According to George Osborne, some of the 2,000 treasures that were allegedly stolen from the British Museum have already been found.
“Groupthink” might have kept the institution’s leadership from believing that treasures had been removed, according to the former chancellor who is now the head of the museum’s trustees.
Following the controversy, which Mr Osborne acknowledged had hurt the British Museum’s reputation, Director Hartwig Fischer and his deputy Jonathan Williams both resigned.
While a police investigation is ongoing, the museum stated it has taken legal action and dismissed an anonymous employee who was suspected of being involved.
Mr Osborne told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday: “We have started to recover some of the stolen items, which is a silver lining to a dark cloud.”
He added that security has been increased around museum storerooms and that the London institution is collaborating with the art loss register and members of the antiquarian community who are assisting in the return of some of the missing pieces.
Small pieces of jewellery, diamonds, and gold pieces that were not on display in public were among the stolen artefacts.
The former Conservative minister acknowledged that the museum’s collection, which was gathered over many centuries, did not have a complete catalogue.
“Someone with knowledge of what’s not registered has a big advantage in removing some of those items,” he said.
“Obviously, a clear outcome from what has happened is that the British Museum has to accelerate the process that was already under way of getting a complete register of the items in our collection.”
Mr Osborne continued: “It’s certainly been damaging to the British Museum’s reputation. I think that’s sort of stating the obvious and that’s why I’m apologising on behalf of the museum.
“We believe we’ve been the victim of thefts over a long period of time and, frankly, more could have been done to prevent them.”
The chairman of the museum declared, “It is a mess that we are going to clear up.”
In particular, he mentioned the time the museum was informed by an antiquities dealer that pieces were being offered on eBay in 2021. He said an independent review will examine “how come the museum missed some of the signals that could have been picked up”.
While denying that a “deliberate cover-up” had occurred, Mr. Osborne questioned whether there had been any possible groupthink at the top of the museum at the time that simply couldn’t accept that an insider was stealing items or that one of the staff members was doing this. That is definitely feasible.
Ittai Gradel, an antiquities trader, earlier told the PA news agency that any allegations of information-withholding on his part were a “outright lie.”
The relics were presumably taken before 2023 and over a “significant” time span.
On Thursday, the Metropolitan Police announced that a man had been questioned in relation to the alleged thefts.
No one had been detained, according to the police, and they would keep cooperating “closely” with the British Museum while their investigations went on.