A suspected thief who plundered the British Museum for 20 years could be a kleptomaniac, says a report.
Exquisite jewelry and ancient coins are among the world-famous museum's missing treasures.
The thefts from the museum's vaults exploited its failure to catalog the artifacts it held, reports said.
A suspected thief who plundered valuable artifacts from the British Museum in London for 20 years could be a kleptomaniac, a police source told The Times of London.
A museum curator was recently fired after jewelry and other artifacts were discovered to be missing from the museum's vaults, and valuable items were found being sold cheaply on eBay.
A stolen piece of ancient Roman jewelry made from onyx, worth up to £50,000, or approximately $63,000, was listed on the online auction site for as little as £40, or $50, according to British newspaper The Telegraph.
"The suspicion is that we are dealing with a possible case of kleptomania," the police source said.
The source said there were fears that some objects had been defaced, such as being melted down or having their gems removed and sold online for a fraction of their value.
"Some of them would have been very, very valuable — tens of thousands of pounds — if it was known they were from the British Museum. But they couldn't be sold like that," the source told The Times.
Many of the missing objects, which include semi-precious gems and gold coins, were kept in the museum's basement galleries and were not on public display, the source said.
A "lack of proper cataloging" made it possible to remove the items, the source said. The museum has admitted that many artifacts in its collections are not cataloged, per The Times.
The British Museum was first alerted that several missing objects were being sold online years ago, The Times reported.
The museum last week said they would take legal action against the fired employee and that police were investigating, per The Times.
The fired man, Peter Higgs, who worked as a curator at the museum for over 30 years, has denied wrongdoing.
A former trustee at the museum said that it was a "puzzling" case as curators typically consider themselves custodians of the artifacts they work with and would not steal or deface them.
They added it was a "fascinating thought" that kleptomania could have spurned the thefts.
"I can see that as a realistic possibility," they told The Times. "You do get curators that inevitably get obsessed [with the items in their departments]. I would certainly be prepared to put a mild bet on that because I can't see any other explanation."
Over several decades, as many as 2,000 items from the museum are feared to have gone missing, been stolen, or become damaged, The Times reported.
The British Museum said, per The Times: "We take the issue of any missing items incredibly seriously. Losses are recorded and reported to the trustees on an annual basis."
British Museum director Hartwig Fischer said he would step down from his role over the scandal, admitting that the museum had not responded "as comprehensively as it should have" after first being alerted to the thefts in 2021.
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