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Thursday, May 27, 2021

Stolen Art Watch, Arthur Brand & Art Detectives in Pieter van Os & Arjen Ribbens Blockbuster Book "Between Art & Cash"


Because the publisher of Tussen kunst en cash is of the opinion that an entire chapter translated from the Dutch infringes the intellectual property rights of the authors, I replace it with a summary of the chapter, with extensive quotes. See hereunder. 

In a 9000-word chapter on the methods of the art detective, the Dutch journalists Pieter van Os and Arjen Ribbens kick off by telling a story that had long-lasting ramifications in the history of art theft in the Netherlands. The story takes place in 1993 when a drug baron called Cees Houtman, and a few of his younger henchmen, were spared the ordeal of an appeals court. They got off with a light sentence after their lawyer handed in two paintings by Vincent van Gogh.

Officially, no agreement had been reached between the drug baron and the public prosecutor. Everybody concluded, however, especially in the Dutch world of crime, that the story taught an important lesson: stealing art can be worth it. Buying stolen art? Even so.

A quarter of a century later the lawyer of the drugs baron admits, indirectly, what had happened. To Ribbens and Van Os he says, “The deal with the prosecution was that I would say no deal was ever struck.” 

This was not the only story that incentivized art crime in the Netherlands. Eight years later, in 2001, on a early December Morning, two men put a ladder in a plater, against an outside wall of the Van Gogh Museum on the Potterstraat in Amsterdam. As Ribbens and Van Os vividly recount, “They climbed the ladder at lightning speed and, once on the roof, they ran to a window, cut a modest hole in it with a sledgehammer of which the handle was painted black. They squeezed through the hole and tore two Van Goghs off the wall, Seascape at Scheveningen and The Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen. They rushed back, through the same hole, and with a rope they left the museum building. The heist was over in a matter of minutes.”

A year later, the burglars were arrested. This time they couldn’t bargain; they had already sold the paintings. Thirteen years later, both paintings were recovered in Italy, on the coast just below Naples. In an interesting place; the parental home of Raffaele Imperiale. It was this Italian drug baron who had used the paintings, indeed, as a bargaining tool.

But let us first look at how Raffael got them into his possession, and for what price. People in Raffaele’s entourage had paid 300.000 euro’s to Octave Durham, one of the two thieves that had robbed the Van Gogh Museum of the paintings. That is quite a lot of money for two paintings that no one can sell above ground. At least, so you would think. However, it turned out to be a rational purchase after all. Raffaele Imperiale had nowhere to go in these days in which he negotiated, from Dubai, with the Italian authorities. They had seized dozens of his homes and issued an international search warrant for Imperiale, who faced up to 20 years in prison. He used the two Van Goghs as a kind of chance cards. He would tell where to find the two paintings in exchange for a halving of the sentence. The OM was interested.

Ribbens and Van Os: “Upon entering the home of Imperiale's parents, investigative authorities immediately knew where to go. They came out again with the two Van Goghs. […] Raffaele's deal with the Italian Public Prosecution Service should, of course, have been kept a secret, but because the judge didn’t want any of that, and made a point of that, everything became clear. Ultimately, Imperiale would not receive a twenty years sentence, but an eighteen years prison sentence.”

So: for each Van Gogh he received a one-year reduction in his sentence. Even though that wasn’t a halving of the sentence, it wasn’t bad for that money.

This story makes us better understand the art of art theft, because it shows how a criminal multimillionaire could take two years off his prison sentence by handing over stolen art, bought for 300.000 euro’s. Imagine criminals trying to do the same with Maserati’s, watches or jewels. Impossible. It’s stolen art that is needed.

Ribbens and Van Os write that both cases, Houtman's and Imperiale's, spread like wildfire through the underworld, “The message was clear: get hold of precious stolen art in case you ever get caught.”

When in the summer of 2020 the Dutch police got hold of millions of telephone-messages from criminals, thanks to a police hack, they understood this, more than ever. Among the messages about crystal meth laboratories and torture chambers, the police read about the desire for expensive works of art.

