Organized crime steals art work not to appreciate its aesthetic value but to use it as a cash substitute in underworld transactions.
In commenting on the sophisticated heist last week of several paintings from a Quebec home, Alain Lacoursière, a former detective with the Montreal police who specialized in recovering stolen artwork, said "valuable stolen paintings often end up in the hands of organized crime figures even if they can never be hung on a wall and appreciated for their beauty" as reported by The Gazette:
"To people in organized crime, they represent 20 per cent of the cash value of the painting. They are easy to transport and they are easy to get across a border," he said, adding he has seen cases where expensive paintings ended up in Russia or Colombia and were used to purchase drugs from drug traffickers based in those countries. "The artwork remains a form of currency throughout. They remain hidden away in a closet. It's not like in the movies, where some guy who really appreciates art has a secret room in his mansion (where he displays it). I have never seen that in my entire career."
Two paintings stolen fourteen years ago from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam were recovered last month by Italian police during a raid against the cocaine-trafficking Amato-Pagano clan from the Camorra or Neapolitan Mafia as reported by The New York Times: "the Italian culture minister, Dario Franceschini, said in a statement on Friday that the investigation 'confirmed how much criminal organizations are interested in works of art, which are used as a form of investment as well as a front of financing.'"
In the United States, the FBI still seeks to recover masterworks worth $500 million stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in a 1990 heist orchestrated by now-deceased Boston mobster Robert Guarente.