Man detained in Palace Museum theft

08:24, May 12, 2011      

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Photographs released by Palace Museum show the seven art pieces stolen from an exhibit at the famed Forbidden City, the heavily guarded former home of China's emperors. The gold pieces, encrusted with jewels, were on loan from the private Liang Yi Museum in Hong Kong.

Beijing police said Wednesday night that they had detained a man suspected of stealing seven precious art pieces from the Palace Museum in Beijing's central Forbidden City.

The suspect, Shi Baikui, 28, from Caoxian County of Shandong Province in east China, was detained at 7:40pm at an Internet café in Fengtai District in southwestern Beijing, 58 hours after the relics were stolen, the Beijing Public Security Bureau said in a news release.

Police also recovered some of the stolen exhibits, without specifying how they had located the suspect.

It is reported that Shi has lived in the capital city for about four years.

Obviously, "pursuit of money" moved him to pull off the heist in the cover of night in the wee hours Monday, Shi told Beijing police.

The stolen items were on loan from the Hong Kong-based Liang Yi Museum and were discovered missing at 8:20am on Monday.

According to CCTV, China's central television station, Shi confessed he had stolen the relics in the Palace Museum. Whether he had sold any of his stolen artifacts is not known, and local police did not reveal how many of the stolen seven pieces have been recovered. An investigation is still under way.

According to the police, a museum staff member found and questioned a "suspicious" man in the museum at 10:30pm Sunday night. The man fled when the worker called museum authorities to report his presence.

It was the first theft in 20 years from the Palace Museum, spokesman Feng Nai'en said yesterday afternoon, adding that security would be increased.

"For this to happen here shows us that, No. 1, we need to speed up the modernization and installation of our security systems," Feng said. "No. 2, we need to find out if we can put into use better, and more sophisticated security systems."

Guards saw a suspect fleeing the scene early Monday but failed to apprehend him, Feng said.

Later, they found that nine pieces - all small Western-style gold purses and mirrored compacts covered with jewels made in the 20th century - were missing. But, two of the lost items were recovered nearby, slightly damaged.

Feng said the entire Palace Museum will be checked to see if any other items are missing.

Wang Xiahong, curator of the Liang Yi Museum, refused to reveal the value of the stolen items, which belong to Hong Kong art collector Fung Yiu Fai.

She said that despite the theft, the exhibition would continue and other pieces would be added to the show, which is temporarily closed but expected to reopen.

The museum's deputy director, Ma Ji'ge, told reporters he felt "very guilty and sorry."

The Palace Museum last encountered a case of theft in 1991. That was eventually solved, according to Xinhua news agency.

Shi Baikui(C) is escorted by police in Beijing, capital of China, May 11, 2011. (Xinhua/Zhang Yan)

Agencies – People's Daily Online
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