CAIRO: The media relations office at Egypt’s Ministry of Culture confirmed to Daily News Egypt Sunday that the Van Gogh painting stolen from a Cairo museum remains missing.
Ahmed Salah, press officer at the ministry said that “the painting hasn’t been retrieved yet.”
On Saturday morning, Egypt’s Culture Minister Farouk Hosni announced that the stolen Van Gogh painting named “Poppy Flowers” or “Vase with Flowers” had been retrieved from the possession of an Italian couple at Cairo airport.
Later that day, Hosni retracted his statement, saying that it was based on inaccurate information.
"The statement was based on information we received that was false and incorrect," Hosni later said.
"Measures are still under way to uncover the circumstances of the incident and retrieve the painting," he continued.
According to the state news agency MENA, the Italian couple had raised the suspicions of staff at Cairo’s Mahmoud Khalil Museum when they were spotted visiting the bathroom and then quickly leaving.
The couple were part of a tour group visiting the gallery, according to Italy’s Ansa news agency.
The Ministry of Culture’s press office couldn’t confirm whether or not the Italian couple was still detained.
The painting, worth an estimated $55 million, was cut from its frame on Saturday, Hosni said.
He added that only 10 people had visited the Museum that day.
According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), security cameras and alarms at the museum had been out of order "for a long time," an official said on Sunday.
"The cameras had not been working for a long time, and neither had the alarm system," the security official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that no image of the painting was therefore available.
Police questioned museum staff and tightened security at air and sea ports across Egypt to make sure the painting did not leave the country.
The museum hold’s one of the Middle East’s finest collections of 19th- and 20th-century art, housing works by Gauguin, Monet, Manet and Renoir.
This particular Van Gogh painting was stolen before in 1977, and recovered in Kuwait a decade later.
However, Egyptian authorities never gave any details of the previous incident, merely announcing that three Egyptians involved in the theft had tipped off the police on where the painting was hidden.
The painting, measuring 30cm by 30cm and depicting yellow and red flowers, is believed to have been painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1887, three years before he committed suicide.