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Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum art heist may be tied to Belgian cocaine bust security expert says
A security guard stands next to the sign of the Avant-gardes exhibit at Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, Wednesday Oct. 17, 2012. Police investigating a multimillion euro (dollar) art heist of seven painting belonging to the private Triton Foundation say they are following up several tips from the public, a day after thieves grabbed them from the walls of a Rotterdam gallery and vanished into the night. A spokeswoman for detectives on the case, Willemieke Romijn, said Wednesday they have some 15 tips from the public, following a late-night, nationally televised appeal for witnesses to the theft from the Kunsthal gallery of works by celebrated artists including Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and Henri Matisse. AP Photo/Peter Dejong.

THE HAGUE (AFP).- Last week's heist of paintings including a Picasso and Monets from a Dutch museum could be linked to the seizure of eight tonnes of cocaine in Belgium days earlier, a security expert said Wednesday.

The October 16 theft from Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum saw thieves disappear into the night with seven major artworks, the biggest such crime in 20 years, and is as yet unsolved, with police repeating appeals for witnesses.

"A senior police officer called me with the theory that the theft was linked to drug trafficking," Ton Cremers, a former head of security at the world-famous Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, told AFP.

The paintings, worth between 50 million and 200 million euros according to different estimates, may have been taken to repay an underworld debt resulting from the seizure of the massive amount of cocaine in Antwerp just four days earlier.

"It's just a theory," said Cremers, now a museum security consultant, but "the possibility is great."

"In 20 years of this job I have observed very close links between art and drug trafficking," he said.

Cremers declined to say what nationality the police source was, except that it was neither Dutch nor Belgian.

The cocaine seized in the Belgian port city of Antwerp had a street value of 500 million euros ($650 million), one of the biggest hauls ever made in Europe.

Detectives followed the suspected traffickers across the border to Rotterdam where a Belgian trucker was arrested along with four Dutch men.

Dutch police last week released security camera footage of the Kunsthal heist showing two thieves making off with two Monets, a Picasso, a Gauguin, a Matisse, a Freud and another painting in an operation lasting less then two minutes.

© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse

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