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Art Thieves Sentenced To 6 Years For Dutch Museum Heist

After admitting to one of the most surprising art thefts in recent history, two men have been sentenced to 6 years and 8 months in prison. They are part of a Romanian gang that stole seven works by masters including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin from a Rotterdam museum last autumn.

The value of the stolen art was estimated at more than $24 million when officials obtained insurance for the paintings. The thieves tripped the Kunstahl museum's alarm, but the thieves worked quickly and escaped before police arrived. The works have not been recovered; some were destroyed, officials say.

A Romanian court issued prison sentences Tuesday for Radu Dogaru and Eugen Darie, who pleaded guilty to the theft last month. Other charges and court cases are ongoing — including an effort to hold Dogaru's mother, Olga responsible for burning several of the paintings. She had apparently become worried that police were closing in on her son.

From Reuters:

"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 the seven paintings 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."

The idea of a thief destroying valuable art is "not surprising," as Robert Wittman, the former head of the FBI Art Crimes Team, told NPR this summer.

"And the reason that is," Wittman told NPR's Jacki Lyden, "is because, usually, the gangs that are involved in these things are not art thieves. They're just basically common criminals. They're good thieves, but they're terrible businessmen. And so they don't know what to do with the material after they steal it."

Wittman also noted that if the authorities' version of events is correct, Dogaru's mother isn't the first thief-mama to get antsy and destroy her son's loot. He cites the case of Stephane Breitwieser, who in 2002 was accused of stealing more than 200 pieces of art from European museums.

"As the French police closed in" in 2002, Wittman says, "his mother became upset, took all the material and threw it into a canal."

She also cut and hacked apart the art — in some cases forcing the remains down her kitchen sink's disposal.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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