Rare Books: Thieves out to make a whole lot of money on the black market usually steal items that are easily fenced – diamonds and other jewels, paintings, even cash. One of a kind books – ancient texts and first editions — are seldom on your garden variety robber’s wish list.
Objects like that are tough to sell, unless the customer happens to be an erudite millionaire who longs to own a centuries-old volume they can never show to anyone. People like that are hard to find.
Nonetheless, rare books do continue to be stolen, from libraries and book stores and even book fairs, during which dealers gather to show off their wares and boast to one another about one of a kind finds.
Most commonly, rare books are stolen when they are between locations, in less secure environments. That is what befell a collection of about 200 rare books, papers and even a painting three years ago, in January of 2017.
They were at a postal transit stop in London, ready to be shipped to Las Vegas, Nevada, for an auction. Included were first editions by Sir Issac Newton, Galileo and even a painting by Spanish master Goya.
In total, the collection was valued at almost 3.5 million (USD). The volumes were owned by three separate book dealers when they vanished.
Though they had a valuation attached to them (likely for insurance purposes) the books are irreplaceable; no amount of money could make up for their loss, in terms of literary and cultural significance.
Once they disappeared, several law enforcement agencies combined to track their location and the culprits. In mid-September the prized cache was finally discovered beneath a house in Neamt, in northeastern Romania, hidden in a pit dug deliberately to conceal the volumes.
It took the efforts of Europol, the National Romanian Police and the Italian Carabinieri, as well as the Metropolitan Police in the U.K., to uncover the guilty parties – who are connected to a spurious ring of crime families in the Eastern European nation, known as Clamparu.
So far, 12 men have pleaded guilty in the heist, while a 13th is set to stand trial in March, 2021.
In what can only be described as a Hollywood thriller-style theft, two men, Daniel David and Victor Opariuc, carved holes into the roof of the postal warehouse that dark and cold January night in Feltham.
They sat on shelves in order to evade the security censors all around them, and pinched the papers gradually, over the course of five hours. A third man, Narcis Popescu, was waiting nearby with a getaway vehicle.
But thanks to the cooperation of the law enforcement agencies, the theft – and the guilty parties – were tracked down and arrested.
The Metropolitan Police, of London, described the investigation and subsequent arrests, and discovery of the books, as the “perfect end to this operation.”
The statement (released last month) did not say how the police found the books under the house, but pictures show that they were wrapped tightly in plastic, likely to guard against inclement weather.
The ring of thieves had pulled off many heists before, of everything from laptops to electronic equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. If there was an intended client willing to one day take possession of the books, and pay millions for them, so far that information has not been made public.
All the agencies involved have called the investigation, arrests and property recovery a success on many fronts. The culprits are in jail and the loot has been found, unharmed, before it could be sold, and the three-year operation showed an impressive level of cooperation between countries.
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They shared the goal of returning important cultural works to their rightful owners, before the trove of irreplaceable books were lost forever.