French court sentences man over Banksy stencil theft

The rat went missing in 2019 (-)
The rat went missing in 2019 (-)

A French court Wednesday handed a man a two-year suspended jail sentence for using a bucket truck to steal a Banksy stencil from the back of a parking sign in Paris.

Mejdi R., a 38-year-old musician, in court had admitted that he used an angle grinder in September 2019 to remove part of the sign on which the secretive British artist had depicted a masked rat holding a box cutter.

But he claimed he was a friend of the artist, who had asked him to retrieve the artwork on the sign near the modern art Centre Pompidou museum in Paris.

He argued his "friend" wanted to prevent anybody else from making money off the street art of "no value", and to "denounce the hypocrisy of a capitalist system that says which art had value and which does not".

He said Banksy sent a "team" to help him steal it, that then slipped off back to England with the rat.

The prosecutor said Banksy had denied this through a spokesperson.

The stencil is still missing.

The court also sentenced Mejdi R. to paying a 30,000-euro ($32,000) fine.

He was ordered to pay more than 6,500 euros in damages to the Centre Pompidou, which the court determined to be the stolen cultural asset's custodian.

The defendant argued he had not stolen a "cultural asset" but taken part in "degrading a metal plate", referring to sign for the Pompidou's car park.

Banksy blitzed the French capital with murals in 2018, and appeared to authenticate the rat with the box cutter on his Instagram page that year.

The Pompidou theft came seven months after another Banksy work paying homage to the victims of the November 2015 attacks in Paris was stolen from outside the Bataclan, the concert venue where Islamic State group gunmen killed 90 people.

A French court in 2022 handed eight men punishments ranging from a six-month suspended sentence to two years behind bars for stealing that work and transporting it to Italy.

Investigators found it hidden on a farm.