Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Stolen Art Watch, Leonardo Da Vinci Madonna, Class WarfareTo Prevent Reward and Fee Payments !!!

Losing our da Vinci was like dealing with a kidnap’

The theft of the Madonna of the Yardwinder from Drumlanrig Castle was the biggest single art theft in Britain since the war. The Duke of Buccleuch tells The Times how it feels to be held to ransom

It was just a phone call. But for Richard, 10th Duke of Buccleuch, it was one of the most important he had ever made. At the end of the line was a man who claimed to have information that could lead to the recovery of his family’s Leonardo, The Madonna of the Yarnwinder. “It was almost like dealing with a kidnap,” said the duke. “And that is why the whole process was so shadowy. There is a grey area between when a reward becomes in effect a ransom.”

The call was critical because the man — the duke knew him only as “Mr Brown” — had offered evidence in the shape of a photograph next to a dated newspaper that the picture was safe and that he knew where it was. Mr Brown had to be convinced that he was dealing directly with the duke, and that his intermediary was genuine.

The duke, however, knew something that Mr Brown didn’t. The “intermediary”, using the alias John Craig, was an undercover detective, part of a sting operation set up to catch the thieves. It was vital that his cover should not be blown.

“It was,” admits the duke, “a very stressful conversation ... I tried to convey how deeply anxious the family were to recover the picture and how we wanted Mr Craig to act for us in doing so. You can imagine how very nervous I was. I don’t think we talked money but I sort of implied we would do whatever was necessary.”

When he put down the phone he was trembling. Contact had been made. Now it was a question of waiting.

Whenever a big art theft takes place, word spreads in the criminal underworld. The thieves rarely turn out to be working for a mythical billionaire. Mostly it is theft carried out to order, with an eye to the huge rewards on offer. This one was no exception.

Richard, then the Earl of Dalkeith, heir to the Buccleuch title held by his elderly father, first learnt that the family Leonardo had been stolen when he was out on a hillside on his Dumfriesshire estate on August 27, 2003. It was 11.30 in the morning.

“I heard the voice of a young man who was desperately struggling up the hill from a car parked below. When he got to me and recovered his breath he said: ‘The Leonardo’s been stolen.’ All I remember is simply not believing it. And then the next thought was ... well, it will be recovered.”

Two thieves, one wielding an axe, had walked into the room where the Leonardo hung, threatened a female staff member, then torn the picture from its protective casing, setting off the castle alarms, which alerted the local police. But by the time they got to the castle, the thieves had disappeared, driven away on a maze of small country roads in a getaway car.

Richard’s father, living nearby, could not bring himself to come to the castle. “He was horrified,” said the duke. “I think he felt there was nothing he could do and I don’t think he could have borne the rawness of seeing that empty frame.

“It was very hard for him. He did love that picture and the sense of it having been part of the family history for so long. It was bought in 1756 in Paris by our forebears, and since it was probably painted around 1507, it’s been with us longer than it’s been anywhere else.”

Among the first people on the scene were the insurers. The Leonardo, worth anything up to £30 million on the open market, had been valued for insurance purposes at £15 million. But with 75 per cent of its value exempted for tax purposes, the decision had been taken to insure it for just under £4 million, which was paid out by Hiscox, the insurance company, right away.

The loss adjuster, Mark Dalrymple, now became a key figure, and the duke began to learn something of the complexity of the art underworld. There is nothing illegal about seeking a reward for the return of a stolen painting. But dealing in stolen goods is a criminal activity. The distinction is critical.

At an early stage, the decision was taken to mount a sting operation, with the detective, “John Craig”, playing the role as agent for the duke and his insurers. “He was a courageous man,” says the duke. “The people at the top of the tree were pretty nasty pieces of work, as the court was told. ‘You don’t mess with them’ was one quote I heard, I don’t know if that’s for effect or not but I think that is the case. Whether it’s drugs, guns or stolen Leonardos, these people deal in a currency of goods and they are completely ruthless. So I think it was incredible that John Craig had the capacity to convince people in the way that he did that he was the intermediary for us.”

There were many false alarms along the way. “One learnt to moderate ones sense of anticipation and excitement,” he says. Then came the crucial telephone call with the mysterious Mr Brown. It seemed a significant breakthrough. But it was followed by a silence that lasted for months.

Then something happened which almost spelled disaster. Mr Dalrymple, the loss adjuster, appeared in a television programme about art thefts. In the course of it, he talked about how to set up a sting operation. “Not surprisingly that caused a bit of concern,” says the duke. “Things went cold for some time after that. But John Craig was able to convince the people he was talking to that he had this special link with the family.”

Then, four years after the theft, came the call that the family had been waiting for. The duke was in London and had switched his mobile phone off. When he emerged from a meeting, he saw there were seven calls waiting for him. They were all from the police. They told him the picture had been recovered and he was needed at Dumfries police station to identify it. He flew north that night. Next day he walked into a storeroom to find the Madonna, propped up in a box on a table.

What was his main emotion? “I suppose, to be honest, it was relief. Relief that it had not been damaged. The joy of the recovery and the emotion of seeing it again, that was one thing. But the relief to see that it was all right, with just one tiny bit of crumbling in the top lefthand corner.”

But there was sadness, too. Three weeks before receiving word that the painting might have been recovered, the duke’s father had died. He had known, before his death, that the picture was safe, but not that it had been found. He was never to see it again.

Next year, however, the Leonardo will finally be returned to Drumlanrig. The duke is preparing a special room for it, so that it can be seen as it was meant to be, with clear but gentle lighting in the devotional setting he believes is appropriate. The Madonna is finally coming home.

Art Hostage Comments;

There are two sides to this story, and lets not forget the jury did not regard John Craig or Mark Dalrymple as believable witnesses, hence the Not Proven and Not Gulity verdicts.

This is a concerted effort on behalf of the Aristocracy to avoid paying the lower working classes payment of a reward for recovering the Da Vinci Madonna.

The cleared Da Vinci Madonna defendants are expected to tip their hats in respect of their Masters and eat humble pie,
"move along nothing more to see here"

However, upon a more sobering note, what about Art Hostage, who's plan was used to recover the Da Vinci Madonna, Art Hostage played by all the Police and Insurers rules, Art Hostage followed the Police and Insurers rules, Art Hostage provided the tools, did Art Hostage get his fee paid, no, not yet, although that tsunami is yet to hit.

You see Art Hostage met with two Police Officers from S.O.C.A. and Mark Dalrymple at the Gatwick Airport Hilton Hotel in January 2007 to sell the Art Hostage plan that recovered the Da Vinci Madonna in October 2007.

A Tale of Two separate claims for payment, the first by the cleared Da Vinci Madonna defendants, the second by Art Hostage who followed the Police and Insurers rules, which Police and Insurers are trying to use against the Da Vinci Madonna cleared defendants.

They cannot have it both ways.

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