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Four men charged in satirical golden toilet theft

LONDON (AP) – Four men were charged Monday over the theft of an 18-carat gold toilet from Blenheim Palace, the sprawling English country mansion where British wartime leader Winston Churchill was born.

The toilet, valued at GBP4.8 million, was an artwork titled “America” and intended as a pointed satire about excessive wealth by Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan. It was part of an art installation at Blenheim Palace, near the city of Oxford, a few days before it vanished overnight in September 2019.

The Crown Prosecution Service said Monday it has authorised criminal charges against four men, ages 35 to 39, over the theft. They are accused of burglary and conspiracy to transfer criminal property.

Seven people had been arrested over the heist, but no charges have been brought until Monday, four years after the toilet was stolen. The artwork has never been found.

The golden toilet was fully functioning, and prior to the theft, visitors to the exhibition could book a three-minute appointment to use it. Police said that because the toilet had been connected to the palace’s plumbing system, its removal caused “significant damage and flooding” to the 18th-century building, a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with valuable art and furniture that draws thousands of visitors each year.

The Guggenheim Museum in New York, where the artwork was installed in a bathroom prior to it being shown at Blenheim Palace, described the toilet as “cast in 18-carat gold.”

The museum said the artwork invited viewers to “make use of the fixture individually and privately” to experience “unprecedented intimacy with a work of art.”

In 2021, the Thames Valley Police, the force investigating the theft, suggested that it would be a “challenge” to recover the toilet.

“Will we ever see that toilet again? Personally I wonder if it’s in the shape of a toilet to be perfectly honest,” police and crime commissioner Matthew Barber told the BBC. “If you have that large amount of gold I think it seems likely that someone has already managed to dispose of it one way or another.”

The four suspects will appear at Oxford Magistrates’ Court on November 28, prosecutors said.

This September 16, 2016 file image made from a video shows the 18-karat toilet, titled “America,” by Maurizio Cattelan in the restroom of the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York. PHOTO: AP
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