Showing posts with label museum theft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label museum theft. Show all posts

January 6, 2018

Diamonds are a thief's best friend: The stolen objects from Doge's Palace identified


The jewelry stolen during the Doge's Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale) robbery this week were modern compositions created by one of the foremost contemporary jewelry designers in the world.  Considered by some to be the world’s greatest living jeweller, the objects were created by the spectacularly gifted, Mumbai-based, artisan Viren Bhagat whose work has been characterised as a contemporary synthesis of traditional Mughal motifs and 1920s Cartier Art Deco.  

Bhagat comes from an artisan family who has been in the Indian jewelry business for more than one hundred years. He is one of only two contemporary jewelers, the second being Joel Arthur Rosenthal (JAR), whose works are included in Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani's extravagant collection of  more than 400 pieces of Indian jewelry and jeweled artifacts spanning four centuries. 

Bhagat produces only a small number of breathtaking pieces each year using only precious stones to stay true to the aesthetic of historic Indian jewelry.  Each of his designs are first pencil-sketched, then precisely produced.  All of his jewelry pieces are one of a kind originals and none of his jewelry is created on commission. 

What makes Bhagat popular with wealthy jewelry lovers worldwide (some 60 percent of his work is purchased outside of India) is his recognizably stylistic touches of western elegance in symmetry with eastern extravagance, making his pieces perfect for modern day maharajas.  

Given his recognition in the jewelry world some of his pieces reach well into seven figures. 

The pair of earrings stolen earlier this week from the Doge's Palace, pictured above, started with a simple, clear halo of asymmetrical flat-cut diamonds surrounding an eye-popping 30.2-carat nearly-colorless teardrop shape diamond mounted on a barely-there platinum setting.  


The stolen brooch-pendant features a 10.03-carat center diamond mined from the historic Golconda sultanate, surrounded by a double row of calibrated rubies and flat-cut diamond petals, the combination form the image of a Mogul lotus.  Below the centerpiece hangs a thirteen strand, proportioned tassel of diamond and ruby beads, a type of flourish occasionally found in Indian turban jewels. 

Described in the book Beyond Extravagance: A Royal Collection of Gems and Jewels, edited by Amin Jaffer, the former international director of Asian art at Christie’s, and current curator of the Al-Thani collection, the back of the brooch is said to be covered in pavé diamonds, echoing the extravagant Indian tradition of decorating the reverse side of jewelry as well as the front. Not your everyday Bollywood bling. 

NOTE:  The SCO - the Central Operations Service of the Police (Italian: Servizio Centrale Operativo) and the Scientific Police (Italian: Polizia Scientifica) will be assisting the investigators of the local Mobile Squad on this investigation. 

January 5, 2018

15 seconds to open, plus 5 seconds to pocket

That's how long it took a thief, in full view of CCTV security cameras, to open a glass display case while an accomplice stood lookout.

You can see the CCTV footage released by the authorities below.


In the CCTV camera footage a clean-shaven man wearing a hooded puffer jacket and casual pants, sporting a traditional coppola style flat cap, can be seen viewing the jewels in several display cases at a leisurely pace, along with five other individuals.  Nearby, one of the five, his accomplice, wearing a buttoned sweater and a fisherman's beanie also pretends to be enjoying the exhibition. 

Four of the individuals, two with hats and two without, leave the space viewable by the security camera in one group after only giving passing glances to the objects on display in the exhibition room.  The man with the fisherman's beanie remains, feigning interest in the objects on display before he too moves out of view of the camera's range, standing as a lookout.  

In the next frame of images, after purposely walking towards the middle display, we can see the thief warily working the lock mechanism on the alarmed display case, possibly with some type of burglary tool, though the view of how he unlocks its glass door is blocked by his back, out of view of the camera.  Opening the case takes only 15 seconds.

Glancing back over his shoulder before and after he gains access to the interior of the case, the culprit then reaches in and deftly grabs the brooch and earrings, placing them quickly in his right pocket in just five seconds.  He then closes the glass door on the case and exits in the same direction as the four earlier individuals. 

It is not very clear whether or not the four other individuals pictured in the CCTV  footage had any role in the event.  Nor is it unusual for patrons to wear hats in Italian museums during bouts of colder weather.  What is clear, though, is that hats used as disguises can be quickly removed and hooded puffer jackets can be flipped up or discarded with ease, allowing the thief and his accomplice to rapidly change their appearance, making them less identifiable.

This change-up can be seen in the footage stills taken of the two suspects.



In the top image, the lookout has donned a red puffer jacket which now covers or has replaced his earlier buttoned sweater.  


As the pair depart, the lookout exits with his hands stuffed in his pockets while the man who removed the objects from the case inside the Doge's Palace now has his hands free and appears to be talking on his cell phone. 

January 3, 2018

Museum Theft: Doge’s Palace - Venice, Italy


Shortly after 10 am this morning, on the last day of an exhibition at the Doge’s Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale), once the heart of the political life and public administration at the time of the Venetian Republic, jewel thieves broke into a display case and absconded with pieces of jewelry on temporary display in Venice.

Promoted by Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, the exhibition was curated by Amin Jaffer, Senior Curator of the private collection, and Gian Carlo Calza, a distinguished Italian scholar of East Asian art.  The exhibition, titled "Treasures of the Mughals and Maharaja" brought together 270+ pieces of Indian jewelry, covering four centuries of India's heritage, owned by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani, CEO of Qatar Investment & Projects Development Holding Company (QIPCO), the Qatari mega-holding company.  

