No, this pile of cash was not stolen by a Cameroonian politician

A video claiming to show a huge pile of cash that was stolen by a politician in Cameroon has been racking up tens of thousands of views on Facebook. Other posts with the same video claim it shows money stolen by politicians in various countries, including Russia and Pakistan. In fact, the pile of cash is an artwork that went on display in Spain last year.

“Reportedly the Cameroon Minister of Defence was hiding his ill-gotten wealth. The wife tried to set fire to the stack of cash prior to the arrival of the Police,” reads the caption on one version of the video which has been viewed more than 20,000 times. An archived version of the post can be found here.

A screenshot taken on March 20, 2019 of the misleading Facebook post

A week before the video was uploaded on March 8, it appeared online in two French-language posts which claimed the cash was found at the home of Cameroon’s former defence minister Alain Mebe Ngo’o -- as opposed to the later English-language post, which implicated current Defence Minister Joseph Beti Assomo without naming him.

A screenshot taken on March 6, 2019 shows one of the first versions of the video in French
Screenshot taken on March 6, 2019 shows the second version of the post in French

Both of the French-language posts uploaded on March 1 were published by vocal supporters of the main opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement. Tchapesie’s post appears to have since been taken down or privatised, but the two posts had previously racked up more than 50,000 views between them.

But what does the photo actually show? A reverse image search using the online tool Yandex led to a post on the Instagram account of Alejandro Monge, a Spanish contemporary artist. It shows his sculpture “European Dream”, which went on display in Madrid in February 2018. Part of the sculpture then went on show at the 3 Punts Gallery in Barcelona between March and June 2018 under the title “SODOMA Y EUROPA”.

A screenshot taken on March 20, 2019 shows the cash pile on an artist's Instagram page

As AFP reported here, other versions of this post in various languages claim it shows cash stolen by politicians in other countries, including Russia and Pakistan.

AFP contacted Monge, who said in an email, translated into English:

"The video was taken by a visitor to the ArtMadrid art fair in 2018 and a Dutch website published it without mentioning anything, so the de-contextualised video was perfect for fake news websites around the world, we know it has been used in Haiti, Russia, Cameroon, Spain and Pakistan with different news stories linking it to local politicians.

"The sculpture was published on my Instagram page a year ago, including documenting the whole production process.

"The sculpture is made of resin and wood and the bills are coloured by hand with colouring pencils."

In recent Instagram posts, the artist -- several of whose works explore the theme of money -- has responded to the phenomenon of his sculpture being used in viral fake news posts.

“Russian fake news websites have used a video of my sculpture to mount a story accusing a Russian politician of trying to burn cash in a bunker in Moscow to prevent the police from catching him… For this, it’s worth becoming an artist,” he joked.

In this Instagram post, captured on March 20, 2019, Monge draws attention to Russian fake news reports involving his artwork

“Next stop, Pakistan!” he wrote in a later post.

A screenshot taken on March 20, 2019 shows an Instagram post drawing attention to false Pakistani news reports