Three burglars who carried out a record-breaking US$637 million art heist in Hong Kong but remained oblivious to the value of their historic haul were jailed on Friday, local media reported.

Police show a picture of a calligraphy scroll written by Mao Zedong worth about US$300 million, that had been recovered but found chopped in half following a robbery that included antique stamps and revolutionary items from mainland China worth an estimated US$637 million, at a press conference in Hong Kong on October 7, 2020. File photo: Isaac Lawrence/AFP.

Hong Kong’s art community was rocked by the theft that included a two-metre tall scroll containing a 1929 Politburo report written by Mao Zedong valued at hundreds of millions of dollars – but was sold to an amateur collector for just HK$200 (US$25).

When police recovered the parchment a month after it was stolen, they discovered it had been cut in half to make it easier to store by the collector, who also did not realise it was genuine.

The items were lifted in September 2020 from an apartment belonging to Chinese collector Fu Chunxiao in the city’s bustling Kowloon district.

The haul was worth an estimated total of HK$5 billion (US$637 million), with Mao’s scroll alone valued at HK$2.3 billion, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), making it the city’s biggest heist by value.

Wan Chai District Court
District Court. File photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Ho Yik-chiu, 46, Ng Wing-lun, 45, and Hui Ping-kei, 48, were jailed for up to two and half years after pleading guilty to being involved in the crime, SCMP reported.

The court heard how the three men were seasoned burglars who had deliberately targeted Fu’s apartment while he was overseas. 

Much of the haul has yet to be recovered. 

A calligraphy letter and handwritten poem by Mao remain missing, as do dozens of sets of highly prized Chinese stamps, the Post reported. 

A collector who received some of the goods alerted the police once he realised the items were stolen.

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