The wish to negotiate with the Public Prosecution would, for example, have inspired Peter Roy K. from Amersfoort to buy a stolen painting by Van Gogh. He bought it while in prison. The painting was stolen from the Singer Museum in the village of Laren at the end of March 2020. Peter Roy K. is suspected of large-scale cocaine trafficking. He appears to have paid 400,000 euros for a painting that can never be sold above ground.

The painting of Frans Hals, that in August of 2020 disappeared from a small museum in Leerdam, is said to have been stolen for the same reason: to sell to criminals hoping for a reduced sentence.

At this point in their chapter, Van Os & Ribbens come to the main character of their small study into the work of the art detective, the Dutchmen Arthur Brand. When it comes to art crime and recovering stolen art, especially cold cases, he is the main man in the Netherlands. 

Brand is a popular man in his country. He gives lectures in theatres. He performs on television and radio as a connoisseur par excellence. A major producer in Hollywood is planning to make a movie of a book he wrote. Brand has a “unique position”, as the voice-over of his tv-series says in every episode, because “he maintains good contacts with the police as well as with the underworld.”

The same voice-over of his own tv-series claims that criminals “know him and they know their secrets are safe with him.”

Brand tells the Dutch audience that criminals can forget to reduce their sentences by handing over stolen art. Public prosecutors will not make another deal after the one with Houtman. From that point on, it was clear to everybody that a deal will provoke more art thefts.  

So the question Van Os and Ribbens have: how is stolen art being recovered if a deal with the prosecution is impossible?

Brand always says that he manages to convince thieves that it’s in their best interest to hand over the art to him. Why? To stay out of trouble. Van Os & Ribbens quote Brand from one of the many interviews he gave in his career, “Very often it’s about looted art that has already been passed from hand to hand ten times in the underworld, as collateral. Some bad guys don't even know it's about stolen work. These are folks who can’t often distinguish a child's drawing from a Rembrandt. If you can help them getting rid of a problem, they'll respect you. Their problem is, they don’t want to be arrested, but they also don’t want to burn the art, because they will get an even higher punishment for that.”

Van Os & Ribbens are sceptical about this explanation. For years they have been filing art theft reports for the daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad and they think Brand is leaving out an important reason for art heists: ransom. Van Os & Ribbens write, “Stealing art art is in many ways like kidnapping people. As a criminal, you first provide proof that you are in possession of the stolen artwork (photo with a recent newspaper), then you discuss ransom with the owner (often an insurance company) and because society considers kidnapped people and art more important than avenging the crime, the criminal will receive money when he or she returns the stolen goods, reasonably intact. As a criminal, you prefer to do this through an intermediary you trust, not through the police. Isn’t it at this stage that the art detective comes to the scene? In other words: isn’t he more a broker between the upper and the underworld than an art detective?”

A former policeman experienced in handling art security and organised crime says to Van Os & Ribbens, “Thieves never do anything for nothing. Just handing over art without a reward? Fantasyland. They might even as well set it on fire.”

In order not to incentivise theft, the rewards for insurance companies are not allowed to become too big. They are often around 5 percent of the insured value of art. With the current prices on the art market, this can, however, be a considerable amount of money. It makes people wonder if insurance companies are, in fact, provoking theft.

The man who was in the past responsible for the security of the Rijksmuseum came to the conclusion that it would be better never to insure paintings anymore, none of them, “no matter how valuable they are”. Because, as this man, Ton Cremers, puts it, “Insurers do business with thieves, or with all kinds of intermediaries. They always deny it, or call it differently. But they do. No security system can prevent such an incentive.”

He pointed to the first burglary in Leerdam, in the early nineties. Around 230.000 euro’s was paid out to the people who returned the stolen works of art. The insurer, who handed out the money, said he didn’t pay ransom, but “compensation” for “taking care of the paintings”. 

Arthur Brand does not agree: money from insurance companies is not the reason people steal art. Brand tells Van Os & Ribbens that in the 40+ successful cases he handled not even once the motive of the thieves was the money paid by insurers. “Tip money does not provoke art theft.”

