Suspect held after exhibits 'worth millions' stolen

Updated: 2011-05-12 07:56

By Jiang Xueqing (China Daily)

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Suspect held after exhibits 'worth millions' stolen
Policemen escort suspect Shi Bokui after catching him at a local Internet bar in Beijing, May 11, 2011. Shi is suspected of stealing several art pieces from the Palace Museum in Beijing's heavily-guarded Forbidden City. [Photo/Xinhua] 

BEIJING - A man who is suspected of stealing nine pieces of art from an exhibition in the Palace Museum was arrested by the Beijing police authorities on Wednesday, China Central Television (CCTV) reported.

The suspect, named Shi Bokui and from Caoxian county of East China's Shandong province, was taken away by the police from an Internet bar in Fengtai district in Beijing at 7:40 pm on Wednesday, the report cited the police authorities as saying.

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Shi, born in 1983 and about 160 cm tall, has confessed the theft to the police and some of the stolen art pieces have been recovered, the report said.

Shi has lived in Beijing for four years. He allegedly entered the Palace Museum as a tourist and conducted the theft for money. He was identified by police through fingerprint comparison.

The theft happened at midnight on May 8. It was the first theft in 20 years at the heavily-guarded former home of emperors, also known as the Forbidden City.

Nine pieces of art - all small Western-style gold purses and cosmetic containers covered with jewels and made between 1920 and 1945 - were missing from a temporary exhibition. The exhibits belong to the private Hong Kong Liangyi Museum.

A spokesman with the Palace Museum apologized on Wednesday.

"The Palace Museum bears an unshirkable responsibility for this regretful incident," said Feng Nai'en, assistant curator and spokesman of the museum.

"I apologize to all those who care about the Palace Museum."

"The incident shows that we need to speed up the installation and upgrade of our security systems," Feng said.

Feng said guards saw a suspect trying to flee an area in the museum where the exhibition was held that night but the man eventually escaped despite a thorough search.

A large hole was found in a decorative wall at the palace, said Ma Jige, deputy director of the exhibition department of the museum.

Media reports said alarms in the Palace Museum did not function during the incident.

Feng said the museum is currently undergoing security reinforcement.

"It will take a while for all the newly added equipment to be put into place and in the meantime the old equipment still has some problems," he said.

Two of the missing items, a Van Cleef and Arples diamond inset gold dinner bag and a Cartier gold cosmetic container, were recovered on Monday at the foot of a wall on the east side of the museum.

However, the two items had been damaged and could not be repaired easily, said Tracy Wong, curator of the Hong Kong Liangyi Museum, which is owned by collector Fung Yiu-fai.

"Mr Fung and I were shocked at learning of this accident," Wong told China Daily. "My first reaction was to bring all the items on exhibit back to Hong Kong immediately."

But Fung decided to continue the exhibit and send additional art items because he was confident in the Palace Museum, Wong said.

Although she refused to disclose the value of the lost items, which were only insured for a symbolic amount of money, rumor has said the items are valued at up to 10 million yuan ($1.5 million).

Xinhua contributed to this story.

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