12 May 2005
BRUSSELS – The ‘art mafia’ is alive and kicking in Belgium, and the authorities are doing precious little about it, a new book has revealed.
Belgium is known to be a key transit point of stolen art in Europe. And its bad reputation for tackling the problem has yet again been slammed in ‘La Collection egoiste’ (The Egoist’s Collection), by Liberation journalist Vincent Noce.
Noce highlights just how active the ‘art mafia’ is in the country, French-language daily La Libre Belgique reported on Thursday.
One case in particular reveals Belgium’s laissez-faire attitude towards stolen art.
Stéphane Breitwieser, a young Alsatian man, managed to steal more than 200 works of worth more than EUR 10 million over a period of several years from museums, chateaux and churches in France, Switzerland and Belgium.
When he was finally caught, his mother destroyed most the her son’s invaluable stolen paintings and threw dozens of precious objects into the Moselle river.
The list of art he stole in Belgium is extensive, and includes important masterpieces by Brueghel and Jan Van Kessel.
Yet Belgium failed to press charges of any kind at Breitwieser’s Strasbourg hearing, and no international mandate was ever launched by Belgium against this art cleptomaniac extraordinaire.
Instead, the Belgian museums affected appeared satisfied simply to make financial compensation claims that turned out to be in vain.
“A Belgian lawsuit would have sent an important signal, a warning,” says Noce.
“Not doing anything by contrast sends a bad signal of disinterest and of absolution of the thievery.”
“Stealing art is perceived as a passtime without consequence of amateurs who mock the authorities with elegance,” he writes.
Another problem Noce cites in his book are the different laws that apply to stolen art in Europe which reveal just how lax Belgium is in pursuing the problem: In Belgium, a stolen work of art may legally be put up for sale if it has been missing for more than five years.
In France, by contrast, this would still be considered a crime.
Subject: Belgian News