Thief broke into LA gallery to steal ancient art worth $1.5MILLION

Moment thief busted into LA art gallery to steal 250-pound ancient Japanese Buddha sculpture worth $1.5MILLION

  • A thief was caught on security camera hauling the heavy statue into the back of a moving truck
  • Gallery owner Fayez Barakat says there is no other piece quite like it
  • He is worried the bandit may melt the artifact down for bronze despite its historical significance

A thief slipped into a ritzy Los Angeles art gallery to steal an ancient statue worth $1.5million – with the daring heist caught on security camera.

The bronze sculpture depicting a cross-legged Buddha was swiped from the Barakat Gallery in Beverly Grove around 3.45 am on September 18.

The 250-pound artifact dates back to Japan’s Edo Period, spanning 1603 to 1867, and was believed to have been commissioned for the centerpiece of a temple.

Footage captured the moment a Budget moving truck pulled up to the driveway gate. The hoodie-wearing driver stepped out, busted open the gate and scurried past the cameras on his way into the gallery. Using a dolly, he moved the statue into truck.

The entire process took around 25 minutes, according to gallery owner Fayez Barakat.

‘I prize it so much,’ he said of the statue. ‘I had it in the backyard of my home and when I moved into this gallery, I put it in the backyard of the gallery for everybody to admire and enjoy.’

West Hollywood’s Barakat Gallery is down one ancient artifact, as a bronze Buddha statue was stolen on September 18

Security footage captured the moment a thief broke open the driveway gate and headed into the gallery, only to return in under 30 minutes towing the sculpture on a dolly

The gallery is located in Beverly Grove, a busy shopping and dining destination in Los Angeles

Barakat Gallery features the largest ancient art collection in the world for sale, with other locations in London, Seoul, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong.

The West Hollywood site opened in January 2017 and features a 7,000-square-foot showroom spread across two stories. The gallery sells a myriad of artifacts ranging from sculptures to jewelry plus a library with a selection of texts related to history, art and anthropology.

But the stolen sculpture was precious, as Barakat said he acquired it over 55 years ago and there is no other artifact like it in the world.

Gallery director Paul Henderson described it as the ‘prize piece’ out of nearly 200 pieces in the collection.

‘It’s four feet tall, it’s hollow cast bronze and it’s a stunning piece,’ he told KTLA 5. ‘It’s really aesthetically arresting and it’s shocking to see something like this go missing.’

The theft is the first Henderson has experienced after working at the gallery for over a decade.

He suspected the ancient artifact would be virtually impossible to sell without getting caught.

‘You can’t go on the market. You can’t take it to a pawn shop and sell it for a few thousand dollars, it’s just not possible,’ he said.

‘It’s like a museum heist type thing where, what are you going to do with this object right now? We’re all very curious and really puzzled, to be honest.’

Gallery owner Fayez Barakat says he is ‘heartbroken,’ as the piece is one of a kind

The gallery specializes in ancient artifacts and has around 200 items in its collection

The statue is valued at $1.5million and was acquired 55 years ago. Gallery director Paul Henderson describes it as the ‘prize piece’

Barakat Gallery is a family tradition that started over a century ago. The Barakats were artifact dealers in the Middle East who expanded their business worldwide

Considering all possible outcomes, Barakat expressed fear that the thief might melt the centuries-old statue down for bronze.

‘I’m heartbroken,’ the gallery owner said.

‘Whoever stole it, maybe that person understood the value. Probably they commissioned somebody, a thief of some kind, to just go ahead and steal it.’

Barakat is a fifth-generation art dealer with a family legacy stretching back 125 years. 

The Barakat family historically sold artifacts in the Middle East. To account for a growing collection, they opened their first gallery in Jerusalem in the 1950s and have since expanded to other cities across the globe.

Every item at Barakat is legally excavated and recorded, and advertised as ‘museum-quality.’

The owner hopes the thief will be found soon and is offering a reward to anyone who returns the sculpture. No arrests have been made.

The Edo period one of richest in terms of Japanese art. One of the most recognizable pieces from this era is The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a woodblock print by famed artist Katsushika Hokusai.

It depicts a cresting wave with three boats navigating the rough waters. A print of the work, originally titled Under the Wave off Kanagawa, sold at auction for nearly $3million last year.

Christie’s, the auction house that sold the piece, is putting a complete set of another 46 prints by the same artist up for sale next March.

The auction house said it expects the prints, which date back to the 19th century, to bring in an amount ‘in the millions.’

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