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Internet web site aims to combat art theft

A reproduction of van Gogh's "The Gardener", stolen from Rome's National Gallery of Modern Art in 1998

(Keystone)

A Geneva company has launched an Internet web site to alert dealers and collectors more swiftly to stolen works of art.

Between 1997 and 1999 the number of art objects stolen in Europe rose by 80 per cent and only three per cent of them have been recovered.

The company says it takes at least a month and a half to alert the entire professional art world. "We are aiming to reduce that time to about one hour after the theft," said its director, Hubert Clément.

Among other things "www.artguardian.com" - access to the site is by subscription only - enables owners to register their art works with photographs and full descriptions.

If they are stolen, an immediate alert is sent by electronic mail to some 10,000 art professionals in Switzerland, France, Britain and the United States.

Another service is an on-line catalogue of stolen objects for potential buyers.

"Artguardian.com" estimates that it has a potential client base of 500,000 collectors, 150,000 dealers and 25,000 institutions such as art museums. It says other potential clients are likely to be banks and insurance companies.

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