CAIRO: Deputy Culture Minister Mohsen Shaalan’s defense team said Minister of Culture isn’t to blame for the Van Gogh theft at a hearing on Thursday, pointing the finger instead to security personnel.
Hassanein Hamid, defense lawyer representing Shaalan in the appeal trial, denied any accusations against his client or the Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni in a change of tone from the previous spat between the two officials with each blaming the other.
Shaalan had previously accused Hosni of using him as a “scapegoat” and ignoring the poor state of security at Mahmoud Khalil Museum where the theft occurred.
Hosni denied the accusations and said that he had delegated full financial and administrative responsibility of the museum to Shaalan, through a 2006 decree.
Hamid accused the museum’s security employees of negligence and cited that as the main reason that lead to the theft of the masterpiece.
Van Gogh’s painting, “Poppy Flowers,” was cut out of its frame from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum on Aug. 21.
According to Hamid, the painting was two meters high which entails that the thief had to move a chair under the painting and stand on it to reach the frame.
This could’ve been prevented if security personnel had done their job, Hamid added.
“The manner in which the theft occurred shows that security was in a complete state of negligence,” Hamid told the court.
Shaalan had notified the museum’s heads of security that the number of security personnel in the museum should be increased to make up for the lack of surveillance cameras and alarm system, the lawyer added.
Shaalan had previously said that his request to develop the museum’s surveillance cameras and alarm system was refused by the ministry because of the large budget it required.
Last October, the Dokki Misdemeanors Court had found 11 museum officials and employees including Shaalan guilty of gross negligence and the harming of state property following the theft.
The appeal trial was adjourned on Thursday to Feb. 3 to listen to allow the defense team and the prosecution to further present their arguments. The defendants pleaded innocent; the defense lawyers said the previous verdict that found their clients guilty was too harsh and groundless.
The defense team said that Shaalan’s responsibility was to supervise and direct his employees and that Mahmoud Khalil museum was a small fragment of his huge responsibilities which include sponsoring fine arts and culture exchange programs with different countries.
Defense team for the director of security in museums Sobhi Ibrahim denied the accusations and said there was no proof that the painting was actually stolen on Aug.21.
They say it was discovered that day, but could’ve been stolen the night before which puts the responsibility of protecting the museum on the shoulders of the Interior Ministry’s security forces.
Investigations revealed that the number of security guards in the museum was reduced from 30 to nine, and that — on most days — that number was further reduced to only one guard on duty.
Only seven of 43 surveillance cameras in the museum were functioning and no alarms went off during the theft, thereby shedding light on the poor state of security at Egyptian museums.