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EGYPT: $55-million Van Gogh painting 'Poppy Flowers' stolen from Cairo museum

August 22, 2010 | 12:34 pm

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The search is still underway for a Vincent Van Gogh painting that, according to Egypt's minister of culture, Farouk Hosni, was cut from its frame and stolen from Cairo's Mahmoud Khalil museum on Saturday.

Known as both "Poppy Flowers" and "Vase With Flowers" and believed to have been painted by the Dutch Impressionist master in 1887, the 12-inch-by-12-inch canvas is worth $55 million. 

Hosni ordered urgent measures at all ports to try to prevent it from being taken out of Egypt.

A few hours after the painting's disappearance, Egypt's official news agency, MENA, reported that two Italian tourists were detained at Cairo International Airport on suspicion of connection to the theft moments before they boarded their flight back to Italy.

Museum officials were quoted as saying that the Italian couple raised suspicions after they were seen going to the toilet before swiftly cutting short their tour and leaving the museum.

Hosni later announced that "Poppy Flowers" had been recovered -- before retracting that statement, saying it was "based on information we received that was wrong and incorrect" and that authorities were still on the hunt for the painting.

On Sunday, the culture minister blamed the public fine arts sector – assigned with managing Egypt's museums – for the robbery. He told Agence France-Presse that the head of the sector, the museum's director, as well as all workers at the museum would be suspended until investigations into their "negligence" were concluded.

Following his inspection of the museum, general prosecutor Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud told reporters that only seven out of the museum's 47 surveillance video cameras were found to be functioning properly and that none of the 54 theft alarms installed was working.

This is the second time "Poppy Flowers" has been stolen from the Khalil museum. The first theft took place in 1977, before the painting was found in an undisclosed location in Kuwait and brought back to Egypt one year later.

Details of the 1977 robbery were never revealed by Egyptian officials.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: "Poppy Flowers" or "Vase With Flowers," by Vincent Van Gogh. Credit: BBC

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