Sheikh Al-Thani is the first cousin of Qatar's Emir, and began acquiring pieces for his now-extensive jewelry collection after visiting an exhibition of Indian art in 2009 at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.


Some of the bejeweled pieces on display at the Doge's Palace included encrusted jewelry with diamonds, rubies, jade, pearls and emeralds, once owned by India's great maharajas, nizams and emperors.  Founded by Babur after his conquest of much of Northern India, the pieces from the Mughal dynasty date from the early 16th century to the mid 18th century, one of India's most opulent eras in jewelry composition.  

Additional pieces from the collection were created during the politically chaotic 18th century and from the British Raj period in the 19th century and were produced to appeal to wealthy British travelers and India's upper caste.  The collector's more extravagant contemporary objects on display include a necklace commissioned in 1937 by Maharaja Digvijaysinhji of Nawanagar and made by Jacques Cartier, which is said to rival the ruby and diamond necklace of Empress Marie-Louise which is part of the Crown Jewels of France.

The Al-Thani collection brings together and regroups pieces from many former Indian treasuries, some of which emphasize beliefs of the period.

In India, the nine stones of the Navaratna (Sanskrit: नवरत्न) where nava stands for nine and ratna for jewel, are considered to be auspicious, and in Vedic texts and Indian Astrology were believed to have the power to protect the wearer.

These jewels are:

Blue sapphire (niilam)
Cat's Eye (vaidooryam)
Diamond (vajram)
Emerald (marathakam)
Hessonite (gomeda)
Pearl (muktaaphalam)
Red Coral (vidrumam)
Ruby (maanikyam)
Yellow sapphire (pushparajam)

Often the gems were set in pure gold, using a gemstone setting art form known as Kundan, a method of gem setting, that consist of inserting a gold foil between the stones which does not require soldering or claw mounts. 


Former V&A curator Dr. Amin Jaffer is said to have begun advising Sheik Hamad on his acquisitions, after becoming the international director of Asian art at Christie’s.  In 2017, after ten years with the auction house, Jaffer resigned to take the position of Chief Curator of the Al-Thani's collection.

Ripped from the pages of an Oceans 8 Hollywood Script

According to current reconstruction of the incident using cameras surveillance footage, two thieves, one serving as lookout and a second culprit who actively broke into a display case located in the Sala dello Scrutinio, quickly made off with one brooch and  a pair of earrings. As soon as the display case was breachedsounding an alarm, the pair deftly escaped through the crowded museum gallery, blending in among the patrons and were out of the museum before security could seal the museum's perimeter to apprehend them.

Exhibition Hall, Sala dello Scrutinio, Doge's Palace, Venice
Image Credit: Palazzo Ducale
Immediately after the theft, the Sala dello Scrutinio was closed pending a complete inventory and review of surveillance footage.   

At the present time, photographs of the pieces stolen during the robbery have not been released by the authorities or by Al-Thani. In a statement given by the Venice city police commissioner Vito Gagliardi, the stolen jewelry included diamonds, gold and platinum, had been assigned a customs value of just 30,000 euros ($36,084), but are likely worth “a few million euros.”  

Selling hot goods

While diamonds may be a girl's best friend, buying stolen gemstones is a serious crime.  Without a certificate of authenticity which proves a diamond adheres to the KCPS, or Kimberly Process Certification Scheme showing that the gem does not originate from a "blood zone" tainted by human rights abuses, finding a buyer who will purchase an unprovenanced jewel of skeptical origin can be difficult.

Individuals caught trading in stolen or "blood diamonds" face significant legal ramifications and buying unprovenanced jewels poses great economic risk for jewelers, pawn shops, diamond and gem traders and cutters, and anyone else who might come into contact with a newly stolen and possibly well documented stolen gemstone.

Even if the Venice gem thieves were able to successful sell their newly stolen loot, they will likely do so with only a modicum of success. While big-time professional jewel thieves may have black market connections that allow them to sell substantial pieces for hefty sums, most implus thieves have to settle for intermediary fences which pay nowhere near what the gems in the necklace may actually be worth, financially or historically.

By:  Lynda Albertson

November 25, 2017

Theft: Musée des Beaux-arts de Béziers


A self-portrait by Giorgio de Chirico, founder of the scuola metafisica art movement, titled "Composizione con autoritratto (Composition with self-portrait)" has been stolen. The artwork was cut from its frame in the top floor  Salle Jean Moulin sometime during museum opening hours during the afternoon of November 16, 2017.

"Composition with Self-Portrait" - 1926
60.8 cm by 50.2 cm
By: Giorgio di Chirico
Created in 1926 by de Chirico, the painting was originally part of the collection of French Resistance hero Jean Moulin and had been donated to the museum by Moulin's sister, along with other artworks.  It had been on display at the Hôtel Fabregat in Beziers as part of the Musée des Beaux Arts collection in Southern France.

Law enforcement authorities in Montpellier have advised that one of the two guards on duty noticed the empty frame while making closing rounds before setting the museum's alarms for the evening.  The artwork had been sliced from its frame and likely rolled up and hidden under a coat or other clothing by the thief.  The museum reported that there were only two guards on duty and that the gallery is not equipped with CCTV surveillance cameras.  

