Intensifying its efforts to recover a Van Gogh masterpiece stolen from a museum here, Egypt has notified the Interpol and alerted police to look out for the painting at the country’s entry and exit points.
The painting, known by the titles of “Poppy Flowers” and “Vase with Flowers” stolen from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum, is said to be worth USD 50 million, but security officials now say that the canvas cannot be sold since the Interpol has been informed of its theft.
Another factor that could affect attempts to sell the painting is that it was cut out of its frame with a knife.
In its attempt to find the perpetrators, police has arrested the head of the Culture Ministry’s fine arts section, Mohsen Shaalan, three museum security guards and another official on charges of negligence.
The museum’s female director has been released on bail.
Hours after the theft, the Egyptian Minister of Culture announced that the painting had been recovered but he later backtracked, blaming a subordinate, Shaalan, for having passed on “inaccurate” information.
Egypt’s Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmud acknowledged that security measures at the museum were “inadequate”, branding them as “a facade“.
“There are 43 security cameras but only seven are working. Each painting is protected by an alarm but again, none are working,” Mahmud told reporters.
He said the state prosecution had put out a call to increase security after nine paintings were stolen in March 2009 from Mohammed Ali Pasha’s palace, a museum here on the banks of the Nile.
The painting of the yellow and red flowers in a vase was also stolen earlier, in 1977, but was recovered the following year.
A Van Gogh expert said the painting was one of 30 floral works produced by the Dutch master in the summer of 1886, mainly in Paris, where he used to live.