He does not deny people get money for returning stolen art. But those people are never the ones who stole the art in the first place.

The question that follows is where one draws the line between recovering art and handling stolen goods. It’s a thin line, as many people tell Van Os & Ribbens. So the authors set out to explore the role of middlemen, tip money, and ransom.

They hear many different stories, also from colleagues of Arthur Brand, like the British lawyer Chris Marinello, and the former British police officer Charles Hill, who died in February of this year. After hearing what everyone had to say, they see a division: former police officers claim, in general, that stolen art will not return without serious payments to criminals or their accomplices. Art detectives like Marinello, on the other hand, say what Brand says: payments are not necessary for the recovery of stolen art. As Van Os & Ribbens state, “Marinello goes a step further and says that he is against payments to criminals on principle. He claims he left his previous employer, the Art Loss Register, for this very reason. His boss at the time, Julian Radcliffe, was said to be too close to Serbian criminals. He paid for stolen art on behalf of duped owners and received money for his mediation.”

“Radcliffe is indeed in the former police-officers’ camp: art recovery is almost not to be done without payments. At a symposium in Amsterdam Radcliffe spoke about the practice of negotiating stolen art. He called it ‘a grey area’ and ‘a legal twilight zone’ - and yes, these areas and zones beg for discussion. Yet this discussion does not take place often, at least not publicly. That is understandable, since none of the protagonists have an interest in such a public debate: not the police, not the intermediaries, not the criminals and not even the duped museum directors or collectors. Anyone who wants his art back is willing to pay. But when payments become known, they provoke new thefts.” 

This is not the case if the payments or quite low. But what exactly is low? Chris Marinello, the art detective who claims he is against payments to criminals out of principle, is of course not able to tell anything about the amounts that are being paid to them. Van Os & Ribbens get to see, however, several email messages from this Marinello, in which he is complaining about the commissions being paid by insurance companies to people who help recover the art, like him. These commissions would be too low. “In one of those emails he complains that an insurance company did not pay the ten percent of the insurance value of the art (22 million dollars) that he, with his company Art Recovery International, helped to recover, in an operation in which money  was certainly paid to criminals.” 

Is it legal, paying for stolen art? Not really. Paying for stolen goods is actually never legal. Not in England, not in the Netherlands, in almost no country. Even someone who helps the person who profits from crime is complicit. Van Os & Ribbens talk to criminal attorney Michiel Pestman, who says it wouldn’t surprise him, for this reason, if prosecutors already started a criminal investigation into Brand.

But Pestman does not know what Van Os & Ribbens discover, that the police officer who is in charge of the small team tracing stolen art in the Netherlands, is very content with Brand and what he does. Brand is the only art detective in the Netherlands with whom the police enjoys to cooperate.

This police officer in charge of combatting art crime is called Richard Bronswijk. He explains the authors how little he and his small team can do. They register all stolen art in the Netherlands, from antique clocks tot family portraits, coins and paintings. Besides that, they scan the sites of auction houses to see if a stolen object is being offered. There is not enough time and manpower to do anything more. That is the reason Bronswijk is happy with Brand. He can do things he can’t. He can bring cold cases to life, for example.

Bronswijk explains that Brand can do more, as a citizen, than he can do, bound by formal rules. Bronswijk, “If someone tells us about stolen art, I have to make an official report. Then I have to give names, which is of course risky for the people who come to me. That is also why I sometimes say to Arthur: don't tell me a name, because I have to do something with that name. He doesn’t [have to do anything with a name.] That means he can sometimes track down stolen art more effectively than we can.”

Bronswijk and Brand get along well. They give seminars together on art theft and museum security. Van Os & Ribbens write, “They share the belief that tracking down stolen art is more important than pursuing the thieves of the art works. The original thieves are usually already out of the picture when a tip comes in about stolen art, or when Brand hears something among his criminal contacts.”

The choice for art over catching criminals is logical, Bronswijk says, since punishments for handling stolen goods are generally low. The sentences are in the category, and in Bronswijk’s words, “Sweeping the floor of a petting zoo for 180 hours”. Not worth all the hassle. The art, however, is worth a lot, money-wise and often in terms of cultural heritage.

