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Man pleads guilty to theft of solid gold toilet worth $6 million from Blenheim Palace

By Lianne Kolirin, CNN

(CNN) — A man has pleaded guilty to stealing a toilet made entirely from 18-carat gold and worth more than $6 million from the English stately home where wartime leader Winston Churchill was born.

James Sheen, 39, pleaded guilty to burglary, converting or transferring criminal property and conspiracy to do the same at Oxford Crown Court on Tuesday, the UK’s PA Media news agency reported, citing the Crown Prosecution Service.

The fully functioning toilet was installed at Blenheim Palace in 2019 as part of an exhibition by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan called “Victory is Not an Option.”

The unusual artwork, titled “America,” was stolen in September 2019 of that year, just days after the exhibition opened. It had been plumbed into the building so the theft also caused significant damage and flooding, police reported at the time.

Sheen appeared at court via video link from Five Wells Prison, where he is serving a 17-year sentence for various thefts. Among others, he is serving time for stealing tractors and high-value trophies from the National Horse Racing Museum in Newmarket, worth a total of £400,000 ($503,000).

“America” first went on display at the Guggenheim in New York City in 2016. It made headlines again in 2017, after US President Donald Trump’s White House emailed the Guggenheim asking to borrow Vincent Van Gogh’s 1888 painting “Landscape with Snow”; instead, the institution’s curator offered the gold toilet.

At Blenheim Palace, the toilet was installed in a room next to the one in which Churchill was born. A statement announcing the exhibition said the work could be perceived as a comment on the social, political and economic disparities in the United States.

Commenting on the work, Cattelan previously told the New Yorker: “Whatever you eat, a two-hundred-dollar lunch or a two-dollar hot dog, the results are the same, toilet-wise.” He also described the work as “1% art for the 99%.”

Three other men were charged in connection with the toilet’s theft back in November but have pleaded not guilty.

Michael Jones, 38, from Oxford, is accused of burglary.

Frederick Sines, aka Frederick Doe, from Ascot, Berkshire, and Bora Guccuck, 40, of west London, are both accused of conspiracy to transfer criminal property.

The men are due to stand trial in February next year.

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