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A stolen painting appears for sale on the dark web (wired.co.uk)
114 points by nikcub 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments

Oh, the White Shadow market wants some publicity so they take a relatively well known painting that was stolen and they make a listing for it.

Or they do have it and they fed this article to wired regardless .

This is a great way to promote this site !

What would the buyer do with the painting?

Is this for investment purposes, in which case, how would they sell this in the future? Surely the legality issues would reduce the pool of potential customers, and the overall resale value.

Or are there people who will buy such a painting for their own personal enjoyment? (I guess just because I don't see the value, doesn't mean there aren't people with vast amounts of disposable income who will buy things like this on a whim.)

I could imagine an astonishingly wealthy person finding they no longer get any enjoyment from buying regular things taking delight in owning a stolen original. Nobody else has that.

If that hypothetical person happens to live in a country where extradition to New Zealand would be impossible, or they have appropriate connections, it might be seen as an acceptable risk.

And perhaps in a few generations, the heirs of that wealthy person could sell it on. I don't really know how it works if you discover you've inherited property that was stolen a hundred years ago for example. At what point does it become yours?

> At what point does it become yours?

At no point does it become yours. I'm pretty sure that, while you can't necessarily prosecute the person currently in possession, you could almost certainly recover the property if you could prove it was stolen from your estate.

Added: In most English speaking countries it becomes a crime to willfully possess stolen property as soon as you know that it is stolen. In general, the lack of mens rea in merely possessing stolen goods would make it enough to repatriate the goods, but if that's not enough, most statutes on the matter explicitly state that you must know and wish to unlawfully handle the stolen property.

I wonder if it being an international theft would impact the true owner's ability to recover the work, even if they knew who possessed it?

I think most civilized countries would recognize a theft committed in another country as rendering the property stolen property, unless they had some important relationship with the criminal or their heirs. Some countries might be easier to pay off, though (but as a result, also more dangerous places to store valuable goods).

Receiving stolen property is a crime.

Edit: or not in this case, my bad.

At least in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the United States of America, and Canada, knowing that the property was stolen or otherwise obtained by crime is an essential element of the crime.

This may vary significantly by country.

In Poland the Art. 292 of Criminal Code and Art. 122 of Misdemeanor Code says something like "an item, about which on the basis of accompanying circumstances should and may be suspected that it has been procured by an illegal act" and directly addressed accidental fencing of an item (Art. 291 and 121 respectively address intentional/knowingly fencing an item).

I have no idea how that works in practice but googling "accidental fencing" in Polish ("nieĊ›wiadome paserstwo") brings up a few results about people who bought cheap stuff online and it turned out to be stolen.

Here's one case like that with a lawyer's answer/opinion if you want to try Google page translate or can read Polish: https://www.eporady24.pl/nieswiadome_paserstwo,pytania,6,64,...

Doesn't matter much. Say, Spain prosecutes, a court rules it stolen and the Polish govt has to recognize the ruling and return the painting.

If it's stolen and the government is after you (in this they will), you're toast.

If this person is buying art from the unlisted web, if they're not going to be able to prove provenance... what do you think they're going to be able to say? "Oh gee, I knew it was stolen when I went to the "dark web" to buy it, and it's a well-known stolen piece, but I had no idea that I was receiving stolen property!"

It's not like buying something from e-bay, and it turns out the seller boosted it from a van; that is not your fault.

> If this person is buying art from the unlisted web, if they're not going to be able to prove provenance.

I think you may have lost track of the thread here. I was addressing this question posed by gtsteve.

> And perhaps in a few generations, the heirs of that wealthy person could sell it on. I don't really know how it works if you discover you've inherited property that was stolen a hundred years ago for example. At what point does it become yours?

It is obviously unlawful to traffick knowingly in stolen goods. It is as serious a crime as the theft itself (sans aggravating factors like use of force or intimidation, especially with a deadly weapon).

I did indeed lose track, thanks for pointing that out so gently.

Two things really.

Through my travels, I've met some insanely wealthy people (most were borderline billionaires, some were actual billionaires) and I've been told once you reach a certain income level, having something that is rare or something nobody else has is their way of standing out among their friends. If all your friends have more money than god, you need something especially expensive or rare that isn't acquirable from simply being able to buy it.

