Sunday 24 September 2017

Unguarded museum was easy pickings for €309m heist

Bruno Waterfield Brussels

THE Rotterdam museum that fell victim to the world's biggest art robbery in years has admitted to Dutch police that there were no security guards on duty when thieves stole seven paintings worth €309m.

The thieves were able to operate without fear of interruption for up to 35 minutes because they knew there were no guards in the Kunsthal museum.

"There was no one in the building and an external security firm went to the Kunsthal when the alarm went off," a police spokesman told the RTV broadcaster. "They discovered the break-in and warned us."

The stolen paintings, including works by Picasso, Monet and Matisse, were from the Triton Foundation art collection, which had never been exhibited before and were on display as part of the museum's 20th anniversary celebrations.

Emily Ansenk, the museum's director, tried to justify the decision, taken in consultation with insurers, to use alarms and security cameras instead of hiring people to guard the premises. "This means we use cameras and an alarm system but no people. We have state-of-the-art security," she said.

Dutch security experts criticised the open-plan layout of the museum, which meant that once the thieves were inside there were no barriers -- allowing access to the whole gallery.

Cherry pick

Wim van Krimpen, the museum's former director, admitted the thieves were able to "cherry pick" pictures, increasing suspicion that the paintings might have been stolen to order. "The pieces they stole were not hung together. They made a careful, informed choice."

Police, who have put 25 detectives on the case, the same number usually used for a murder investigation, said it was still unclear how the thieves entered the building.

Surveillance images from the night of the break-in have failed to provide any clear leads.

Investigators have focused on an emergency exit behind the building. It leads directly to the main exhibition hall, with paintings hung just a few yards away. Tyre tracks can still be seen in the grass behind the building leading away.

The paintings had been grabbed from the walls, leaving only white spaces and hanging wires dangling behind.

Officers were on the scene within five minutes of the alarm being triggered, according to museum director Ansenk, but the thieves were already gone.

Investigation

Police spokesman Henk van der Velde said the investigation is proceeding, though the getaway car has not been found and there are no suspects.

It is unknown what will happen with the paintings if the thieves are not caught.

The thieves may "realise they can't sell the paintings easily," said Chris Marinello, of the Art Loss registry.

But they may also sell them on the black market for a fraction of their true value, or ask insurers for money in exchange for returning them.

Cremers said the museum was not at fault for relying on cameras and motion detectors, rather than human guards. Having guards on site is costly, and they would be instructed not to confront robbers during a break-in anyway. "The only thing they can do is call police."

Cremers said the museum should have looked at ways to slow potential thieves down. That might have prevented them from attempting to break in in the first place, or at least limited the size of their haul.

He said the paintings should have been hung inside behind a second makeshift wall with doors, creating a "box within a box" in the gallery. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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