UK brothers jailed for Geneva Ming Dynasty museum heist

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Louis Ahearne and his older brother Stewart Ahearne were extradited from the UK in 2022
By Thomas Mackintosh
BBC News, in Geneva

Two British brothers have been jailed after confessing to breaking into a Geneva museum and stealing iconic 14th century Chinese Ming Dynasty antiques.

Stewart and Louis Ahearne admitted to a court in Geneva they were part of a gang of three who raided the Museum of Far Eastern Art in June 2019.

The judge found the brothers guilty of aggravated theft and jailed them each for three-and-a-half years.

He also banned the pair from visiting Switzerland for five years each.

The brothers were ordered to pay 15,000 Swiss francs ($17,400; £13,770) in damages to the Baur Foundation which manages the Museum of Far Eastern Art.

Their prison terms, for now, are to be served in Switzerland.

Previously, the court heard about 3.5m Swiss francs ($4m; £3.2m) worth of damage to the museum was caused in June 2019 by a power saw, sledgehammer and crowbar in the raid.

Prosecutor Marco Rossier told the court the brothers, who are from south-east London – and a third man named in court by lawyers as Daniel Kelly – were all “equally involved” in the burglary.

The brothers were extradited in 2022 and the judge said their time spent on remand in prison would count towards their jail tarrif

Passing his judgement, Geneva’s Palais de Justice President Patrick Monney agreed with the shared culpability adding the gang “acted out of desire to enrich themselves”.

“This desire was considerable,” he said.

“During the burglary on 1 June 2019 the three act together,” he added, adescribing the events of the evening.

“After checking out the configuration the day before they know where they are going to the point they run once inside.

“They are able to go in through the hole and out through that same hole in less than a minute.”

The court previously heard Louis Ahearne carried out reconnaissance of the museum, while his older brother Stewart hired a Renault Captur car at Geneva Airport in his name – which he then drove to and from the scene of the crime.

“Louis Ahearne booked the hotel room, [and acquired] the ski masks and clothing used in the burglary,” Mr Rossier said.

“Everything was prepared and organised. Everything was very quick.”

Two bowls and a vase from the 14th Century were taken in the raid, Mr Rossier explained, adding one bowl was taken to a Hong Kong auction house by the three men. Stewart Ahearne left his passport details as they sold the item, the prosecutor added.

A second item, a vase, was recovered in central London as part of an undercover sting operation with Metropolitan Police officers posing as art buyers a year after the heist.

The third plundered artefact, a wine cup decorated with a chicken, has never been recovered.

During his sentencing President Monney added: “The prejudice caused is considerable and may be irreparable given the chicken cup has not been found since.”

A Doucai-style wine cup stolen from the museum remains missing

Before the sentencing, the Ahearnes apologised for their actions and acknowledged the support of their family who were present in court.

Stewart Ahearne said: “I would like to say sorry to the person who owns the museum for the pain and inconvenience caused. I would like to say sorry to the Swiss society in general. Lastly I’d like to say sorry to Nicola [his partner] and my mum.”

His brother Louis Ahearne added: “I would like to add my condolences to the museum, Swiss society and my family for the stress I have put them through.”

President Monney said he noted the brothers’ admissions, apologies and regrets expressed.

As the brothers were led away, Stewart Ahearne waved at his family while Louis Ahearne blew a kiss in their direction.

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