Secondly, wealthy art collectors are notorious for buying rare, stolen art. There's an entire underground for it. I've read several books on it and you'd be surprised at how many pieces float around in the underground market without anybody ever knowing about it. I've had friends who run in the art circles comment on a famous piece that was being displayed in a person's home and they ask about it and they brush it off and say, "Meh, it's a replication, I mean, it would be illegal to have the real thing, right?" with a wink and a nod to the person. Just the idea they have something no one else can have gives them plenty of enjoyment. Passing it off as a fake and the thought they're getting away with something also has something to do with it.

This is the reasoning given as a guess by one of the thieves in the Polish criminal comedy film Vinci. It's funny that it's true.

I imagine the perpetrators may also be hoping someone will buy it philanthropically, to return it to the original gallery.

There was a thief that would do that fairly routinely. If I recall correctly it was covered in "the art of the heist"

For those wondering how and why the wealthy can acquire these types of clearly stolen property, theres a great report with associated podcast dicing into all the machinations and legal wranglings surrounding a piece of art that was stolen by the nazis.

For the most part the legal maneuvers likely would have stalled out if not for the leaking of the Panama Papers years ago which shed light on who owned which shell companies, and how, etc.

Heres the short version of the article, theres also a more in depth podcast: https://www.npr.org/2016/04/12/473856459/panama-papers-provi...

Plenty of museums contain stolen works. Consider all the artifacts from other countries and art stolen during war. There was a film recently about a family trying to recover art they owned, displayed openly in a museum, that was stolen by the Nazis.

Complicated. UK for example claims to have gotten permission from the Ottoman Turks to take a lot of stuff from Greece. At that time, Turks were the legit rulers, as Greece didn;t exist, so are they stolen?

Also, many time the Nazis officially or unofficially (ruling elites in city) "bought" them from Jewish owners. We can guess the price "agreed" to in those times.

Perhaps a naive question, but say they sell it. How would they then cash this amount of bitcoin?

They would have to tumble the bitcoin so that the sale is not linked to their bitcoin. Then, they can cash it out by trading it in an exchange and withdrawing usd to their bank, or they can trade it for cash on something like localbitcoins.com. The Bitcoin/usd market is liquid enough to absorb this amount of money.

I'm not very familiar with the inner parts of the system, but I thought each and every transaction in the bitcoin ecosystem is traceable. How does one can "unlink" bitcoin from this sale?

A few options - in practice you would probably do some/all of these: 1) Put them through a mixer 2) Put them through an anonymous exchanger like shapeshift and convert into a privacy focused cryptocurrency like monero/zcash 3) Sell on offshore/low-regulation exchange, or via an anonymous credit card service

How does tumbling/mixing work?

(n.b. I'm not a cryptocurrency expert; this is probably a bit oversimplified, but should get the idea across)

It works by lumping the coins of all the users together, breaking any direct connection between the endpoints of any given transaction.

Suppose Alice makes a deposit at the bank, but in the margin of the deposit slip she writes "for Bob". The cashier at this particular bank records a credit of $1000 from Alice, then prints and mails $1000 of cashier's checks to Bob, recording that series of debits as well. Later, the authorities raid the bank and seize its ledger. They can see a credit from Alice and a bunch of debits to Bob, but there is no transfer between Alice's account and Bob's account; this only proves that Alice could have paid Bob. If this bank has hundreds of other customers making similar transactions every day, it's basically impossible to use the ledger alone to prove any connection between Alice and Bob.

Now scale that up so that "the bank" is actually a consortium of banks that also perform a bunch of transactions among themselves to further obscure any associations among customers.

Say you have 1000 $1 bills marked with an identification number.

It's now easy to tell you're the thief as you own all the bills with all the ID numbers that were registered as used for the sale.

You then put it in a big box together with a thousand others who all also have $1k. You then shake and tumble the box, and then hand out $1k to each and everyone of them.

It's now quite hard to determine who is the thief, as everyone has about 1 registered bill, but 999 unregistered bills.

