Stolen Gottfried Lindauer paintings returned in secret gang deal
Both portraits stolen in April 2017 from the International Art Centre gallery and auction house in a "smash-and-grab" incident, just a few days prior to them being auctioned.
The New Zealand Herald reported Wednesday that two paintings that were stolen in 2017 were returned to police via a secretive deal arranged by senior gang members.
The paintings, valued around $490,000 US ($800,000 NZD), are the portraits of Māori Chieftainess Ngatai-Raure and Chief Ngatai-Raure painted by Czech-New Zealand artist Gottfried Lindauer in 1884.
Both were stolen in April 2017 from the International Art Centre gallery and auction house in a "smash-and-grab" incident, just a few days prior to them being auctioned.
In December 2022, the police said the two paintings were returned with minor damages.
The Herald said that police were "deliberately vague" in providing information on what really happened to the paintings.
"To me this is a good news story," Detective Inspector Scott Beard said at a press conference in December. "You get involved in investigations, you want to resolve them, you want to solve them. The cultural significance and value of these paintings, we never gave up hope. And now we’ve had them returned."
"We’re still looking for people to come with information that can assist us solving who did the burglary and who stole these [paintings]."
On June 7, the Herald reported that the return of the portraits was made through a secret agreement between two senior gang leaders.
Their identities were undisclosed due to "wide-ranging suppression orders" made by the country’s Court of Appeal.
"Strict non-publication orders" also prevent the press from reporting and disclosing how the paintings were returned to the police.
"The gang members are currently serving long periods of imprisonment but their criminal offending cannot be reported without breaching the suppression orders," reported the Herald‘s investigative journalist Jared Savage.
"There is no suggestion either of the two gang members was involved in the theft of the paintings, rather that they were able to use their standing in the criminal world to obtain access to something the police wanted."