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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 10:41 GMT
UK hails art theft clampdown
Cezanne's Auvers-sur-Oise: Stolen from UK in January
A report recommending that the UK signs the Unesco convention banning the illicit trade in cultural property has been welcomed by the government.

Ninety-one other countries have already signed up to the 1970 convention.

Arts Minister Alan Howarth said that although the UK benefited greatly from "an honourable market in cultural objects", the report was prompted by "growing anxieties about the illicit trade and the UK's part in it".

It is thought the trade costs the UK up to 150m per year in insured losses.

International police believe that criminals launder profits through untraceable stolen goods.

Alan Howarth
Alan Howarth: "Growing anxieties about the illicit trade"
The report was produced by the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel, established by the Department of Culture, Trade and Industry in May. Its members are drawn from the worlds of archaeology, museums and the arts trade.

Its chairman, Norman Palmer, professor of commercial law at University College, London, said the legal UK market in cultural objects is "the second largest in the world, accounting for 30% of the global art market".

He added: "It is particularly important to ensure that its integrity is maintained."

The panel's report makes 16 recommendations, including a new criminal offence of importing, dealing in or possessing stolen or illegally excavated cultural objects.

It also suggests the setting up of an art and antiques police unit and a database telling both dealers and museums of the status of artefacts.

ashmolean museum
Ashmolean museum: Targeted by thieves
A major part of the problem stems from the fact that most of the objects stolen are uninsured.

This includes the 3m painting by French impressionist Paul Cezanne, stolen from an Oxford museum in January.

Gallery chiefs confirmed that the painting had been insured only against flood or fire damage.

Auvers-sur-Oise, an oil on canvas dated between 1879 and 1882, is believed to have been stolen to order on behalf of a crooked collector.

The burglars set off smoke canisters to obscure security cameras and trigger alarms at the Ashmolean Museum - part of Oxford University - as New Year revellers were thronging the streets.

The museum has been targeted by thieves before.

Spate of thefts

In 1997, a gang tried to steal a priceless 1,100-year-old jewel made for Alfred the Great.

The thieves entered the museum using scaffolding put up during refurbishment.

The previous year, two 17th Century bottles made in France were stolen.

In 1992, a spate of thefts forced Oxford University to step up security measures.

Greek vases, paintings, silver, a 16th Century painting stolen by a visitor under his coat and a collection of jewellery worth 50,000 were taken from the museum and several university colleges.

See also:

01 Jan 00 | UK
The art of art theft
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