Three London Men Have Been Convicted of Stealing a $2.5 Million Ming Dynasty Vase From a Swiss Museum in 2019

The vase was recovered in a sting operation two years later when officers posed as buyers offering £450,000.

A Chinese Ming Dynasty vase stolen from the Museum of Far Eastern Art in Geneva, Switzerland in 2019 and recovered by London's Metropolitan Police in 2021. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Police.

A trio of men in London have been convicted in connection with the theft of an ancient Chinese Ming Dynasty vase from a Swiss museum. 

The vase, worth an estimated £2 million ($2.5 million), was one of three Ming Dynasty objects stolen from Geneva’s Museum of Far Eastern Art in 2019. It was recovered through a sting operation in 2021 and has since been returned to its home institution.  

On August 18, two of the suspected thieves, Mbaki Nkhwa and Kaine Wright of London, were each found guilty of one count of conspiracy to convert criminal property. The third member of the crew, David Lamming, pleaded guilty to the same offense in March. All three are scheduled for sentencing in October.  

“The organized crime group involved in this offending believed they could commit significant offenses internationally and that there would be no comeback,” said detective chief inspector Matt Webb of the Metropolitan Police’s specialist crime department. “They were mistaken, highlighting the strength of our relations with international law enforcement partners and our ability to work across international boundaries.” 

“The white porcelain ‘vase’—which is actually a bottle of the Yongle period of the Ming Dynasty—has an interesting tale over its hundreds of years,” Webb continued. “This is another chapter. I’m glad we were able to return it to its rightful owners.” 

[L to R] Mbaki Nkhwa, David Lamming, and Kaine Wright. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Police.

In July of 2020, an auction house contacted the police saying that an anonymous person had emailed the company about the missing vase. Officers traced the IP address of the email account to the home of Lamming.  

A year later, in a sting operation at a central London hotel, Scotland Yard officers posing as buyers met Nkhwa and offered him £450,000 ($570,000) for the vase. Once he turned it over, the officers arrested him. Telephone data later connected Nkhwa and Lamming with Wright, who had driven them to the hotel for the meetup. 

In addition to the vase, burglars also stole a Ming Dynasty bowl and “doucai style” wine cup rom the Museum of Far Eastern Art. The bowl, valued at £80,000 ($100,000), was sold at a Hong Kong auction in 2019, before being returned to the institution.  

The cup still remains missing. London police are offering a £10,000 ($12,000) reward for information that leads them to its recovery. 

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