Friday, November 21, 2008

Millionaire Accused of Mutilating Books

Lots of coverage about this already but I'll toss in my two cents. Multi-millionaire London book collector Farhad Hakimzadeh has been arrested after it was discovered that he defaced more than 150 books at several British libraries, including the BL and the Bodleian. Hakimzadeh is accused of chopping out plates, maps and illustrations to "improve his personal collection." "He pleaded guilty to ten counts of theft from the British Library and four from the Bodleian relating to books worth £140,000, with 20 offences taken into account," the Daily Mail reports. Hakimzadeh was supposed to be sentenced today, but AFP is reporting that the heading has been postponed until 16 January 2009.

British Library officials discovered the first evidence of defacement in June 2006, and were able to cull patron use records and determine the culprit. Some of the stolen items were discovered in Hakimzadeh's house.

Beyond the guilty plea, the BL is pursuing a civil suit against Hakimzadeh for the vandalism, which occurred mainly in books relating to "Western explorers in Mesopotamia, Persia and the Mogul empire."

Dr. Kristian Jensen, the BL's head of collections, didn't pull any punches, saying of the thefts "These are historic objects which have been damaged forever. You cannot undo what he has done and it has compromised a piece of historical evidence which charts the early engagement of Europeans with what we now know as the Middle East and China. It makes me extremely angry. This is someone who is extremely rich who has damaged and destroyed something that belongs to everybody." [Not that it would have been any more excusable if he'd been poor, but you get the idea]. There's an audio interview with Jensen online here. The Guardian has more coverage, plus a selection of the books damaged.

Ian asks "Is it 'better' that he was doing this for some personal/misplaced intent to 'improve' his personal collection vs. doing it to sell on the secondary market? The psychology is definitely different." I don't think there is a better when it comes to book crime. There's never a good reason.


DangAndBlast! said...

One thought I have: he would not have been found had the British Library done what a large number of American libraries do -- either scrub lender records after a very brief period of time, or never keep them at all. Privacy concerns, the ability to tell the FBI "Sorry, we can't give you records -- we don't keep them," etc. Which is more important, moral authority or collection protection? (And no, that's not a rhetorical question -- I see the arguments on both sides there.)

JBD said...

Quite so, at least for American public libraries. Private rare book libraries tend to keep their patron use records, and most academic rare book departments do as well. Where I work, we have them going back to the early 1950s.

k8 said...

The only thing "better" about it is that the libraries and collections have a better chance of getting the (now-mutilated) items back. That is the only thing better about it. If the items had been sold, locating them would be much more difficult.