Bulgarian, two Germans sentenced for vintage tank theft

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A Bulgarian army officer and two German nationals were sentenced by a court in the southeastern town of Sliven for the theft in late 2007 of a rare World War II-vintage tank, the court said Wednesday.

Bulgarian Aleksey Petrov and German Thomas Gmeiner were each sentenced to four years in jail for stealing and smuggling abroad the Jagdpanzer IV L/70 tank destroyer originally used by the Nazi Wehrmacht.

Another German man, Matheus Meier, received a three-year suspended sentence.

The Jagdpanzer had lain half-buried and forgotten in the fields near the southeastern border with Turkey, where it had been dug in with other former German and Soviet armour facing NATO's southern flank during the Cold War.

Its theft, however, revealed it as a pricey collectible, one of only about 30 L/70 models remaining worldwide.

This prompted the defence ministry to dig up the remaining 40 former German tanks and tank destroyers, along with 140 Soviet T-34 tanks of similar vintage, and put them up for auction.

The defence said it would appeal the sentence.

© 2010 AFP

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