Faulty alarms blamed for Egypt Van Gogh theft

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None of the alarms and only seven out of 43 surveillance cameras were working at a Cairo museum where a Vincent van Gogh painting was stolen, Egypt's top prosecutor said yesterday.

Thieves took the canvas, known by the titles of Poppy Flowers and Vase with Flowers, on Saturday from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum.

Prosecutor general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud told Egypt's state news agency that the painting was removed from its frame with a utility knife.

He blamed lax security measures, calling them "for the most part feeble and superficial". He said the museum guards' daily rounds at closing time were inadequate.

Mr Mahmoud said his office had warned museums to tighten security after nine paintings were stolen last year from another Cairo institute, the Mohammed Ali Museum. Similar security lapses were to blame.

Fifteen Egyptian officials, including the director of the Khalil museum, Reem Bahir, and the head of the fine arts department at the Ministry of Culture, have been barred from leaving Egypt during the inquiry into the theft, Mr Mahmoud said.

On Saturday, Egypt's minister of culture, Farouk Hosni, said that police had confiscated the painting from an Italian couple at Cairo airport hours after it was stolen. But Mr Hosni later backtracked, saying his announcement was based on "false and incorrect" information. He said authorities were still searching for the missing painting, which he said is worth an estimated $50m (£32m).

This is the second time this painting by the Dutch-born Post-impressionist has been stolen from the Khalil museum. Thieves first made off with the canvas in 1978. It was recovered two years later at an undisclosed location in Kuwait.