The alleged thief of a $150,000 Salvador Dalí watercolor was indicted by New York officials, said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. on Tuesday.
The 1949 “Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio” drawing was stolen from the Venus Over Manhattan art gallery on the Upper East Side in Manhattan last June. After surveillance images were released, the artwork was anonymously mailed back to the gallery from Greece, Vance’s office said.
Vance said 29-year-old Phivos Istavrioglou was arrested after a subsequent investigation. He was charged in the New York State Supreme Court with second-degree grand larceny.
Court documents filed in court state that Istavrioglou walked into the gallery, took the Dali watercolor, and placed it in a shopping bag. Several days later, surveillance images of a possible suspect were broadcast via the media, Vance said.
In late June, the New York City Police Department recovered the artwork in a cardboard shipping tube at John F. Kennedy International Airport “after it was intercepted en route to Venus Over Manhattan from Greece,” states a press release from Vance’s office.
This year, Istavrioglou flew to New York City after receiving an invitation from an undercover officer posing as an art gallery manager. When he arrived in the United States, he was detained by Homeland Security agents at Kennedy airport Saturday.
Both Vance and NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly could not resist making puns on Istavrioglou’s arrest and indictment.
Vance said, “It was almost surreal how this theft was committed—a thief is accused of putting a valuable Salvador Dalí drawing into a shopping bag in the middle of the afternoon, in full view of surveillance cameras.”
The indictment of Istavrioglou brings Vance’s office another step nearer “to bringing an international art caper to a close,” he added.
“More than ‘persistence of memory’ helped solve this case,” Kelly said in a statement, referring to the famous Dali painting “Persistence of Memory,” he added, “I commend detectives for matching a fingerprint in the Dali theft to a shoplifting last year in which Blueprint juice was taken from a Manhattan Whole Foods, resulting in Istavrioglou’s identification.”
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