Police launches probe into stolen artworks

Police launches probe into stolen artworks

ISTANBUL - Radikal
Police launches probe into stolen artworks

A total of 302 pieces were stolen from the State Museum of Painting and Sculpture in Ankara, according to an inventory carried out by the Culture Ministry. Hürriyet photo

Police are after some 40 paintings which were stolen from Turkey’s state museums and sold to their “illegal owners” following an operation that amounted to the seizure of 30 important pieces in a raid last week.

Police determined new names in the stolen artworks operation and is set to hold operations to seize the important pieces of prominent Turkish and Ottoman painters such as Fikret Mualla, İbrahim Çallı, Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu and Hoca Ali Rıza.

The total value of pieces nearly 30 million dollars according to experts.

Tourism and Culture Minister Ömer Çelik said he is fully supportive of the operation and “wants to reach wherever/whoever it goes,” on his Twitter account Dec. 8.

A total of 302 pieces were stolen from the State Museum of Painting and Sculpture in Ankara, according to an inventory of approximately 5,000 works of art carried out by the Culture Ministry in 2010. 

The report claimed that 256 of the paintings were completely missing while 46 had been replaced with fake replicas. The authenticity of 30 more art works was also described as “highly suspicious,” according to the report. There are famous names who bought the stolen artworks according to the report. Cemal Batur, the owner of Tunca Art Gallery, BilFen Schools’ owner Osman Öztürk, Çebi Anthics’ owner Mehmet Çebi and businessmen Şahin Ekşioğlu, Mustafa Can Has are among the ones whose paintings were taken back by the police. 

Official auctions are held by informing the Tourism and Culture Ministry in Turkey and auction companies are obliged to inform the ministry of every auction held, with museums responsible for controlling all the auctions. 

Buyers knew, police says

Police consider these pieces to have been sold, not auctioned off, after having being stolen. The fine of buying and selling stolen art pieces in Turkey involves imprisonment from 2 to 5 years and a 5,000-Turkish-Lira financial penalty, with the sentence doubling if the pieces were intended to be smuggled.
Former Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay responded in relation to the matter at the time, saying the museum was poorly protected, especially after the 1980 coup.

A number of denunciations were reported during the investigation, which was conducted in high secrecy. Subsequently, simultaneous raids were carried out on Dec. 5 in homes, galleries and antique shops belonging to auction firms or private collectors in Istanbul and Ankara.

Police said some of the paintings were found in secret warehouses of auction firms, adding that their owners knew that they had been stolen.

Dozens of important pieces of art are still missing from the museum, and police say the investigation will continue.