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Auckland art heist: Was it a ‘secret mission’?

Motives are being questioned.
Chieftainess Ngatai - Raure and Chief Ngatai-Raure

The theft of two valuable Gottfried Lindauer paintings following a ram-raid on an Auckland art gallery on Saturday morning, has raised questions about possible motives.

The stolen paintings, taken in the smash-and-grab, were estimated to be worth close to $1 million and were to be auctioned this week by the International Art Centre in Parnell.

The portraits, painted by Lindauer in 1884, were of two Maori leaders from the Bay of Plenty and were known as “Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure and Chief Ngatai-Raure”.

While police are investigating all leads, there has been some speculation as to what may have motivated the theft.

Stuff reports there were angry comments left on the Facebook page of a media organisation following a television report in March that the works were up for sale.

Questions were being asked as to why the works were not being returned to modern iwi descendants with one person writing “This calls for some secret mission operation.”

Inspector Matt Srhoj, police area commander for Auckland Central told Stuff that while the ram-raid had been very quick, there was evidence of “significant planning”.

Police added there had been “no evidence of political motivation.”

One News reports gallery owner John Gow of Gow Langsford Gallery, who sold the paintings to a private collector last year, thinks a disaffected iwi could be behind the theft, “but could just easily be an opportunistic thief,” he said.

Art experts say that while the thieves may attempt to smuggle the paintings out the country to sell on the black market, it’s unlikely any effort would be made to sell them in New Zealand. However, there was a possibility they could be used for ransom.

Art historian Dr Ngarino Ellis told NZME the art crime was the biggest this country had seen.

“It’s actually quite incredible that someone’s actually done this,” Dr Ellis said.

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