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Romania: Museum checks if paintings burned

Tuesday - 7/16/2013, 9:06pm  ET

FILE - This Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012 file photo shows the empty space where Henri Matisse' painting "La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune" was hanging, right, is seen next to a painting by Maurice Denis, center, and Pierre Bonnard, left, at Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands A Romanian museum is analyzing ashes found in a stove to see if they are the remains of seven paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and others that were stolen last year from the Netherlands, an official said Tuesday July 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong File)

ALISON MUTLER
Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) -- A Romanian museum is analyzing ashes found in a stove to see if they are the remains of seven paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and others that were stolen last year from the Netherlands, an official said Tuesday.

Prosecutor spokeswoman Gabriela Chiru told The Associated Press that Romania's National History Museum is examining the ashes found in the stove of Olga Dogaru. She is the mother of Radu Dogaru, one of three Romanian suspects charged with stealing the paintings from Rotterdam's Kunsthal gallery in a brazen daytime heist.

It was the biggest art theft in more than a decade in the Netherlands. The stolen works have an estimated value of tens of millions of dollars if they were sold at auction.

Dogaru told investigators she was scared for her son after he was arrested in January and buried the art in an abandoned house and then in a cemetery in the village of Caracliu. She said she later dug them up and burned them in February after police began searching the village for the stolen works.

Chiru indicated that authorities did not necessarily believe Dogaru's account. She said it could take months for the results of the tests to be known.

Thieves broke in Oct. 16 through a rear emergency exit at the gallery in the Netherlands, 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 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."

Radu Dogaru, the alleged ringleader, as well as the two other suspects remain in custody as investigators seek the paintings and other evidence.

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.


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