Art theft is the third most lucrative crime in the world, after drugs and illicit arms sales, according to Interpol and the FBI. However, in South Africa it is not very common, despite our high crime rate.
Last Sunday (11th) five artworks were stolen from the Pretoria Art Museum’s permanent collection, when three men, under the pretense of being students and their art lecturer, asked to view specific pieces.
Irma Stern Painting Left Behind
Witnesses say that after the so- called students were shown the art works, then tied up the museum official at gunpoint and took off with six paintings. They left one painting behind presumably because it was too big to fit into their (getaway) car. This painting was Irma Stern’s “Two Malay Musicians”, valued at about R12m – the most valuable of the six.
According to a report in the Pretoria News on Tuesday a Top SA artist behind R17.5m theft. The artist allegedly commissioned the men to steal the masterpieces for him.
A whistleblower is also part of this high profile case. On Monday, Crime Line received a tip-off regarding the robbery. The head of Crime Line, Yusuf Abramjee, said the information had been passed on to police to follow up.
Four Paintings Recovered in a Cemetery
On Tuesday morning at 1.30 am, four of five paintings stolen from the Pretoria Art Museum at the weekend have been found under a bench in a small private cemetery in Sunridge Park, behind the Dutch Reformed Church in Port Elizabeth by a member of the dog squad after an informer had tipped off the police.
The recovered paintings, in good condition, appeared to be Maggie Laubser’s “Cat and Petunias” (1936); JH Pierneef’s “Eland and bird” (1961); Irma Stern’s “Fishing boats” (1931) and Hugo Naude’s “Hottentot chief”.
Sekoto’s Street Scene Still Missing
The painting still missing was Gerald Sekoto’s “Street Scene” (1939), worth about R7m.
Tshwane mayoral spokesperson Pieter de Necker said the museum would re-open on November 20.
One would think that selling high profile famous artworks would be difficult for criminals either locally where the theft happened or abroad, but despite the challenges, estimates suggest there are billions of dollars made in stolen art sales annually across the world.
The most common reason, high profile art is stolen at present internationally is not for its beauty or for collectors, but to hold the art hostage for ransom money as happened in the Rotterdam Heist.