Lottery millionaire convicted of stealing Banksy mural

The Banksy mural on the exit door of the Bataclan in Paris. (CNN International/Twitter)

A lottery billionaire with a passion for street art was among the eight men convicted Thursday of stealing a Banksy mural honoring the victims of the Bataclan terrorist massacre.

Banksy sprayed his "sad girl" stencil on the metal door of the Bataclan in remembrance of the 90 people killed there on November 13, 2015, as part of a series of Islamist attacks on bars, restaurants, and the Stade de France football stadium.

On January 26, 2019, a white van with hidden license plates was parked in an alley adjacent to the downtown Paris music venue.

Numerous concertgoers escaped along the same lane as the Bataclan became the epicenter of France's deadliest attacks since World War II, in which 130 people perished.

On the morning of the theft, three masked men came out of the van, cut the door hinges with angle grinders powered by a generator, and fled within 10 minutes in what an investigating judge described as a "meticulously prepared" robbery.

Investigators pieced together the door's path via France and Italy, where it was discovered in June 2020 on a farm near the Adriatic Sea in Sant'Omero.

During the trial, prosecutors alleged that Mehdi Meftah, a 41-year-old suspect, was the "mastermind."

One of the three individuals who acknowledged committing the heist mentioned that the lottery winner "ordered" the theft for possible sale in the United States.

Meftah, who hid the door on the day of the burglary in his property in Var, southern France, won £4.7 million (NZ$9 million) in the national lottery. He developed BL1.D, a luxury streetwear company that offers T-shirts with miniature 18-karat gold ingots attached for approximately £429 (NZ$836) each.

Additionally, he once had a Banksy screen print. When asked about this, he responded, "I grew up on the street, and street art became fashionable." We were raised with it."

After winning the lotto, he remarked, "I noticed that he was fashionable, and his message was intriguing. I have sufficient funds to purchase a Banksy."

However, he said that the artist's "double discourse turned him off."

Meftah said in court that he was unaware of the theft of the painting, estimated to be worth up to €1 million (NZ$1.6 million) until two of the thieves showed up at his door with the artwork. He asked, "What would you like me to do with it?"

Unwilling to inform his "friend," he said he would keep the door until they discovered a method to dispose of it.

"After forty-eight hours, I realized my foolish error," he stated. "I took it, loaded it into my truck, and disposed of it to eliminate the problem," he said. His cousin and a buddy ultimately drove it to a hotel in Tortoreto, Abbruzzese, Italy.

The thieves behaved "like vultures."

Thursday, Meftah was sentenced to three years in prison for handling stolen items after judges ruled that the significant accusation of masterminding the crime was unfounded. Instead of being incarcerated, his sentence will be served by wearing electronic tracking bracelets.

Three men in their 30s who acknowledged the theft were sentenced to prison, one for four years and the other two for three. They will also be required to wear an electronic bracelet.

Three men who transported the door were each sentenced to 10 months in prison, while the 58-year-old owner of the hotel where it was temporarily held was given a six-month suspended sentence.

Valerie Cadignan, the prosecutor, told the court earlier this month that the defendants did not intend to desecrate the memory of the attack victims but, "being aware of the priceless value of the door were looking to make a profit"

She said, however, that the burglars "acted like vultures, like people who steal objects without any respect for what they might represent"

During the trial, Bataclan employees stated that the theft sparked "deep indignation" and that the painted door was a "symbol of remembrance that belongs to everyone, locals, Parisians, citizens of the world."

Conclusions in the Paris attacks trial

The Banksy verdicts were handed down as the closing arguments were made in the Paris attacks trial.

Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving member of the Islamist hit squad, is on trial.

Also on trial are 19 individuals accused of assisting the killers in varying degrees. The expected verdict date is June 29.

Publish : 2022-06-24 07:22:00

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