Three men have been convicted after a £2 million vase stolen from a museum was recovered in a police sting operation. The Chinese Ming Dynasty vase was stolen from the Museum of Far Eastern Art in Geneva, Switzerland in June 2019. But undercover police duped a would-be seller into handing it over in October 2021. Mbaki Nkhwa, Kaine Wright and David Lamming have all now been convicted for their roles in the plot, the Metropolitan Police said. Nkhwa, 47, of The Heights, Charlton, south London, and Wright, 26, of Heavitree Road, Woolwich, south London, were found guilty of one count of conspiracy to convert criminal property at Southwark Crown Court in London on Friday, the force said. Lamming, 31, of Belmont Park Close, Lewisham, south London, pleaded guilty to the same offence at a hearing in March, the force added.
Detective Chief Inspector Matt Webb, from the Met’s specialist crime unit, said: “These convictions are the result of four years work crossing international boundaries and involving collaboration between many internal and external partners. “The organised crime group involved in this offending believed they could commit significant offences internationally and that there would be no comeback. “They were mistaken, highlighting the strength of our relations with international law enforcement partners and our ability to work across international boundaries. “The white porcelain ‘vase’, which is actually a bottle of the Yongle period of the Ming Dynasty, has an interesting tale over its hundreds of years and this is another chapter. “I’m glad we were able to return it to its rightful owners.” An auction house tipped off police in July 2020 that an unknown person had emailed them to get a valuation for the stolen vase. Detectives traced the IP address for the email account to Lamming’s south-east London home. When the vase was offered for sale police posed as buyers, agreeing a price of £450,000. Nkhwa later gave the vase to undercover officers at a meeting in a central London hotel and was arrested, the Met Police said. Telephone data showed he and Lamming had been in regular contact with Wright, who had driven them to the hotel for the exchange.
Scotland Yard said its officers worked closely with Swiss authorities on the four-year investigation. Three items from the Ming Dynasty were stolen during the 2019 break-in, estimated to be worth £3.5 million. A bowl valued at £80,000 was sold at an auction house in Hong Kong in 2019 but was later returned to the museum. Officers are now appealing for help to locate the third stolen item. A reward of up to £10,000 is offered for information leading to the recovery of the Ming Dynasty cup. Police have released an image of the stolen “doucai style” wine cup which features chicken decoration. Anyone with information about its whereabouts is asked to call police on 101 referencing Operation Funsea.
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