FBI art crimes chief ‘ordered theft of Monet and Sisley paintings from French gallery’

Seven people go on trial on Monday for the multi-million pound theft of a   Monet, Sisley and two Breughels in Nice but their leader claims the FBI’s   art crimes chief “ordered” the heist.The men face maximum sentences of 30 years in prison for armed robbery at the   end of the week-long trial in Aix-en-Provence. The leader’s lawyer claims   they were a bunch of bumbling art amateurs talked into the heist by the   world’s most notorious art detective bent on catching bigger prey.

At lunchtime on August 5, 2007, thieves dressed in blue overalls and ski masks   burst into the poorly guarded Musée des Beaux Arts.

Their leader, Pierre Noël-Dumarais, then 60, pointed a Colt 45 at the welcome   desk while four accomplices unhooked four paintings from the museum walls   and stuffed them into black bin bags. Five minutes later, they made their   escape in a blue Peugeot van.

In the boot were two Breughels – Allegory of Water and Allegory of Earth –   Alfred Sisley’s Avenue of Poplars at Moret and Claude Monet’s Cliffs Near   Dieppe. While their combined value has been estimated at 22 million euros,   their stolen sale price would be no more than three million euros. The French police had few leads bar DNA from a cigarette butt and a bin bag,   but they would soon receive help from across the Atlantic.

Robert K Wittman, then FBI special agent and chief of its Art Crimes Team,   first got wind of the paintings while undercover as a shady American dealer   moving stolen art for crime syndicates and drug lords. He was told about the   works by Miami-based Frenchman Bernard Jean Ternus, with links to   Marseille’s Brise de Mer Corsican mafia clan.

Now retired, “Bob” Wittman recovered around $300 million-worth of   stolen art and objects in his 20-year career, including Geronimo’s war   bonnet, one of the original 14 copies of the US Bill of Rights, and works by   Rembrandt, Rodin and Rockwell.

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Categories: Europe, France

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