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Stolen art

Los Angeles police recover $800,000 worth of stolen lithographs by Scottish artist Benjamin Creme

Missing since 2012, around 1,300 prints have been returned to their rightful owner, who used to sell Creme's works

Benjamin Creme in his London studio in 1989. Steve Bent/ANL/Shutterstock

A suite of nearly 1,300 signed lithographs by the late Scottish artist and esotericist Benjamin Creme that were discovered to be stolen in 2012 have been returned to their rightful owner. According to Los Angeles police, the works hold a total value of $800,000.

The prints were found in a storage unit in the Los Angeles suburb of San Fernando, belonging to someone who died a few years ago. A relative called the police after taking possession of the goods in the storage unit, where the prints were believed to have been kept since around 2011. The informant realised the works were stolen when they checked a law enforcement database of missing artworks.

“The family took the stuff and had it stored in their house for several years when they finally started going through it and discovered the art was stolen,” Detective Steven Franssen told The Associated Press, which first reported the story. “They immediately packed it up and took it to the police station.”

The prints were returned to lithographer Michael Flaum, who had originally produced them. California-based Flaum says he previously sold prints to raise money for the abstract artist who, later in life, turned his eye to metaphysical studies. He first noticed that the prints had been stolen in 2012 when he went to check his locker—which contained 2,300 Creme prints at the time—to discover that it had been broken into and the entirety of its contents ransacked. Though nearly 1,000 prints remain missing, Flaum expressed nothing but gratitude for the return of some.

Detective Franssen says that it is not believed that the deceased owner of the storage unit or their family members had any knowledge of the works being stolen until recently; it remains unknown how the works landed in the hands of the deceased.

Glasgow-born Creme spent his life in the UK and US; he died in London in 2016 at the age of 93. In 1975 Creme founded the non-profit organisation Share International, which describes the artist/philosopher as “the principal source of information about the emergence of Maitreya, the World Teacher”. In 1982, the artist placed several adverts in newspapers like The Guardian predicting the second coming of Christ in June of that year. Between 1989 and 1991, Creme published his own magazine, in which he allegedly forecasted were purported to the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the resignation of Margaret Thatcher, among other world events.