Honest Guv, it's a genuine da Vinci.

I am once more indebted to Victorian Maiden for noting the arrest of a senior partner in the recapture of the Madonna of the Yardwinder, violently lifted from Drumlanrig Castle four years ago.

Calum Jones of HBJ Gateley Wareing in Glasgow, a specialist in corporate finance and corporate insolvency, was apparently arrested in the course of a meeting with an insurer, a valuer and an art expert, and the painting was found in HBJ’s offices. HBJ say there was “an interesting, but benign, explanation” for Mr Jones’ involvement. Interesting, it should be. Mr Jones insists that he was helping with the painting’s ‘repatriation’.

VM wonders how difficult it is to say ‘give it back’. But the world of high end art theft and/or ransom is a very murky one, as the many recent cases involving paintings by Munch, Carravaggio and others tend to demonstrate. Once big money from insurance companies is involved, let alone the inherent shadiness of the art world, (oh and criminals) nothing is quite what it seems, including whether the painting is a Leonardo da Vinci at all.

For instance, what of the involvement of both the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency in the raid. Has SOCA incorporated the old Art Theft team? Was this a set up, or tip off? If so, by whom? Was the £1 million reward (presumably put up by the insurance company) involved?

What on earth was the painting doing on the premises of HBJ? That, by itself, would tend give a certain credence to Mr Jones’ version of affairs. It wouldn’t be the first time that a third party has acted as go between for the thieves and the insurers. But then what the hell was a corporate finance partner doing in this sort of set up?

Add in the second solicitor arrested, Marshall Ronald, who has, as VM notes, a very interesting history, and events get even murkier.

The Scottish police announced that the painting recovered has been examined and ‘found to be genuine‘. Well, for certain limited values of genuine. It is hotly disputed whether the painting is a Leonardo da Vinci, or a ‘studio of…’. There are three versions of the painting in existence and Leonardo rarely if ever duplicated his own work. Many consider the Drumlanrig to be a ‘studio of’, not a Leonardo. From the photos, I can see why. I’ll bet there have been some very intense discussions over insurance value, which the Duke of Buccleuch will have to repay if he wants the painting back.

This one should get even more unclear if and as the story comes out.

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
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