Egypt’s top prosecutor has ordered the detention of the country’s deputy culture minister in connection with the theft of a Vincent van Gogh painting. The deputy culture minister is to be investigated on suspicion of ‘professional delinquency’ after theft from Cairo museum.
Thieves made off with the canvas, known by the titles of Poppy Flowers and Vase With Flowers, on Saturday from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo. None of the museum’s alarms and only seven of 43 surveillance cameras were working at the time of the robbery.
The prosecutor general yesterday ordered the detention of the deputy culture minister, Mohsen Shalaan, and four of the museum’s security guards while they are investigated on suspicion of neglect and professional delinquency, according to the state-run Middle East news agency (Mena).
No charges have been filed.
The prosecutor, Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, implicated the deputy minister in the security lapses that he said led to the theft because he has an office in the museum and is in charge of its financial and administrative affairs.
Shalaan “neglected his duties and didn’t improve lax security measures by replacing the broken cameras and alarms”, Mena quoted the prosecutor as saying.
The guards were accused of neglect for not checking museum visitors.
Ten other people have been questioned and released but remain under investigation on similar accusations.
The prosecutor said his office warned Egypt’s museums last year that they needed to implement stricter security controls after nine paintings were stolen from another Cairo institute, the Mohammed Ali Museum. Similar security lapses were to blame in that theft.
Culture minister Farouk Hosni has instructed ministry officials to set up what he described as a central control room to monitor video from surveillance cameras in all Egyptian museums and link alarms into a single network, Mena reported.
The control room will be set up inside Cairo’s historic Citadel, the fortress built by Saladin. Committees will also tour museums across the country to review security measures.
The Van Gogh painting is worth an estimated $50m (£32m). This is the second time the painting has been stolen from the museum. Thieves first made off with it in 1978; authorities recovered it two years later at an undisclosed location in Kuwait.
The 30cm x 30cm (12in x 12in) canvas, believed to have been painted in 1887, resembles a flower scene by French artist Adolphe Monticelli, whose work deeply affected Van Gogh. The Monticelli painting is also part of the Khalil collection.