Art Thefts Hard to Explain, Hard to Solve


Famous paintings like the two Edvard Munch works stoen from an Oslo museum Sunday in an armed holdup sometimes disappear for years before resurfacing, the New York Times reports. “The Scream” and “Madonna” were cut from their frames after being taken from the Norwegian museum. The robbers’ getaway car was found abandoned nearby.

Investigators specializing in stolen art say that art thieves in Europe, where most of the high-profile thefts take place, tend to fall into two categories: low-level criminals who are more likely to bungle the operation and dispose quickly of the works, often for a fraction of their value or members of organized gangs who use the paintings as collateral or bartering chips in underworld deals involving drugs, forged documents and weapons. In such cases, recovering the paintings, if they are recovered at all, can take years, even decades. Unlike, say, gold or jewels, a recognizable work of art is virtually impossible to unload for its value on the legitimate market, so the pieces often become millstones for the criminals, said Tony Russell, a former investigator in Scotland Yard’s art and antiques squad.


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