Van Os & Ribbens want to go “Back to Brand, the son of a history teacher from Deventer.”

Brand became fascinated with the excavation and collecting of coins during a study period in Spain. After a few academic studies he didn’t finish, he turned his hobby into his job. He started working as an assistant to Michel van Rijn, a former art smuggler, dealer in forged art and, for a long time, the main intermediary between the under- and upperworld when it came to art. Together with Van Rijn, Brand went to help the police track down stolen art. Nowadays, the devil’s apprentice is standing on his own feet: his old master disappeared from the spotlights.

Van Os & Ribbens write, “There is nothing wrong with Brand’s self-confidence. Since the burglary at the Singer in Laren, he has told journalists that he takes it as a personal insult that the thieves stole a Van Gogh ‘under his nose’. After all, he lives nearby, in Amsterdam. When he later receives a photo of the Van Gogh stolen from the Singer Museum, with a front page of The New York Times next to it, plus a copy of the book about the thief Octave Durham, he reckons this is confirmation [of the idea that the thieves are provoking him.] 'They are thumbing their noses at me.’”

Not everybody in the Netherlands turns out to be a fan of Brand. Most people from the small world of art crime only want to give their opinions about Brand anonymously. When the authors ask them why, the shadowy nature of their work once again becomes apparent. One of the specialists Van Os & Ribbens consult, working at an insurance company, finds the most striking thing about Arthur Brand that he doesn’t share the desire to stay anonymous. Brand likes to show his work in front of the curtains, while laws and other objections make the recovery of stolen art better suited for working behind the scenes, according to this insurer, who knows Brand only as a TV personality. “Unless Brand uses all that publicity to advertise, trying to get criminals to report to him with their stolen art.”

Brand’s desire to get in from of the screens resulted in his own television show. In the style of a crime show, Brand presents his recoveries (one in each episode) as a scavenger hunt. It is unclear for the viewer, Van Os & Ribbens write, how much freedom Brand takes to add tension to the recovery stories. Unverifiable facts rule. People are often blurred. Brand frequently claims that the people who bring back the stolen art are innocent. Even so, they rarely come into the picture. Speculation is rife, by him, by people he talks to.

In one episode in particular, about a Picasso from 1938, the role of the art detective as a broker between the upper and the underworld becomes quite clear. Al least, according to Van Os & Ribbens. They make their point by retelling the story and how it was portrayed in Brand’s tv-show.

In 1999 the painting, of Picasso’s mistress Dora Maar, was stolen form a yacht in Antibes, France, owned by a Saudi sheik. Years later, Brand heard in Amsterdam that the Picasso circulated among a group of criminals. In his tv-show Brand talks about a rich Dutch businessman. This man, unrecognisable in the show, tells Brand to whom he resold the stolen painting.

Later on Brand tells about a meeting with men on an Amsterdam train station. The viewer won’t see any of it. It stays unclear how Brand persuades the criminals to hand over de Picasso, but he does. They will hand over the painting, but apparently only in a very special place and in a very secretive way. Behind a tree in a park in Amsterdam. When it’s dark. The criminals stay completely anonymous.

Before they guided Brand to the tree in the park, they lead him with text-messages on his phone to the toilet of a hotel. There he finds a plastic bag with a usb-stick. On it are pictures of the stolen painting. In the car he verifies the authenticity of the work in the photo’s by enlarging those photo’s and comparing them with those of the original. Exciting television. After that, text-messages on his phone direct him to the park in Amsterdam, where the tension rises. The voice-over says: “It’s unclear whether we are being chased.” Music heightens the threat. And then, yes, Brand and the director of the show find a garbage bag behind a tree, the designated tree… And hurray! The Picasso is inside of it.

‘Oooo!’ Brand exclaims excitedly, ‘Gosh, what a place!’

What a place, indeed. But it could all be show. Brand had found the painting months before the airing of his tv-episode and in giving interviews about his recovery, to The Gaurdian and The New York Times among others, he said two men had brought the painting to his door in Amsterdam. No park, no night-time car ride. No tree in the park.

