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Smash-and-grab art thieves get jail time

Apr 23, 20073 mins
Data and Information SecurityPhysical Security

The thieves who yanked two of Edvard Munch’s masterpieces, “The Scream” and “Madonna” off of a wall in an Oslo, Norway, museum three years ago were sentenced today. The man labeled as the mastermind of the smash-and-grab thefts, Bjoern Hoen, 39, was given nine years. The man driving the getaway car, Petter Tharaldsen, 35, received a sentence of 9 1/2 years (because an unrelated robbery was included in the sentencing). Those two were also convicted of being part of an organized crime group, according to the AP story, here. One of the two gunmen, Stian Skjold, 31, was given 5 1/2 years. The other gunmen died before charges were filed.

Additionally, the men were ordered to pay $262 million to the City of Oslo, which owns the paintings, according to the AP story, which also cited a lawyer for the defendants saying they would appeal.

At the time, the theft grabbed headlines both because of the value of the paintings targeted but also because of its brazenness–it was a daylight operation that used the threat of gun violence to overcome any high-tech security measures in place at the museum. CSO talked about the tehft at the time, here, with art security expert Steven Keller, who used to direct security at the Art Institute of Chicago. Keller worried about the trend of using the threat of violence against civilians as a counterpoint to ever more sophisticated art security technology. Ironically, right before the theft, CSO had published a graphical feature on high-tech art security, here,  in which we asked Keller to show us how he’d secure a priceless painting if money were no object.

Art security might seem awfully nichey, but in fact, many security experts admire art security experts for their ability to secure highly valuable artifacts while making them available to the public at the same time. Security leaders in other fields try to copy the security techniques used in the world of fine art, from cataloging to transport. When asked about the challenge of transporting deadly biologics from source manufacturing facility to research labs on campus, Boston University Medical Center security director Kevin Tuohey said without hesitation, “We look at what the art guys do. They’re the best when it comes to transport.”

According to the museum security newtork  citing insurer Argos, about $10 billion worth of art is stolen every year. As recently as three days ago, a shipment of Croatian Naive Art, en route to St. Petersburg, FL, from Croatia was reported missing and is now presumed stolen.

-Scott Berinato