CAIRO: The Administrative Prosecution decided to refer 21 museum officials and employees to a disciplinary court on Sunday for charges of negligence that led to the theft of a Van Gogh painting from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum last August.
The Administrative Prosecution called for an emergency hearing to try the case.
Deputy Culture Minister Mohsen Shaalan and Museum Director Reem Bahir were among the defendants accused of negligence for not adequately supervising their employees and for not following up on their work, which thus indirectly led to the theft of a Van Gogh painting worth more than $50 million.
The Administrative Prosecution also accused the defendants of failing to perform their duties in touring the floors securing the museum, an especially significant failure given their alleged knowledge that the surveillance cameras haven’t been working since 2006.
The Administrative Prosecution also stated that the museum’s use of funds in hiring administrators with redundant job duties — instead of hiring the needed security personnel — put the museum’s security in jeopardy.
The prosecution added that the museum’s maintenance company for security devices hadn’t performed any maintenance in 15 months, which effectively wasted the LE 100,000 designated to the museum for that very purpose.
Eleven of the defendants — including Shaalan and Bahir — are currently being tried in a criminal court for the charges of negligence and harming state property that have been brought against them.
The first appeal hearing was held on Jan. 6, with the case having been postponed until Jan. 13 in order to allow a review of the investigative findings of the Administrative Prosecution.
However, defense lawyers stated that they don’t believe the Administrative Prosecution’s decision will affect their case in criminal court.
“The verdicts of Administrative Courts aren’t binding to criminal court judges,” Essam Bassim, a lawyer representing Bahir, told Daily News Egypt. “The defense lawyers had hoped that the findings of the Administrative Prosecution would be in the defendants’ favor to help them with their case. But now, they won’t depend on it.”
“The verdicts of criminal courts affect the verdicts of disciplinary courts, and not the other way around,” Mohamed Saeid, a lawyer representing Museum Curator Ali Nasser, told Daily News Egypt. “Having disciplinary mishaps doesn’t necessarily lead to criminal responsibility.”
According to Bassim and Saeid, the rulings of disciplinary courts do not usually include imprisonment sentences like in criminal courts. Instead, disciplinary court rulings usually entail salary deductions and/or postponing defendants’ promotions.
The Dokki Misdemeanors Court found 11 museum officials and employees guilty of gross negligence and the harming of state property in October as a result of the Van Gogh theft.
The defendants received maximum sentences of three years in prison and LE 10,000 bail in order to be released pending appeal.
Van Gogh’s painting, “Poppy Flowers,” was cut out of its frame from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum on Aug. 21. Investigations revealed that the number of security guards in the museum was reduced from 30 to nine, and that — on most days — that number was further reduced to only one guard on duty.
Only seven of 43 surveillance cameras in the museum were functioning and no alarms went off during the theft, thereby shedding light on the poor state of security at Egyptian museums.