Stealing masterpieces is a terrible business, especially a painting as famous as a de Chirico. Well-documented paintings such as this would be easy to identify and absolutely impossible to fence.  This means the theft was either a naïf, who stole the painting with few plans beyond the theft itself, or a pro "theft to order" with a buyer already in mind. 



August 24, 2017

Theft: The Universitetet i Bergen posts photos of stolen objects to Flickr

The  Universitetet i Bergen has begun uploading images to Flickr of the approximately 400 objects stolen from the University Museum of Bergen in Norway on August 12, 2017. 


Thieves who broke into the museum entered
 through this window on the seventh floor
 of the building. Image Credit: Begin Police
Thieves entered the museum on the Saturday by climbing up a scaffold and breaking a window on the 7th floor.  Currently it is unclear to authorities whether or not the burglary was professional in nature, as apposed to opportunistic. 

Of the items stolen, most appear to be from the Iron Age, Migration Age and Viking Age periods. All the more puzzling as these objects are of historical significance and well documented, so not likely to generate a significant sum if the thieves tried to fence them.

As the public demands an answer as to how 400 objects could be carted away without someone noticing, individuals at the university are trying its best to look towards the recovery of the objects.  In order to spread the word quickly about the impact of the theft, they have established a Facebook group (primarily in the Norwegian language)  Tyveriet på Historisk museum (Burglary at The University Museum of Bergen) and social media hashtags #vikingskatten #vikingtreasure. Their goal being to draw the public's attention to the crime and to make the public aware that these objects may be in circulation.  


July 14, 2017

Recipe for a museum theft: 5 seized vehicles, 4 shotguns, a six-figure sum of money, and a pinch of organized crime.


When a giant gold coin, weighing 100 kilos was stolen from the Bode Museum in the early morning hours of March 27, 2017 it was pretty obvious that there might be insider involvement.  Even if the group of burglars had entered the Berlin museum through a forced window, evading the prestigious museum's alarm system, hacking their way through the exhibit's attack-proof glass case and then carting the heavy coin away in a wheelbarrow.

But this week's raids, carried out by authorities in Neukölln, Berlin’s most impoverished district, turned up an interesting wrinkle; three of the four men taken into custody, Abdel R. (18), Ahmed R. (19), and Wissam R. (20) appear to have ties to a Middle Eastern crime syndicate referred to as the “R. family*. The fourth suspect, Dennis W. was German and had just gotten a subcontracting job at the Bode Museum as a supervisor shortly before the robbery.  Nine others, individuals, older members of the same “R” clan, are also under investigation with the German authorities.    

Al-Zein, Fakhro, Omeirat, Osman, Miri, Remmo

These are grandfamilies of Lebanese-Kurdish descent who immigrated to Germany during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. Many moved to immigrant neighborhoods like those in Kreuzberg, Wedding, and Neukölln where this week's raids took place.  Some of these families originate with the Mhallami community, a tightly-knit group of families with origins in the Mardin Province of Southeastern Turkey who had previously lived in Beirut, Tripoli, and the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon.

Members of several of these families have been criminally conspicuous, gaining reputations for trafficking, racketeering and robbery, some of which have been spectacular in their execution. 

While searching 20 apartments and making yesterday's arrests, authorities seized four firearms, five vehicles and "a low six-figure sum" in cash. 

Given that all four of the arrested co-conspirators are under 21 years old, the case will be tried in the regional Jugendstrafkammer, Germany's regional youth criminal court.

By Lynda Albertson




February 16, 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017 - , No comments

Recovered: Abraham Lincoln's hand Sculpter

Image Credit: Kankakee Police Dept
A little over one year ago, a 150 year old plaster sculpture of Abraham Lincoln's hand was stolen from its display shelf at the Kankakee County Museum in Illinois, one hour south of Chicago.  Created by a Kankakee native, George Grey-Barnard, it was the museum's custodian who first noticed that the $5000 sculpture had gone missing sometime before December 11, 2015.  

At the time of the theft, the museum had no CCTV cameras and a campaign was started to collect the $8,900 needed for security upgrades to protect the museum from thefts in the future. 

Lamenting the loss to the museum's modest collection authorities hoped that the theft was a prank. 

With no witnesses and no suspects, Kankakee police appealed to the community via social media and on its Facebook Page to be on the lookout, hoping that with the publicity, the thief would simply return the object, described as being: "The size of a 8-10 pound ham." But despite citizen outrage and the cumbersome size of the sculpture, no one stepped forward to return the pilfered sculpture.

Until now. 

When someone left Lincoln's stolen hand at the back of Kankakee's Saint Rose of Lima Parish Church on Sunday, February 12, 2016, where it was discovered by a church usher. 

For most Illinoisans, February 12th is an auspicious day worth remembering for anyone who holds sentimental feelings for America's 16th Republican Party president.   

Was it a pang of personal guilt that caused the thief to return "Honest Abe's" hand, or perhaps a statement on American politics?  

Only the thief will ever know. 

By Lynda Albertson




February 6, 2017

Press conference: The Van Gogh of the Camorra on display at the Capodimonte Museum in Naples

Via Miano, 2, 
80137 Naples, Italy

Live Periscope link to event

Image Credit: sAG
In a standing room only event, the two stolen paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen 1884 - 1885 by Vincent Van Gogh were presented to the international press today at the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples Italy.  This press conference follows the convictions of eight members of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan, an organized crime network once affiliated with the Secondigliano-based Di Lauro crime syndicate, and an offshoot of the Naples Camorra.  The historic artworks were recovered during a lengthy investigation into the cocaine business overseen by figurative, Raffaele Imperiale.

