A stolen recorder in Isère, video surveillance, eavesdropping, talkative suspects: this is how “the sad young girl” by street artist Banksy, painted on a door of the Bataclan in Paris in tribute to the victims of the 2015 attacks, was found in Italy a year and a half after its theft.
On the night of January 25 to 26, 2019 at 4 a.m., three men, hoods on their heads and masks on their faces, cut out a door of the Bataclan with the grinder. This is not just any door: it is the back door of the Parisian performance hall on which the street artist Banksy painted The Sad young girl (“the sad girl”), in tribute to the 90 people killed on November 13, 2015 during a concert in this place, during a series of jihadist attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis which left 130 dead in total that evening.
Compromised by the grinder
The operation only lasted a few minutes. The three thieves board the door in a Citroën van whose license plate has been concealed, according to video surveillance images collected by police officers from the second judicial police district (2e DPJ) responsible for the investigations.
“It was an important investigation for them,” said a source close to the investigation who told AFP the progress of the research, “some had made the findings at Bataclan during the attacks”. A work on the telephony makes “limit” telephones to the Bataclan then on the route of the van followed thanks to the video surveillance. The numbers are tapped.
A year later the gendarmes arrested three men suspected of burglary in a DIY store in Isère. Facts that date back to a few days before the Bataclan flight. A grinder is one of the stolen items. One of the suspects boasts of having participated in a robbery in Paris.
The link is then made between these suspects and the theft of The Sad Girl. Wiretapping and surveillance identify three receivers. Investigators learn that Banksy’s work traveled to Isère, then to the south of France, then to Italy.
In Italy, it is first stored in a hotel in Tortoreto, in the Abruzzo region (center), then the establishment carrying out work, it is transferred to a farm in Sant’Omero, about fifteen kilometers away. The owner of the hotel, acquainted with one of the alleged receivers, Mehdi Meftah, will say that he did not know what was in this bulky package.
The investigators then decide to challenge the whole gang. The operation is unfortunately stopped due to confinement, explains the source close to the investigation. On June 10, the work was seized in Abruzzo during a joint operation with the Italian police. The publicity made around the seizure forces the arrests to be speeded up. In the days that followed, nine people were arrested in Isère, Haute-Savoie, Var, Rhône and Puy-de-Dôme. One of the thieves is still at large.
Two people were indicted and imprisoned for the robbery of an organized gang and four others for concealment of an organized gang, including Mehdi Meftah. This 39-year-old man, the physique of a boxer with tattooed arms, grew up in a city of Lyon. He is the creator of a luxury T-shirt brand called “BL1.D” whose particularity is to sew a real 18 carat gold bar on the neckline. He is suspected of being the sponsor of the theft.
“His accomplices say he wanted to keep the door for one of his houses that he is fitting out”, according to the source close to the investigation who recognizes that this type of work “is difficult to sell”.
“As much to sell the Mona Lisa”, according to his lawyer Maître Yves Sauvayre, quoted by the Sunday newspaper and which denies the role of sponsor of his client. “He was put in front of a fait accompli. He accepted this door to help out old acquaintances from the days of lean cows. He did not pay a penny,” he assured the JDD.
At present, the door to the “young sad girl”, handed over to France by the Italian authorities, has been placed under seal and under close surveillance in the premises of the Paris judicial police.