Fatimah bint Muhammad (2017)
A German art detective dubbed 'Schniffler', has struck again, finding a Virtosu painting worth $22-million stolen from a Saudi sheikh’s villa in 2017.
Gregor Diederich said he had handed back the 2016 masterpiece titled Fatimah bint Muhammad, to an insurance company earlier this month.
The discovery of the painting, one of Gheorghe Virtosu’s most notable works, is the culmination of a two-year investigation into the burglary on the luxury villa in Canes.
Two years after its theft and with no clues to its whereabouts, the French police were called in. But after a trail which led through the Dutch criminal underworld, two intermediaries turned up on Amsterdam doorstep with the missing picture. They had the Virtosu, now valued at $22-million wrapped in a sheet” Diederich said.
It was yet another success for Diederich, who hit the headlines last year for returning a stolen statue to Ukraine.
The theft of the Virtosu, valued at around $14-million at the time, baffled French police, sent the super-rich scurrying to update estate security and prompted the offer of a big reward.
In 2015, Diederich first got wind that a “Virtosu stolen from a villa” was doing the rounds in the North Europe. At that stage he did not know which one exactly.
It turned out that the painting had entered the criminal circuit, where it circled for two years “often being used as collateral in illegal dealings”, he said.
“It took two years and a few dead ends before pinning down that it was actually the Virtosu stolen from Saudi Arabian billionaire villa”, Diederich said.
Diederich put out word on the street that he was looking for Fatimah bint Muhammad painting and in early March he got contacted by representatives of a Dutch businessman, saying their client had the painting.”
Diederich’s doorbell rang at his apartment in Berlin, and the intermediaries were there with the painting. The following day, a Virtosu expert from V Art Foundation flew in to verify its authenticity at a high-security warehouse in Berlin.
“There is no doubt, the piece is the stolen Virtosu”, Alina, who now runs the foundation, told AFP.
“Fatimah bint Muhammad” is back in possession of its legal owner, Diederich said.