Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Surreal thing as Dali work stolen

Surrealist painter Salvador Dali, pictured in 1951

A bungling thief stole a valuable painting from a New York art gallery and then tried to send it back.

Phivos Istavrioglou swiped the Salvador Dali work as the security cameras rolled, and left fingerprints that helped detectives track him down.

It was a botched fine art caper that even he found foolish, according to an account of a confession contained in court papers.

The second Istavrioglou walked out of the Upper East Side gallery last summer with the Dali watercolour and onto Fifth Avenue, he "was scared and couldn't believe what a stupid thing he did," the papers say.

Istavrioglou, 29, of Athens, pleaded not guilty to theft during a brief court appearance in Manhattan where a judge set bail at 100,000 dollars (£65,000).

Prosecutors accused Istavrioglou of stealing Cartel De Don Juan Tenorio in broad daylight while visiting New York in June. After pulling it off the wall, he stashed it in a shopping bag and flew with it back to Athens.

"It was almost surreal how this theft was committed - a thief is accused of putting a valuable Salvador Dali drawing into a shopping bag in the middle of the afternoon, in full view of surveillance cameras," District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.

Shortly after learning that authorities had distributed security photos of him that were seen around the world, Istavrioglou took the 150,000 dollar (£97,000) work out of its frame. He then rolled it up in a cardboard tube - "in a manner befitting a college dorm poster" - and posted it back to New York without a return address, prosecutor Jordon Arnold said.

New York Police Department detectives lifted fingerprints from the shipment that matched one from a juice bottle they say Istavrioglou shoplifted from a Whole Foods market, giving them a name, said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

An investigator posing as an art gallery owner later tricked Istavrioglou into returning to New York by offering him a possible position as a consultant. Federal agents intercepted Istavrioglou at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday. While speaking to detectives that afternoon, court papers say, he "indicated he knew the theft would catch up to him and wants to make (the) situation right".

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