Image Credit: sAG
The paintings, stolen 14 years ago, will be hosted for just 20 days on the second floor of the Museo di Capodimonte next to the Hall of Caravaggio through February 26, 2017.

Image Credit: ARCA
On hand for the press conference were Antimo Cesaro, State Secretary for Cultural Assets and Activities and Tourism in Italy, Joep Wijnands, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Rome, Sander Bersée, Director General of Culture and Media of the Ministry of Culture and Science, the Netherlands, Luigi Riello, General Prosecutor of Naples, Giovanni Colangelo, the Public Prosecutor of Naples, Herman Bolhaar, Head of the Dutch Public Prosecutors, Lt. Gen. Giorgio Toschi, Commanding General of the Guardia di Finanza, Gen. B. Gianluigi D'Alfonso, Provincial Commander of the Guardia di Finanza in Italy, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, Head of the Amsterdam Police as well as the undercover officers and investigators most closely connected to this case.

Image Credit: ARCA
Image Credit: ARCA
The Museo di Capodimonte is open every day except Wednesday from 08:30 to 19:30 (last entry at 18:30).

Image Credit: ARCA

Image Credit: sAG

Image Credit: sAG

Image Credit: sAG

Image Credit: Museo Capodimonte

Image Credit: Museo Capodimonte

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: ARCA



January 31, 2017

If paintings could talk...recovered Van Gogh paintings to go on exhibition in Naples February 6-26 before returning to the Van Gogh Museum


Dear Italian art lovers, 

Despite our lengthy stay in Campania and the hospitality of one of the Camorra's largest suppliers of cocaine to the Bay of Naples, it is, unfortunately, time for us to bid your country and its citizens farewell. 

Following the convictions handed down to our kidnappers, by Italian Judge Claudia Picciotti, we no longer need to remain as witnesses to testify to their crimes and have been informed by the judge that we are free to go home.

To show our appreciation to the fine officers of Italy's Corpo della Guardia di Finanza, which probes financial crimes related to organised crime, and to the Italian Public Prosecutions office, and to the Naples Direzione distrettuale antimafia and to the Dutch investigators who never gave up looking for us, our owners have persuaded us to stay in Naples for a few weeks longer.  

In this way, true art lovers, and not just mafia camorristi, can enjoy the beauty created by Vincent's fine hand.

Fourteen years and two months is a long time for us to be away from our beloved Netherlands and one of us desperately longs for the gentle touch of a conservator to help us heal from the wounds inflicted by our captors, not to mention the chance to shake this dust from our weary canvasses. 

Despite all that, and while we look forward with anticipation to returning to the Van Gogh Museum, we are happy that the director of the Museo di Capodimonte, Sylvain Bellenger and Axel Rüger, the director of the Van Gogh Museum, have encouraged us to remain for just a short while longer.  Under the care of their staff and advisors, we can rest and be exhibited in an atmosphere more befitting to us than a dusty crawl space behind a mafioso's workout gym. 

Being stolen when your famous only makes you more famous afterwards.  We suspect that for months, if not years to come, people will whisper about us, wondering what we went through and talking about the awful men who thought some day to use us, either for collateral or as a means to reduce their sentences for crimes worse than holding art hostage. 

But we as paintings prefer to dwell upon our younger and more carefree days, newly created on stretched canvas.  We like to remember when our paint was still wet and sand specks stuck to us in Scheveningen, the small fishing village where Vincent set up painting, partly to appease his brother Theo. Or when our Vincent began experimenting with colours to capture his mood at Nuenen, rather than using colours realistically.  Just like he sought, with his course application of paint, to define his own unique style, he brought each one of us to life giving each of us a little bit of his soul.  This is what we like to remember, not Vincent's tortured death and certainly not our time held captive by criminals. 

But enough of this talk about the past, let us try and stay in the present. 

Why don't you pay us a visit before we leave Naples for home?  

I am sure the fine people at the Capodimonte can point you to our room on the second floor.  From what we understand, we will be lodging with quite respectable company, in a room right next to the "Flagellation" by  Caravaggio. 

A hearty handshake in thought, and, believe me, 
yours, 

View of the Sea at Scheveningen 
and 
Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Exhibition Dates: 6-26 February
Via Miano, 2, 
80137 Naples, Italy
Hours: 08.30 to 19.30 daily, NOTE:  Museum is closed on Wednesdays
Ticket price: 8 €
Contacts and information: 081 7499111 

January 20, 2017

Camorra bosses convicted, Van Gogh's can go home to Amsterdam.......shortly.


This week Italian Judge Claudia Picciotti handed down more than one hundred years of prison time in the sentencing of eight members of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan, an organized crime network once affiliated with the Secondigliano-based Di Lauro crime syndicate, and an offshoot of the Naples Camorra.

The court's adjudication closes down one of the Camorra's largest suppliers of cocaine to the Bay of Naples area, paving the way for two recovered Van Gogh paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen 1884 - 1885 to return home to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

The paintings were recovered during an asset seizure warrant executed in September 2016 at property occupied by the parents of drug kingpin, Raffaele Imperiale in Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples, Italy.

