Palace Museum thefts not planned, hearing told

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2012, 12:00am


The man accused of stealing nine valuable artefacts from the Beijing Palace Museum in May denied in court yesterday that it was premeditated theft.

Shi Baikui from Shandong told Beijing No2 Intermediate People's Court he had sought shelter in the museum because it was raining and then committed the crime, the Procuratorial Daily's website reported.

Shi said he had heard the Palace Museum was a royal park and he had never been there even though he had stayed in Beijing for several years. He said he visited the museum twice within a very short period because he had failed to see some places during his first visit.

Shi said he overheard someone saying the exhibits were metal. He stayed in a side room until it was dark before disabling the alarm system and breaking into the exhibition room. But prosecutors said Shi had previously confessed that he planned the theft after seeing the museum's collections on its website.

They said he stole nine exhibits, Western-style powder compacts and bags made of gold embedded with precious stones from Hong Kong collector Peter Fung Yiu-fai's Liangyi Museum, a private collection that was co-organising the exhibition with the Palace Museum. Some of the articles were discarded by Shi when he left the museum and the rest the next day after he found he could not sell them. Only six were recovered.

Prosecutors showed evidence that the nine exhibits were bought for 1.65 million yuan (HK$2.02 million) and Wong Ha-hung, curator of the Liangyi Museum, said they were worth tens of millions of yuan. However, they were only insured for 410,000 yuan, China National Radio reported.

Prosecutors said Shi had committed serious crimes by stealing valuable exhibits from a key cultural relic and should be jailed for 13 to 15 years, but his defence lawyer pleaded for a more lenient sentence, saying two appraisal houses had concluded that it was hard to tell whether the articles were genuine or where they were from. He also said it was a case of common theft, which just happened to have occurred in the Palace Museum, and should not be considered a serious crime.

The court did not reach a verdict yesterday.