ART THEFT AND ROBBERY : TWO CASES, INVESTIGATION AND PREVENTION TIPS


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My second passion after criminology study is the Arts.

I dedicate this article to my best friend Cindy FEIX as I share with her this pleasure for artistic knowledge and discovery.

I invite you to have a look at her profile on VIADEO network:

http://fr.viadeo.com/fr/profile/cindy.feix.

This article deals with stolen art and exposed in 4 parts:

– a presentation of two stolen art cases, one who started in Caracas (Venezuela) and resolved in Miami (US), and one underway in Brisbane (Australia);

– art stolen definition with official references,

– case resolution methods

– prevention tips.

I- EXPOSAL OF THE TWO CASES

* The first case deals with the stollen of an Henry Matisse most famous painting called « « Odalisque in Red Pants. », representing a naked woman sitting in red pants.

Odalisque (in Turkish Odalik) refers to a female slave or concubine in an Ottoman seraglio, especially the Imperial Harem of the sultan. 

She could rise from the level of odalisque and become a concubine, by being selected, so she would train to service the sultan. She rise in status of concubine  only after such sexual contact.

Matisse painted it in 1925, during the « Belle Epoque » in the « era of the Third French Republic, characterized by optimism, peace at home and in Europe, new technology and scientific discoveries » (wikipedia source)

The painting was exposed at the Contemporary Art Museum of Caracas and its missing was detected in 2002, by the conservator of the museum Rita Salvestrini, as an  art collector Genaro Ambrosino was interested in buying it and contacted her.

From this time, it figured at the top list of the most wanted art and was by undercover FBI Agents in Miami Beach, who catch the thefts, a couple trying to sell it for $740,000,  in a room at the Loews Hotel in Miami Beach.

The original painting was supposed to have been pulled from its frame and replaced with a forgery during an exhibition loan in Spain in 1997. The fake was exhibited at the museum for quite some time.

Interpol, the FBI, and police in France and Spain, tried to determinate if Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, 46, and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, 50, were involved in the original theft, but in vain.

The couple affirms to authorities that they took possession of it by a middleman.

For more details:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/henri-matisses-odalisque-recovered-by-fbi_n_1682790.html

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/07/matisse-painting-stolen-thomas-crown-style-was-recovered-miami/54816/

The second case is an investigation underway now in Brisbane area, processed by Queensland Police (Australia), in cooperation with Detectives from the Fortitude Valley Criminal Investigation Branch, after a jewellery theft from a stand at the Brisbane Exhibition, on August 8th 2012.

You can read that « Initial investigations suggest that thieves entered a pavilion and forced entry into a display cabinet containing antique rings sometime between 7 last night and 8.15 ».

See the police alert on the official website:

http://mypolice.qld.gov.au/blog/2012/08/11/jewellery-stolen-bowen-hills/

Video report:

http://www.weartv.com/newsroom/top_stories/videos/wear_vid_24224.shtml

II- DEFINITION OF ART THEFT

I take as a reference the FBI’s Official Website:

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/arttheft

It is defined like « Art and cultural property crime—which includes theft, fraud, looting, and trafficking across state and international line ».

The legislation is available at:

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/arttheft/legislation

For example, possibly related to our first case:

« Title 18, United States Code, Section 668 – Theft of Major Artwork

Makes it a federal offense to obtain by theft or fraud any object of cultural heritage from a museum. The statute also prohibits the « fencing » or possession of such objects, knowing them to be stolen. »

III – RESOLUTION

In the first case, on the one hand, the importance of an investigation file is obvious as the FBI National Stolen Art File (NSAF) to computerize the stolen arts « reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and the world ». (Source FBI official website).

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/arttheft/national-stolen-art-file

On the other hand, it’s important to highlight that the most resolved cases in this type of crime are due to cooperation and coordination between states or countries, matching their informations and sharing expertises.

Have a look to the Art Crime Team and its protagonist at the page:

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/arttheft

Patience and determinate state of mind mainly perform the efficience of the agents, specifically dedicated to this type of investigation.

Other organizations exist to help at the recovery of arts, like the ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) directorate, who investigates « a wide range of domestic and international activities arising from the illegal movement of people and goods into, within and out of the United States ». (HSI official website)

http://www.ice.gov/about/offices/homeland-security-investigations/

In France, on Nov. 20, 2006,  it permited to recover a Pisarro’s art piece, « Le Marché aux Poissons » (The Fish Market), stolen from a French museum more than 30 years ago is finally on its way home to France, as the Art Loss Register discovered it figured in an auction catalogue of Sotheby’s New York and notified Interpol. 

