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 organised crime (DIICOT) declined to comment on the report in Evenimentul Zilei.
A Bucharest court announced on Wednesday that the three suspects were indicted for “setting up a criminal ring and complicity to aggravated theft”. They have been jailed for 29 days, the court confirmed. “According to prosecutors, the inductees associated themselves with other people with the aim of committing criminal offences in 2012,” the court said in a statement sent to AFP.
They allegedly “helped the members of the criminal group to steal seven masterpieces, including Monets, a Matisse and a Gauguin, from the Kunsthal Rotterdam Museum on the night of January 15 to January 16, 2012”, the court added.
According to the court statement, the three Romanians, identified only with their initials — DR, BMA and DE — caused a prejudice estimated at 18 million euros to the Triton Foundation, the owner of the stolen paintings. When the theft took place, experts said the paintings, that also include a Picasso, were worth between 50 million and 200 million Euros ($66 million and $266 million) on the open market.
The Dutch police said on Wednesday in a Twitter message that “two investigators and a colleague from the public prosecution service were headed for Romania for talks with the judiciary regarding the arrests/possible link with Kunsthal.”
Dutch police had said Tuesday that no painting had been recovered. 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 offences in the past.
Seven masterpieces, including paintings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin, were stolen from the Kunsthal museum on October 16, the biggest such heist in 20 years.
The spectacular theft gripped the Netherlands and the art world as police apparently struggled to piece the crime together, despite putting 25 officers on the case.
Dutch police released grainy security camera footage of the theft, which took place around 3:00 am. The footage showed two apparently young men entering and leaving the museum with in barely 90 seconds.