“Els pagesos” and “Les sardanes de la festa major”, Dalí’s drawings stolen from an apartment in Barcelona and recovered.
Three brothers almost unknowingly stole two Dalís in Barcelona on January 23 last year. Contrary to what the Mossos suspected from the start, the pictures, which have hung on the walls of the descendants of lawyer and politician Pere Coromines for years, were not confiscated by prior order. Operating only in apartments in good areas of Barcelona and Sant Cugat, some opportunistic and intelligent thieves came across the two works hanging in the house on Carrer de Muntaner that they had just robbed. They looked at the charcoal drawings, Els pages i Les sardanes, they recognized the handwriting of a very young Dalí, and they took them without thinking. The Mossos held the recovery of the artworks at a press conference this Friday.
But as so often in these cases, the situation got complicated when they tried to sell her. Almost everyone on the art market knows each other, and it’s difficult to place a stolen piece like the two €300,000 Dalí paintings without setting off alarm bells. One of the people who heard that two Dalís were looking for a new owner notified the Mossos. This allowed them to redirect their investigations: It was not about thieves of commissioned pictures, but about home thieves with a lot of vision, as they explained this Friday.
But hardly anyone gives anything away for free. The person who alerted the agents was also looking for his role. “Their demands were far from what the police consider cooperation,” Deputy Inspector Jonatan Herrera, head of the Catalan Police Central Heritage Unit, told a news conference. Between collaboration and blackmail, the informant wanted to get a part of the family and have them pay him a part in return for the information. The man, also with numerous criminal records, was eventually arrested and investigated, allowing police to identify three brothers of Venezuelan origin, aged 55, 53 and 50, as the perpetrators of the robbery.
The Catalan police then began a race against time: the main objective was to recover the works so that they would not disappear forever on the black market, sold and hidden in the hands of a collector who would zealously guard them. They spotted a potential buyer in Portugal with an agent who traveled to Zaragoza to test what was genuine about the offer. And also some Chinese citizens living in Catalonia who were interested in the Dalís. Three months later, still with no clear lead as to the whereabouts of the drawings, the Mossos had to arrest the suspects. “They continued the robberies and that couldn’t be allowed to happen,” said Sergeant José González, head of the historical heritage department.
They did not find the paintings in the apartments, which was the main aim of the police. And the detainees did not provide any data to the agents. But a stroke of luck, hidden in the multitude of messages on the suspects’ cell phones, gave the police the last clue. In one message, they found the codes to open and close a door that turned out to be a storage room linked to the family of the only one of the three suspects with no prior records. On a Saturday in August, covered with blankets, they found the two drawings intact, not even removed from the frame. “It was the happiest day of the entire investigation,” said the sergeant.
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The paintings have a history connected to Dalí’s youth and his father. Pere Coromines, a politician, lawyer, writer and friend of Dalí senior, commissioned the then 19-year-old, very young painter, to do some illustrations for the book Les gràcies de l’Empordà, which was never published. But the drawings survived. Seven experts from the Dalí Foundation confirmed that these are the authentic works of a “naïve Dalí who records popular festivals,” explained the director of the Dalí Museums, Montse Aguer. The works never left the family and passed to the daughters of Coromines. The current owner of the two plants, Montserrat Herrera, 84 years old and granddaughter of Coromines, told this newspaper her belief that the robbery was premeditated.
The Dalís are back with their rightful owners. And the Mossos celebrate the success of an investigation in which their main concern was to find the paintings again. During searches of the suspects’ homes, they found luxury watches and other items, including five graphic works by Miró, that have not yet passed analysis to verify their authenticity. They also found feathers, gold and silver objects, and four long guns that had been stolen. All of these stand for stolen items on the Mossos website if their owners can identify them.
The thieves, who have been released without charge, are linked to seven other home robberies in Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, Sant Cugat del Vallès, Rubí and Premià de Mar. The Mossos have no doubt they’ve been doing the same for some time do, but their own skill at the time of the action had enabled them to evade investigators and steal without being detected.
Litografias.net, an epicenter of online counterfeiting
The Mossos d’Esquadra attach great importance to the police operation that has allowed them to dismantle an epicenter of internet counterfeiting, hidden under the domain litografias.net. The heritage specialists’ very online patrol enabled them to find a website selling lithographs that the police found suspicious. Through parcel services and researching the forums themselves, the Catalan police located 19 victims and eventually arrested a man in Badalona as responsible for the forgery. In addition, more than 500 reproductions were intervened and they managed to freeze the suspect’s assets such as bank accounts, business premises and apartments containing poetry. Without a criminal record and with a certain penchant for the world of art, the police calculated an inheritance of 460,000 euros in three years. The agents have now processed 12 letters rogatory, which have taken them to countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Switzerland, Chile and China, where the lithographs have been sold. Some for 300 euros, others could exceed 6,000.
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