Art theft unsophisticated — ex-FBI investigator


A former Federal Bureau of Investigation arts theft investigator has labelled the theft of two Lindauer paintings from a Parnell gallery as unsophisticated.
Robert Wittman said it was unlikely those responsible had a clear plan when they crashed a utility vehicle through the glass front of the International Art Centre in Parnell.
“Ultimately this wasn’t a sophisticated robbery, it was more of spur-of-the-moment; some individuals who saw some value and said, ‘This is what we are going to do’.”
Mr Wittman who has been involved in arts thefts investigations for more than 30 years said it was unlikely the heist was “made to order”.
“Usually what I’ve always seen is individuals take these things as they want to try to monetise them.”
He said while the thieves might have successfully made off with the goods it was a “terrible” business plan.
“When it comes to art they are considered to be very valuable,” he said. “But they don’t realise until after they have it, now they have a problem, because really it’s difficult to sell in any kind of market.”
Masterfully crafted by celebrated artist Gottfried Lindauer in 1884, the highly-valuable works are known as known as Chieftainess Ngatai Raure and Chief Ngatai Raure and are estimated to be worth about $1 million together.
Mr Wittman said the only way the thieves would likely get away with their crime was if no evidence was left behind.
In this case he said there was a lot of forensic evidence that risked placing them at the scene; marks and damage caused by the ram-raid, CCTV footage, eye-witness accounts and a “lot of forensic evidence”.
“That’s what gets you caught.”
He said the good news was in most cases like these the paintings were recovered. “The famous pieces like this, 95% come back. The one time they don’t come back is if they are destroyed.”
He said even if they were holed up in a closet somewhere, the paintings would come back to market at some point; be it through an inheritance or discovery as there would be a record of their theft.