From left to right: David Lamming, Mbaki Nkhwa and Kaine Wright (Image: Met Police)
Three men from south east London have been found guilty of conspiracy to convert criminal property as a vase was recovered worth around two million pounds.
The vase was recovered after a four year operation by the Metropolitan and Swiss police.
The men were arrested and charged in connection with the burglary in June 2019 of a Chinese Ming Dynasty Vase from the Museum of Far Eastern Art in Geneva.
The vase was returned to the museum after officers carried out an undercover operation targeting those attempting to sell the item.
The undercover operation culminated with recovery of the vase on October 15, 2021.
Detective Chief Inspector Matt Webb, from the Met’s Specialist Crime, 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.
News Shopper: Recovered vase worth £2m
“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.”
On Friday, August 18, at Southwark Crown Court, Mbaki Nkhwa of The Heights, Charlton and Kaine Wright, of Heavitree Road, Woolwich, were found guilty of one count of conspiracy to convert criminal property.
David Lamming of Belmont Park Close, Lewisham, pleaded guilty to the same offence at an earlier hearing on March 23, 2023.
In July 2020, police received a call from an auction house advising that an unknown person had e-mailed them with knowledge of the whereabouts of the stolen vase and seeking a valuation.
An operation was launched, led by Trident officers in Specialist Crime.
They managed to trace the IP address for the email account to an address in Belmont Park Close, the home of David Lamming.
Rather than carry out an immediate arrest, officers wanted to ensure that they had the best chance of retrieving the stolen vase and returning it to the museum.
They launched an undercover operation and when the vase was offered for sale, they posed as buyers agreeing a price of £450,000.
This culminated in a meeting at a central London hotel in which Nkhwa handed over the vase to officers.
With the item finally in their possession, officers arrested Nkhwa at the scene.
Telephone data showed both he and Lamming had been in regular contact with Kaine Wright, who had driven them to the hotel for the exchange.
As part of their investigation, officers worked closely with Swiss authorities, setting up a joint investigation team, meaning that both law enforcement agencies could easily share information and build further strong evidence against the defendants.
In total, three items from the Ming Dynasty were stolen during the burglary in 2019, 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 subsequently returned to the museum.
This bowl did not form part of the Met’s case.
Officers are now appealing for the public’s help in locating the third of these stolen items.
A Serious Crime Reward of up to £10,000 is on offer for information leading to the recovery of a Ming Dynasty cup which was also stolen from the museum.
Officers have released an image of the stolen ‘doucai style’ wine cup which features chicken decoration, and they are asking anyone with information about its whereabouts to call police on 101 referencing Operation Funsea or to remain anonymous contact the independent charity Crimestoppers.
Two other British nationals await trial in Switzerland for their alleged role in the burglary of the Museum of Far Eastern Art in June 2019.
They are brothers Stewart Ahearne of Woolwich and Louis Ahearne of Woolwich.
Both were extradited from the UK in late 2022.