Egypt confirmed Sunday that two Italians arrested for the theft of a $50 million Van Gogh painting had been released, and that the search for the masterpiece was still on.
AFP - Egypt has stepped up the search for a Van Gogh painting valued at more than 50 million dollars stolen from a Cairo museum, an official said Sunday, as two Italians arrested over the theft were released.
Police were focusing their search on the country's air and sea ports and working with the help of museum staff, the security official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that the public prosecutor had launched a parallel investigation.
The work identified as "Poppy Flowers" and valued at more than 50 million dollars (39 million euros), was stolen from Cairo's Mahmoud Khalil museum on Saturday, after it was cut out of its frame.
The official said security cameras and alarms at the museum had been out of order for a long time prior to the theft.
"The cameras had not been working for a long time, and neither had the alarm system," he said.
"The museum officials said they were looking for spare parts (for the security system) but hadn't managed to find them," by the time the theft took place, he added.
Culture Minister Farouq Hosni announced on Saturday evening that two Italians had been arrested at Cairo airport trying to smuggle the painting out of the country.
But he later backtracked on the claim, publicly admitting that the authorities were still working to retrieve the picture and blaming a subordinate for giving "inaccurate" information.
The security official confirmed on Sunday that the Italians had been arrested and later released.
Mohsen Shaalan, the official who had said the painting was in the possession of police at Cairo airport, switched off his cellphone on Saturday evening and could not be reached for comment.
Security officials had also refused to comment on Hosni's statement. One official described the incident as "embarrassing and chaotic."
Hosni had earlier said the museum, located in the middle and upperclass district of Dokki on the Nile and which also has works by Monet, Renoir and Degas, was visited by only 10 people on Saturday.
Italy's domestic ANSA news agency, citing what it called "information gathered at the scene," said the two Italians were young and that they had visited the museum with a group of Spanish and Russian tourists.
The painting of the yellow and red flowers in a vase had been stolen before, in 1977, but was found the following year and returned to the museum.
Van Gogh paintings have been the target of thieves in other museums. In 2008, a painting by Van Gogh and three by other artists were stolen from a Swiss museum in a 130-million-dollar heist.
Trade in artefacts is a lucrative business in heritage-rich Egypt. A police official had earlier said the thieves would probably try to smuggle the painting out of the country.
Date created : 2010-08-22