Saturday, 12 December 2015

Mr Geerdink, Please Explain (Dutch Painting Affair)

 "Розраховуємо на здоровий
глузд і порядність голандців".
The Dutch painting affair as reported by the Guardian:
A hoard of stolen Dutch golden age paintings is being offered for sale by an ultra-nationalist militia in Ukraine, according to the museum from which the works vanished a decade ago. The Westfries Museum in Hoorn, 50km north of Amsterdam, said on Monday it suspected members of the Ukrainian state security service, SBU, the far-right Svoboda (Freedom) party, and “art criminals with contacts ... at the highest political level” might also be involved in the attempt to sell the canvases. The small provincial museum’s director, Ad Geerdink, said [...] “Our collection is in the hands of corrupt people, deep in the heart of the Ukrainian political elite,” he told De Telegraaf. “They refuse to give back these paintings and want only one thing: to earn illicit money from our cultural heritage.”
I hope that if it turns out that the source of his "information" turns out to be false, Ad Geerdink the provincial museum curator who has provoked a damaging international scandal will have the decency to resign. What is the "source"? According to their negotiator who went on their behalf to meet a middleman, it was his "informants" in Ukraine. Whether that evidence stands up to official police investigation remains to be seen.

It is far from clear what was Mr Humeniuk's involvement with the paintings. From information emerging independently of the Dutch claims, it looks more like he was offering to act as a middleman rather than actually being in possession of the paintings. Nevertheless it seems to be the case that (and in fact Brand himself notes this as a fact), at the time of the initial contact with the Dutch Embassy in Kiev (July 2015) [see here and here TPQ 10-11 july 2015 ], and his meeting with Brand in August he was no longer a member of the militia group which Mr Brand is accusing of having the paintings. So what is the connection between the stolen paintings and the specific militia group named by the Dutch? How could Humeniuk talk meaningfully of "my men" (which is the basis of Brand's accusation) when he was no longer enlisted in that unit?

The evidence of the involvement of  that "political elite" comes from elsewhere:
October: Knowledgeable informants notify Brand that Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the right-wing extremist party Svoboda, is pulling the strings behind the scenes. The name Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, former head of the secret service is repeatedly mentioned.
These "knowledgeable informants" who "mention names repeatedly" are from which political option?  Do they speak Dutch? They should be easy for the police to track down and question.

[Update 13/12/15 19:52: inconsistently Mr Brand is now saying that "At Borys his first meeting at Embassy (6 witnesses) he himself mentioned that Valentyn Nalyvaichenko knew about the paintings". *  Firstly, yesterday he was claiming four witnesses, now six (and a film). Secondly, he dismisses other things Humeniuk says as "lies", but for some reason, he is prepared to treat this one as 'true' - is that just because it fits his preferred story?] [Update update, twenty minutes after it was posted, that tweet was deleted, what's going on? Why change the facts supporting the story?]

It seems to me that the museum director Geerdink is deliberately engaging in political provocation. He might like to tell us how in the past few weeks he has verified these third hand reports of "informants" before going public with his sweeping accusations. I think we'd also like to ask how it is that thieves could walk off with so many objects in one go from his museum, and why for some of those paintings they have only monochrome photos which 'could not be used as evidence'  and for some of the missing objects they have no photos in their records at all. A bit of a balls-up really Mr Geerdink.

* "Knew about the paintings" is a long way from "involved in the plot trying to extract ransom money from the Dutch government". Equally one can now say that Khatia Dekanoidze "knows about the paintings". What accusations will the Dutch soon be making about her "involvement"? Crazy people.

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