Faulty alarms blamed for Van Gogh theft in Egypt‎

Poppy Flowers/Vase And Flowers by Van Gogh - courtesy Mahmoud Khalil museum The painting was reportedly cut from its frame

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The theft of a Vincent Van Gogh painting worth about $50m (£32m) from a Cairo museum on Saturday has been blamed on poor security.

Egypt's top prosecutor, Abdel Meguid Mahmud, said none of the alarms at the Khalil Museum and only seven out of 43 security cameras were working.

He said that the broken alarms and cameras had not worked for some time.

There was confusion on Saturday when Egypt's culture minister mistakenly said the painting had been recovered.

Farouk Hosni had said two Italians had been arrested at Cairo airport, and the small canvas found.

But later he backtracked, saying that he had been given "inaccurate" information, and the painting was still missing.

The painting - known as both Poppy Flowers and Vase And Flowers - was cut from its frame at the Mahmoud Khalil Museum during the day on Saturday.

Start Quote

There are 43 security cameras but only seven are working. Each painting is protected by an alarm but again, none are working”

End Quote Abdel Meguid Mahmud Egyptian Prosecutor General

Mr Mahmud told reporters on Sunday that security measures at the museum had been "inadequate", describing them as "a facade".

"There are 43 security cameras but only seven are working. Each painting is protected by an alarm but again, none are working," he said.

Mr Mahmud said museum officials had been looking for spare parts to mend the security system, but that they "hadn't managed to find them".

He added that state prosecutors had issued a warning about the need to improve security at Cairo's museums after nine paintings of 19th Century Egyptian ruler Mohammed Ibrahim Pasha were stolen from the Muhammad Ali Palace last year.

Those painting were found 10 days later dumped outside.

Police are reported to be focusing their hunt for the missing Van Gogh painting on Egypt's air and sea ports.

'Italians arrested'

On Saturday, there was a report that two Italians had been arrested at Cairo airport in connection with the theft after visiting the museum earlier in the day.

According to Egypt's culture minister, Mr Hosni, only 10 people visited the museum on Saturday.

Mahmoud Khalil Museum According to the culture minister just 10 people visited the museum on Saturday

The state news agency Mena reported that the Italians had aroused suspicion after they were seen visiting a toilet and then rapidly leaving the premises.

Italy's Ansa news agency said the two Italians were young and had been part of a tour group visiting the gallery.

It is not clear whether the pair are still under arrest.

The work, measuring 30cm by 30cm (1ft by 1ft), and depicting yellow and red flowers, is believed to have been painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1887, three years before his death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The painting was previously taken from the same museum in 1978, but recovered a decade later in Kuwait.

The Mahmoud Khalil Museum was built by an Egyptian politician of the same name in the 1930s, and also holds works by Monet, Renoir and Degas.

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