From France to Italy, the investigation that led the police to recover a stolen Banksy

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A stolen grinder in central eastern France, surveillance cameras, eavesdropping, and suspects who talked too much allowed police to get to artist Banksy’s “The Sad Girl,” painted on a door in Paris’ Bataclan concert hall in tribute to victims of the 2015 attacks and found in Italy a year and a half later.

In the early morning of January 26, 2019, three hooded men with their faces covered cut a door of the Bataclan with a grinder. It was not just any door.

It was the back entrance to the Parisian performance hall on which British artist Banksy painted “the sad young girl” in tribute to the 90 dead on November 13, 2015 during a concert there in the series. jihadist attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of the capital, which left a total of 130 dead that night.

The operation lasted only a few minutes. The three robbers climbed the door to a Citroen van whose license plate could not be seen, according to video surveillance images recovered by the police officers in charge of the investigation.

“It was an important investigation for them,” said a source close to the case that told AFP the story of the search for the stolen work. “Some had worked in the Bataclan when the attacks took place.”

A technical work allowed to “identify” the phones of the thieves in the Bataclan and then in the path of the van followed thanks to video surveillance. The numbers were tapped.

A year later, three suspects were arrested by gendarmes for a robbery at a DIY store in Isère, in eastern central France, dating back to a few days before the coup in the Bataclan. Among the stolen items was a grinder. One of the suspects boasted of having participated in a robbery in Paris.

Thus the link between these men and “The sad girl” was established. The wiretapping and surveillance enabled three masters to be identified. Investigators discovered that Banksy’s work traveled to Isère, then to the south of France and finally to Italy.

– “Difficult to resell” –

In Italy, the door was first kept in a hotel in Tortoreto, in the Abruzzo region. When works were carried out in that establishment, it was transferred to a farm in Sant’Omero, about 15 kilometers away. The owner of the hotel, who knew one of the alleged masters, Mehdi Meftah, later said that he did not know what that bulky package contained.

The investigators then decided to stop the entire gang. But the operation was suspended due to confinement, the source close to the case explained.

On June 19, the work was recovered in Abruzzo in a joint operation by the French and Italian police. The media attention around the work forced to accelerate the arrests. In the following days, nine people were arrested in France.

Two people were charged with robbery in an organized gang and four others with an organized gang cover-up, including Mehdi Meftah.

This 39-year-old man, with a boxer physique and tattoos on his arms, is the creator of a luxury t-shirt brand called “BL1.D”, whose peculiarity is that they have a real 18-carat gold bar sewn around their neck . The police consider him suspected of having ordered the robbery.

“His accomplices say he wanted to keep the door to one of his houses,” according to the source close to the investigation, who acknowledges that this type of work is “very difficult to resell.”

“It is like reselling the Gioconda,” said his lawyer Yves Sauvayre, quoted by the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche, denying that his client is the mastermind of the theft. “They placed him before a fait accompli. He accepted this door to help old acquaintances of the times of skinny cows. He did not put a penny,” he explained.

As of today, the door of “The Sad Girl”, returned to France by the Italian authorities, is under heavy surveillance at the offices of the Parisian judicial police.

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