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Dublin: 14°C Wednesday 10 August 2022

Night security man who stole artwork and sold it through Sotheby's gets suspended sentence

Petr Balint pleaded guilty to theft of 33 art prints.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

A NIGHT SECURITY man at All Hallows College who stole artwork and sold it through Sotheby’s auction house has been given a suspended sentence.

Petr Balint (41), of Glen Ellan Drive, Swords, Co Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to theft of 33 art prints and an “incunabula” – defined as a book printed before 1501 – from All Hallows College, Grace Park Road , Dublin 9, on dates between January 2013 and June 2014.

Balint further pleaded guilty to theft of four prayer books and six other books during the same time.

Judge Martin Nolan said Balint had been working alone and “wandering aimlessly” through the building when he succumbed to temptation and took these items.

He said Balint had received about €20,000 for some of the stolen items and suspicion fell upon him when he replaced some of the stolen work.

Judge Nolan noted that theft from employers was “well trodden ground” and that the Court of Appeal has said a four year sentence with the final two years suspended was appropriate for the theft of €250,000.

He said this case did not approach that and that a custodial sentence was not appropriate by reason of the amount involved. He imposed a two and a half year sentence which he suspended in full.

Detective Garda James Woods told Kieran Kelly BL, prosecuting, that All Hallows, founded in 1842, had begun to wind down in May 2014 and prepare for sale. He said Balint was employed by a security company and worked nights, as well as occasional weekends.

Det Gda Woods said during an inventory process it became apparent some items were missing. GardaÍ were contacted and investigation begun.

The investigation discovered that the “incunabula”, which was two volumes bound into one, and the prints had been put up for auction via Sotheby’s by Balint. He told the auction house they belonged to his mother. Some of the prints had sold for a total of £22,148 sterling.

The “incunabula” was put up for auction valued at between four to six thousand Sterling. It did not sell and was returned to Balint. Balint then returned the “incunabula” to All Hallows in a plastic bag handing it to staff and claiming he had found it.

Sotheby’s were able to purchase the prints back from the buyers when alerted by gardai.

A search of Balint’s house was carried out and gardai recovered four “Breviarium Romanum” prayer books.

They also found six other books: “The history of Co Dublin Vol I to VI”; “Persecutions of Irish Catholics”; “The Capuchin Annual” 1969 and 1967; “St Ceclia’s Hymn Book” and “Ancient Egypt.”

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Det Gda Woods said the items recovered in the house were not valuable.

The garda agreed with Luigi Rea BL, defending, that the art work had been prints – depicting scenes in Rome – and were not originals. He agreed that a poor inventory had been kept, that there had been a number of break ins and books were deteriorating through leaks.

Mr Rea said Balint had been told he could take small items and had taken them at their word.

He said Balint had come to Ireland in 2004 and had worked in All Hallows for six or seven years. He said he had been working there while it was closing down around him. He said Balint had taken what he thought was abandoned.

Mr Rea submitted that Balint had taken religious art which was currently “not very fashionable.”

He said Balint, a married father of one, had used the money for housekeeping. He said his client had been on a low wage and used the money to supplement this. He said Balint did not have an art collection worth millions at home. He has no previous convictions.

He said Balint should not have done what he did and submitted he was now in honest work.

About the author:

Fiona Ferguson

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