There is nothing odd about the story he told the newspapers. The crime was expired, in France and in the Netherlands. It is not prohibited to walk down the street with a painting. So no reason to be secretive. So why the nightly car-ride to the park and the tree?

Van Os & Ribbens ask Brand about it. Why did he say something else in his tv-show as he did to, for example, The New York Times? The answer: the director of the show wanted him to keep something for himself while talking to the press about the recovery of the Picasso. Brand: “I shouldn’t give away everything to the press, especially not when the episodes will not yet appear on TV for weeks. They said: leave something crucial out of your story. I have done that.” So Brand didn’t tell the printing press that he got the painting from a place behind a tree at night time. Besides, the two people who had led him with text-messages to the tree came to his door a day afterwards, Brand tells Van Os & Ribbens. To view the painting and to toast the good ending of the recovery. Brand: “So that part is also true.”

But he did lie to The New York Times, didn’t he? Brand doesn’t really see the problem. He understands, as he says, why the authors are asking him the question, but he can’t really be bothered by it. He didn’t lie, he just left something out of the story.

And financially? What happened? How much was given to the people who brought the Picasso to him?

Brand doesn’t want to tell. He acknowledges that money has been paid, even though he doesn’t in his tv-show. In the episode of this show Dick Ellis is to been seen, as the man who comes to collect the painting for the current rightful owner, the insurance company. Ellis works, like Brand, as an art detective. He gets commission from the insurance company for picking up the painting. He probably also had to give part of that money to people who came up with the Picasso. Who much?

From what Van Os & Ribbens write, it continues to be unclear how much money is paid to whom, and what the role of Arthur Brand was in brokering a deal. Brand himself stresses he didn’t get any of the money. From the chapter of Van Os & Ribbens:

“In the end [of the tv-episode], he [Brand] says that the French police laughed at him on the phone, because in France he could have gotten the full seventy million euro that the painting is worth on the legal market today. Because art theft in France is time-barred after five years. Voice-over Huub Stapel: ‘Typically Arthur Brand. He doesn't care about money.’ We wonder how Brand could have done it, selling a famous [stolen] Picasso [on the legal market] without any difficult questions [asked], but hey, we may be annoying, too critical viewers for his program.” 

Because of the episode with the Picasso, the authors ask Brand all kinds of questions about money; tip money, compensation from insurers, ransom.

Is money the key to recovery’s? 

Brand considers this the wrong questions and seems genuinely unhappy with the subject. He repeats how happy the police is with him, and lists client who vouch for him. The authors acknowledge they spoke to clients of Brand who spoke highly of him. Brand says he doesn’t earn his money with the recovery’s, but with his books, lectures, and the advice he gives to people looking for looted or stolen art. He doesn't need a lot of money, he says. 

Van Os & Ribbens ask Brand: “But you did receive money for recovering stolen art, didn’t you? Take, for example, the 50.000 euros [you got] for tracing a Persian medieval poetry book.”

Brand admits the 50.000 euro’s, but he says not much of it is left after taxes and the costs he made to recover the book of poems. He stresses he is not in the recovery of art for the money. He is in it for the adventures, and for the satisfaction he derives from the knowledge that he helps people retrieving what is legally theirs. 

If Brand is right and recovering art is not so much about money, what are the non-financial ways in which Brand makes criminals give up on the stolen art? This become a bit clearer in some of the episodes of Brand’s tv-show The Art Detective. In at least three episodes he gets help from a man named William ‘Bill’ Veres. This antique dealer, based in London, is originally from Hungary. When Brand is at his house, there is a European extradition request out for him. The old Hungarian walks around with an ankle bracelet on.  

In Italy, a country that takes art crime seriously, they see Veres as the mastermind of a large-scale smuggling of illegally excavated antiquities. In July 2018, the Italian authorities arrest more than 20 suspects in a police action called ‘Operation Demetra’. More than 3,000 objects are confiscated, mostly antiquities. They represent a value of tens of millions of euros. The Italian art crime suspect Veres to have money to make the illegal excavations possible. In addition, he would have been responsible for producing false documents in order to pass the objects off as legal. Many were sold at two German auction houses.