On hand for the sentencing hearing of the trial were:

Prosecutor Stefania Castaldi
Prosecutor Maurizio De Marco
Prosecutor Marra Vincenza
Deputy Prosecutor Filippo Beatrice
Prosecutor of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate Maria Vittoria De Simone
Dutch Liaison Magistrate for Italy Hester van Bruggen
Assistant to the Liaison Magistrate for Italy Royal Netherlands Embassy, Rome Peter Hemmes
Van Gogh Museum Attorney Carel Raymakers

The defendants convicted and sentenced January 19, 2017 include:

Carmine Amato - Before his arrest, Amato was one of Italy's 100 most wanted and dangerous criminals.  Considered the regent of the Amato-Pagano clan, a splinter organised crime group of the Di Lauro clan, dominant in the north of Naples, Amato was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.

Vincenzo Scarpa - Drug supplier to Camorra clans in the Vesuvius periphery of the Bay of Naples, including the Gallo-Cavalieri, the Annunziata from Torre Annunziata, the i Falanga of Torre del Greco and the Licciardi of Secondigliano.  Scarpa maintained key alliances with Camorra loyal suppliers based in Spain and the Netherlands. He has been sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.

(Fugitive) Raffaele Imperiale - Clan boss of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan which supplied cocaine to Amato and Scarpa.  Although on the run from the authorities, he admitted to purchasing the Van Gogh paintings and to his illegal operations in letters to the prosecuting authorities.  Imperiale was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in absentia.  He is believed to be hiding in Dubai.

Mario Cerrone - Clan affiliate and business partner to Imperiale, who provided evidence to state authorities. Cerrone also led Italy's Corpo della Guardia di Finanza, which probes financial crimes related to organised crime, together with the Italian Public Prosecutions office, the Naples Direzione distrettuale antimafia and dedicated Dutch investigators to the whereabouts of the two stolen Vincent Van Gogh paintings.  He has been sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.

Gaetano Schettino - A loyalist and drug broker for Raffaele Imperial, he has been sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

Three unnamed defendants - Sentenced to eight years imprisonment respectively.

Six other defendants are still awaiting the outcome of their judicial proceedings in relation to this criminal investigation.

Originally expected to be held as evidence for future lengthy trials, the court in Naples elected to release the Van Gogh paintings from legal seizure on Thursday.  While talk continues between the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and Sylvain Bellenger, Director of the Museo di Capodimonte about the possibility of holding a brief exhibition in Naples, provided security measures are sufficient to guarantee their safety, the Dutch Impressionist's paintings are expected to be returned to Amsterdam as soon as February.


Once back home, the artworks will go on display at the Van Gogh Museum briefly, in the condition with which they were recovered, to celebrate their return. Then the artworks will undergo close examination and conservation treatment to clean and repair damages sustained during their trubulent time with the Italian crime syndicate.

By: Lynda Albertson


December 28, 2016

Recovered: 5 paintings stolen from the Levitan House Museum in Plyos, 3 arrests made.

© Russian Interior Ministry
Russian Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk has issued a statement relaying that Russian authorities have arrested three individuals, ages 29, 33, and 37, for their suspected involvement in the August 5, 2014 3:00 am theft of five paintings by 19th century classical landscape painter Иса́ак Ильи́ч Левита́н (Isaak Levitan).  The artworks were originally stolen by two individuals from the Levitan House-Museum in Plyos, a small town located on the Volga river in the Ivanovo Region where the painter lived and worked for a period of time. 

With the arrest of these three suspects, authorities have recovered all five of the stolen paintings.  The artworks are:

"Ravine behind the fence"
"A Quiet Pool"
"A Quiet River"
"Railway Stop"
"Roses"

One of Russia's most significant and celebrated landscape artists, Levitan's naturalistic scenes, depicting and tranquil forests and countrysides, introduced a new genre of paintings which came to be known as the mood landscapes. The artist's body of work includes approximately 1,000 paintings, sketches and drawings with the bulk of his work being held in Russian museums. At the time of the artworks theft, the five stolen paintings were estimated to be worth 77 million rubles ($1.3 million). 

According to the Interior Ministry, the three criminals arrested in this case were said to have been involved in a series of other crimes including an armed highway robbery of cash-in-transit couriers this past November in the Nizhny Novgorod region and an earlier May 2016 bank robbery of the Nizhny Novgorod Bank where the crooks made off with more than 5 million rubles ($82,200). 

Officers working a joint investigation involving the Main Criminal Investigation Department of the Russian Interior Ministry, the Russian Federal Security Service, CID GU MVD of Russia in Nizhny Novgorod region, and the CID AMIA Russia's Ivanovo region executed a series of search warrants.   During one, of a house in the Moscow region, Russian Interior Ministry authorities seized more than one kilogram of cocaine and recovered one of the five stolen artworks there-by detaining two suspects.  Russian Interior Ministry in Nizhny Novgorod then recovered the other four stolen paintings during a secondary search warrant of another location.

In the course of an interview with Russian media, Alla Chayanov, director of the Levitan House-Museum in Plyos, reminded the public that the theft of well known, catalogued and inventoried artworks of whatever financial value, are largely unsaleable on the licit art market where famous stolen works of art are easily recognised.   In cases such as this artworks only have value on the black market, usually as an alternative currency within the criminal world. 

A video of the recovery of four of the artworks can be seen in the news report below. 


