Dutch art theft ringleader to be sentenced next week

By Ioana Patran

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - The ringleader of a Romanian gang that stole paintings including two Monets and a Picasso from a Dutch museum in one of the world's biggest art heists could be sentenced next week to up to 18 years in prison, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Radu Dogaru and three other Romanians pleaded guilty earlier this year to stealing the artworks, insured for 18 million euros, from Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum in October 2012.

The judge told reporters at the end of Tuesday's session of the trial that the sentence for Dogaru and gang member Eugen Darie would be announced on November 26.

Defence lawyer Catalin Dancu said Dogaru and Darie could be sentenced to between two and 18 years, but he expected them both to be handed seven year terms after admitting their guilt.

The trial will continue for the four other defendants: the two others who pleaded guilty as the court did not accept a so-called "simplified procedure" for them; Dogaru's mother, who is accused of destroying the art and has exercised her right not to comment; and a sixth suspect being tried in absentia.

The works stolen were Picasso's "Tête d'Arlequin", Matisse's "La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune", Monet's "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London", Gauguin's "Femme devant une fenêtre ouverte", Meijer De Haan's "Autoportrait" and Lucian Freud's "Woman with Eyes Closed".

Their whereabouts are unknown.

Security camera footage released at the time of the theft showed a gang entering through a back door and disappearing from the camera's view. Seconds later they reappeared carrying bulky objects and left the building by the same entrance.

A Romanian team of experts said in July three of the paintings could have been destroyed by fire. Dogaru's mother said she had burned them to protect her son as police closed in, but later retracted her statement.

(Writing by Radu Marinas; Editing by Alison Williams)

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