of the nonsense, but the fact that his name is the best-known name in the history of culture? Yes, he'd be very pleased.