CAIRO: Egypt said on Monday it has informed Interpol and placed its police on alert at the country’s entry and exit points to try to recover a Van Gogh stolen from a museum with a broken-down security system.
“The search is ongoing. We still haven’t found the painting,” Culture Minister Farouk Hosni told AFP.
“Police are on alert at the borders and the airports,” he said, adding that the interior ministry had informed Interpol of Saturday’s theft of the Dutch master’s “Poppy Flowers.”
“The robber will not be able to sell the painting,” he said in an interview with Al-Ahram daily, adding that the 63×57-centimeter (25×22.5-inch) canvas was too large to be easily concealed.
Egypt’s Prosecutor General blamed the poor security system at Mahmoud Khalil museum for the theft of the $50-million-plus painting.
Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud described the security at the museum as “inadequate,” “superficial” and “feeble.”
“There are 43 security cameras but only seven are functioning. Each painting is protected by an alarm but again, none of them works,” Mahmoud told the press.
“The museum guards’ daily rounds at closing time were inadequate and did not meet minimum security requirements to protect internationally renowned works of art, “he added.
Fifteen Egyptian officials, including the director of the museum, Reem Bahir, and the head of the fine arts department at the Ministry of Culture, were banned from leaving the country until the investigation into the painting’s theft is complete. The museum will also continue to be closed throughout the investigation.
According to MENA news agency, 12 museum employees are being interrogated about the circumstances surrounding the theft and the security of the museum.
Adel El-Saied, official at the Ministry of Justice, told Daily News Egypt that five employees were remanded in custody on charges of negligence, while three have been released.
At the Dokki Police Station where the museum employees are being interrogated, Daily News Egypt was refused any interviews because suspects were under strict instructions from the police not to speak to the media about the theft.
The preliminary investigations show that Van Gogh’s “Poppy Flowers” was sliced out of its frame with a box cutter on Saturday.
According to MENA, the museum had stopped keeping records of the museum visitors recently in response to complaints that it was a nuisance to visitors and foreign tourists. The metal detector was also not working.
Mahmoud said that his office had warned the authority responsible for Egypt’s museums of the dangers they could face if they fail to implement stricter security controls. His warning came after nine paintings were stolen from the Mohammed Ali Museum last year.
Egypt’s Culture Minister Farouk Hosni gave two contradictory statements on Saturday regarding the incident leading to much confusion over the status of the missing masterpiece.
At first Hosni said that the missing painting, also known as “Vase with Flowers” had been retrieved from the possession of an Italian couple at Cairo airport.
Later that day, he backtracked, saying that his statement was based on inaccurate information from Mohsen Shaalan, president of the fine arts sector at the Ministry of Culture.
Shaalan admitted that there was “severe negligence” in securing the museum, but denied being responsible for this negligence, according to MENA news agency.
Saied told Daily News Egypt that as the official who carries the responsibility of developing and overlooking the security system at the museum, Shaalan is also being investigated.
Daily News Egypt tried to contact Shaalan, but received no response from his office.
Mahmoud Khalil museum, previously the palace of the 1930s parliamentarian and named after him, is home to a large collection of artwork, considered one of the most important collections of 19th and 20th century European art in the Middle East. –Additional reporting by Shorouk El Hariry and agencies