Home » British brothers raided Swiss museum ‘to clear a debt’

British brothers raided Swiss museum ‘to clear a debt’

Two British brothers have admitted raiding a museum in Switzerland and making off with iconic Chinese Ming dynasty era artefacts worth millions in order to “clear a debt”, a court heard.

Prosecutors said the Museum of Far Eastern Art in Geneva was burgled in June 2019 by a gang of three who used tools to break through the front door.

Two 14th Century vases and a bowl were taken in the heist.

Stewart and Louis Ahearne admitted their involvement at a court in Geneva.

The pair, from south-east London, appeared before a panel of three judges at the Palais de Justice in Geneva on Monday facing charges of theft, trespass and damage to property.

They fought extradition from the UK, but it was approved by the Home Secretary in 2022.

Patrick Monney, the president of the court, rejected a last-minute application for the trial to be heard in private. He added that the court was aware of the facts of the case from reports by the Swiss Prosecutors Office and Geneva Police and explained the purpose of the hearing was to “ask additional questions”.

The court heard that the two brothers travelled to Hong Kong shortly after the raid to sell one of the stolen items to an auction house for £80,000.

British brothers raided Swiss museum 'to clear a debt'

Father-of-one Louis Ahearne told the court he came to Geneva days before the raid to carry out reconnaissance.

The 34-year-old to confirmed he went to “film the museum” and “took part in the burglary”.

He also admitted giving his passport to the auction house in Hong Kong.

“I was in debt,” he told the court. “I was paid to be a front man to clear a debt. In the [CCTV] video I am the third person [going into the museum] with no crowbar and no sledgehammer.”

Throughout the hearing, the brothers insisted they didn’t want to name the third person involved.

Stewart Ahearne, 45, told the court he has five children and worked as a tradesman in England. He also admitted to using his name to hire the Renault Captur car, used in the heist, from Avis at Geneva Airport.

He told the court he “took full responsibility” for his actions, but denied being involved in any pre-planning of the heist in Geneva.

“I went into the museum. I stole some stuff. Any organisation, anything to do with the artwork I didn’t know nothing,” he said.

He added that he “used as a pawn like in a game of chess” during the heist: “I was asked to come to Switzerland to do some driving. The story, the scenario changed with the third person. He is not someone you can say no to. He is not a very nice person. My role was I was used.

“I got a phone call telling me my brother was in debt and that I was needed to bring back some stuff. Alarm bells started ringing. My instinct as an older brother was to protect my brother.”

The court heard the three came to Geneva in February 2019. Louis Ahearne said this was for “tourist” purposes, but Stewart Ahearne said he “put two and two together” after the burglary.

“It was so the third person could do some scouting,” he added.

He broke down when answering questions about his life in Champ-Dollon prison, saying he spends his time in a cell by himself for 23 hours a day.

The hearing continues.

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