As formal possessions of the Russian Federation, the recovered artworks will now be evaluated for authenticity by the matching of their accession numbers.  They will then likely be sent for conservation evaluation prior to being returned to the public's viewing. 

December 21, 2016

Repatriation: Museo Civico di Castelvecchio - 17 paintings stolen on November 19, 2015


Following the convictions of many of the accomplices arrested in connection with the theft of 17 paintings stolen on November 19, 2015 from the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio, the paintings are finally cleared to return to Italy today.

In a ceremony held earlier this morning, broadcast live from the Khanenko museum in Kiev at 11:45 GMT+1, the stolen works of art were formally released in the presence of the President of the Ukraine, Petro Porošenko to the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, Dario Franceschini and an Italian delegation made up of:

Flavio Tosi, the mayor of Verona
Gen. Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale
Dr. Gennaro Ottaviano, the Deputy Prosecutor of Verona
Dr. Vincenzo Nicolì, Director of the Central Operational Service (SCO)
Roberto Benedetto, the head of the mobile police squad of Verona,
Antonio Coppola, Commander of the Operational department of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale
Dr. Ettore Napione, Curator of the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio


This afternoon, at 17.30 GMT+1 the 17 works of art will be presented back to the Verona public at the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio where a ceremony will be held welcoming the paintings back home.

All 17 artworks were recovered May 6, 2016 in the Ukrainian region of Odessa during a raid carried out by the special Ukrainian police forces.  The museum pieces were found wrapped in plastic bags and hidden in a willow forest, located on Turunciuk island, a parcel of land that sits on the left branch of the Dniester River that flows along the border between Moldova and the Ukraine.

Ricciardi Pasquale Silvestri, the point of connection between the Italians and the Moldavians criminals involved in the theft, was sentenced December 5, 2015 to 10 years and eight months for his role in the armed robbery and kidnapping.  His brother, Francesco Silvestri, the contracted security guard at the Castelvecchio museum on the night of the robbery, also involved in the plot, was sentenced to 10 years for his key role in illustrating the vulnerabilities of the museum. 

Pasquale's Moldovan girlfriend, Svetlana Tkachuk received a six-year prison sentence, for her role and translator between the members of the transnational organized crime group.  Another co-conspirator, also from Moldova, Victor Potinga, was sentenced to five years. Potinga transported the stolen artworks in his van from Verona to Brescia the evening of the theft. 

Two other defendants, Anatolie Burlac Jr. and Denis Damaschin each entered guilty pleas earlier in the year for their own roles in the crime.  Damaschin was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months incarceration for receiving stolen goods, having stored the paintings in his home in Brescia, in Northern Italy before they were disguised in television boxes and transported to the Ukraine. 

Arrested in Romania and extradited to Italy after some initial confusion over his identity, his father is Anatolie Burlac Sr., who is also wanted for questioning in the crime, Burlac Jr. received the lightest of the sentences handed down in connection with the crime, only one year eight months.   This was most likely due to the critical statements he made while being interrogated by the Italian authorities, which contributed to the convictions handed down in the case. Other accomplices, arrested last March, are still to be tried in Moldova.


Testimony presented in the case against the six in Italy indicated that the theft was originally planned for the 18th of November. It was then postponed to the next evening as the accomplices arrived at the museum on the 18th only to find additional cars in the parking lot indicating their was too much activity in the area to proceed.

According to defence attorneys, the original plan was to rob the museum of one painting only, a theft to order, with only the guard-accomplice present who was to pretend to authorities that he had been subdued during the robbery. Unfortunately, the accomplices arrived prematurely while the museum's cashier was still in the building. By tying her up and gagging her along with their accomplice-cohort, the thieves transformed the museum theft from a simple robbery to armed robbery and kidnapping. 

Ukrainian law enforcement believes that the works were shipped out of Moldova and into the Ukraine after arrests were made in the case in mid-March.  If the shift was made to hide the evidence or to send the works onwards to buyers in either somewhere in the Ukraine or Russia has never been established with certainty, however Italian police and Ukrainian media reports have suggested that the final buyer was rumored to be a wealthy collector in Chechnya.  According to the Russian news agency TASS, the paintings were sent from Moldova to the Ukraine via the postal service and at the time of their discovery, were awaiting transfer back to Moldova.

Museum Theft Identification: Louvre Museum "Le Campement de bohémiens" by Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps

Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-1860)
Le Campement de bohémiens, Oil on wood - 18 x 24.8 cm 
In a developing story, first reported by France's La Tribune de l'Art, a stolen painting, Le Campement de bohémiens, believed to be by the artist Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, has been identified in an online auction catalog at the Paris auction house Hôtel Drouot

The artwork was first spotted by Xavier de Palmaert, who in turn notified Jacques Ranc, an art historian working on Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps catalog raisonné.  The painting on auction is believed to be one of 17 by the artist bequeathed to the Louvre Museum in Paris in 1902 from the collection of Thomy Thiéry.  Not on display at the time of its disappearance, the artwork was identified as being missing during an inventory check on January 15, 1977 and is believed to have been taken from the museum sometime between 1973 and 1977. 


2833 — Le Campement de bohémiens. 

Devant un mur dégradé, des bohémiens, un homme, une femme et uhc fillette, ont allumé du feu et font bouillir la marmite. La femme, au premier plan, misérablement vêtue, est assise sur une pierre ; l'homme, assis à terre, à gauche, est appuyé contre le mur du fond, tandis que la fillette debout, à droite, la pincette à la main, surveille le feu qu'abrite une vieille porte de bois. Quelques récipients grossiers sont à terre. 

