British brothers raid 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.

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

The 34-year-old 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.” —BBC