Then magnify that by a lot and throw in some extras, and it gets tricky.

That's a great explanation. Thanks a lot for that. :)

And convert your USD into EUR and then into JPY, back into USD.

This does very small amount to enhance your privacy. Whatever exchange you use will track those trades. If the exchange is not tracking you then making multiple trades will not help very much.

Most people use ShapeShift for this kind of thing. You don't create an account or use any identifying information on ShapeShift.

shapeshift publishes all trades

Exchanging it for XMR/Monero would be a good start, after tumbling/mixing it.

Yes, a combination of Tumbling and Monero is a good step. I do this as part of my living. To bootstrap our company it took me over a month to get linked-bitcoins to unlinked-bitcoins.

Monero is not a magic-cure-all! Monero needs a very big warning like Tor Project says, how Tor is not alone going to save you.

Another big piece of management is a tree-shaped wallet-graph. You want to split your money regularly, then churn and obfuscate each wallet. And NEVER JOIN THEM. Even with Monero there is no safe way to join amounts. If you split into Wallet1 and Wallet2, then 10 transactions later they are running low and you want to consolidate, then you run a high risk of correlating all those transactions.

At this time, there is no official guidance on how to use Monero safely.

>>official guidance on how to use Monero safely

I don't think there ever will be :) It all depends on risk tolerance, as you correctly noted.

By not having your identity linked with bitcoin address. This means never use bitcoin exchange because KYC will link your addresses to you. Instead only buy and sell bitcoins for cash via local bitcoins. Then in theory there is no way to link your bitcoin stash to you.

tracing tumbled bitcoin is like finding needle in a silo. in other words, practically impossible, which is why the service exists

This is not correct. If the tumbler is compromized then your records are trivially known. It is a bad assumption to think tumblers are not honeypots or do not sell their records to LE.

Two things on your website - (1) the roadmap page is a dead link. And (2) I believe on the front page there's a typo. Instead of compansions it should be companions.

Thank you.

You are assuming that the person bought it with traceable fiat money. I never bought Bitcoin not in cash and person and mainly I earned them myself, also never linkable to my identity

Never linkable? Are you sure, if you earned them they must have come from somewhere?

It is pseudonymous, so if you did work for someone over the internet and never met them, they could pay you without ever knowing your name and address. If your adversaries were looking to trace the coins they would see a transfer between 2 addresses only. If they managed to track down the owner of the sending address then that person could say they paid you for work done and pass on whatever contact details they have. So unlinking can be done and this is based on the adversary knowing which transaction and who the sender was.

Mining them using the eligius mining pool (which doesn't require registration, just a bitcoin address) over Tor would be pretty hard to link to an identity.

30btc is a trivial amount

I wonder if there is a reward for the return of the painting? One could buy it and turn it in for the reward, effectively reward arbitrage. In fact, I would expect the legit owners or insurance company to bid.

Given the painting was stolen, is it better that the insurance company can recover it for some money (thus meaning that money was lost, which is easily replaceable) so the painting can continue its life (possibly including public exhibition). Money is easier to replace than a painting, paintings are irreplaceable.

Proof the Dark Web Linduaer is photoshopped.


How would the exchange of goods happen? Could I just put up something like this up for auction, take the money and never ship (what I don't have)?

No, the bitcoin is held in escrow, requiring 2 of the 3 parties to sign off before the funds are released.

This doesn't prevent all fraud but it seems to work pretty well for dark markets.

You wouldn't be able to make another sale in the future. For a one time thing, absolutely though.

On the plus side, you wouldn't need to actually have the painting in your possession to pull this off...

Similar to any criminal exchange I guess.

Presumably any potential buyer has access to the ability to make your life very short and painful...

Only if they can find you. The whole point of darknet markets is that it's difficult for even major governments to track down users.

As far as I can tell, the only thing potentially binding darknet sellers is reputation, i.e. they want to be able to make further sales under this name. Even then, people run scams on eBay where they build up a sterling record selling small items for months, then "sell" something worth six figures and vanish with the money.

Can you provide a reference for your ebay claim?

This is a horrible ad filled website, but Number 5.


