Approximately 2,000 works of art have been stolen from the British Museum, a particularly embarrassing scandal for one of the world’s most prestigious cultural institutions. The director of the establishment announced his resignation on Friday.
“Approximately 2,000” works of art have been stolen from the British Museum, but some have already been recovered, said the president of the prestigious cultural institution on Saturday, following the resignation of the museum’s director.
Hartwig Fischer, 60, who has been in office since 2016, resigned as director of the British Museum on Friday, under pressure since the announcement on August 16 of the disappearance of a series of pieces from the collections, some dating back to the 15th century BC.
Asked on BBC on Saturday, the museum’s president, former conservative minister George Osborne, said he did not know exactly how many objects were missing but “I will give an estimate of about 2,000”.
“We have started to recover stolen pieces, which is a light in the storm,” he added.
The stolen items are small unexhibited pieces kept in the museum’s reserves, which do not have a complete inventory of its collections acquired over the centuries.
“Someone who is aware of what is not recorded has a big advantage,” said Mr. Osborne, estimating that the museum “must accelerate the already ongoing process of establishing a complete inventory”.
The museum’s reputation at stake
The announcement of the thefts was a blow to the museum and “damaged the reputation of the British Museum,” according to Mr. Osborne. “We believe that we have been victims of thefts over a long period of time and frankly, more could have been done to prevent them.”
“Was there a belief within the museum, at the highest level, that refused to believe that an insider was stealing objects, believing that one of the staff members was doing this? Yes, it is very possible,” he added.
Founded in 1753, the British Museum’s collections include, among eight million pieces, the famous Rosetta Stone, a stele that allowed the deciphering of hieroglyphs, and is one of the most visited attractions in the United Kingdom.
The institution had announced in mid-August that it had dismissed an employee, while the London police stated that they had interviewed a man, without naming him, but had not initiated any charges at this time. AFP