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  • FBI launches 'most wanted' list of stolen art
    02.16.2005 CTV.ca News Staff

    The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has a new "most wanted" list. This one's not for criminals, but for art.

    After much analysis, the bureau has come up with its list of the top 10 art crimes, and it's asking the public for help in solving them.

    FBI investigators are on the hunt for Rembrandts, Renoirs, stolen treasures from Iraq, two Van Goghs, and Munch's "The Scream."

    "We see ties to organized crime," FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker told reporters in Washington. "There have been reported ties to everything from the insurgency in Iraq to some theories that some of these proceeds support terrorism."

    The art crimes team is staffed by eight special agents who investigate the cases. Two special trial attorneys have been designated to prosecute the cases.

    The FBI is also maintaining a National Stolen Art File. It's a computer database of stolen art and cultural works which can be used by law enforcement agencies around the world.

    It is estimated that art crimes are a $6-billion a year industry, but the cultural value of many of the objects are regarded as priceless.

    The biggest art heist in U.S. history happened in 1990 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Thieves in Boston made off with Rembrandt's "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee," as well as works by Manet and Vermeers.

    The pieces stolen in that heist were so famous they could never be sold. Since the theft in 1990, police have had no leads.

    Special agents with the FBI say the true art of art theft is selling the stolen works.

    "There's no requirement to register art particularly, as there is a requirement to register cars, for example," Bonnie Magness-Gradiner of the art crime team said.

    Top 10 list

    The top 10 list of stolen art includes:

    • 7,000-10,000 Iraqi artifacts looted and stolen in 2003
    • 12 paintings stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston
    • 2 Renoirs and 1 Rembrandt stolen from Sweden's National Museum in 2000 (Recovered)
    • Munch's "The Scream" and "The Madonna" taken in 2004 from the Munch Museum in Oslo
    • Benevenuto Cellini's "Salt Cellar" stolen from Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum in 2003
    • Caravaggio's "Nativity with San Lorenzo" and "San Francesco" from Palermo taken in 1969
    • A "Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius" violin stolen from a New York apartment in 1995
    • Two Van Gogh paintings taken from Amsterdam's Vincent Van Gogh Museum in 2002
    • Cezanne's "View of Auvers-sur-Oise" stolen from Oxford's Ashmolean Museum in 1999
    • Da Vinci's "Madonna of the Yarnwinder" taken from Scotland's Drumlanrig Castle in 2003

    The treasures are often kept hidden for years, and the thieves often do a good job of making their crimes hard to trace, like one theft from a Swedish gallery.

    "They threw tire spikes on the street, they blew up cars around the city to create a distraction," Special Agent Eric Ives told CTV News.

    At the top of the list are a number of items taken from Iraqi museums in March and April 2003. A number of artifacts have been returned, but up to 10,000 pieces are still missing.

    Also on the list is Munch's "The Scream" and "The Madonna." They were stolen on a Sunday afternoon in August 2004.

    Two masked thieves entered the Munch Museum and stole the paintings. They threatened museum staff with guns and fled in a black Audi.

    Cellini's "Salt Cellar" was taken in May 2003 by someone who used scaffolding to break into a museum in Vienna. The thief stole the piece made out of gold, ebony, and enamel. It has been valued at approximately $55 million.

    A violin is also included on the list. The instrument was stolen in October 1995 from the New York apartment of a concert violinist. The violin was made in 1727 by Antonio Stradivari and is valued at $3-million.

    Two paintings stolen in 2002 from the Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam are also on the most wanted list. The pieces were taken in December of that year after two thieves used a ladder to climb onto the roof and break into the gallery.

    The Van Gogh paintings are valued at $30 million. Police in the Netherlands have convicted two men of the thefts, but they haven't recovered the paintings.

    Two pieces of art on the most wanted list were stolen from galleries in the United Kingdom.

    On New Year's Eve 1999 a thief broke into the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England during the Millennium fireworks. Cezanne's landscape painting "View of Auvers-sur-Oise", valued at $3-million, was stolen.

    A Da Vinci painting valued at $65-million dollars was taken in August 2003 from Drumlanrig Castle in Scotland. Two men pretending to be tourists overpowered a tour guide and stole the painting "Madonna of the Yarnwinder." They had two accomplices and took off in a VW Golf.

    But, the FBI has already had some luck with its list. In a sting operation, authorities recovered two Renoirs and Rembrandt's missing self-portrait. They were stolen from Sweden's national museum five years ago.