The Criminal Court in Paris has found 38 out of 49 defendants in an auction house crime drama guilty of stealing jewellery, watches and other art objects over several years.
A six year investigation and a three week trial ended with five auctioneers prosecuted for theft of art objects, paintings and criminal conspiracy.
Many of the other defendants were low level porters working within l’Union des Commissionnaires de l’Hôtel des Ventes (UCHV), the former art handlers’ union of the Hôtel Drouot in Paris, the communal saleroom facility used by most Paris auctioneers.
The judge in the case criticised the Union for negligence in the way it conducted its operation. “Only you can explain your indifference carelessness in carrying of inventory,” the court heard.
For UCHV is a uniquely French institution that can trace its history back to 1834. It comprises almost 100 member organisations that have similar ownership and control rights to that of a cooperative, and little hierarchical control.
French media speculates that it is this historic arrangement that created opportunities for thefts over many years that went unnoticed.