Simon Metke from Edmonton, Canada abruptly found out that he was in possession of a stolen ancient artifact from the fifth century B.C. worth C$1.2 million, when Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) entered his condo.
On January 22 RCMP’s Integrated Art Crime Investigation Team executed a search warrant and found the artifact, a Persian bas-relief limestone carving, stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts back in September 2011. Mr. Metke was then arrested on January 29 for possession of stolen property. Separately, he and his girlfriend, Jana Lang, were charged with possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking, and possession of proceeds of crime.
33-year-old Metke denies ever knowing that the item was stolen and told CBC News, “It was special to me but it wasn’t as, I didn’t know how special it really was and that’s just the disappointing part. And I really, really regret not being able to have returned it in better light.” Metke expressed regret that he was unaware of the items value and that he wasn’t able to return it for the reward offered by the museum’s insurance company. He added that he had appeared in television interviews in his home with the artifact sitting on a shelf. “It’s great that it’s returned. I’m honored to have had it and I really wish that I would have known what it was …ultimately bought it thinking that it was you know, some kind of replica or you know Mesopotamian souvenir,” explained Metke.
“I paid 1400 dollars for it….Did not tell me where it came from, just told me that it was, it was worth a lot,” Metke told CTV News. But he was hesitant to spend even that much thinking that the item was not really worth it. Metke explained to the Edmonton Journal that he ended up buying the piece because he wanted to help out his “starving artist” friend who would get a commission, and the seller who said that he needed to pay child support.
Reportedly, Metke had the valuable artifact displayed on an Ikea bookshelf next to crystals, stuffed animals and a plastic Star Wars spaceship. It’s a far cry from the controlled environment in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where the suspect, still at large, stole two items on two occasions (September and October 2011). The second stolen item, still missing, is a Roman Empire era marble bust valued at C$40,000.
Quebec provincial police held a press conference this week in Montreal announcing and displaying the recovered artifact. They hope that bringing the theft to light again will help generate new leads in finding the suspect. For now, the recovered artifact is in limbo because it is actually owned by AXA Art Insurance, as the museum collected insurance money for the theft.
Archeologist and retired curator John Fossey told CTV, "It was a thrill, and I was there to bring it back from Edmonton to here and that is a day I'll never forget. Travelling back in the plane with that in its box at my feet you know, I’m thinking, ‘Well sometimes we get good results.’"