Art thieves face charges in Netherlands

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The three thieves face charges for trying to sell 17th and 19th century masters’ paintings stolen 22 years ago.

THE HAGUE – A man accused of stealing nine 17th and 19th century masters' paintings 22 years ago appeared in a Dutch court with two others Monday after being caught trying to sell the loot, officials said.

The 66-year-old from Walem in the southern Netherlands was remanded in custody for two weeks by the court in Rotterdam along with a 45-year-old German man resident in Dubai and the German's 62-year-old Belgian mother, said a statement by the Dutch prosecution authority.

Spokesman Wim de Bruin told AFP that Dutch law prevented the prosecution of a theft committed so long ago, and the three thus faced charges of laundering and possessing stolen goods.

The works by 17th century Flemish painter David Teniers, Dutch masters Willem van de Velde and Jan Brueghel the Younger, as well as 19th century French artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Eva Gonzales, and Paul Desire Trouillebert, went missing from the Noortman art dealership in Maastricht near the Belgian border in 1987.

The pieces included Renoir's La Clairier,e Pissarro's Bords de la Seine a Bougival and Gonzales' Bouquet de Fleurs.

Having received recent information from private investigator Ben Zuidema that the works were up for sale, police found six of the paintings in Valkenburg in the south of the country last Thursday and arrested two people.

A subsequent house search in nearby Walem yielded another two paintings and one arrest. One of the nine stolen works had apparently been destroyed.

Some of the recovered works had been folded and badly damaged, said investigators.

The suspects were apparently trying to sell the artworks to the insurance company that had paid the gallery EUR 2.27 million after the pieces were stolen.

Zuidema said he was contacted by a businessman from Dubai last December who represented a client wishing to sell the paintings to the family of Robert Noortman, the deceased former gallery owner.

The businessman asked for Zuidema's help in arranging a sale but he went to the police instead.

"It appears that this client, a Dutchman, is the one who stole the paintings with two other guys, both of whom have now died," Zuidema told AFP.


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