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Art thief claims robbery was too easy, threatens to sue museum

October 23, 2013 6:33am
BUCHAREST - A Romanian man who has admitted to stealing masterpieces by Gauguin, Monet and Picasso on Tuesday threatened to sue the Dutch museum he took them from for making his robbery too easy.

Radu Dogaru is among six Romanians on trial for last year's spectacular three-minute heist from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam which stunned the art world.

Despite their 18-million-euro ($24 million) estimated value, none of the paintings that belonged to the Triton Foundation was equipped with an alarm, Dutch authorities said.

"I could not imagine that a museum would exhibit such valuable works with so little security", Dogaru told the court on Tuesday.

"We can clearly speak of negligence with serious consequences", defence lawyer Catalin Dancu told journalists.

"If we do not receive answers about who is guilty" for the failure of the security system at the museum, "we are considering hiring Dutch lawyers to start a legal case in The Netherlands or in Romania."

The lawyer explained that, if found guilty of negligence, the Kunsthal "would have to share the burden of compensation" with his client, who faces millions in claims from insurers.

Among the paintings carried away in burlap sacks in the pre-dawn heist on October 16, 2012 were Pablo Picasso's "Tete d'Arlequin", Claude Monet's "Waterloo Bridge" and "Femme Devant une Fenetre Ouverte, dite La Fiancee" by Paul Gauguin.

The missing paintings had been feared destroyed after Dogaru's mother said she had torched them in her stove in the sleepy Romanian village of Carcaliu in a bid to destroy evidence against her son.

Olga Dogaru later retracted her statement but experts from Romania's National History Museum said ashes retrieved from her stove included the remains of three oil paintings and nails from frames used before the end of the 19th century.

"The paintings were certainly not destroyed. I don't know where they are but I believe they have been sold", Radu Dogaru told the judge on Tuesday, in his first public statement on the matter.

Asked about the nails found in his mother's stove, he claimed his family had owned 19th icons.

Last month, the director of Romania's National History Museum said the nails could not come from icons.

Dogaru's lawyer has in recent months made contradictory statements about the fate of the masterpieces, saying his client could give back five of them, without providing evidence, later alleging that they might be in Moldova.

A separate investigation into the possible destruction of the artwork is pending.

Dogaru said that after he was detained, his mother gave the paintings "to a Ukrainian man named Vladimir Vladimirenko living in London".

She declined to comment inhe court.

Dogaru faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The next hearing is due on November 19.

Dogaru and his alleged accomplices all came from the same region in eastern Romania but lived in The Netherlands, and were under suspicion for robbery while their girlfriends allegedly were sex workers.

With little knowledge of art but eager to steal valuable old pieces, the group settled on the Kunsthal by chance.

After searching for museums on their GPS, they initially found themselves at Rotterdam's Natural History Museum, but soon realised its exhibits could not be resold.

They then chanced upon a poster advertising an exhibition of 150 masterpieces at the Kunsthal.

A Romanian art expert called to appraise two of the paintings in Bucharest helped the police identify the suspects. — Agence France-Presse



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