Hitler's golden bookmark, stolen in Madrid, recovered in Bellevue
A Kenmore man is in federal custody on charges that he allegedly tried to sell an undercover federal agent an iconic piece of World War II history: a gold bookmark reportedly given to Adolf Hitler by his mistress, Eva Braun, in 1943.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A Kenmore man has been charged with trying to sell to an undercover federal agent an engraved 18-karat gold bookmark reportedly given to Adolf Hitler by his mistress at the height of World War II.
Christian Popescu, 37, a Romanian citizen who is a legal U.S. resident, appeared briefly Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Tsuchida, who ordered him held pending a hearing scheduled next week.
Popescu was arrested by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) outside a Bellevue Starbucks on Tuesday and the agents recovered the 6-inch bookmark, which is etched with Hitler's likeness and a consolation message from Eva Braun after the Nazi army's devastating 1943 defeat at Stalingrad. The bookmark — whose authenticity has been questioned by some historians — was stolen from an auction house in Madrid in 2002.
Popescu had been lured to the Starbucks by an undercover ICE agent posing as a buyer willing to pay $100,000 for the bookmark, according to the charges. The charges say Popescu knew the bookmark was stolen.
He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
The bookmark was among several items including pieces of jewelry that were stolen just before the items were to be auctioned. The bookmark is believed to have once belonged to the family of Wilhelm Keitel, Hitler's armed-forces chief, said ICE Special Agent in Charge Leigh Winchell.
Winchell said Keitel's relatives had been living in South America after the war and that the bookmark changed hands as part of some legal settlement. It eventually wound up in Madrid, where it was to be auctioned just before it was stolen in 2002.
Winchell said ICE has been working closely with Interpol and the Spanish national police on the investigation.
The German inscription on the bookmark reads, "My Adolf, don't worry ... (the defeat) ... was only an inconvenience that will not break your certainty of victory." It also is decorated with an eagle and a swastika.
Hitler and Braun died in Berlin in the closing days of World War II. Keitel was arrested, tried for war crimes and executed in 1946.
According to the complaint, ICE agents used a "confidential source" who had been contacted three years earlier by Popescu about selling the bookmark. The complaint does not identify the source or say how agents found him.
Winchell declined to comment when asked if his agents knew how Popescu had come into possession of the bookmark.
The complaint says ICE learned about the existence of the bookmark in August 2007 and began an investigation.
According to news reports about the theft, three men entered the Madrid auction house on Oct. 15, 2002, smashed a glass showcase and stole the bookmark, jewelry and artifacts.
The bookmark, which was set to be auctioned, was expected to bring a price of several thousand dollars. Interpol had estimated its value at $13,000.
The complaint says a Romanian named Vladimir Mihailow was arrested, and two others were being sought. The bookmark was never recovered.
The confidential source — being observed by undercover ICE agents — first met with Popescu at the Starbucks at 10214 N.E. Eighth St. in Bellevue on Nov. 10, according to the charges. The source was shown the bookmark, concealed in a white case, and was asked if he could help find a buyer. Popescu wanted $150,000 for it, saying later that it had been hard to get into the country, the charges allege.
The complaint says that the source called Popescu back on Monday and, in a recorded conversation monitored by ICE agents, told him he had found a buyer and arranged for a meeting at the Starbucks. With an ICE agent posing as the buyer, Popescu agreed to the meeting and was arrested.
Winchell said four other people were briefly detained but have not been charged. He said agents were searching Popescu's home and business.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or email@example.com
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