The theft affair that rocks the British Museum

According to an internal investigation conducted by the British Museum and revealed by the Daily Telegraphthe chief curator of Greek and Roman art, Peter Higgs, is suspected of having stolen and sold on eBay more than 1,500 objects from the museum’s collection. These artifacts were often sold for a fraction of their real value. For example, a Roman object dating back more than two millennia and estimated at 50,000 pounds sterling (58,000 €), would have been sold for 40 pounds sterling (46 €) on the e-commerce site.

Peter Higgs, who worked as a curator at the British Museum for 30 years, was fired earlier this year after the museum discovered numerous items missing, including gold jewelery and precious and semi-precious stones. According to Daily Telegraphthe number of items possibly stolen by the curator would actually be “closer to 2000”for an estimated value of several tens of millions of pounds sterling.

The internal investigation revealed that Peter Higgs operated under the pseudonym “sultan1966” on eBaysince 2016. He was identified after a user found his account PayPal linked to his thread Twitter on which he had mentioned his real name and his position at the museum. The mis en cause was allowed when Peter Higgs tried to sell objects from the collection which appeared in the inventory.

The British Museum is now faced with the complex task of determining which objects have disappeared from its collection. The police will have to obtain records ofeBay and other auction sites to verify details of all sales made or attempted by Peter Higgs. The buyers of the objects should also be contacted. “If buyers are based outside of Britain, it could hamper investigations”said the British police.

As early as 2021, British Museum officials had been alerted to the possibility of a thief among their employees. An antique gemstone dealer, based in Denmark, had contacted the museum to report the sale of three gemstones from the museum’s collection on eBay. According to the correspondence consulted by BBC News between the art dealer and the museum, Deputy Director Jonathan Williams responded in July 2021 that “the objects concerned are all recorded and without any suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of a member of museum staff”. He added that there had been a “thorough investigation” and that the “collection was protected”.

Many voices are raised to say that the British Museum should have acted more quickly and involved the police as soon as it was informed of the thefts. “To be honest, it’s quite shocking”said Christopher Marinello, CEO of the law firm Art Recovery InternationalAt Guardian. “We receive daily reports of thefts from museums around the world. But this is the British Museum, one of the largest and best-funded museums in the world. »

The case comes just weeks after the museum’s director of eight years, Hartwig Fischer, abruptly announced that he will step down next year. So far, the police have not made any arrests.

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