Po­lice track down ar­ti­fact stolen from Mu­seum of Fine Arts

Montreal Gazette - - Montreal | Quebec - SUE MONT­GOMERY GAZETTE JUS­TICE RE­PORTER smont­gomery@ mon­tre­al­gazette.com Twit­ter: Mont­gomerySue

Twice dur­ing fall 2011, some­one walked into Mon­treal’s Mu­seum of Fine Arts and walked out with two an­cient ar­ti­facts worth close to $1.3 mil­lion.

The Sûreté du Québec, with the help of the RCMP, re­cently found one of the rare pieces of art in an Ed­mon­ton home and ar­rested a man. The other, from the first century BC, is still miss­ing.

Yet the mu­seum said its se­cu­rity sys­tem — cam­eras and agents — is fine and they have no in­ten­tion of putting the trea­sures un­der pro­tec­tive glass.

“This is very un­usual,” Danielle Cham­pagne, di­rec­tor of the mu­seum’s foun­da­tion, said about the thefts. “Mon­treal­ers are very re­spect­ful.”

The last theft from the mu­seum was in 1972, she said.

But art theft is big enough busi­ness that in 2003, the SQ set up a spe­cial squad to deal with the ap­prox­i­mately 100 cases they get a year. Most, said SQ Cpt. Richard Gauthier, head of eco­nomic crime in­ves­ti­ga­tions, are com­mit­ted by people fill­ing a spe­cial or­der for some­one.

The squad’s most re­cent coup, with the help of tips from the pub­lic, was find­ing the Mon­treal mu­seum’s ar­ti­fact two weeks ago in a home in Ed­mon­ton. A 33-year-old man, who was ar­rested, had bought the stolen 5th-century BC ar­ti­fact for “a few hun­dred dol­lars” — much less than its $1.2-mil­lion value, Gauthier said at a news con­fer­ence.

It had been stolen from the mu­seum soon af­ter open­ing hours on Sept. 3, 2011. The sec­ond ar­ti­fact, stolen at the same time a month later, is still miss­ing. Po­lice be­lieve the same per­son com­mit­ted both thefts.

The ar­rested Al­ber­tan is to ap­pear in an Ed­mon­ton court next month on a charge of be­ing in pos­ses­sion of stolen property, know­ing that it was stolen.

Arche­ol­o­gist John Fossey said he was with po­lice to bring the ar­ti­fact “home.”

“It’s a day I’ll never for­get, fly­ing back with it in a box at my feet, ”Fossey said, don­ning white gloves at the news con­fer­ence to place the ar­ti­fact back in its pro­tec­tive metal suit­case. “It was a thrill to say ‘Yes, that’s our baby, and to bring the baby back home.’ ”

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