Rare books stolen in ‘Mission: Impossible’ heist by Romanian burglars, including works by Newton and Galileo, returned to owners

Stolen books/carti furate, the Met
Stolen books/carti furate, the Met

Hundreds of internationally important and irreplaceable books worth more than 2.5 million pounds that were stolen in a daring heist by Romanian abseiling burglars have been returned to their rightful owners, British police have said.

Met officers said they returned 240 culturally significant specialist books worth following a joint operation with Romanian authorities.

The books had been stolen in January 2017, during a highly sophisticated burglary in Feltham, London.

The books, which include works from the seventeenth century by Italian astronomer Galileo; Sir Isaac Newton; and the eighteenth century Spanish painter Francisco Goya have, with the exception of four, all now been recovered, the Met said.

The books were stolen from a warehouse in west London where they were being stored on the way to a book fair in the U.S. Burglars cut holes in the roof before abseiling down to avoid sensors that would have set off alarms. Over five hours, they winched their haul up in 16 large bags. The books were later smuggled to Romania by organized criminals.

The books were eventually tracked down to Neamt, in northeast Romania, where they were discovered stacked in neatly wrapped packages in a concrete pit. Experts from the National Library of Romania helped with the investigation, storage and safe return of the books.

Twelve Romanian nationals were jailed at the Kingston Crown Court, UK, in October for committing burglaries.

Detectives from the Met’s Specialist Crime South traveled to Bucharest in October to formally carry out identification of the books. 

They met with four of the five victims, along with Romanian police officers within the Directorate for Investigating Organised Crime and Terrorism at the National Library of Romania.

The Met said 83 of the books had some damage, mainly caused by water and mould owing to being hidden underground. Some spines were also broken.

Four of the books are still missing and police are keen to hear from anyone with information. They are an illuminated manuscript attributed to the circle of Attavante degli Attavanti, published in north Italy in 1480, valued at about 24,000 pounds; a photo album of pictures taken in China and published in 1920, worth about 1,500 pounds; a collection of pressed butterflies, worth about 4,000 pounds; and La Saggia Pazzia by Antonio Maria Spelta, published between 1606 and 1607 and valued at about 1,500 pounds.

Detective Inspector Andy Durham, who led the investigation, said seeing the reaction of each victim on being reunited with their books had been an emotional experience. One man, Alessandro Bisello, “was so happy and said with great gusto: ‘Tonight we drink like lions!’. This made my day, seeing his reaction and joy.”

Met officers worked with Romanian police, anti-crime prosecutors, the Italian Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, supported by Europol and Eurojust.

Alessandro Riquier, from Italy, said: “After three-and-a-half years, finally this terrible story has a very happy ending.”

“ I went to Bucharest full of hope but also a little bit scared about the damaged books. I was very excited and it was a great joy to handle my books again.”


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