Interpol confident seven paintings will be recovered
The head of Interpol has said he is confident police will recover the seven paintings – including masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin and Monet – stolen from the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam, following the arrest of three men in Romania last week.
Ronald Noble was speaking in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, where two Dutch detectives and a prosecutor have also arrived to follow the first breakthrough since the works, worth more than €100 million, were seized “with military precision” in October.
Mr Noble said the co-operation of the Romanian police with Interpol’s stolen works of art unit had led directly to the arrest of the three men – all from the town of Macin, in the east of the country, and regarded locally as “small-time criminals”.
He refused to divulge if anything had been learned from the arrested men about the location of the haul, citing the sensitivity of the case and adding: “The people involved are probably watching.”
Earlier reports that at least two of the artworks, including the Matisse, had been recovered in Romania were dismissed by police in Rotterdam at the weekend.
“The investigation of this robbery is far from over,” said police spokesman Roland Ekkers. “Obviously we have questions for those three as well, but their arrest has not cracked this case.”
There were unconfirmed reports at the end of last week that two of the paintings had been offered for sale to a high-profile Romanian businessman, who was sceptical that they were genuine and had them examined by an expert.
The expert is alleged to have reported back that both were genuine, that one was a Matisse and that the two together were worth, in his opinion, in the region of €60 million. The businessman is then believed to have had second thoughts, although it is not clear if he alerted the police.
It also emerged during a brief hearing at a Bucharest district court on Friday that police may have been tipped off by the girlfriend of one of the three men after she saw pictures on his mobile phone.
She is reported to have given the police their most important single piece of information yet: that the paintings allegedly arrived in Romania at an address on Tudor Vladimirescu Boulevard in Bucharest. It is not clear whether she was referring to just two of the paintings or the entire haul. Some experts suggest police may be considering the theory that the thieves have broken up the haul to sell the paintings to likely buyers in different countries through local intermediaries.
There has been speculation that the Kunsthal theft was carried out by an Irish crime gang or a Dutch gangster to repay a debt after a drugs shipment was intercepted in Antwerp.