Report blames security flaws for Athens Picasso heist

Museum did not fulfill the security conditions

Published on 22 April 2012

Author(s): DawnCom Entertainment/AFP

Type:  News

Untrained guards, faulty equipment and disastrous communications made Athens’ National Gallery vulnerable to a January art heist that saw it lose a Picasso and other works, a report said Friday.

The museum “did not fulfill the security conditions needed to protect the institution,” the public service inspector general’s office said in the report.

The document traces an almost farcical trail of security breakdowns leading to the burglary in the early hours of January 9 of Picasso’s 1939 oil-on-canvas “Woman’s Head”, which the Spanish master had given the Greek state in 1949 as a tribute to the country’s resistance against Nazi Germany.

The other stolen works were a 1905 oil painting by Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian and a sketch by 16th-century Italian artist Guglielmo Caccia, better known as Moncalvo.

The National Gallery was an ideal target, the report said, because museum security had not been upgraded since 2000.

Several areas in the museum were out of range of security cameras – and even if the cameras had caught the whole burglary, their tapes had not been changed because there was no money for new ones.

Tourists stand outside the closed doors of Greece's National Gallery in Athens January 9, 2012..jpg
Tourists stand outside the closed doors of Greece's National Gallery in Athens January 9, 2012. Two paintings, one by art master Pablo Picasso and another by famous Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, were stolen from Greece's National Gallery on Monday, police sources said. - Reuters Photo

The museum’s alarms were also faulty and prone to ring gratuitously, the report said, blaming dead or absent batteries.

The night of the heist, the burglar or burglars repeatedly set off an alarm by manipulating an unlocked door, diverting security before sneaking into the building.

The guards had to use their cell phones to communicate, because they had no radios. And they had not received any job-specific training.

The report said security had been improved since the heist. The gallery was on reduced security staffing at the time owing to a three-day strike.

After the heist, Citizen’s Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis had biting words for the gallery, calling security arrangements “non-existent”.

The sole guard told police a burglar alarm went off shortly before 5:00 am, and that he saw the silhouette of a person running from the building.

He said he ran after the thief, who dropped another Mondrian oil painting.

The break-in lasted only around seven minutes.

Authorities did not specify the value of the stolen works, but Skai television said they were worth about 5.5 million euros ($7.3 million).

The back of the Picasso painting, a cubist portrait, reads in French: “For the Greek people, a tribute by Picasso.”

The gallery in the centre of the Greek capital has a vast permanent collection of post-Byzantine Greek art, as well as a small collection of Renaissance works and some El Greco paintings.

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