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Romanian suspects in Netherlands art heist ‘tried to sell paintings’

Monet’s painting 'Waterloo Bridge, London.' AP Photo / Police Rotterdam, File

BUCHAREST: Three Romanians allegedly involved in a spectacular theft from a Dutch museum last year were caught while negotiating the sale of the stolen masterpieces, a Romanian newspaper reported Wednesday.

Romanian police and the prosecutor’s office dealing with terrorism and organized crime declined to comment on the report in Evenimentul Zilei.

Romanian police told AFP Tuesday that three people were arrested in Romania on suspicion of involvement in the theft of seven masterpieces, including Monets and a Picasso, in Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum in October, but refused to elaborate.

Dutch police say no painting has so far been recovered.

The paintings are worth between 50 million and 200 million euros ($66 million and $266 million) on the open market. Experts said that any black-market sale would net just 5 to 10 percent of the paintings’ real worth, if they can be sold at all.

According to judicial sources quoted by Evenimentul Zilei, the three suspects come from the Tulcea region in eastern Romania and had been under investigation for violent offenses in the past.

They are being detained for 29 days in line with a court decision overnight Monday, a court spokeswoman said.

The heist at one of Rotterdam’s landmark buildings, designed by local architect Rem Koolhaas, was low-tech but effective.

Two thieves forced their way into the gallery through a rear emergency door and snatched the paintings. Security cameras showed the thieves breaking in and fleeing within two minutes. They were gone by the time police, alerted by an alarm, arrived less than five minutes after the break-in.

The following morning, only white spaces on the wall and broken hanging wires were left.

The stolen paintings came from the private Triton Foundation, a collection of avant-garde art put together by multimillionaire Willem Cordia, an investor and businessman, and his wife, Marijke Cordia-Van der Laan. Willem Cordia died in 2011.

The stolen paintings were: Pablo Picasso’s 1971 “Harlequin Head”; Claude Monet’s 1901 “Waterloo Bridge, London” and “Charing Cross Bridge, London”; Henri Matisse’s 1919 “Reading Girl in White and Yellow”; Paul Gauguin’s 1898 “Girl in Front of Open Window”; Meyer de Haan’s “Self-Portrait,” around 1890, and Lucian Freud’s 2002 work “Woman with Eyes Closed.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 24, 2013, on page 16.

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