Sun, Jan 18, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Library files suit for US$440,000 from book vandal

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The British Library is claiming damages of more than £300,000 (US$440,000) from an Iranian academic who was jailed for two years for stripping pages out of ancient books.

Farhad Hakimzadeh, 60, used a scalpel to remove leaves from the priceless books, which date back to the 16th century and chart the travels of Westerners in the Middle East. Appearing at Wood Green crown court in London for sentencing on Friday, Hakimzadeh, who lives in a £3 million home in Knightsbridge, London, said he suffered from an obsessive compulsive disorder which forced him to remove the pages to complete his own extensive collection.

The court heard that his obsession was such that he left his marital bed on his wedding night to polish his books, but that he also made monetary gain, selling one of his own books with a stolen page inserted into it for more than £2,000.

The court heard that Hakimzadeh’s own library was the fourth best in the world in its field.

“You should have known better,” Judge Peter Ader said. “Once a unique book is damaged it is damaged forever. What you did was a gross breach of trust.”

Hakimzadeh, the director of a publishing firm, nodded as the judge said he would spend a year in prison before release would be considered. He was ordered to pay £7,500 in costs after admitting 14 counts of theft and asking for 20 other offenses to be taken into consideration.

The court heard he had stolen 94 items from the Royal Asiatic Society in 1998, but paid the library £75,000 as compensation. The British Library is pursuing its own civil claim for damages in excess of £300,000 from Hakimzadeh. The claim takes into account the priceless nature of books that cannot be restored.

Prosecutor Christopher Amor said that in 2006 a reader at the British Library had noticed several leaves had been removed from a 17th-century book.

“This began an inquiry, whereby it was discovered a number of pages and maps had been removed from books in the library,” he said.

The library recovered 30 items from Hakimzadeh’s apartment. More than 100 pages from the ancient books have not been found. He also stole from the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

When police searched his apartment and found some of the missing pages, Hakimzadeh said he had bought them in a market.

Kristian Jensen, head of British collections at the library, said that the books from which Hakimzadeh had stolen were mainly about the British colonization and exploration of the Middle East.

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Cobb of the Metropolitan police, said: “[Hakimzadeh] chose unique and rare editions and was therefore able to go undetected for some time. Following the discovery of damage to one volume, an audit of Hakimzadeh’s activities at the libraries revealed the extent of his offending.”

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