Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Suspected ringleader in painting heist demands Dutch trial

(Reuters) - The suspected Romanian ringleader in the theft of seven paintings, including a Picasso and a Monet, from a Dutch museum will only disclose their whereabouts if his trial is moved to the Netherlands, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Radu Dogaru and four other Romanians appeared in a Bucharest court charged with stealing artworks worth tens of millions of euros from Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum in October.

Lawyers for some of the men said in August they were ready to surrender the paintings in return for an unspecified deal. It was the first time one has given details of the possible terms.

Defence lawyer Catalin Dancu told reporters during a break in the proceedings five of the seven paintings, originally believed to be in Romania, had been moved.

"All the five paintings that were in Romania are now abroad, in the east, in my opinion in Moldova. A Russian lipovan took the paintings abroad," he said without elaborating, referring to a member of an ethnic Russian minority living in Romania. Dancu said the other two stolen artworks were in Belgium.

"Radu Dogaru has refused to tell where the five paintings are. Radu said: 'If the Dutch don't want to take me, no one sees the paintings'," Dancu said.

"Radu does not want to cooperate anymore with Romanian authorities because he does not trust the justice system in Romania," the lawyer added.

He again denied reports paintings had been burned.

A Romanian team of experts said in July three of the paintings could have been destroyed by fire. Dogaru's mother said she had burned them to protect her son as police closed in, but later retracted her statement.

The works stolen were Picasso's "Tête d'Arlequin", Matisse's "La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune", Monet's "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London", Gauguin's "Femme devant une fenêtre ouverte", Meijer De Haan's "Autoportrait" and Lucian Freud's "Woman with Eyes Closed".

Tuesday's proceedings were held up for more than an hour while one of the judges fined Dancu for turning up late and breaking the dress code by wearing blue trainers under his robe.

A sixth defendant remains at large and is being tried in absentia. Judges adjourned the hearing to October 22.

(Writing by Radu Marinas; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)

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