Qatari royal's obsession with collecting jewelry takes hit amid Venice heist

Thieves get away with pieces from rare exhibit of Indian and Asian jewelry

An undated photo of the stolen jewels from the Al Thani Collection that were on exhibit in Venice. Thieves on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018 stole precious jewels from the famed Al Thani Collection that were on exhibit in Venice, making off with a brooch and a pair of earrings by mixing in with the crowd on the final day of the show, police said.  The stolen jewels were considered to be of a lesser value than some of the highlights of the Al Thani Collection, but police said they were made of gold, platinum and diamonds and news reports estimated their value in the millions of euros. (The Al Thani Collection via AP)
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Exotic jewels from ancient times, the most beautiful city in the world, a Qatari royal and an Arsene Lupin-style theft … it may seem like a screenplay for an Ocean's Eleven movie. It's not.

Last Wednesday in Venice, some old and precious gems were stolen from an exhibit in Piazza San Marco, the very heart of the city. The thieves escaped without being noticed, simply slipping away among the thousands of tourists mill­ing around in the main square during the holiday season.

As a result, this year has start­ed with bad news for the ruling family of Qatar, the owners of the stolen pieces. The Al Thani Foundation had been display­ing ancient Indian and Asian jewellery and gems from a col­lection assembled by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah inside Palazzo Ducale, the most im­portant building in Venice.

The collection has been built up over an impressively short time by Sheikh Hamad, who is the first cousin of Sheikh Tamim, the Qatari emir.

Sheikh Hamad admits that it has become “an obsession”, one that began in 2009 when he visited the exhibition Maha­raja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts, at London’s Vic­toria and Albert Museum. He now owns what is probably the most important collection of historical Indian jewellery in private hands.

The Treasures of the Mughals and the Maharajas collection of 275 pieces was being shown to the public in Italy for the first time, having opened in Sep­tember. It had previously been on show in Paris and Japan.

The details of Wednesday’s crime read like a Hollywood script: it was the last day of the exhibition and at 10am two people were seen on security cameras putting earrings and a safety pin in their pockets, hav­ing taken them out of a glass case in the Sala dello Scrutinio, or Scrutiny Hall, of the palazzo.

The shelves were supposed to be unbreakable. They were designed by the Al Thani Foun­dation and were used in the ex­hibits around the world.

Nonetheless, thieves man­aged to open them without signs of force, although inves­tigations continue. Security cameras also showed the men leaving the Palazzo, but they soon melted into the crowd of tourists outside.

General prosecutor Raffaele Incardona, the Italian official in charge of the investigation, said it was probably not an opportunistic crime, as the thieves must have done some site inspection before and planned the robbery.

The stolen jewels are not among the most valuable of the collection, and experts say they are valued at several million euros. Strangely enough, when the jewels entered Italy, they were valued at only €30,000, or Dh132,560.

But Venetian authorities were quick to let the public know that the stolen jewels would be too well known to be resold on the black market.