It has now been revealed that an organised crime syndicate stole up to 302 works of art from Turkey’s State Art and Sculpture Museum, located in the capital, Ankara – after an anonymous caller offered information to the authorities – according to a report in the Hurriyet Turkish newspaper, three individuals from the criminal group have been arrested thus far. Fifteen remain on the run.
The arrests came courtesy of an anonymous phone call to the Turkish culture minister Ertuğrul Günay. The secret caller, said to be an antiques dealer himself and referred to by the pseudonym “Daylight,” has revealed extensive details about the operation. Ahmet Sarı, allegedly the leader of the organised crime syndicate, an antiques dealer called Mete Aktuna, and one of the museum’s security officers, Veli Topal, are all currently in custody, reports the Hurriyet.
Allegedly, the witness has stated that the the criminal masterminds behind the heist have earned approximately £150 million through the scheme thus far.
The organised gang with the alleged aid of museum staff are believed to have stolen the extensive trove of art and antiques from museum between 2005 and 2009. Upon inspection of the museums holdings, conducted after news of the heist broke in 2012, 46 works of art were replaced by fakes and 30 were of rather dubious authenticity. While others were simply removed from the museum’s storage facilities.
According to the informant “Daylight,” the criminal syndicate brought forgers from Ukraine’s Aivazovsky Painting Academy into Turkey in order to produce the fakes that they eventually swapped for the genuine works of art. Speaking to the Hurriyet, the source claims that Sarı explained the thieves’ methods to him in great detail.
“Daylight” says that after the originals were removed from the museum, the group “sold them to famous businessmen through mediators and antique dealers known in their fields.” The source claims to have been approached by Sarı, presumably to participate in the scheme, and that he later had his life threatened if he exposed the organisation’s activities – reports Hurriyet.
The scheme to steal works from galleries and storage is said to have reached to the very highest levels of the Turkish State Art and Sculpture Museum’s leadership, according to the informant “Daylight”: “The female deputy director of the museum proposed Sarı to sell the original works in the museum’s depot.”
Among the art works and paintings allegedly given up by the deputy director was the scheme’s most high-profile theft, which was an oil painting by Turkish artist Hikmet Onat. “Sarı sold it to an antique dealer in Nişantaşı for £133,000 and the antique dealer sold it to a famous businessman for £222,000,” “Daylight” goes on to tell the publication that the businessman still owns the painting.
According to a police report obtained by the Turkish publication, only a very small number of the stolen works have been recovered since the investigation began,with the vast majority of the works still unaccounted for.