Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Security blamed for van Gogh heist

Egypt's top prosecutor has blamed poor security measures for the theft of a Vincent Van Gogh painting

None of the alarms and only seven out of 43 surveillance cameras were working at a Cairo museum where a Vincent van Gogh painting was stolen, Egypt's top prosecutor has said.

Thieves made off with the canvas, known by the titles of "Poppy Flowers" and "Vase with Flowers", from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum in the Egyptian capital on Saturday.

Prosecutor general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud told Egypt's state news agency that the thieves used a box cutter to remove the painting from its frame. He blamed the theft on the museum's poor security measures, calling them "feeble and superficial".

He also said the museum guards' daily rounds at closing time were inadequate and did not meet minimum security requirements to protect internationally renowned works of art.

Mr Mahmoud also claimed his office had warned Egypt's museums to implement stricter security controls after nine paintings were stolen last year from another Cairo institute, the Mohammed Ali Museum. Similar security lapses were also blamed for that theft.

Fifteen Egyptian officials, including the director of the Khalil museum, Reem Bahir, and the head of the fine arts department at the Ministry of Culture, have been barred from leaving Egypt until the investigation into the painting's theft is complete, Mr Mahmoud said.

Mr Bahir refused to comment on the prosecutor general's statements, saying only that the investigation was still under way.

This is the second time the painting by the Dutch-born artist has been stolen from the Khalil museum.

Thieves first made off with the canvas in 1978 before authorities recovered it two years later at an undisclosed location in Kuwait. Officials have never fully revealed the details of that theft.

The 12inch by 12inch (30cm by 30cm) canvas, believed to have been painted in 1887, resembles a flower scene by the French artist Adolphe Monticelli, whose work deeply affected van Gogh.

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