Auction house pulls 'stolen' leaders' autographs from Spain sale


Madrid (AFP)

An auction house due to sell autographs by the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev and Yasser Arafat in Spain has pulled the lots after a Belgrade museum claimed they were stolen from the mausoleum of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito.

The pages, whose signatories include the last Soviet leader Gorbachev, late Palestinian leader Arafat and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, were among other written messages and signed pictures up for auction Saturday in the southern Spanish city of Malaga.

"The mentioned lots which a Belgrade museum claimed belonged to them were all withdrawn from auction," Francisco Pinero of the Britain-based International Autograph Auctions told AFP.

The documents were posthumous tributes to Tito, who led socialist Yugoslavia from the end of World War II until his death in 1980, apparently written into books during official visits by the leaders in the years that followed.

Following a media report that the autographs had been stolen, Belgrade's Museum of Yugoslav History launched an internal probe and established the pages were missing from the tribute books that were on display in a mausoleum that is part of the museum's complex.

A museum official told AFP they had reported the case to the police and had also asked the auction house to pull the sale.

In a statement, Pinero said that "when there is a consistent ownership issue we withdraw lots and leave the matter to judges and court to decide who is the entitled owner."

"The lots have also been withdrawn from most international bidding websites, and some of our clients who announced intending to bid on them have been reported that they will not be offered."

According to the museum in Belgrade, the theft appears to have taken place before the museum took over the running of the mausoleum in 2015.

Among other autographs that have gone missing are those of India's first female prime minister Indira Gandhi, assassinated Swedish premier Olof Palme, Cambodia's former king Norodom Sihanouk, late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad and Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

A decade after Tito's death, federal Yugoslavia fell apart in a series of bloody wars, with its former republics emerging as independent states in the western Balkans.