On April 21, 2011, an Egyptian court sentenced five state officials, including Mohsen Shaalan, former head of the state’s fine arts department, to serve time in jail in relation to the theft of Van Gogh’s “Vase with Viscaria.” The painting, estimated at $55 million, was stolen in August 2010 from Mahmoud Khalil museum in Cairo. According to the investigation it went missing due to inexcusably lax security measures.
Reuters reported that “the state MENA news agency and court officials said the five had been found guilty of “causing the theft of the painting.” While the painting is still missing, one Egyptian billionaire offered a reward for information leading to the recovery of the painting.
Lax security usually malfunctions when something goes missing. This flaw was blamed for theft of hundreds of works from the Hermitage museum in Russia in 2006, of Munch paintings in Norway in 2004, and of photographs by Drtikol in Czech Republic in 2011.
Who is to blame for “lax security”? Thieves? Artists? In the case of the stolen Van Gogh, according to legal sources, Shaalan was sentenced to “one year in jail and ordered to perform community service.” The decision handed down by the Egyptian court seems to be sound — blame the officials and in addition to jail make them perform community service, such as tighten museum security.