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Saturday, 1 January, 2000, 19:15 GMT
The art of art theft

Cezanne's Another Cezanne was stolen in Rome in 1998


Art theft is no longer just an elitist crime funded by unscrupulous collectors, but has become a billion dollar industry linked to drugs cartels and illicit arms dealing.

The theft of a Cezanne oil painting from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford early on New Year's Day is believed to be the latest incident in this trade - now worth more than 3bn a year.

There have been a spate of raids on British art collections - with the total value of art and antiques stolen estimated at between 300m and 500 m each year.

Paintings are thought to be "stolen to order" by drugs gangs and arms dealers using the works to launder money.

The raids on museums and galleries have often been violent.

Gunpoint

Early last year staff in York's City Art Gallery were held at gunpoint, gagged and tied up by thieves who stole 20 paintings worth more than 1m, including a Turner watercolour.

In 1994, robbers tied up the night-watchman at Frankfurt's Schirn Gallery before taking paintings with a combined value of 30m.

In 1990, a gang bound guards at the Gardner Museum in Boston, USA, before escaping with seven paintings worth 130m in one of the biggest raids of all time.

The international police organisation Interpol has about 14,000 major art works on its files that are missing around the world.

In June, Interpol compiled a CD-Rom database containing 17,000 photographs and descriptions of stolen valuables.

The Scream

It usually takes between five and seven years before works reappear but several major works stolen have not been recovered.

These include masterpieces by the artists Rembrandt, Titian, Klimt, Matisse, Turner, Girardon, and Oudry.

Edvard Munch's 19th-century masterpiece The Scream was recovered by police in 1994 after thieves took just two minutes to steal the painting in a daylight robbery.

One of the most sensational art raids occurred at Stockholm's Museum of Modern Art in 1993 when thieves copied the 1950's film Rififi, in which raiders cut through a roof to steal jewellery.

They stole six works by Picasso - three of which were recovered a month later - and two by Georges Braque totalling more than 40m.

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01 Jan 00 |  UK
Hunt for stolen Cezanne

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