Romanian Thief Negotiates 5 Paintings

The suspected ringleader of a band of thieves who stole artworks by Picasso, Monet and Matisse from a Dutch museum still has access to five of the pictures and is ready to hand them over in return for a Dutch trial, his Romanian lawyer said.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network have been following the twists and turns if this amazing art heist.

A Bucharest court is investigating the October 2012 theft of seven artworks together insured for 18 million euros ($24 million) from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam. Radu Dogaru and two accomplices admitted to stealing them. Dogaru’s mother, Olga Dogaru, at first confessed to burning the works in her stove, only to withdraw her statement on July 22.

“He’s still interested in cutting a deal with Dutch authorities,” Catalin Dancu, Radu Dogaru’s lawyer, told reporters in Bucharest yesterday. Dogaru, who wants to be tried in the Netherlands and to spend his jail time there, “has control” over five of the seven stolen pictures, which “are definitely in Romania,” Dancu said.

The first trial in the case was postponed to Sept. 10 today after Triton Foundation, the owners of the stolen artworks, failed to show up in court. Under Romanian law, the damaged party needs to be present for a trial to go ahead.

Get-Away Car

The prosecution is seeking the maximum sentence of 20 years for Radu and Olga Dogaru, as well as for Eugen Darie, who is accused of driving the burglars’ get-away car.

Adrian Procop, who is suspected of carrying out the theft together with Dogaru and is still on the run from Romanian authorities, also faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. Two further defendants may face 15 and seven-year sentences.

The seven works were by Pablo Picasso (Tete d’Arlequin", shown above), Claude Monet, Lucian Freud, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Meyer de Haan. Prosecutors accuse Radu Dogaru of masterminding the theft and his mother, Olga Dogaru, of destroying the pictures.

A scientific analysis of the ashes in Dogaru’s stove showed they contained fragments of oil paintings, according to Ernest Oberlander-Tarnoveanu, the director of the Romanian museum that carried out the tests.

“Olga Dogaru’s latest position is that she hasn’t burnt the paintings, she only gave her initial testimony about having burnt them to protect her son and her family who were harassed by Romanian authorities,” said Dancu, who also represents Olga Dogaru.

Louvre Tests

The defense plans to have all the evidence sent to the Paris Louvre’s laboratory to clarify whether the paintings were destroyed or not, Dancu said. The analysis carried out by local experts is “unfounded,” according to the lawyer.

The Rotterdam burglary ranks among the most spectacular art heists of the last decades. Comparable incidents are the 2010 theft of five paintings -- also including works by Picasso and Matisse -- from the Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris, and the 1990 burglary from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston of art worth an estimated $500 million.

In none of these cases has the lost art been retrieved. Thieves often destroy or hide their booty when they realize the difficulty of converting stolen masterpieces into hard cash.

The Romanian thieves planned the heist meticulously, with Dogaru taking up jogging around the museum to canvass the surroundings, according to the prosecution’s file.

Using the Internet to research the paintings, they picked works that fitted into bags previously purchased from Chinese vendors, according to the file.

The stolen paintings belong to a private collection called the Triton Foundation, started by the Rotterdam port entrepreneur Willem Cordia. The collection consists of about 250 paintings, drawings and sculptures from the period 1860 to 1970.

About 150 works were on show in the exhibition called “Avant-Gardes.”