A man with reportedly close connections to former Free State premier Ace Magashule, Ricardo Metler, appeared briefly in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday in connection with a Pierneef painting that was stolen from the premier’s office.
Captain Lloyd Ramovha of the Hawks said Metler’s case was postponed to 26 October for plea and trial purposes.
“The alleged stolen painting was taken to Strauss and Co Auctioneers in Gauteng to determine the value and to be auctioned. The value of the painting was evaluated at R8 million. The said painting was seized at the auctioneers,” Ramovha added in a statement on Thursday.
The Daily Maverick reported the Hawks’ investigation suggested Metler removed the painting by South African painter JH Pierneef from a safe in Magashule’s office in February 2018. It belonged to the Free State government.
Metler was on Magashule’s security detail and is said to be close to the now secretary-general of the ANC.
He told the Daily Maverick Magashule had mistakenly given him the painting while he helped him clean out his office when his term as premier came to an end.
Metler reportedly said this was an “honest mistake”, and the artwork was accidentally placed among Magashule’s things.
However, the painting was allegedly passed on to a Bloemfontein businessman who reportedly took it to an auction house to have it valued. The auction house, concerned about the painting’s origins, reportedly called in Pierneef experts to locate the painting’s true owner.
An art expert alerted provincial government officials one of their paintings might have been stolen after an image of the painting was reportedly used by the auction house in an advert calling for consignments for an upcoming auction, the Daily Maverick reported.
Metler was facing charges of fraud, money laundering, theft and defeating the ends of justice.
According to the indictment, he met with businessman Wei-lin Hsu and allegedly asked him to lend him R2.1 million. Hsu then demanded collateral that his money would be paid back.
The indictment states Metler later arrived at Hsu’s premises with the painting wrapped in a blanket. He said it was a gift from Magashule. Hsu then took the painting to Strauss & Co for it to be assessed.
The indictment stated Metler failed to provide proof in writing from the former premier he had given him the painting as a gift.