Art theft experts offer to help Cuba recover missing works

Mon Mar 3, 2014 6:03pm EST
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By David Quinones

MIAMI (Reuters) - One of the world's leading databases of stolen works of art is offering to help the Cuban government recover dozens of modernist works missing from Havana's National Museum of Fine Arts.

The heist was confirmed late last week by officials with Cuba's state-run National Council of Cultural Heritage, which added it was in the process of finishing an inventory of the missing pieces which will be made public.

Miami gallery owner Ramon Cernuda, a Cuban-American exile and prominent collector of Cuban art, alerted the Havana museum last month after he became suspicious of 11 works being offered for sale in Miami, including one he purchased.

On Friday, Cuban officials confirmed the works, including several by acclaimed Cuban painter Leopoldo Romañach, were part of a larger trove of stolen art, thought to be about 95 pieces in all.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun grand jury proceedings in the case, Cernuda told Reuters on Monday.

The FBI said, however, that it could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

The disclosure of the theft is a first for the Cuban government since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. In its statement, officials from the National Council of Cultural Heritage stated that the works were cut from their frames while in storage.

Most of the missing works were by Cuban artists, it said.   Continued...

A woman walks beside the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana March 2, 2014. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa