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Feather thief facing jail

Swiss police investigating a bizarre crook who has ruffled feathers at natural history museums in Austria and across Europe by posing as a bird expert to steal plumage  of rare and extinct species managed to steal more than 4 million euros worth of feathers.

In the process some of the exhibits were damaged beyond repair, say detectives who have contacted museums in Basel, Vienna, Berlin, Stuttgart and Frankfurt.

Police who named the bogus academic who in reality is a building site manager as Stefan G., 40, - were alerted after he visited a museum in Germany using fake credentials and asked to take measurements and make drawings of their rarest exhibits.

When father-of-two Geier who works in the building department of the local council in his hometown of Solothurn in Switzerland left the German museum curators found many of the specimens had had their feathers ripped out and contacted other museums to check on his identity.

"They discovered he was a fraud and that he had been doing the same thing all over Europe since 2007," said a police spokesman in Vienna, Austria, where he was arrested.

The Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria, discovered he had damaged nearly 100 rare or extinct exhibits.

Professorin Johanna Eder, who is director of the Natural History Museum in Stuttgart that first raised the alarm said: "He was really well informed and over the years became well-known in museum circles. Once he got access – he would steal when feathers and tail feathers and then smuggled them out of the building."

Police said they had confiscated the entire collection.

A friend of his, the taxidermist Erich Widmer (51), said: "He used to be what I would call a passionate collector but that passion became an obsession. His aim was to possess at least one feather every bird of prey that had ever existed."

Speaking from his council office to Swiss media the accused man said his ambition was a noble one and he had not done it for personal enrichment – and had never planned to sell the feathers that were kept in a special room at his home.

Basel prosecution spokesman Peter Gill said it remained unclear whether they could take legal action over the thefts in Austria and Germany – and the court case might well only concern the thefts from Swiss museums.

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