Eight men stand trial for stealing Banksy from Paris attack site Art and Culture News

Seven French defendants and one Italian are on trial for stealing a Banksy artwork from a site of the 2015 attacks.

Eight men were put on trial in Paris on Wednesday accused of stealing a Banksy artwork painted on the door of the Bataclan concert hall to honor 90 people killed in the 2015 attacks on the city .

The seven French defendants and one Italian are suspected of removing the metal door from the building before dawn in January 2019 and transporting it to Italy.

It was adorned with the anonymous British street artist’s stencil of a sad young woman in 2018, giving it an estimated value of up to one million euros ($1.1 million).

A white van with covered number plates was stopped in an alley next to the Bataclan in central Paris on January 26, 2019.

Many concert-goers fled down the same alley as the Bataclan became the focus of France’s worst attacks since World War II – in November 2015, when militants from the armed group ISIL (ISIS) killed 130 people in a number of locations across the capital.

Three of the accused, in their 30s, confessed to the theft when arrested, although two said they were simply carrying out orders from a man who was not present when the door was removed, Mehdi Meftah.

Meftah, 41, who founded a luxury brand of 18-karat gold bullion T-shirts after claiming to have won €7.5 million ($8 million) in the lottery, told police that his Friend Kevin G, who was also on trial, presented the Banksy to him unannounced.

This version has been confirmed by Kevin G, one of the three believed to have removed the door but disputed by the other two.

Four other defendants, aged between 31 and 58, are charged with transporting the stolen artworks.

“Meticulously Prepared”

On the morning of the robbery, three masked men got out of the van, cut the hinges with angle grinders powered by a generator and left within 10 minutes in what an investigating judge described as a “meticulously prepared” raid.

A break-in into a generator and angle grinder from a hardware store in the south-eastern French region of Isere 12 days ago put police on the trail of three of the suspects who were recorded talking about the art theft when their phones were tapped.

Telephone records showed the men were in Paris on the night of the robbery.

Investigators pieced together the door’s route through France and into Italy, where it was found in June 2020 at a farm in Sant’Omero, near the Adriatic coast.

“The symbolism [of the theft] is what it is and nobody is trying to downplay it,” said Margaux Durand-Poincloux, one of the defenders. “But in my client’s case, it remains a grand larceny where he didn’t specify the target.”

In a separate court case, the city’s operator of the concert hall is fighting the return of the Banksy-adorned door to the building’s owners.

Works by the street artist, which often carry a political message, have fetched millions of dollars at auction.

The sole surviving attacker, Salah Abdeslam, faces a life sentence in a marathon trial that opened in Paris last September. Prosecutors will present final arguments and motions for conviction this week.

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