Security Newswire

Serious Security Flaws Blamed for Picasso Heist

April 24, 2012

Untrained guards, faulty equipment and disastrous communications all contributed to the vulnerability of Athens’ National Gallery last January, according to a report from the Greek government.

The document details the ridiculous trail of system breakdowns in a seven-minute heist that brought about the loss of paintings and sketches by Picasso, Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian and Moncalvo (16th Century Italian artist Guglielmo Caccia), according to a report by the AFP Wire Service.

The museum “did not fulfill the security conditions needed to protect the institution,” the public service inspector general’s office said in the report.

The National Gallery was an ideal target, the report stated, because its security systems had not been updated since 2000.

Several areas in the museum were out of range of security cameras. Even if the cameras had caught the whole burglary, it might not have been recorded because their tapes had not been changed — there was no money for new ones.

The National Gallery’s alarm system was also faulty and prone to ringing gratuitously, the report said, blaming dead or absent batteries. The night of the heist, January 9, the burglar or burglars repeatedly set off an alarm by manipulating an unlocked door to divert security while sneaking into the building.

The guards had to use their cell phones to communicate with one another because they had no radios. And they had never received any job-specific training, the report states.

The Gallery was also on reduced security staffing at the time due to a three-day strike.

Citizen’s Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis called the security arrangements “non-existent.”

The sole guard told police that a burglar alarm was set off shortly before 5:00 a.m., and he saw the silhouette of a person leaving the building. He said he ran after the thief, who dropped another Mondrian oil painting.

Paintings stolen include a 1905 oil painting by Mondrian, a 16th Century pen-and-ink sketch from Moncalvo and the 1939 oil-on-canvas painting “Woman’s Head” by Picasso. Picasso had given the painting to the Greek state in 1949 as a tribute to the country’s resistance of Nazi Germany. On the back of the cubist portrait, Picasso wrote in French: “For the Greek people, a tribute by Picasso.”

Skai television said that the stolen works were work about 5.5 million Euros, or $7.3 million.

The report said security had been improved since the heist, AFP says.

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