Monday, April 30, 2007

Met's art theft squad suffers budget cuts

Thanks very much to Chris Townsend for the following story, which is thoroughly depressing: "The dramatic scaling down of Scotland Yard's once renowned arts and antique squad has left organised criminals free to plunder the nation's heritage, according to a leading fine art insurer.
Police have sought private money to finance the squad after its annual budget of some £300,000 was halved earlier this year. But the Guardian has learned that Scotland Yard has failed to secure a penny from insurers or auction houses, after months of discussions. Britain's art market is second only to the US and experts claim up to £200m worth of stolen art and antiques are sold in the UK each year. Interpol estimates that art theft is the fourth largest organised crime after drugs, people trafficking and arms.
Annabel Fell-Clark, chief executive of Axa Art UK, which pays out tens of millions of pounds a year to reimburse victims of art theft, condemned the slashing of the unit's budget. She warned that scaling down the unit was already having an impact on pursuing art thieves who target Britain's stately homes and museums. . . . The London based "arts squad" was formed in 1969 to pursue and prosecute criminals who operate in the second biggest art market in the world. In the past the unit, which is called in to investigate 120 cases a year, was involved in recovery of art works across the world.
According to art crime sources, officers from the squad worked with Spanish investigators to help crack one of Europe's most spectacular art robberies - the theft of 19 paintings valued at £30m from the Madrid penthouse of Esther Koplowitz, Marquesa of Casa Penalver and Cardenas.
Other successes include the uncovering of a multimillion pound British smuggling operation in which precious antiquities and archaeological artefacts were stolen from Egypt, some of which were sold at Sotheby's."
See the entire article at the above page.

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