Egyptian court sends 11 to jail in Van Gogh theft

The culture ministry employees were convicted of negligence in the theft of a US$50 million painting from a Cairo museum.

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CAIRO // An Egyptian court sentenced 11 culture ministry employees to three years in prison for negligence that led to the theft of a $55 million Van Gogh painting from a Cairo museum.

The theft in August of Van Gogh's "Vase with Viscaria" led to accusations of incompetence at the culture ministry and raised fears over security measures protecting Egyptian national treasures.

"The court has decided to punish deputy culture minister Mohsan Shalan and ten other employees in the ministry with three years in jail," presiding judge Ahmed el-Shahedi said.

They can stay out of prison until another court reviews the case if they each pay bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$1,760), the judge said. The officials were charged with negligence and shortcomings in performing their duties that led to the loss of the painting from Cairo's Mahmoud Khalil Museum.

An early investigation showed "flagrant shortcomings" in security at the museum, home to one of the Middle East's finest collections of 19th- and 20th-century art.

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris offered a 1-million pound reward for information leading to the recovery of the painting, but it is still missing.

* Reuters