Builder Arrested in Spain


A builder from l’Alcora was arrested on Monday for trafficking in stolen art after Spanish authorities discovered 18th century hand-painted wall tiles which had decorated the Palacio de Vallvert in Valencia. The tiles had been stolen individually over a period of months. The 1,932 recovered tiles have been estimated at almost 2 million €. Authorities have not yet arrested the thieves.

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Ramses II for sale

French police arrested a man attempting to sell pieces of hair from Pharoah Ramses the II on the internet. He was asking for 2,000 Euros for hair samples. The main claimed his father worked on restoring the body between 1976-77. Ramses II was born around 1304 BC. The unfortunate story highlights the fact that human remains are being bought and sold, and are an unfortunate component of the illicit market in cultural property. It will be interesting to see exactly how French authorities prosecute this man. The mummy most likely belongs to Egypt. Even if the man had nothing to do with the actual removal, it is likely he will be charged with receiving stolen property.

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Goya Recovered

The New York Times reports this morning that Goya’s “Children With a Cart” was recovered in good condition on Saturday in New Jersey. The F.B.I. investigators are not releasing many details, possibly because the investigation is ongoing. Apparently, an attorney notified the bureau of the work’s location. No details are being released about her identity, or if she is representing one the thieves as a client. There is no word yet on whether the attorney will receive the $50,000 reward offered by the insurer. If the attorney does get the reward money, I’m not sure if she will be required to give any of that money to her clients. That seems like quite an interesting ethical question, and I’m not sure what the outcome might be.

The thieves would be shielded by confidentiality though, so there is no way investigators would be able to track down the thieves without conducting their own investigation. At this point, it seems the FBI is attributing the theft to blind luck on the part of the thieves, and not any inside information as was speculated. The FBI’s Newark spokesman, Steve Siegal, says in the NYT,

This time of year, close to Christmas, they probably thought they’d found a truck filled with PlayStations and broke in and started looking for the biggest-looking box. Basically, it’s a target-of-opportunity typical New Jersey cargo theft. There are literally predators — for lack of a better word — who when they see a tractor-trailer or a cargo vehicle parked for any length of time start snooping around.

If anything, that makes the delivery company in charge of transporting the work look even sillier. It’s a sad state of affairs when ps2’s are harder to steal then a work of art.

I do not anticipate any charges being filed in this case, and the resolution of this mirrors the recovery of a Peruvian gold headdress authorities recovered in London in August. Investigators want to reward thieves who quickly return objects in this way. One of the best shots investigators may have at recovery is if thieves anonymously return stolen objects. Because the objects are so valuable, their safe return is the highest priority. This Goya, like the Peruvian treasure, has a very small potential market. The risk of an arrest pales in comparison with the proceeds of a potential sale, because no reputable buyer would be willing to take on stolen property like this.

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10 arrested in Agrigento, Italy

Agenzia Giornalistica Italia reported on Nov. 6 that 12 arrest warrants were issued, and 10 arrests were carried out for art theft and kidnapping.

The arrests occurred in Agrigento, on the island of Sicily. The island, of course, is notorious for its beautiful Greek and Roman heritage, and also for its ties to organized crime.

The image is of the temple of Dioscurio, located near Agrigento. The city is one of the poorest in Italy, despite its incredibly rich archaeological heritage. This may be an example of the Italian authorities cracking down on illicit excavation. I haven’t been able to find any more information on the arrests, but when I do, I’ll post it here.

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Arrests In Egypt

In Cairo, the AP reports police detained a group of 5 men who allegedly were attempting to smuggle stolen antiquities out of the country. Curiously, one man was a former state archaeologist, and another was a University Professor. Apparently the five had found five antiquities, and were attempting to sell them. It seems a security agent posing as an arab businessmen offered the men $2 million, but they were arrested. I’d be fascinated to know more of the details of who this ‘security agent’ is, who they work for, etc. The AP article is quite thin on the details. However, as I learn more, I’ll post it here.

My first reaction is that these men do not fit the stereotypical mold for antiquities smuggling. Writers in this field often assume much of the looting is done by dealers, thieves and looters. However perhaps that generalization is unfair. Academics and archaeologists may be involved in the illicit trade of cultural property as well.

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$1 Billion

Apparently, the former French waiter, and superthief Stephane Breitwieser has penned a memoir, soon to be published by French publisher Editions Anne Carrière. The work is titled Confessions d’un voleur d’art (Confessions of an Art Thief). Breitwieser stole an estimated $1 Billion worth of fine art during a 7 year spree, including this work, a 16th-century painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, “Sybille, Princess of Cleves,” which has been valued at between £4.2 million and £4.7 million. Most incredibly of all, his mother shredded canvases and threw a number of the pieces in a canal after learning of her son’s arrest. A Swiss court has sentenced him to 4 years, and a French court has sentenced him to 26 months.

Apparently he’s kept himself busy writing about his exploits. It’s worth noting the way a work’s fame and theft often go hand in hand. The most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa did not become famous until it was stolen in 1911. Art theft captures the imagination, and often leads to greater interest in a work. It’s hard to understand exactly why theives like Breitwieser steal art. They may be seeking fame, trying to earn money, overcome by their love of beautiful things, or filling an order for a wealthy collecter who wants a work for their own private use.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com