SEPANG: A picture is worth a thousand words but a picture of China’s award-winning artist Chen Shi Jie is worth a few hundred thousands of ringgit.
Weeks after Chen’s six paintings, believed to be worth between RM3mil and RM4mil, were stolen from the KL International Airport (KLIA) baggage claims area, police nabbed eight suspects and recovered the artworks.
The suspects, including a “Datuk” who is an art gallery owner and four full-time artists, had earlier visited an exhibition of Chen’s paintings in Beijing.
The others are the Datuk’s wife and two lecturers.
Sepang OCPD Asst Comm Mohd Yusoff Awang said the “Datuk” owned an art gallery along Jalan Ampang.
“We arrested the first suspect, a 44-year-old artist, at his house in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 6. The remaining seven suspects were apprehended within three days,” he said, adding that they were aged between 19 and 69.
The first suspect was charged at the Sepang magistrate’s court yesterday.
Chen’s paintings, said ACP Mohd Yusoff, were recovered from the Datuk’s house in Damansara on Dec 9.
The 54-year-old artist, who is based in Lhasa, Tibet, holds the record for being the first person to paint from a height of 2,133m above sea level.
Chen had touched down at 8.30am on a flight from Beijing on Nov 20 to exhibit six of his finest works at the Sasaran International Art Festival in Kuala Selangor but his plans were dashed after the paintings were stolen.
He lodged a police report and stayed in the country for a week before returning to Beijing.
A source close to the investigation said six of the eight suspects had gone to Beijing for an art expo featuring Chen’s works.
“We believe that they were there to scout for art as the Datuk has been buying and trading art internationally,” he said.
The group, said the source, had boarded the same flight as Chen but left the plane early.
“Closed circuit television (CCTV) footage showed a man taking the box with the paintings from the baggage claims area and walking to a limousine waiting outside the airport,” he said.
The case has been classified as theft under Section 379 of the Penal Code.
Chen, whose art is displayed at a Tibetan mountaineering museum, expressed his gratitude to the Sepang district police for their efficiency and dedication in tracking down the missing paintings.
The artist flew in from Beijing last Friday with his wife to take the paintings.