Egypt minister at fault for Van Gogh theft--lawyers

Tue Sep 14, 2010 5:29pm GMT

* Impressionist masterpiece stolen from central Cairo museum

* Next hearing set for Sept. 28

By Shaimaa Fayed

CAIRO, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Lawyers for 11 Egyptian culture ministry officials charged with negligence over the theft of a $55 million Van Gogh painting said on Tuesday their clients were scapegoats and the minister should shoulder responsibility.

Judge Mohamed Assar set a further hearing for Sept. 28 to allow time for testimony of four people who defence lawyers said could shed further light on the case.

The ministry officials are charged with negligence and shortcomings in performing their duties that led to the loss of the painting, whose theft has created a media stir and raised public questions about how Egypt preserves national treasures.

"We are asking the court to consider the culture minister a suspect in this case and not a witness," said one defence lawyer in the defence team, speaking in a crowded and rowdy court room.

Van Gogh's "Vase with Viscaria" was stolen last month from Cairo's Mahmoud Khalil Museum, home to one of the Middle East's finest collections of 19th- and 20th-century art.   Continued...

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