Egypt court jails 11 for stolen Van Gogh

AP News
Posted: Oct 12, 2010 4:13 PM
Egypt court jails 11 for stolen Van Gogh

An Egyptian court convicted 11 officials from the Culture Ministry, including the deputy minister, of gross negligence and incompetence in the theft of a Vincent Van Gogh painting that embarrassed the government.

The defendants received sentences of three years in prison and will have to post a bond of $1,800 to stay out of prison until the appeal.

The "Poppy Flower," valued at $50 million was stolen in broad daylight from Cairo's Mahmoud Khalil Museum. Subsequent investigations revealed that no alarms and only seven of 43 security cameras were working.

In addition to the poor security, thieves took advantage of the moment when museum guards were praying, to slice the canvas out of its frame with box cutters.

In the course of the trial, Deputy Minister Mohsen Shalaan, and a number of museum officials said they had asked the culture minister for nearly $7 million to upgrade security systems, including at the Mahmoud Khalil Museum, but that only $88,000 was approved.

The Mahmoud Khalil Museum's director, Reem Bahir, said Hosni knew about the dysfunctional cameras and alarm system but said there was no budget for upgrading them.

Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, himself, also testified during the trial and dismissed his subordinates accusations.

He told prosecutors he had delegated full responsibility for the museum to Shalaan and had presented documents that showed a presidential decree approving just over $10 million to renovate it.

Authorities have not made public any information about progress in the search for the painting or the thieves.