- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 23, 2013

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS (AP) - Dutch detectives and a prosecutor will travel to Romania to investigate the possible involvement of three men in a multimillion-dollar art heist in the Netherlands, a police spokesman said Wednesday.

The Dutch team will travel to Bucharest in coming days to share with Romanian authorities details of their investigation into the Oct. 16 theft from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal gallery of seven extremely valuable paintings by artists including Picasso, Monet and Matisse, said Roland Ekkers of Rotterdam Police.

Romanian police arrested the suspects Monday night “in another art-related investigation in Romania, but there are indications they also have something to do with the art heist in Rotterdam,” Ekkers told The Associated Press.

The arrests marked the first breakthrough for police since the late-night raid at the Kunsthal, the biggest art theft in more than a decade in the Netherlands.

Ekkers said reports that some of the paintings were recovered were wrong.

Romanian police “checked, double checked and checked again and it is not true,” he said.

The three suspects may have been part of an international ring, Romanian authorities suggested Wednesday.

Lucia Zaharia, spokeswoman for Bucharest’s Sector 5 court, told the AP that the men were ordered held for 29 days pending an investigation into whether they were involved in the heist.

`’They were part of a group, according to documents,” she said in a telephone interview. `’We can only investigate people who are in Romania,” she added, a hint that the gang had foreign members.

The stolen paintings came from the private Triton Foundation, a collection of avant-garde art put together by multimillionaire Willem Cordia, an investor and businessman, and his wife, Marijke Cordia-Van der Laan. Willem Cordia died in 2011.

The stolen paintings were: Pablo Picasso’s 1971 “Harlequin Head”; Claude Monet’s 1901 “Waterloo Bridge, London” and “Charing Cross Bridge, London”; Henri Matisse’s 1919 “Reading Girl in White and Yellow”; Paul Gauguin’s 1898 “Girl in Front of Open Window”; Meyer de Haan’s “Self-Portrait,” around 1890; and Lucian Freud’s 2002 work “Woman with Eyes Closed.”

The apparent ease with which a pair of thieves managed to grab such a valuable haul of art was stunning.

The thieves broke in through an emergency exit at the rear of the Rem Koolhaas-designed building, grabbed the paintings off the wall and fled, all within two minutes.

Police who arrived less than five minutes after the break-in triggered an alarm found nothing but empty spaces on the walls, broken hanging wires and tire tracks in grass behind the gallery.

The gallery said after the theft that it had a “state of the art” alarm system. Willem van Hassel, the museum’s chairman, said its security systems are automated and do not use guards on site.


Associated Press writer Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.

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