Historian jailed for vandalizing rare books

Fri Jan 16, 2009 1:04pm EST
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By Martina Fuchs

LONDON (Reuters) - A wealthy Iranian-born businessman was jailed for two years by a London court on Friday for stealing pages from priceless books at two of Britain's most famous libraries.

Farhad Hakimzadeh, 60, a Harvard-educated historian, used a blade to cut out about 150 pages, plates and maps, which he later transferred to his own copies at home.

Hakimzadeh pleaded guilty to 14 charges of stealing illustrations from 10 books at the British Library in London and four from the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

The defaced editions date from the 16th century and include works about European travel and colonization in Mesopotamia, Persia and the Mogul empire.

A British Library spokesman estimated that the damage would cost more than 400,000 pounds ($596,600) to repair.

"It is extremely difficult to detect the absence of these pages as Hakimzadeh took care to select material that only an expert would be able to identify, as early printed books are unique," said Detective Chief Inspector Dave Cobb, of London's Metropolitan Police.

More than half a million readers visit the British library each year. The size of the reading area, which can hold more than 1,200 readers, helped Hakimzadeh smuggle the items past security guards and cameras.

Kristian Jensen, head of British and early printed collections at the British Library, said: "The violation of the collections by Hakimzadeh transcends mere monetary loss. His victims are the researchers of the future who will not be able to consult this material."

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)