Lottery Winner Sentenced for Involvement in 2019 Banksy Artwork Theft
Having $5.7 million in lottery winnings wasn’t enough for Mehdi Meftah. In 2019, he participated in the theft of street art that artist Banksy created to commemorate a 2015 terrorist attack in Paris and has now been sentenced for the crime.
The Banksy wall art paid tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack, orchestrated by Islamic radicals. They hit three locations in Paris and the city’s Saint-Denis suburb, including the Stade de France soccer stadium and the Bataclan theater in Paris. 130 people died, including 90 at the theater, which was hosting a concert at the time.
Banksy, a British street artist, painted his “sad-girl” stencil on the Bataclan’s metal door in honor of the victims killed. However, four years later, a white van with obscured license plates pulled up and made off with the door.
Surveillance cameras helped track down the perpetrators, including the 41-year-old Meftah. He appeared this week in court to answer for his role, and some might say he got off lightly.
Three masked men exited the van on the morning of the theft and used angle grinders powered by a generator to cut the hinges. In less than 10 minutes, they accomplished their mission and took off with the door, reportedly worth €1 million (US$1.05 million).
Investigators mapped the route of the door through France and Italy. Eventually, in June 2020, they found it at a farm In the Italian town of Sant’Omero.
As it started its journey following the theft, the door made it to a property Meftah owned in France. He stated to the court that he didn’t know about the theft of the mural, only agreeing to stash it because one of the criminals was a friend.
He added that, in accepting the stolen art, he didn’t want to be rude. Therefore, he told his friend he would keep it until they could find a way to get rid of it.
However, according to his account, Meftah later felt remorse. So, two days later, he packed it up, instead of returning it, looked for another alternative. He eventually gave it to a cousin and a friend, who took it to a property in Tortoreto in the Abbruzzese region of Italy.
Initially, prosecutors accused Meftah of having orchestrated the theft. To paint that picture, they relied on the testimony of one of the three men who confessed to the robbery. He asserted that Meftah was responsible for the theft after making a deal to sell it to an unidentified American buyer.
However, that accusation fell apart under scrutiny. After finding the main mastermind allegation unsubstantiated by the facts, Meftah received a three-year sentence for handling stolen goods. However, instead of being behind bars, he will serve his sentence wearing a tracking bracelet.
The three who actually committed the crime received similar sentences. In addition, a Paris court found three more guilty for their involvement after the fact. Two had transported the door and are the only ones to have spent time in jail.
Bataclan staff stated that the theft caused “deep indignation.” The painted door was a symbol of remembrance that belongs “to everyone,” including Parisians and citizens around the world.
The trial of Meftah and the others comes as an even more important trial is reaching its conclusion. Lawyers are closing their arguments in the Paris attacks trial, with Salah Abdeslam the final terrorist facing justice. He is the last member of the Islamist hit squad.
19 other defendants are standing trial, as well, and will learn their fate next week when the verdict is delivered. They allegedly had various levels of participation in the mass genocide of 2015.
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