Brazilian police recover stolen Picasso

Tue Jan 8, 2008 9:57pm EST
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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian police recovered two stolen paintings, including a valuable Picasso, and arrested two suspects on Tuesday, nearly three weeks after the works were snatched from the Sao Paulo Museum of Art.

State police said they had recovered Pablo Picasso's "Portrait of Suzanne Bloch" and Brazilian painter Candido Portinari's "The Coffee Worker," worth a combined $55 million.

The paintings were found at a house in the outskirts of Sao Paulo.

Police arrested one of the suspects, Francisco Laerton Lopes de Lima, 10 days ago and his capture led them to Robson de Jesus Jordao, 32, who was taken in to custody on Tuesday.

Police Chief Mauricio Freire said the pair had long criminal records and had taken part in previous attempted robberies at the museum.

"It's obvious these two didn't commit the robbery to keep the paintings for themselves," Freire told reporters. "The focus of the investigation from now on will be to find out who ordered the robbery and where they were taking the pictures to."

The thieves broke into the museum before dawn on December 21 and grabbed the paintings in three minutes. They used a hydraulic jack to force open the main door and a crowbar to smash a glass door.

The museum had no alarm system and none of the paintings were insured. However, since the robbery, the museum said it had made a series of security improvements, including adding high-definition cameras and hiring more guards.

The Picasso portrait of singer Suzanne Bloch was painted in 1904 and is considered the last important work of the Spaniard's "Blue Period." Portinari's work, painted in 1939 and featuring a laborer on a coffee plantation, is one of Brazil's best known paintings.

Sao Paulo Museum of Art president Julio Neves said both paintings were recovered in perfect condition.

(Reporting by Tatiana Ramil, writing by Elzio Barreto, editing by Chris Wilson)