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The World’s Most Expensive Paintings

Sat Dec 21, 9-10pm, BBC2

Art has a reputation for appealing to sophisticates, and presenter Alistair Sooke wants to know if art crime is equally sophisticated. Focusing on some intelligent, audacious heists, including one of only 36 known Vermeer paintings, estimated to be worth around $300 million, Sooke examines why such valuable – and, in some cases, invaluable – paintings are stolen.

Art theft is big business. Very little gets returned, with most disappearing into the clutches of grasping private collectors, Thomas Crown-style, or – as is more likely – sold to fund underworld drug, arms and terrorist activities. In America, Sooke meets an unrepentant Myles Connor, the infamous thief who art-napped for a living, making a killing from rewards. He then turns his attention from the Mafia – thought to have stolen 1.5 million works of art in Italy over 40 years – to the most stolen work of art of all time, the Ghent Altarpiece, coveted by the Nazis.

It must be hard for an art lover to see his passion treated so indecently and Sooke is clearly miffed. Intriguing stuff.