Rotterdam gallery had no on-site security guards on night of art theft


THE DIRECTOR of the art gallery in Rotterdam from which seven priceless works of art were stolen last week has revealed that the building had no security guards on the night of the theft and was dependent on its “state-of-the-art” security system.

The revelation came as police released three photographs taken from security camera footage of the heist in which a Picasso, a Matisse, two Monets, a Gauguin, a Lucian Freud and a work by Dutch artist Jacob Meijer de Haan were taken in the early hours of last Tuesday.

The theft of the paintings from the Kunsthal has sparked a massive national and international investigation involving 25 detectives – the size of team usually reserved for murder cases in the Netherlands.

Police say the three dark, grainy stills show the thieves leaving the gallery by the back door. They acknowledge that while “the perpetrators are not recognisable in the images”, the bags in which the paintings are being carried are clearly visible and may yield valuable information.

After receiving an initial 15 tip-offs, the police have appealed to the public for further assistance.

As the hunt for the paintings continues, the director of the Kunsthal, Emily Ansenk, defended the quality of the gallery’s security, saying it was a multimillion-euro high-tech system which had been approved and installed in consultation with the building’s specialist insurers.

Ms Ansenk – who was in Istanbul on business at the time of the break-in and described the robbery as “every museum director’s worst nightmare” – acknowledged that the security system used cameras and an alarm only, with no security guards on site.

The absence of guards has led to suggestions by security experts that valuable time was lost when the thieves tripped an alarm as the gallery’s security company had to send a mobile unit to the building before alerting the police.

There have also been suggestions that the internal security was inadequate, with no electronic barriers to prevent the thieves moving freely from one section to another once the gallery was closed.

However, Ms Ansenk dismissed as “complete rubbish” one report that the absence of any forced entry was explained by the fact that the thieves had simply wedged a hard flexible material between one of the doors and the doorpost, preventing the night lock from working.

Chris Marinello, director of the Art Loss Register, which tracks stolen artworks, said the sophistication of the theft suggested the gang may have had inside information. “The police will be looking at the friends and relatives of various museum personnel to see if they can find some connection. It all went off far too smoothly.”