Signé sur une pierre, à droite : Decamps. 

Bois. Haut., 18 cent.; larg., 24 cent. 

Collections J. Fan, Véron, dit Taillis, H. Didier. 
M"'"' la baronne Nath. de Rothschild et Denain. 
Catalogue Moreau, p. 193. 

(Translated in English)
2833 - The Gypsy Camp. 

In front of a degraded wall, gypsies, a man, a woman and a young girl, lit the fire and boil the pot. The woman in the foreground, miserably clad, sat on a stone; man, sitting down, left, is leaning against the back wall, while the girl standing, right, tongs in hand, watching the fire beside an old wooden door. Some containers thrown crudely down. 

Signed [by the artist] on a stone, on the right: Decamps. 

Wood. 18 cent .; 24 cent.

Collections J. Fan, Véron, dit Taillis, H. Didier. 
Miss Baroness Nath. Of Rothschild and Denain.
Catalog Moreau, p. 193.



Considered by some to be the founding father of Orientalism, Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps was one of the first French painters of the 19th century to turn from Neoclassicism to Romanticism.  Due to his influence, Decamps is likely one of the most copied and forged artists of the nineteenth century.

For Mr. Ranc to consider this work as potentially authentic is a big statement, especially as he has been vocal about the number of fakes or copies or "in the manner ofs" Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps artworks that are part of museum collections.

Hôtel Drouot has long been one of France’s most venerable and prestigious auction houses.  In March 2016 a scandal broke when 40 of the firm's self-governing and self-employed corps of porters, known as the ‘red collars’ indicted for pilfering' thousands of items. 

For the moment, the painting has been removed from sale pending the official demand for restitution by the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication in France. 

Further details of the painting's history and provenance found on the Ministry's cultural patrimony portal: 

Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps
Photo Credit: Eugene Disdéri
Domaine: peinture
Dénomination: tableau
Titre: Le Campement de Bohemiens
Auteur/exécutant: DECAMPS Alexandre Gabriel
Précision auteur/exécutant: Paris, 1803 ; Fontainebleau, 1860
Ecole: France
Période création/exécution: 2e quart 19e siècle
Matériaux/techniques: peinture à l'huile ; bois
Dimensions: H. 18, l. 24.8
Inscriptions: signé
Précision inscriptions: Decamps (S.mi-h.d.)
Sujet représenté: scène (nomade, préparation des aliments)
Lieu de conservation: Paris ; musée du Louvre département des Peintures
Musée de France: au sens de la loi n°2002-5 du 4 janvier 2002
Statut juridique: propriété de l'Etat ; legs ; musée du Louvre département des Peintures
Date acquisition: 1902
Anciennes appartenances: Thomy Thiéry
Numéro d'inventaire: RF 1386
Bibliographie: Catalogue des peintures du Louvre, I, Ecole Française, Paris, 1A972, p. 121 ; Catalogue sommaire illustré des peintures du musée du Louvre et du musée d'Orsay, Ecole française, III, Paris, 1986, p. 190



December 8, 2016

Repatriation: United States of America v. One Roman Marble Peplophoros Statue Stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome, Italy

Photo Credit: Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara
Guest Blogger: Prince Giuseppe Grifeo di Partanna, Rome

Another work of ancient Italian art, one of 15 statues stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome in 1983 is finally returning home to Italy from the United States.  

Known as the Torlonia Peplophoros, this first-century BC sculpture depicts the body of a young goddess wearing a body-length garment called a “peplos”. According to the FBI, it had been sold to a private owner in Manhattan in 2001 for approximately $81,000 after first being smuggled into the United States sometime during the late 1990s.  

In a redelivery ceremony on 7 December 2016, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli of Italy's military art crime police, the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, accepted the statue formally on behalf of the country of Italy from United States, FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McGarrity of the New York Field Office and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim.  The ceremony took place at the Kingstone Library at the prestigious "New York Historical Society" in Central Park West.

The statue was stolen from Villa Torlonia on the evening of 11 November 1983, when a group of thieves broke into the villa's grounds along the via Nomentana and made off with a haul of fifteen statues plus a variety of other objects. When the city of Rome discovered the theft, its citizens were left both shocked and outraged.  Throughout the passing years, they have never waivered on their resolution to find the missing objects. 

The historic Villa Torlonia and its grounds were purchased by the City of Rome in 1978 and had been left in a state of considerable neglect for at least two decades before a much-needed plan of refurbishment, completed in March 2006, could be agreed upon and funds allocated for the works to be undertaken.   The theft of the objects at the villa occurred during the period of historic site's decay.

From the 17th century until the middle of the 18th century the site of the villa had been a part of the landed patrimony of the Italian noble family Pamphilj who used the semi-rural terrain for agricultural purposes. The land was then purchased by another family of nobility, the Colonna, in 1760 who continued to use the site for the same purpose. 

In 1797 the land was bought by Franco-Italian banker to the Vatican, Prince Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia. In 1806, Torlonia contracted neo-Classic architect Giuseppe Valadier to transform two buildings, the edificio padronale and the casino Abbati into a proper palace. As part of the redevelopment project, he commissioned new stables, outbuildings and formal gardens which he embellished with classical-era statues. 