Veres is challenging the extradition in an English court. In the meantime he has to report to the police station at set times.

Besides all this, Veres was arrested in Spain in August of 2017. Van Os & Ribbens: “He was found to be in possession of 140 stolen objects, including antique lamps, Roman and Arabic coins, rings, clay tablets - and five disposable telephones. In the US he was convicted in absentia for a profitable trade of an illegally excavated golden bowl from the fourth century BC. And keep in mind that art smuggling is not an area of crime for which people are regularly tracked down and convicted. Between cash and stolen, or otherwise illegally obtained art, there are numerous laws, but little willingness to investigate or prosecute, as police officer Bronswijk already explained [to us]. You must be quite a figure in the world of art crime to get a European Extradition Warrant in your name.”

Everywhere they ask, Van Os & Ribbens are told that Veres is among the biggest illegal art barons in the world. The authors are already suspicious about the things they see in Brand’s tv-show since the return of the Picasso had to be preceded by what they consider to be an unnecessary night-time car ride. Veres makes them even more suspicious. His interest in helping Brand is clear – and Brand shows it openly in the show. He writes emails to authorities after recovering a ring by the 19th-century Irish writer Oscar Wilde (with the help of Veres); after recovering two Visigoth reliefs (Veres helped locate them in the garden of an anonymous British noble family). In his emails Brand puts a good word in for Veres. The art dealer, Brand writes, had been extremely helpful in tracking down the stolen artifacts. Brand is open about that ‘payment’ to Veres.

Van Os & Ribbens: “Veres' role was certainly crucial [by recovering the ring and the reliefs.] But shouldn’t the critical tv-viewer, who knows more about Veres' criminal acts, consider a ring by Wilde or even the reliefs from Spain small recoveries in the light of the thousands of antiquities that the Hungarian has illegally excavated from different countries and smuggled abroad? It reminds us a lot of private equity robber barons who, once billionaire, try to amass goodwill by spending a fraction of their assets on charity. Not very impressive at all.”

Credibility is another problem. Why should anyone believe a criminal like Veres? Van Os & Ribbens: “How certain are we that the stories Veres tells about the objects that Brand recovers are truthful? The importance of Veres in recovering these artefacts is clear, so is his bracelet  among his ankle: in the face of impending extradition he wants to do something good. And, of course, it takes a thief to catch thieves. But how credible is a thief if he doesn't catch thieves, but only traces loot?”

Brand says he believes Veres completely. Why? Brand’s answer comes down to: because I can help him. Brand can give testimony to authorities that Veres helped him; that the rogue antiquities dealer turned his knowledge to doing good. Criminals, Brand stresses, are capable of doing the right thing. As an art detective it is a good thing to be close to criminals, not a bad thing. They have to trust you, you have to trust them.

At the same time art detectives have to be close to the police. As Lynda Albertson says, director of the Association of Research in Crimes of Art (ARCA), the art detective has to constantly inform the police to not become guilty of handling stolen goods. And to get the consent of the police, the art detective has to keep the police close to the chest. Albertson: “Brand is not an ex-police officer, like most art detectives, but his great asset is his particularly close relationship with those few police officers in the Netherlands who are engaged in art theft.”

Van Os & Ribbens estimate that the compliments Brand gives the Dutch police are part of maintaining good relations with law enforcement. They are amazed about the discrepancy’s of the claims Brand and police officer Bronswijk make about the job of the Dutch police in combatting art crime. While Bronswijk complained about the low priority given to art crime, among fellow police officers and prosecutors, Brand told a daily newspaper, “Worldwide, about 8 percent of stolen art is returned, but in the Netherlands that percentage is many times higher. The police have an unbelievably good view on it. I dare say that the Netherlands has the best team in the world when it comes to art thefts.”

When the authors read out the quote to Bronswijk, he laughs. His reaction, “That's Arthur begin nice.”  

Van Os & Ribbens, “Did he suck up to you?”

