BUCHAREST (Reuters) - The confessed ringleader in the theft of seven paintings, including a Picasso and a Monet, from a Dutch museum says he had inside help, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
Radu Dogaru and two other Romanians have so far pleaded guilty in a Bucharest court to stealing artworks worth tens of millions of euros from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum in October 2012 - one of the art world’s biggest heists in recent years.
Two other defendants were expected to testify later while a sixth remains at large and is being tried in absentia.
On Tuesday, defense lawyer Catalin Dancu told reporters during a break in proceedings his client said he had inside help in the heist.
“That person helped them so that the one open door was the way in to the museum,” he said.
Dogaru refused to reveal the alleged accomplice’s identity.
“Radu Dogaru has said ‘my life and my safety are more important than revealing the person’s name’,” Dancu said.
A spokeswoman for the museum, Sabine Parmentier, declined to comment on the issue when contacted by Reuters.
Asked by a judge whether he had inside help, Dogaru avoided answering and said: “I couldn’t say if the theft was ordered. If Dutch (officials) do their job we will learn what happened.”
At a previous trial hearing last month, Dogaru said he would disclose the whereabouts of the paintings - some of which were believed to have been destroyed by fire - if his trial was moved to the Netherlands.
Security camera footage released at the time showed thieves entering through a back door and disappearing from the camera’s field of 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.
In September, Dancu said he believed the stolen paintings were intact, but no longer in Romania.
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”.
Writing by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Christian Lowe and Angus MacSwan