Trial for Van Gogh art theft postponed to Jan. 13

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CAIRO: The trial of the Van Gogh art theft was on Thursday postponed to Jan. 13 to allow the court to review investigation findings that would reveal whether or not the defendants are guilty of severe negligence.

During the first appeal hearing in the Van Gogh art theft case on Jan. 6, defense lawyers called for the trial to be postponed until the Administrative Prosecution has issued a report that would determine the defendants’ liability in the theft.

“We expect the report to be issued on Saturday, and we’ve heard that the Administrative Prosecution has found the defendants [to be] innocent of negligence,” Essam Bassim, the lawyer representing Museum Director Reem Baheer, told Daily News Egypt.

The Disciplinary Tribunal for Senior Positions issued a verdict on Wednesday that allowed the defendants to return to their jobs. The defendants were originally suspended from their jobs after the criminal charges were first brought against them.

Bassim stated that the court verdict has yet to be implemented. However, he believed that the decision to end their job suspensions would help the defendants’ case in court.

“We also requested to review the job descriptions of the defendants, as described by the Ministry of Culture, to determine their responsibilities and what they should be held accountable for,” he added.

In October, the Dokki Misdemeanors Court found 11 museum officials and employees — including Deputy Minister of Culture Mohsen Shaalanan — guilty in the art theft case of both gross negligence and harming state property.

The defendants received maximum court sentences of three years in prison and a bail set at LE 10,000 to be released until the appeal date.

The “Poppy Flowers” Van Gogh painting was cut out of its frame from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum on Aug. 21.

Poor museum security measures were blamed for the theft of the painting, worth more than $50 million. Investigations revealed that the number of on-duty security guards in the museum was reduced from 30 to nine. On most days the number was reduced further, to the point that sometimes only one guard was on-duty.

Only seven of the 43 total surveillance cameras in the museum were functioning at the time of the robbery, and no alarms went off during the theft, thereby shedding light on the poor state of security at Egypt’s museums.

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