Bronswijk, “Yes, as a thank you for our help.”

So why did Brand make the compliment? “Because it is the truth,” he says.

The strength of the Dutch police, according to Brand, is not in money, people or capacity, but in the right approach. An investigation into an art crime lasts around two years, at the most. Pieces of stolen art will then start a life in the underworld, where they pass many hands. It becomes hard, if not impossible, to know who the original thieves are. At that stage, the Dutch police is only interested, if at all, in recovering the art. That’s where the art detective comes in. Not surprisingly, Brand applauds this way of working. “The Dutch police are pragmatic and that cannot be praised enough.”

Does Brand also consult with the police about paying money to criminals? Yes, because Brand doesn't do anything without consultation with law enforcement. “If anyone cannot afford to do something illegal, it’s me!”

Besides that, the amounts are low, Brand says, and they don't matter much. “I tell you again, I'm not doing this job for the money.”

Indeed, Brand does not seem to care much about money; old cell phone, no car, modest apartment. He is very concerned, however, about his reputation. Van Os & Ribbens hear the joke ‘Arthur THE Brand’ from more than one of Brand’s competitors. Van Os & Ribbens write, “He wants to look good and if something threatens his reputation, he can show maniacal traits. A chief editor of a Dutch daily newspaper once received thirty missed calls from Brand in one day.”

Even Dutch police officer Bronswijk calls Brand publicity-hungry. For Brand it seems hard to live outside the spotlights. Bronswijk, in November of 2020: “The moment we speak he is, for example, in a bit of a slump, because his tv-series have just ended for the season. I hear this slump [in his voice] when I get him on the phone.”

Ribbens & Van Os ask Bronswijk whether this longing for publicity is a problem for Brand recovery work. Bronswijk thinks about it for a moment, the authors write, and then answers: “No. It is only important how the criminals view him. They must be able to trust him.”

And what about the two-faced character Brand shows in his TV-series? Does that annoy Bronswijk? No, he doesn’t care, he says. He can’t vouch for the veracity of all the stories Brand tells on tv, but he is not a tv-maker. The only thing he is concerned about is the stolen art and Brand recovers lots of it, so why would Bronswijk bother about the tv-show?  

The police likes Brand, just as many journalists love to interview him. The stories seem exciting, they are about crooks ánd art, a very attractive combination. The problem Van Os & Ribbens seem to have with Brand is that he doesn’t answer crucial questions about the nature of his recovery work. Questions like, what role do insurers play? What are the amounts of money being paid, by insurers, to criminals? How much was paid for the Picasso, for example, and to whom? Brand will not answer these questions.

That is understandable, the authors conclude, because Brand's work is best done in semi-darkness, behind the scenes. But it also makes Brand quite a worthless source for journalists who want to find out more about art recoveries.

Van Os & Ribbens: “Brand wants to get praise in front of the screens and he says there is nothing ‘shadowy’ about his work, but in a nearly two-hour interview with us, he says ‘off the record’ exactly fifty times. In other words: what I am about to tell you, you cannot write down.”

To conclude their chapter, Van Os & Ribbens ask, for the last time, how much money was paid to criminals to get the Picasso recovered. They don’t know. Even Bronswijk, the officer who leads the small police department for art crime, acknowledges that the people who brought the Picasso out of the underworld, received money. How much, he can’t of won’t say.

Van Os & Ribbens know that former police officer Dick Ellis, currently an art detective, received money for collecting the painting at Brand’s appartement in Amsterdam. He got the money from the insurance company. More than one hundred thousand euros, perhaps four hundred thousand, 10 percent of the insured value of the painting.

But who were the men who brought the painting to Brand’s apartment and how much did they get? To their chagrin, Van Os & Ribbens don’t know that, even though these men came to Brand’s door, even in his own story, as told to The New York Times, The Guardian, etc. Van Os & Ribbens have heard numbers, but don’t want to write them down, they say, since so many sources they talked to turned out to be unreliable. “It has become so common in the world of art recovery to tell untruths, that hard knowledge is a commodity scarcer than the priceless art that is looted.

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