Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Saturday, October 21, 2006

FBI reopens files to solve world's biggest art theft

By Michael Peelin London

Published: October 21 2006 03:00 | Last updated: October 21 2006 03:00

Investigators in the US have launched a fresh attempt to solve the world's biggest art robbery, in which hundreds of millions of dollars worth of works by Rembrandt, Vermeer and others were stolen from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Eric Ives, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's major theft unit, said he planned to appeal for information about the 1990 theft through a billboard campaign next year across the US and possibly even in London.

The plan highlights the FBI's tightening focus on art crimes and its enthusiasm to solve a notorious case that has dogged its reputation for more than 15 years.

Mr Ives said in an interview that the planned Gardner information campaign followed an FBI internal review of the case last year. The billboard drive would be a "major undertaking" and could go international "if my resources are commensurate with my ideas", he added.

"We have put in a lot of work [on the Gardner case] over the years," he said. "We have had a lot of tips. But we have not solved it - and we want to solve it."

Upon another note, and as a direct result of this new billboard campaign, FBI Special Agent Robert Wittman will hence forth be known as "Billboard Bob" only reverting to Robert Wittman when the Vermeer is recovered.

The theft, in which two robbers conned their way into the museum by dressing as police officers, has become infamous for its scale and audacity. More than a dozen works were stolen, including five Degas drawings, Vermeer's "The Concert" and Rembrandt's 1633 paintings "A Lady and Gentleman in Black" and "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee".

The FBI has been criticised in the past over its investigations of the theft, which some close observers think is linked to organised crime in Boston.

Charles Hill, a private investigator and former police officer who has worked on many art crime cases, said the FBI had "lost the plot" for a time during the investigation. In the mid-1990s a number of agents were entangled in a scandal over the tipping off of James "Whitey" Bulger, an alleged Bostonian crime boss who appears just below Osama bin Laden on the FBI's 10 most wanted list.

The Gardner Museum theft is second on a new FBI top 10 list of art crimes, behind the looting of Iraqi artefacts. In 2004 the FBI set up a dedicated art crime team, which Mr Ives says has recovered more than 1,000 items valued at a total of more than $65m (€52m, £35m).

The FBI says art and cultural property crime - including theft, fraud, looting and trafficking - is a "looming criminal enterprise" that causes losses of as much as $6bn annually.

The Gardner museum, which advertises a bogus $5m reward for information leading to the return of its stolen works in good condition, says it has "every confidence" the FBI is making the case a high priority.

For now, though, a decade and a half's frustration shows in the museum's official response to a question on whether any of the items at all have been recovered.

"We fully intend to shout from the rooftops when they come back," it says.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

The FBI Investigation into the Gardner Art Heist is the most costly in FBI history.
To save further outlay of American taxpayers money, the FBI need only read this blog to solve the case..... Thomas Slab Murphy has the ability to facilitate the return of the Gardner art, encouraging him to do so is the problem for authorities.

$5 million dollars is "Chump change" to this ex-General, offers of a political nature will allow the Gardner art to surface in Ireland and Boston.

Art Hostage.

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