Lost Without Trace

Tony Aldous discusses the missing millions in the art world

The looting of art and architectural treasures from Czechoslovakia since the overthrow of the Communist regime has exceeded anything since the Thirty Years War, according to a leading Czechoslovak arts administrator. Delegates to the 2nd International Art Antique R Architectural Theft Conference held in London in June heard Dr Hana Vondrackova, formerly of the Czechoslovak Ministry of Culture, describe the rise in 'cultural crime' which is threatening to destroy much of her country's tangible heritage.

Officially registered offences of this kind had risen from ninety cases in 1989, to 695 in 1990, and to 500 in just the first four months of 1991. And reported crime, she made clear, is just the tip of the iceberg. 'The total since the beginning of 1990 is in billions.' She meant billions of pounds, but was coy about putting a precise figure on the losses until one of the conference organisers, Philip Saunders, quoted a figure of 80.5 billion pounds which he said was an official Ministry of Culture estimate. Dr Vondrackova then indicated that that was indeed the figure she had in mind. It may be compared with, for instance, the official 1990 figure for exports from Czechoslovakia to the UK of just under 136 million pounds.

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