A “stolen” artwork left by Banksy in central London is expected to fetch up to £1m at auction – despite an ongoing dispute over the rightful ownership.

Banksy placed The Drinker without permission in a small square off Shaftesbury Avenue in March 2004, after which Andy Link, the leader of the Art Kieda ​art group, claims he took the statue home.

The work, a satirical remodelling of Auguste Rodin’s celebrated The Thinker, then went missing from Link’s property three years later.

Now, The Drinker has resurfaced and is due to be placed on auction this Tuesday by Sotheby’s art agency, although the current owner’s identity is a mystery.

Link is contesting the sale of the sculpture, arguing that he retains rightful ownership.

The British artist claims Banksy’s work was initially abandoned back in 2004, thereby allowing him to seize the piece before later registering it with police.

In an interview with The Independent in 2015, he said that he initially “kidnapped” the artwork to prove a point after being insulted by Banksy.

Link said his fellow artist called him “a cheap Northern b******” after getting a mutual friend to ask him to sign a print worth £75.

“I kidnapped it [The Drinker] on principle,” he said. “Don’t tell me that I’m a tight Northern b****** … It wasn’t done as revenge, it was done as one-upmanship…All I wanted was to swap the statue for a canvas. I didn’t damage the statue, I didn’t damage Banksy’s reputation. I did him a big favour in my opinion.

“I’m a man of honour and respect and he disrespected me in a way I won’t allow.”

“I did the right thing, and reported it to the police,” Link subsequently told The Guardian. “I do not understand how Sotheby’s can sell this when I have such proof.”

According to Sotheby’s, The Drinker was “mysteriously retrieved from Art Kieda’s lock-up in an anonymous heist”. It adds the current owner acquired the statue in 2014.

Despite the controversy, the agency is satisfied the seller has the legal right to put the artwork up for auction. “We consulted both the Metropolitan Police and the Art Loss Register,” it told The Guardian.

Link, however, has urged police to investigate the matter.

The Independent has approached Sotheby’s, the Met and representatives of Banksy for comment.



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