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Suspected mastermind of Banksy mural theft in Ukraine could face 12 years in prison

Jail cells (Dreamstime/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Prosecutors in Ukraine have announced that the individual suspected of orchestrating the removal of a Banksy mural in a town heavily damaged in Russian bombing could face 12 years in prison if found guilty.

The artwork, depicting a woman in a gas mask and a dressing gown holding a fire extinguisher, was taken off a wall in the town of Hostomel, northwest of the capital, Kyiv, on December 2, according to officials.

The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office said in a statement on its website that the man it believes organized the operation had been handed a “suspicion notice.”

“He was aware of the value of the work and planned to sell the graffiti and dispose of the funds received as he saw fit,” it said in the statement issued on January 2. “To do this, he enlisted the help of men who were unaware of his intentions, whom he assured that he had all the necessary permits to dismantle the mural.”

The Prosecutor-General’s Office put the value of the artwork by the renowned British artist at over 9 million hryvnia ($243,900).

“The criminals tried to transport this graffiti with the help of wooden boards and polyethylene,” it said.

“Thanks to the concern of citizens, the police and other security forces managed to arrest the criminals.”

Earlier, Ukrainian media had reported that eight suspects had been detained over the Banksy mural theft.

The mural was retrieved and is now reported to be in the hands of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture, which will decide its fate.

Banksy confirmed that he had painted the mural and six others in places that were hit by heavy fighting after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.

One of them, a female gymnast balancing on a pile of rubble, painted on a building damaged by Russian shelling in the liberated town of Borodyanka, was unveiled by Banksy on November 11.

Banksy, whose identity remains unknown, has created art, much of it with a political message, all over the world for nearly two decades, including in New York City, London, and the West Bank.