$50m painting sends Egyptian officials to jail

Source: http://nyakpo.com/
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Eleven employees of Egypt's Culture Ministry are heading off to prison for the next three years.

Their crime?
Failing to adequately protect a painting by Van Gogh said to be worth $50 million.

The eleven men, including Deputy Culture Minister Mohsen Shalan, were found guilty of negligence and will soon need to get used to prison food and clothes.

That is, unless they manage to convince a court to reverse their conviction. In the meantime, they remain on bail, for about $1,700 each.

The event, leading to the loss of the $50 million painting is both incredible and dumb.

The painting from 1887 known both as “Poppy Flowers” and “Vase and Flowers” was stolen on a bright sunny day in Cairo from the Mahmoud Khali Museum – practically in the full glare of tourists – except no one has come forward to say they saw the crime being committed.

The “Poppy Flowers” painting was simply cut out of its frame, without trace.

On that day, 21 August 2010, the multimillion dollar work of art got a new owner.

That security in the Museum was lax, may be putting it mildly.

The court heard that the Mahmoud Khali Museum had drastically reduced its security personnel, so that on most days, only one guard is on duty.

And out of 43 security cameras, only seven were working – and none of those seven were any where near Van Gogh's painting.

All that for a museum holding treasures in excess of one billion dollars.

It was also revealed during the trial that museum officials were aware of the security problems, but did nothing about it, because the powers that be did not advance funds needed for maintaining security.

Mr Shalan, who is responsible for the department of fine arts, said he asked the culture minister for about $7m to upgrade security, (including systems in Mahmud Khalil museum), but only $88,000 was approved.

That allegation was however dismissed by Culture Minister Farouk Hosni who also testified during the trial.

The Egyptian billionaire, Naguib Sawiris, was so disappointed about the loss of the Poppy Flowers that he offered $175,000 reward for information leading to its recovery.

That money is still in the cash-man's bank account, because no one seems to have the information leading to a pay out.

The painting's whereabouts is still unknown. What is known is that 11 officials of Egypt's Culture Ministry are on the brink of paying for the loss – with a three-year loss of personal freedom.