Thieves 'likely to seek ransom' for £40m Leonardo

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The Independent Online

The thieves who took a Leonardo da Vinci painting worth an estimated £40m from a Scottish castle will probably make a ransom demand, an expert on stolen art said yesterday.

Dick Ellis, founder and former head of Scotland Yard's art and antiques squad, spoke as police released e-fits of suspects and CCTV footage of the thieves moments before the raid. The two men stole the painting, Madonna with the Yarnwinder, from Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries and Galloway, on Wednesday, and fled with two accomplices in a car.

Mr Ellis, who led the team that recovered Edvard Munch's The Scream three months after it was stolen in Oslo in 1994, said the theft of the Madonna had been professional. Pictures released yesterday from the castle's security system showed that the two thieves wore hats, dipped their heads and covered their faces as they passed the surveillance camera.

The thieves overpowered a female guide and later abandoned their getaway car. The firm that insured the painting has offered a undisclosed six-figure sum for its return. Mr Ellis, the managing director of Trace, a magazine that helps to recover stolen art, believes the people behind the theft will probably try to claim a ransom or "reward" for the Leonardo's safe return. He said: "My feeling is that it will go quiet for a bit then there will be feelers put out to establish whether it could be ransomed back to the owners or insurers.

"It is at this stage the police will try to catch the thieves. It is likely to be a cat-and-mouse situation for some time. The way the men bypassed the security system, went straight for the most valuable painting, and had a successful getaway all suggests it was a professional job."

He said that the thieves may be preparing to trade the painting with other professional criminals. "They will only get from 5 to 10 per cent of the value. In the past, stolen art has been used as collateral for loans in setting up a bank for money laundering, and for exchange of drugs. But unless you are already in the international crime league you can forget it."

The images released yesterday include an e-fit of a man who bought the thieves' getaway car, a Volkswagen Golf GTi, from the registered owner about two weeks ago.