After a ceizure by HSI, the monotype was officially forfeited to the United States on Nov. 22, 2011 and returned in France in Aix Les Bains.

Videotape: http://youtu.be/ETH3Qu6wMVs

In the second case, the police published alerts for this case on the QPS News Blog and on social medias like Facebook, in order to involve population in the providing of informations.

A phone call number is dedicated to their collect as they are really usefull for police agents.

Crimestoppers for example is « a charitable community volunteer organisation working in partnership with the Queensland Police Service ».

It was created in 1989 and the volunteers are anonymous.

For more details, have a look at the website:

http://www.crimestoppersqld.com.au/

Otherwise, the Fortitude Valley Criminal Investigation Branch is dedicated to complex investigations.

I quote the describtion of its mission from the Queensland State Archives (Queensland Government)

http://www.archivessearch.qld.gov.au/Search/AgencyDetails.aspx?AgencyId=1522

« ESTABLISHMENT:

With a re-organisation of the Police Department, Detective Force Branch (Detective Office), the Criminal Investigation Branch (C. I. B.) was established on 8 January 1896.

FUNCTIONS:

The C.I.B. was responsible for the investigation of serious crime including armed robbery, homicide, serious assault etc

ADMINISTRATIVE STRUCTURE:
By 1970 – 1971, the C. I. B. was responsible for the following sections: warrant bureau; modus operandi; scientific, document examination, firearms; fingerprint and photographic sections; metal, drug, emergency, and stock investigation squads; as well as the police communication centre. Branches had also been set up in major cities and towns (from the 1970s, regions). From the 1970s, however, this administrative structure was gradually broken up; and in 1973 (c.y.) a homicide squad was established. Major changes resulted from the Fitzgerald Inquiry in 1989, with the eventual creation in the 1990s of the State Crime Operations Command, Crime Operations Branch and the Bureau of Criminal Intelligence Queensland. »

In conclusion, the intervention of experts with technical skills and competences can’t be ignored.

We’ll stay aware all along this investigation and I’ll share with you its progression.

IV/ PREVENTION

I recommend precious reports or researches about various ways of prevention, so you could have a global view about this problem.

* Debate about art law

Bandle Anne Laure et Theurich Sarah, « Alternative Dispute Resolution and Art-Law – A New Research Project of the Geneva Art-Law Centre », in : Journal of International Commercial Law and Technology, Vol.6, No. 1 (2011), pp. 28 – 41. 

http://www.art-law.org/centre/publications/JICLT_bandle-theurich.pdf

* Beverly Program for Prevention against jewelry store robbery and theft.

http://www.beverlypd.org/pdf/PRIVATE%20BUSINESS%20SAFETY%20TOPICS/ROBBERY%20PREVENTION%20FOR%20JEWELRY%20STORES.pdf

* Auction Laws in US from the Blog « Auction Law »,  Auctioneer for over 14 years

http://auctionlaw.wordpress.com/2007/08/18/auction-laws-in-the-usa/

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25 réflexions sur “ART THEFT AND ROBBERY : TWO CASES, INVESTIGATION AND PREVENTION TIPS

  1. C’est l’OCBC en France qui gère les affaires de vols et recels d’objets d’art.
    Le mobilier des petites églises de campagnes étant très vulnérable aux vols, le ministère de la culture français a mis en ligne un guide pratique pour sécuriser les objets. Certains départements l’ont repris et compléter avec des informations sur l’entretien et les subventions pour restaurer le patrimoine.
    Le ministère de la culture a également fait un guide méthodologique sur le marquage des oeuvres d’art. En effet, le marquage est primordial, ainsi que l’inventaire, pour prouver la propriété, et donc le vol, d’une oeuvre.
    Le CRP2A, rattaché à l’université Bordeaux 3, avait même travailler sur un système de marquage basé sur les traces de radioactivité (qui perdure des milliers d’années).

  2. I wanted to mention the existence of the ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes against Art).

    ARCA is « an interdisciplinary think tank/research group on contemporary issues in art crime. This international non-profit organization studies issues in art crime and cultural property protection, runs educational programs, and consults on art protection and recovery issues brought to them by police, governments, museums, places of worship, and other public institutions. »

    See more details on : http://www.artcrime.info/

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