Banksy artwork swiped from Aussie knicker mogul

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Thieves have swiped valuable graffiti by renowned British artist Banksy from outside the Melbourne house of underwear mogul Mitch Dowd, Australian police said on Thursday.

The theft comes just weeks after Melbourne street cleaners unwittingly painted over one of Banksy's famed stencils, prompting an apology from local authorities.

The latest piece, of a rat carrying a suitcase, was painted on the door of Dowd's electricity meter box and disappeared in either late April or early May, when he was out of the country.

"The house faces right onto the pavement so everyone would walk by and see it all the time, and now all that's there is a black box," said Dowd, the designer behind the eponymous underwear brand.

"It's a well-known rat carrying a suitcase that's about eight inches (20 centimetres) high. It's black on a red background and it's been there for over a year.

"It's sad that as soon as the articles on Banksy came out that people would think it was valuable."

Works by Banksy, who has stoked his mystique by keeping his true identity secret, have surfaced in the West Bank and post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and sell for tens of thousands of dollars at auction.

Last week, a London pub claimed to have captured Banksy on CCTV as an unknown artist daubed a picture of a girl confronting a lion in its beer garden.

"I think it goes against everything Banksy does because he travels around the world doing graffiti pieces for the community, so I think he would be really disappointed that someone wants to turn it into something commercial," Dowd said.

© 2010 AFP

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