15 officials charged with negligence over van Gogh theft

North Giza prosecution yesterday charged 15 officials with negligence after the disappearance of a valuable painting from the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil museum in Giza.

"Poppy Flowers," by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, was stolen on Saturday afternoon at a time when most of the museum’s security systems were down.

Mohsen Shaalan, head of the museum's fine arts section, along with Reem Bahir, the museum’s manager, and 12 other museum staff have all been barred from traveling abroad until investigations are concluded.

The prosecution listened to the accounts of 12 museum employees who spoke about the museum's system and security measures. Shaalan was questioned and admitted the negligence of museum staff but refused to accept personal blame for the incident.

Meanwhile, an inspection by Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud yesterday revealed that only seven of 43 security cameras in the museum were operating at the time of the theft, while all alarm systems linked to the paintings were out of order. Mahmoud made a simple test of the security system by touching a painting twice with his hand, but no alarms responded. He told reporters the museum’s fence was "so low" that anyone could "jump over it." 

The museum's management had also recently removed a log of visitors due to the annoyance it caused to tourists.

Investigations discovered that the robber cut the painting out of its frame, standing on a couch which he or she had placed against the wall.

The thief then exited with cutter and painting, unquestioned and undetected.

Culture minister, Farouk Hosni, said he held Shaalan and the museum’s staff responsible for losing the painting, worth more than US$50 million, and for that reason they were suspended from work.

Translated from the Arabic Edition. 

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