Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Romanians charged with art theft to plead guilty

The Associated Press

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA — Six Romanians charged with stealing paintings by Monet, Matisse and Picasso from a Dutch museum will plead guilty in hope of getting a reduced sentence, their lawyers said Tuesday.

Lawyer Maria Vasii said they would enter the guilty pleas at the next hearing on Oct. 22, hoping the sentences would be reduced by one-third. They could face a maximum 20 years for the theft.

The paintings have not been recovered. Forensic experts have examined ash from the stove of Olga Dogaru, the mother of the chief suspect, Radu Dogaru. According to authorities, she initially said she burned the paintings to protect her son, but later denied having done so.

Insurers Lloyds of London was listed outside the court Tuesday as a civil party in the trial. Vasii said the Triton Foundation, which owned the seven paintings, has been paid some 18 million euros ($23.8 million).

Another defense lawyer, Catalin Dancu, said his clients did not realize that paintings they stole from Rotterdam's Kunsthal gallery in October were genuine masterpieces.

The theft was the biggest art heist in the Netherlands for more than a decade.

Thieves broke in through a rear emergency exit of the Kunsthal, grabbed the paintings off the wall, put them in sacks and fled — all within minutes.

The stolen works were "Tete d'Arlequin" by Pablo Picasso, "La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune" by Henri Matisse, "Waterloo Bridge" and "Charing Cross Bridge" by Claude Monet, "Femme devant une fenetre ouverte, dite la fiancee" by Paul Gauguin, "Autoportrait" by Meyer de Haan, and "Woman with Eyes Closed" by Lucian Freud.

The paintings have an estimated value of tens of millions of dollars, if sold at auction.

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