The unknowing world of an art heist

It’s quite unreal, like one of those exciting thrillers that sends you on a merry-go-round. So darn outlandish is the story concerning six Romanian art thieves set to go to trial next month that it beggars belief. It could only be fiction.
In October last year, as the working day began to unfold in usual fashion for many people, daring thieves embarked on an ambitious heist at the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam.
Seven notable works of art by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, Lucien Freud, Meyer de Haan and Claude Monet were taken in a mere handful of minutes, making easy work of the supposedly state-of-the-art security system.
While the supposed architects of this crime are now subject to the rule of law, there is growing concern that the missing works, valued at between €100 million and €200 million (approximately £86 million and £260 million), are lost forever. They had belonged to the Triton Foundation, which had lent them to the museum for an exhibition.
They have not ended up in the murky, clandestine and labyrinthine world of the black market – which is to say they could be anywhere in the world – but been destroyed. Olga Dogaru, the mother of the main suspect Rado, initially told police that she had burnt the paintings only to later withdraw the statement.
Although it is hard to ascertain the truth behind this, Romanian investigators have, nevertheless, found remains of debris in an oven, amidst which include pieces of paint, canvas and nails.
“I placed the suitcase containing the paintings in the stove,” she was quoted by the Romanian Mediafax news agency as saying. “I put in some logs, slippers and rubber shoes and waited until they had completely burned.”
The truth of the matter is set to emerge soon enough though, as forensic experts are currently examining whether the ashes are composed of materials that would suggest the most unfortunate of outcomes.
However, just when you think that there are no more twists and turns, Rado has claimed that he is still “in possession” of five of the works, though what exactly that means is unclear. He would only indicate their location – Romania.
The 29-year-old will only provide the authorities with details about their whereabouts under the proviso that he stand trial in the Netherlands and not his home country. There has been suggestion that he is a fall guy for “bigger fish” as the New York Times put it.
Cadogan Tate specialises in art transportation, fine art storage and art logistics, helping galleries, museums and collectors manage their collections.