I am curious why you thought this claim needed a reference. It seems like a pretty basic form of fraud everyone should be aware of.

I didn't realise art collectors were quite so ruthless!

How about the very narrow subset of art collectors who might seriously consider purchasing famously stolen art on the darknet?

Art collectors that buy stolen art on dark net would be very ruthless I imagine. They would probably hire an assasin to kill whoever steals their magnificent art.

Odd use of the word 'rare'. Each painting is unique and is thus exactly as rare as any other painting. Or does it refer to the artist's total number of works?

The relevant metric for deciding if something is rare (in this context) is the number of available substitutes, including by other artists, not uniqueness. A snowflake is unique, but not rare.

The artist concerned here "is considered as one of New Zealand's leading artists" and has a "unique painting style", and so there are very few paintings that are like his, and (probably crucially, although I'm not familiar with the specifics) plays a role in New Zealand national identity.

You can get plenty of expressive landscape paintings, in the sort of style of an unimaginative Van Gogh, produced by hundreds of artists throughout the 20th century, and most are perfectly pleasurable to look at, but you've never heard of the artists, and the works are easily available for hundreds to a few thousand dollars -- because they are not rare, it doesn't particular matter which of the many available paintings you end up buying, as long as you enjoy looking at it.

Rare might not refer to the painting itself.

For example, if an artist had most of their work destroyed, any remaining paintings would be a rare painting by that artist.

Or if a historically significant figure had only been painted by a small number of people, any painting of that person could be described as rare.

It's probably fake anyway!

Rare in the context of art could mean one of two things. Either there are very few existing works of an artist, or a work has disappear from the market and no one knows where it's gone. It could be in a vault in a private collection and no one has seen it in public for ages (which in some cases could be centuries).

To complicate it, for many subjects there are multiple very similar paintings by the same artist. Sometimes so similar they're often confused.

E.g. Edvard Munch's "The Scream" [1] exists in four different versions that are all referred to by that name (as well as 45 litographs).

Other times simply because the artist painted the same subjects a lot.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scream

It would likely be referring to a painting that not many people would have seen publicly. You're right, the Mona Lisa is a "rare" painting by definition, as there is only one of it amongst however many works of art exist. But because it's well known and seen publicly a lot, you wouldn't call it 'rare'.

Though by my own definition, it means the scribbles on the side of my notepad are equally (if not more) rare. So disregard my comment as 5.30pm without enough caffeine nonsense.

You could describe Mona Lisa as rare based on age. ~99% of existing paintings are probably younger, and ~99% of paintings painted in the same year are likely heavily degraded if not destroyed. Or even just having a vastly higher value than most things. After all few objects are worth significantly more than 100,000,000$.

Or even just "A Rare example of a great masters work." which seems perfectly reasonable to me.

If you are being unkind, then yes he is making what seems to be a type of category error. Dummett or Frege might decribe it as using a second order predicate as a first order predicate. Entirely grammatical, but nonsensical.

He probably just means valuable or unique(as a kind of painting whether by authorship or other kind). Title in a previous version might have been "Rare Gottfried Lindauer painting is stolen...", but was shortened.

Listers are not exactly gallerists (I presume?) so probably meant valued, valuable by rare. Is that not what Picasso translates to in the public imagination?

On a different note, how can you buy without confirming authenticity?

Ok, we've derarified the title above.

Agreed. I think they mean it's rare in terms of subject matter and style. If you want a painting of a fruit bowl, that's easy to find, but this, not so much...

Are there non-rare paintings? Aren't they all unique?

I thought the same thing. I suppose there are painting factories though, where people churn out all those $20 oil paintings I've seen for sale at furniture stores. They're basically just big brush swipes and big dabs of paint making abstract flowers. Those aren't rare.

There are lots of non unique paintings.

Artists often explore the same theme in steps and create several versions of the same picture. There are four paintings of "The scream" by Munch for example.

Some kind of art is created to be duplicated. Videoart and computer art, by design. Painters living much before computer age still managed to create thousands of "identical" copies of their pictures as a standard procedure. Auctions are full of lithographs, sometimes painted decades after the death of the artist.

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