Romania Picasso Thief Claims Stolen Art May Have Been Fakes

By Edith Balazs and Irina Savu | October 23, 2013

The accused ringleader of Romanian thieves who stole seven works by artists including Picasso and Matisse claims they may have been fakes and he fell victim to a set-up aimed at pocketing the insurance money, his lawyer said.

Radu Dogaru, who admitted to stealing the artworks, had an as-yet-unidentified accomplice working inside the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam who helped him enter the premises and avoid police patrols, attorney Catalin Dancu told reporters in Bucharest today. The museum won’t comment on “allegations of lawyers from suspects,” spokeswoman Sabine Parmentier said in an e-mailed response to a Bloomberg question.

A court in the Romanian capital is hearing statements from the perpetrators of the October 2012 theft of the artworks, insured for a combined 18 million euros ($24.6 million). Dancu’s account differs from statements in the prosecutors’ file, which outlines how thieves stole the paintings in less than three minutes from the Kunsthal after they forced an emergency door open with a set of pliers.

“What serious person would have original paintings with a market value of 100 million euros exhibited in such a way?” Dancu said. “The answer is that they’re either irresponsible, in which case they have to pay, or the paintings were perfect copies and someone duped the insurance company.”

Insurer Aon Plc paid 17 million euros to Triton Foundation, which owned the artworks at the time of the theft, Dancu said in September. Judge Adrian Chitoiu said the admissions to the crime may reduce the defendants’’ sentences by a third.

Burned Paintings?

The theft of works by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Lucian Freud, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Meyer de Haan ranks among the most spectacular art heists of the last decades. The case has turned on whether any of the artworks still survive after Dogaru’s mother, Olga Dogaru, first confessed to burning all of them in her stove, only to withdraw her statement on July 22. She now claims that none were incinerated.

If Kunsthal and other Dutch authorities refuse to cooperate, Dogaru will hire lawyers to press charges against the museum and Rotterdam city council for neglectful management of the art works, Dancu said. Dogaru wouldn’t reveal the name of the museum employee who allegedly helped him and his accomplices enter the museum and on the night of the heist, Dancu said.

A scientific analysis of the ashes in Olga 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.

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

Muse highlights include Richard Vines on food, Frederik Balfour on Asian art, Farah Nayeri on film and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.

(With assistance by Catherine Hickley on Berlin. Editors: James M. Gomez, Mark Beech.)

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