Romania hands 6-1/2 year jail term to Dutch art theft boss

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - A Romanian court sentenced the ringleader of a gang that stole paintings from a Dutch museum in one of the world’s biggest art heists to six years and eight months in prison on Tuesday.

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Radu Dogaru and fellow gang member Eugen Darie, both Romanians, received the same sentence for stealing the masterpieces, including two Monets and a Picasso, in October 2012. The paintings have yet to be found.

The trial will continue on Dec 3. for four other defendants including Dogaru’s mother, who is also accused of destroying the art and has exercised her right not to comment.

Dogaru and Darie pleaded guilty earlier this year to stealing the artworks, insured for 18 million euros ($24.4 million), from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum.

Since his July 15 indictment, Dogaru has asked magistrates to move the trial to the Netherlands if authorities wanted him ever disclose the paintings whereabouts.

The decision can be appealed in 10 days. Darie’s lawyer Maria Vasii told Reuters by telephone: “We plan to file an appeal. However, it’s a correct decision. I expect prosecutors to also appeal today’s ruling and ask for harsher punishment.”

Security camera footage released at the time of the theft showed a gang entering through a back door and disappearing from the camera’s view. Seconds later they reappeared carrying bulky objects and left the building by the same entrance.

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”.

Romanian experts believe that three out of seven paintings stolen last year from a Dutch museum, a haul that included works by Picasso and Monet, have been destroyed by fire.

They said nails used to fasten the canvases to their wooden frames, recovered from the ashes in Dogaru’s house, had been a crucial piece of evidence.

Editing by Ralph Boulton