Laura Gascoigne: Crime Without Punishment

In May, policemen with shovels moved in again on 79-year-old mobster Robert Gentile’s Connecticut ranch. It’s the third time they’ve searched the property and the second time they’ve dug it up in the hope of finding the 13 masterpieces, including Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. A few years ago Gentile

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boasted in jail that he knew the whereabouts of the loot, a mistake the old

£3 million ransom, ahem, reward for information.

If museum heists seem to have passed their heyday, it’s because WikiArt-educated criminals have come

to realise that world-famous paintings can’t be shifted. There is still idiocy among thieves, however. The works by
Monet, Matisse and

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Picasso stolen by Romanian gangsters from the Kunsthal Rotterdam in 2012 were eventually incinerated by one of their mothers, on the principle that
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ovens are the best place for hot potatoes.
Some mobsters
do ’ave ’em. But museum src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> thieves with half a brain today make sure of their market (black if possible) in advance. Hong Kong was the destination of google_ad_slot = "8637400688"; the

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Chinese antiquities nicked from google_ad_slot = "7160667483"; English regional museums in 2012 in a spate of burglaries by the romantically named Rathkeale Rovers. Limerick tinkers
they may be, but the Rovers twigged that profit margins are wider

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on intact jade carvings than on melted down Henry Moore bronzes, and there’s less heavy lifting involved.

Like the hoary ‘Diamond Wheezers’ who tunnelled

into Hatton Garden last year, the Rovers were good old-fashioned breakers-and-enterers – the last of their three incursions, into Durham’s Oriental Museum, was through a brick wall. In the digi-crime era, the public has a special affection for analogue thieves. We relish the effrontery, ingenuity and occasional battiness of the stubbornly unmodernised
ways of

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doing business, is fundamentally facilitating criminal google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; activity.” She looks at different categories of crime //--> – forgery, theft and trade in looted antiquities – and different attempts, official and unofficial,

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to deal with

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them.

In the case google_ad_width = 970; of looted antiquities, the book is a depressing catalogue of international declarations, conventions and protocols endlessly wriggled out of by rich ‘market’ countries to the continued despoliation of poor ‘source’ ones. We British are expert at deferring ratification: it took us until 2002 to ratify the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, and last year, when finally ready to ratify the 1999 protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property, we ran out of parliamentary time. On the domestic front, an equally dismal picture emerges

of a

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police force that is underfunded, sclerotic and generally indifferent to a crime it (and
the mass of the public) considers low priority. The recovery of stolen art is now mainly left to google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; private consultants with police

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backgrounds – money attracts cops as well as robbers – and justice is more quickly (though expensively) achieved through the civil courts.

It’s hard to know who this book is for. It won’t teach professionals anything they don’t know

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and amateurs will
find it disappointing. After challenging the view “that criminals involved in art (particularly forgers) are deserving of an admiration not offered to criminals targeting other markets”, Pryor can hardly regale us //--> with tales of their exploits. She seems equally loath to investigate the shady financial practices that have turned the art market into a global ‘marché ouvert’ for anyone rich
enough to retain the services of Mossack Fonseca. The chapter headed When is a Problem a

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Problem? would be better titled When Is a Crime a Crime? The answer, she suggests, is when the money says so: laws are enforced “where patterns of criminal activity threaten

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the market’s profit margins.” On page 147 comes the understatement of the century: “Secrecy around the identities of those involved in a transaction, combined with the highly subjective and dynamic value of cultural property, can lead to fears of market manipulation.” Well I never.

You can’t google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; escape the feeling throughout this book /* xin-1 */ that its author is covering her back in case

she never works in the art world again. Her conclusion, when she reaches it, is no conclusion at all: “With
no quantifiable means by which to determine how many professionals

are tempted into criminal activity and how this compares to other markets, any sweeping conclusion of art market behaviour only ever seems to be based on a foundation

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of snapshots, gut feeling and anecdotes.” In other words, the exercise is pointless. Still, a few more anecdotes would have leavened the loaf, and some observations from the horse’s mouth might have raised the philosophical tone. Take this pearl of wisdom from the late
lamented Peter Scott, cat burglar to the stars and author of Gentleman Thief: “The people I google_ad_height = 90; burgled got rich by greed and skullduggery. They indulged in the mechanics

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of ostentation – they deserved me and I deserved google_ad_slot = "6023194682"; them.

sign of any flood barriers going up.  

Laura Gascoigne
The Jackdaw