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Interesting Art Thefts

When you hear about Art theft or Diamond heists its hard not to think of Oceans 11. Whilst in reality most thefts are relatively simple (if not forceful), many thefts are sophisticated and complex. Here is a list of some interesting ones:

Jewellery stores are notorious targets, but not always the store itself (which are well secured). When the owner is transporting goods in their vehicle they are vulnerable. A common tactic by criminals is to ‘slow puncture’ the tyre of the owner’s car and then discreetly follow them. When the owner realises they have a puncture and get out to change the tyre the thieves pounce. Moral: if you are carrying high valuables and seem to be getting a flat tyre DONT STOP, but instead get yourself to a service station or police station before changing your tyre.

Recently two signed Damien Hirst works of art worth £33,000 were stolen from a gallery in London. The pieces were taken from the Exhibitionist Gallery in Notting Hill, between 3am and 3.30am, in what police believe was a raid planned specifically to target the two works. The thief entered the gallery by forcing open the front doors and drove the items away in a dark-coloured hatchback. That’s not very Oceans 11, but more targeted ram raid. Incidentally, the Manager of the Gallery, said they had acquired the prints only four days before the theft.

Only just had them, and yet were subject to targeted raid – sounds unlucky to me!

For a more brutal approach we turn to the E.G. Bürle Foundation museum in Zurich, Switzerland, on Feb. 12, 2008. In broad daylight, one man pulled a gun while the other two men grabbed the four paintings closest to the door. Whilst it appeared random which paintings they got, they hit the criminal jackpot – the four paintings taken are worth approximately $163 million, making it one of the biggest art thefts ever in Europe.

This one is Movie material.  In July 2002, Paraguay hosted the most valuable art exhibition in its history. However, behind the scenes a break-in had been planned for several months. An unidentified man rented a store 25 meters from the Museum. He then recruited people to help him dig a tunnel 3 meters underground, running from the shop to the museum. After the two months it took to complete the tunnel, the thieves used it to enter the museum undetected on July 30, 2002. The thieves left with more than $1m worth of art.

The gang who robbed the National Museum in Sweden in December 2000 used distraction to great effect. While three men were inside the museum, accomplices set off two car bombs on the opposite ends of town scattering police. At the same time, other accomplices were laying spikes on the roads around the museum (causing flat tyres to police cars – I’m seeing a theme!). While one man stood inside the museum with a gun, two others located the targeted paintings. They were in an out in a half hour, with paintings valued at $30 million combined. The getaway vehicle was a speedboat (the museum is on the waterfront).

On the morning of Dec. 7, 2002, two men, one of whom was an international art thief known as “The Monkey”, climbed a ladder to access a window of the VanGogh Museum in Amsterdam. In plain view of a park, they climbed the ladder to a window, broke the glass with their towel-wrapped elbows and exited by sliding down a rope. They took with them art worth about $20 million.

There are so many more.  Next month, I’ll go through some of the large Diamond Heists. In meantime have a great and safe festive season.