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Dutch police arrest Romanian woman over art heist; girlfriend of one of three suspects
An empty space is seen on October 16, 2012 where a painting by French artist Henri Matisse was stolen at the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam a day after seven masterpieces worth up to 200 million euros were stolen from the museum in a pre-dawn heist. A 19-year-old Romanian woman has been arrested in Rotterdam in the art heist probe, Dutch police said on March 4, 2013. AFP PHOTO / ANP / ROBIN UTRECHT.


THE HAGUE (AFP).- Dutch police on Monday arrested a young Romanian woman on suspicion of helping smuggle a haul of masterpieces stolen from Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum out of the country.

The 19-year-old woman is the girlfriend of one of three suspects being held in Romania for alleged involvement in October's swiftly-executed theft of works by Picasso, Monet and Gauguin, among others.

"Detectives investigating the art heist at the Kunsthal on Monday afternoon arrested a 19-year-old Romanian woman who is suspected of being involved in the handling of the seven stolen paintings," Rotterdam police said in a statement.

The woman arrested in Rotterdam is Natasa Timofei, the girlfriend of suspect Radu Dogaru, police sources in Bucharest told AFP.

Dogaru was allegedly present at a meeting when two of the paintings were offered for sale in Romania, according to Romanian prosecutors.

Two Romanian police and a prosecutor have been sent to the Netherlands to question the arrested woman, Romanian police told AFP.

The heist gripped the Netherlands and the art world as police apparently struggled to piece the crime together, despite putting 25 officers on the case.

The works stolen include Picasso's "Tete d'Arlequin", Monet's "Waterloo Bridge" and Lucian Freud's "Woman with Eyes Closed".

Experts put the paintings' value at between 100 and 200 million euros ($130 million to $260 million).

Police said it appeared the paintings had been taken to a home in Rotterdam immediately after being stolen.

"There the paintings were apparently removed from the frames and later taken to Romania," police said.

The 19-year-old was one of several people living in the house at the time.

Dutch police also revealed that they had identified two of the suspects arrested in Romania after poring over hours of video footage of visitors to the Kunsthal.

"Two men stuck out from the footage and were labelled as suspects because of their behaviour and the frequency of their visits," Rotterdam police said.

One of those men, 28-year-old Dogaru, was the boyfriend of the woman arrested on Monday.

The three suspects held in Romania have been charged over the theft.

The suspects deny involvement in the theft. A fourth suspect, former male model Petre Condrat, was also arrested in Romania and released after being charged with handling stolen goods.

One of the suspects told a Romanian judge that he had indeed visited the Kunsthal at around the time of the theft but only looked at bronze statues and never laid eyes on the stolen paintings.

Condrat, the assistant of well-known Romanian fashion designer Catalin Botezatu, was allegedly contacted by a friend who asked him to find a buyer for the paintings.

Dutch police said that they uncovered many details concerning the heist including "about other people who may have been involved in handling the stolen goods."

Unconfirmed media reports have suggested the paintings may have been in Romania and then left, or that some of them may have been destroyed.

Dutch police last year released grainy security camera footage of the theft, which took place around 3:00 am.

The footage showed two apparently young males entering and leaving the museum in central Rotterdam within barely 90 seconds.




© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse





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