CAIRO: “The deputy culture minister and the director of a Cairo museum were referred to a misdemeanor court on charges of severe negligence and harming state property in the Van Gogh theft on Monday,” Adel El-Saeid, director of the Prosecutor General’s office, told Daily News Egypt.
El- Saeid added that nine other museum officials and employees will be tried for the same charges.
Following two weeks of investigations and interrogations, the prosecution decided that Deputy Culture Minister Mohsen Shaalan and the director of Mahmoud Khalil Museum, Reem Bahir, would be referred to court. The trial is to start on Sept. 14.
A Van Gogh painting “Poppy Flowers” was stolen in broad daylight from Mahmoud Khalil Museum on Aug. 21 with a box cutter, sparking wide criticism against the Ministry of Culture.
Poor security measures were blamed for the theft of the $50-million-plus painting.
Investigations revealed that the number of security guards in the museum were reduced from 30 to nine. Most days the number was further reduced so that there was only one guard on duty.
Only seven of 43 surveillance cameras in the museum were functioning and none of the alarms went off during the theft, shedding light on the poor state of Egyptian museums, leaving the ministry of culture red faced.
Shaalan denied the accusations and pointed the finger at the Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni, who he said was using him as a “scapegoat.”
He added that he had requested a budget from the ministry to improve the security conditions in Mahmoud Khalil Museum several times, but the ministry denied his request.
According to the Associated Press, a statement by Bahir confirmed Shaalan’s claims, stipulating that Hosni knew about the dysfunctional cameras and alarm system but said there was no budget to upgrade it.
Hosni gave a voluntary testimony to the prosecution last week to respond to accusations against him and the ministry.
He said in his testimony that he had delegated full financial and administrative responsibility of the Mahmoud Khalil Museum to Shaalan, according to a 2006 decree and denied ever knowing the museum’s poor state of security.
Since the theft, the Ministry of culture has been making announcements about closing several museums to upgrade their security systems.
The Ministry of Culture refused to comment on the prosecution’s decision, saying that it’s based on the investigations and the ministry can not intervene.
El- Saeid told Daily News Egypt that the prosecution is calling for the maximum punishment, which is three years in prison, in addition to a fine of no more than LE 500.