Art loving French thief jailed for three years

9th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

STRASBOURG, Jan 7 (AFP) - A French court Friday sentenced self-proclaimed art lover Stephane Breitwieser to three years in jail after finding him guilty of stealing some two dozen art works from French, Danish and Austrian museums.

STRASBOURG, Jan 7 (AFP) - A French court Friday sentenced self-proclaimed art lover Stephane Breitwieser to three years in jail after finding him guilty of stealing some two dozen art works from French, Danish and Austrian museums.

The works were a small sample of the scores of treasures that Breitweiser, 33, stole during a crime spree across Europe, for which he has already been convicted and jailed in Switzerland. Most of the stolen works were dumped in a canal or chopped up with an axe.

Breitwieser, whom his attorney Thierry Moser described as "deeply depressed", had tried to commit suicide by hanging himself in his jail cell late Thursday. His cellmate saved him by alerting authorities.

The court put Breitweiser on probation for three years and suspended 10 months of his jail sentence.

"Whether he sold them or not, the act of stealing art works in a narcissistic and egotistical manner is unforgivable," deputy prosecutor Manon Brignol told the court earlier Friday, asking for the maximum sentence of three years.

Breitwieser's mother Mireille Stengel also received a three-year sentence,18 months of it suspended, for receiving dozens of stolen items over the years from her son and destroying some 200 works.

Breitweiser's former girlfriend, Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus, was also given an 18-month sentence, 12 months of it suspended, for receiving stolen goods.

Breitwieser, who described himself as a passionate art collector, had gone on trial in Strasbourg in eastern France on Thursday, charged with stealing 23 art works from France, Denmark and Austria.

He stunned the art world during his trial in Switzerland in February 2003 by admitting he had stolen more than 200 treasures from museums and galleries across Europe, including masterpieces by Pieter Brueghel, Watteau and Durer.

The works were said to be worth tens of millions of euros.

He stored the articles at his home in the village of Gerstheim near the German border. But on his arrest in 2001, his mother destroyed much of the collection and threw other pieces in the Rhine-Rhone canal.

Items subsequently recovered from the canal included baroque chalices, ivory carvings and a silver galleon. However several highly valuable paintings such as "The Princess of Cleves" by Lucas Cranach and Brueghel's "Cheating benefits its master" were lost for good.

Breitwieser was extradited to France in July from Switzerland, where he had served two years of a four-year term for art theft.

He is suspected of taking some 70 works from French museums, but he is charged with just 20 thefts between 1999 and 2001 - the rest falling outside France's statute of limitations. Two thefts in Denmark and Austria also appear on the charge-sheet.

After Breitwieser's arrest his mother said she destroyed the treasures "to punish my son for all the harm he has done me." She described him as infantile and narcissistic, and accused him of acts of violence against her.

© AFP

Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article