Criminal underworld is offered bait to help recover stolen Goya

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The Independent Online

A London loss adjuster for precious artworks, Tyler & Co, is offering a financial bait to the criminal underworld in a bid to recover a Goya masterpiece.

The Swing, described by a Spanish expert as "a work of exceptional importance", was stolen on 8 August from the Madrid home of the Spanish billionaire Esther Koplowitz. Tyler director Mark Dalrymple said yesterday: "We have good contacts internationally in the criminal world and it is a question of putting the word around. There is lots of connectivity."

Tyler was instructed by the unnamed British insurers of the work to deal with the claim for the loss of the painting, estimated to be worth some £8m. Astonishingly, of 13 paintings stolen in a Spain's biggest ever art heist, only The Swing and a work by the Japanese artist Tsuguharu Foujita, The Girl with the Hat, were insured.

It emerged yesterday that those two paintings were owned by Ms Koplowitz's former husband, Alfredo Alcocer. He is, like his ex-wife, one of Spain's wealthiest construction magnates. Among the other stolen works were The Donkey's Fall, also by Goya, Foujita's Child with Hat, Camille Pissarro's Landscape at Eragny and The Temptation of St Anthony by Pieter Brueghel the Elder.

Ms Koplowitz, whose assets exceed $1bn and is ranked as the 490th wealthiest person in the world, thought she had installed sufficient protection for her collection, but Mr Alcocer had taken the precaution of insuring the two works he owned and had left in his ex-wife's home after their divorce.

Mr Dalrymple declined to reveal the name of the British company which now had to fork out for their disappearance. "I have been instructed by Mr Alcocer's insurers to deal with the claim and improve the prospects of the recovery of the paintings by dangling some dosh," he said yesterday.

The insurers are offering a reward of $400,000 for information leading to the recovery of the Goya. Mr Dalrymple added: "We are looking for people with real knowledge who are willing to help the police, or other criminals who might be persuaded to snitch."

Mr Dalrymple has dealt with similar thefts of fine art, including Turners stolen from the Tate in 1994 and a Titian stolen from Lord Bath at Longleat in 1995. He dismissed the idea floated after the Koplowitz theft that her works had been stolen "to order" by a collector.

"In 20 years I have never experienced a fanatical art lover, a Dr No-type who wants to display a masterpiece in his secret bunker. That's rubbish. Such a collector can buy legitimately at auction. It's usually much more mundane, for use as a tradeable commodity, passed on as collateral among criminals to get money or drugs or to settle accounts. I know of a Mafia family who used a Caravaggio in this way for years."