The FBI department targeting stolen art

Art sales are up 50% since 2009 and so is global art theft - estimated at a staggering $6 billion a year
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Salvador Dali's Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio - stolen from a New York gallery last summer
Salvador Dali's Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio - stolen from a New York gallery last summer

After the 2008 stock market crash investors were forced to diversify their assets with the result that rather a lot of money poured straight into the art market. As that money poured in some of the art poured out courtesy of ever-advantageous thieves seizing their own opportunity to take a chunk out of generally less well protected private collections. So it was with some fascination that we read this Bloomberg piece focussing on global art crime and the specialist team within the FBI that targets it.

Though it's obviously been investigated by the FBI for decades, the piece reveals that the agency’s efforts have been boosted with the creation of a rapid-deployment Art Crime Team.

The piece hits a number of marks: throwing up some truly mind-boggling figures - art theft is estimated at around $6 billion a year globally; and dispels some popular myths - "The idea that there's a Mr Big out there somewhere who's directing all of this burglary and theft from museums I think is mostly a product of our film industry," one contributor to the article says.

 

Piet Mondrian's Composition (A) en Rouge et Blanc (1969) stolen from bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach last year
Piet Mondrian's Composition (A) en Rouge et Blanc (1969) stolen from bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach last year

More to the point, essential for any good crime read there are a list of dumb mistakes that usually lead to the thieves getting caught. It seems most tend to overlook the simple fact that it's rather hard to offload a stolen Picasso. Robert Whitman, a former FBI special agent and senior investigator on the agency's art crime team who now runs a security and recovery consulting firm said the profile of art thieves, particularly in the US where museum thefts are rare, is pretty much no loftier than that of the typical house burglar.

"I can't tell you how many times in these investigations where you find that these guys are hiding pieces in their closets, behind their refrigerators," says Whitman."They're valuable paintings but they can't do anything with them."

It's a great piece but we hope it doesn't deter you from starting your own collection. Indeed, if you're planning to dive in to the market you really should take a look at our wonderful new book by Ethan Wagner and Thea Westreich Wagner Collecting Art for Love, Money and More. It will help protect your investment by ensuring it's the right one to start one to start with. 


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