24 August 2004
BRUSSELS – Belgium’s top art museums are sitting ducks for art thieves, it emerged on Tuesday.
The theft earlier this week of two famous Munch paintings in Oslo has highlighted the vulnerability of Belgian art galleries, reports La Libre Belgique.
Already in 2001, a report by the study organisation “Ingenium” on protection measures against theft and fire and security measures for staff and visitors showed glaring gaps in the system.
The study was commissioned to look at Belgium’s top ten scientific centres and museums that play host to national treasures.
Ingenium’s proposed security plan for BEF 900 million (EUR 22 million) was, however, shelved.
The company urged the country’s most famous museum, the Musee des Beaux-arts in Brussels, to step up security.
The museum currently has close-circuit TV and an automatic silent alarm system connected to a central security service.
But the head of the museum’s security service, Regis Hespel, said that security measures faced a number of constraints, notably financial ones.
The museum used lottery money to employ more full-time guards, rising from 68 to 100, but this is still viewed as insufficient due to the high number of visitors.
Hespel added that staff were not trained to deal with armed robbery of the type used to snatch the Munch paintings.
In this case, he said, it would be dangerous to have automatic closing doors.
Hespel also ruled out the option of fixing paintings into the wall as this would hamper their rescue in the event of a fire.
Police in Norway said they are pursuing three lines of enquiry to track down the Munch works.
Belgium is an important transit country for the traffic in stolen artworks.
Loopholes in Belgian law contribute to this as the penal code remains hazy on the receipt of stolen cultural goods, and the legal consequences are not as severe as in France.
[Copyright Expatica 2004]
Subject: Belgian news