Daily Telegraph: A millionaire Iranian businessman faces jail for "mutilating" a number of priceless rare books, some almost 500 years old, to improve his own collection.
The Daily Telegraph
A millionaire Iranian businessman faces jail for "mutilating" a number of priceless rare books, some almost 500 years old, to improve his own collection.
By Stephen Adams, Arts Correspondent
Knightsbridge-based Farhad Hakimzadeh, chairman of the Iranian Heritage Foundation, cut out pages from manuscripts at the British Library and Oxford University's Bodleian Library.
He removed the pages with a scalpel that he smuggled into the institutions' rare books reading rooms, hiding his actions from CCTV cameras installed to protect the books. Then he took the pages home and inserted them in his own inferior copies.
Police said Hakimzadeh, 60, the director of a company that publishes books on the Middle East and a published author, was likely to be jailed for his actions.
He pleaded guilty to 14 counts of theft in May, relating to pages found by Metropolitan Police officers at his large personal library. They were from 10 British Library books four Bodleian works.
The 10 British Library books which he admitted damaging were worth £71,000 alone. A single page that he cut out from one 1537 book – a world map by Hans Holbein the Younger, who painted Henry VIII – was worth £30,000.
But staff at the British Library, who checked 842 books borrowed by Hakimzadeh, said they believed the actual number of damaged works was much higher.
Dr Kristian Jensen, head of British collections at the British Library, said: "We believe that 150 items have been mutilated by him between 1997 and 2005. Mr Hakimzadeh used considerable skill and deceit to carry out these mutilations and in many instances they were initially difficult to detect."
Staff think many stolen pages will never be recovered.
Dr Jensen said he was "extremely angry" about what Hakimzadeh had done "for his own personal gain".
He said: "Obviously I'm angry because this is somebody extremely rich who has damaged something which belongs to everybody, completely selfishly destroyed something for his own personal benefit which this nation has invested in over generations."
Most of the books he damaged concerned West European experiences of travel and colonisation in the Middle East and dated from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Hakimzadeh's "targeted mutilation" was "an attack on the nation's collective memory of its own past", Dr Jensen said.
He said he could "not really speculate on his motivation" but added: "Clearly he inserted these pages into copies of his own books. Our copies are in considerably better condition than his."
By doing so "he could end up – to the superficial eye – with a better copy".
But the products of Hakimzadeh's work were merely "pieces of historical falsification", he said.
The library proved some pages were stolen by matching bookworm holes in them with the original text.
Hakimzadeh's crimes came to light when a reader alerted British Library staff that a book had been damaged.
Detective Chief Inspector Dave Cobb, of the Metropolitan Police, said: "It proved extremely difficult for the libraries to detect the absence of these pages as Hakimzadeh took care to select material that only an expert would be able to identify.
"He chose unique and rare editions and was therefore able to go undetected for some time. Some of the stolen pages were recovered at his home address but many more have been lost forever."
The businessman, of Rutland Gardens, Knightsbridge, is due to be sentenced at Wood Green Crown Court in north London on November 21.
The British Library has launched separate civil proceedings against him.
An Oxford University spokesman said it was "pleased" that the criminal case was being brought to a close.