Much later, in 1919, a Jewish catacomb, dating to the third and fourth century CE, was discovered while reinforcing the foundation of the “scuderie nuove”, or new stables, located on the southwest corner of the Villa Torlonia estate.

Wartime gardening for food at the Villa Torlonia
Image Credit: MiBACT
In 1925 the son of Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia allocated his family's home as the official residence of Benito Mussolini, who was made to pay 1 lire per year in symbolic rent. Mussolini and Prince Alessandro Torlonia then started construction, never completed, of a fortified, airtight bunker underneath the palace residence designed to resist both aerial bombardment and chemical welfare.  Part of the villa's considerable neglect, is due in no small part to the city's attempt, at least apathetically, to ignore the villa's distasteful Fascist legacy. 

But going back to 1983, when the theft occurred. This is not the first repatriation of an object traced to the theft 33 years ago.   

Image Credit: Richard Drew / AP

A first century CE marble head, severed from the body of an ancient statue of Dionysus, was consigned for auction at Christie's in New York for USD $25,000 in September 2002.  Likely removed because it was lighter to carry and easier to sell, the statue was being stored in the former old stables at Villa Torlonia.  

To rub salt in an already overlooked wound, the body that was once attached to this head, also went missing a few weeks after the November 1983 theft.  Both were repatriated to Italy in 2006.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
As  result of these two thefts and in part due to several earlier predations, the city's cultural heritage authorities eventually replaced all of the villa's precious statues on the villa's external grounds, with concrete and plaster replicas. 

Yesterday's restitution was announced officially in Manhattan and via the web by Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Diego Rodriguez, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,  

The case was handled by the FBI's Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit and followed up by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Wilson.

December 7, 2016

Sentencing: Museum Theft at the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio


On December 5, 2016 Judge Luciano Gorra, of Italy's Verona tribunal sentenced four of twelve accomplices arrested in connection with the theft of 17 paintings stolen on November 19, 2015 from the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio. 

Ricciardi Pasquale Silvestri, the point of connection between the Italians and the Moldavians criminals involved in the theft, was given the heaviest prison sentence: 10 years and eight months for his role in the armed robbery and kidnapping.  His brother, Francesco Silvestri, the contracted security guard at the Castelvecchio museum on the night of the robbery, also involved in the plot, was sentenced to 10 years for his key role in illustrating the vulnerabilities of the museum. 

Pasquale's Moldovan girlfriend, Svetlana Tkachuk received a six-year prison sentence, for her role and translator between the members of the transnational organized crime group.  Another co-conspirator, also from Moldova, Victor Potinga, was sentenced to five years. Potinga transported the stolen artworks in his van from Verona to Brescia the evening of the theft. 

Two other defendants, Anatolie Burlac Jr. and Denis Damaschin had each entered pleas earlier for their roles in the crime.  Damaschin was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months incarceration for receiving stolen goods, having stored the paintings in his home in Brescia, in Northern Italy before they were disguised in television boxes and transported to the Ukraine. 

Arrested in Romania and extradited to Italy after some initial confusion over his identity, his father is Anatolie Burlac Sr., who is also wanted for questioning in the crime, Burlac Jr. received the lightest of the sentences handed down to date: one year eight months.   This was most likely due to the critical statements he made while being interrogated by the Italian authorities, which contributed to the convictions handed down in the case. Other accomplices, arrested last March, have asked to be tried in Moldova.


Testimony presented in the case against the six in Italy indicate that the theft was originally planned for the 18th of November. It was then postponed to the next evening as the accomplices arrived at the museum on the 18th only to find additional cars in the parking lot indicating their was too much activity in the area to proceed.

According to defence attorneys, the original plan was to rob the museum of one painting only, a theft to order, with only the guard-accomplice present who was to pretend to authorities that he had been subdued during the robbery. Unfortunately, the accomplices arrived prematurely while the museum's cashier was still in the building. By tying her up and gagging her along with their accomplice-cohort, the thieves transformed the museum theft from a simple robbery to armed robbery and kidnapping. 

Photo Credit Sputnik News
Ukrainian law enforcement believes that the works were shipped out of Moldova and into the Ukraine after arrests were made in the case in mid-March.  If the shift was made to hide the evidence or to send the works onwards to buyers in either somewhere in the Ukraine or Russia has not been established with certainty, however Italian police and Ukrainian media reports have suggested that the final buyer was rumored to be a wealthy collector in Chechnya.  According to the Russian news agency TASS, the paintings were sent from Moldova to the Ukraine via the postal service and at the time of their discovery, were awaiting transfer back to Moldova.

All 17 artworks were recovered May 6, 2016 in the Ukrainian region of Odessa during a raid carried out by the special Ukrainian police forces.  The museum pieces were found wrapped in plastic bags and hidden in a willow forest a few kilometers from the border between Moldova and Ukraine on Turunciuk island, a body of land that sits on the left branch of the Dniester River.  Despite their hide spot, the paintings were recovered in better condition that would be expected given their multi-country transport. 

Ironically the wheels of Italian justice have proved surprisingly fast.  Faster even than international negotiations with the representatives of the Kiev government, who currently still holds 14 of the artworks, one year onward after the theft.  The 17 artworks worth an estimated €10m-€15m, are no longer held ransom by an opportunistic group of thieves.  They are being held hostage by diplomatic bureaucracy.