Last month in Copenhagen, a Philadelphia man and an Iraqi art dealer met secretly in a tiny hotel room, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. Robert Wittman brought $250,000 cash stuffed in a black carry-on. Baha Kadhum brought a 17th-century masterpiece, a Rembrandt self-portrait stolen five years ago from Sweden’s National Museum and worth millions. Danish police burst in and arrested Kadhum. It was another success for the FBI’s national Art Crime Team, which is based in Philadelphia. “We’re making it a higher priority,” said Wittman, the unit’s senior investigator. He is the agent other FBI offices often use as an undercover buyer in multimillion-dollar stings.
“Sadly, this is a busy field,” said Sharon Flescher of the International Foundation for Art Research. “International borders are porous when it comes to art theft. A painting stolen in Sweden can end up in California. That’s not an unusual trajectory.” Wittman and his colleagues have recovered $150 million worth of stolen and cultural property. This includes one of 14 original copies of the Bill of Rights, valued at $30 million, stolen from North Carolina during the Civil War; $50 million worth of paintings stolen from an estate in Madrid and traced to New York; and five Norman Rockwell paintings stolen from a gallery in Minneapolis and recovered in a Brazilian farmhouse.