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After the theft of 1,800 objects, the British Museum sues a former employee

This is a very embarrassing affair.

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After the theft of 1,800 objects, the British Museum sues a former employee

This is a very embarrassing affair. Last August, the London museum founded in 1753, known for housing the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon friezes, revealed that it had suffered a series of thefts from its collections, which led to the resignation of its director. On March 26, 2024, British judge Heather Williams ordered access to data from the eBay and Paypal accounts of a former employee of the British Museum suspected of having stolen more than 1,800 pieces from the collections of the prestigious cultural institution. The thief appears to have been unmasked.

Also read “Around 2000” pieces stolen from the British Museum, some already recovered

The British Museum had accused an employee, since fired, who had been questioned by the police without any prosecution being brought against him. The institution has now initiated legal proceedings against this man. Judge Heather Williams of the High Court in London said there was "compelling evidence" supporting the museum's accusations.

The institution's lawyer, Daniel Burgess, told the court the former employee stole items including precious stones, jewelry, gold, silver and glassware dating back to the 15th century. century BC to the 19th century AD. He is said to have “intentionally” damaged coins by removing the gold and silver they contained. The “serial thief” would have “abused his position of trust” to commit the act. He also claimed that hundreds of items had been put up for sale on the digital platform eBay, and sold via the Paypal payment system.

The suspect then allegedly tried to disguise these thefts by using false names, creating false documents, manipulating museum records and selling objects “far below their value”. According to the museum's lawyer, the suspect, who took advantage of the fact that many stolen objects were not correctly listed in the museum's databases, intends to dismiss the accusations against him.

Since the discovery of these thefts, the British Museum has indicated that it has recovered just over 350 objects. To avoid a repeat of such thefts, it has also strengthened its security procedures and launched a vast cataloging operation of the eight million pieces in its collections. “The items that were stolen from the museum are culturally and historically significant,” said museum attorney Daniel Burgess.

This series of thefts cost Hartwig Fischer his position as director. Now replaced by Nicholas Cullinan. The latter spoke of “a new chapter” which “will encompass the most significant transformations, architectural and intellectual, taking place in any museum in the world, to continue to ensure that the British Museum is as engaged and collaborative as possible” .

Since February 15, the museum has been organizing an exhibition of some of the recovered objects. The museum notes that the theft has caused “a renewed interest” in jewelry and precious stones. The exhibition will end on June 15.

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