Three men con­victed in $110-mil­lion art heist

Cape Breton Post - - WORLD -

An agile thief nick­named “Spi­der­man,’’ an an­tiques dealer and an art ex­pert were sen­tenced to prison Mon­day and or­dered to pay Paris for steal­ing five master­pieces from the city’s Mod­ern Art Mu­seum worth $110 mil­lion.

The paint­ings — by Pi­casso, Matisse, Modigliani, Braque and Fer­nand Leger — have not been seen since the dra­matic 2010 heist.

The Paris court con­victed “Spi­der­man’’ Vjeran Tomic of steal­ing the paint­ings and sen­tenced him to eight years in prison. Jean-Michel Corvez, the an­tiques dealer who or­ches­trated the theft, was sen­tenced to seven years.

Yonathan Birn, who stored the paint­ings and told the court he de­stroyed them out of fear of get­ting caught, screamed at the judge who sen­tenced him to six years in prison.

His lawyer, Caro­line Toby, called Birn’s sen­tence “par- tic­u­larly se­vere.’’

The court also jointly fined the men an eye- pop­ping 104 mil­lion euros for the loss of the paint­ings, but the ver­dict did not de­tail how they might go about rais­ing even a frac­tion of the fine.

Birn, a 40- year- old ex­pert and dealer in lux­ury watches, pre­vi­ously told the court he threw the master­pieces in the trash and “made the worst mis­take of my ex­is­tence.’’

In­ves­ti­ga­tors think the paint­ings were smug­gled out of France, al­though they were not able to prove that, court doc­u­ments showed. Birn’s code­fen­dants tes­ti­fied he was “too smart’’ to de­stroy the master­pieces.

Tomic, a thief with 14 pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions, said be­fore sen­tenc­ing that he got a buzz from the May 20, 2010, overnight break-in. He took ad­van­tage of fail­ures in the se­cu­rity, alarm and video- sur­veil­lance sys­tems to move around the high- ceilinged mu­seum near the Eif­fel Tower.

“It’s quite spec­tac­u­lar. There

“It’s quite spec­tac­u­lar. There is an adren­a­line rush the mo­ment you en­ter the space.’’ Vjeran Tomic

is an adren­a­line rush the mo­ment you en­ter the space,’’ he said. “The sounds res­onate from one side to the other.’’

Au­thor­i­ties found climb­ing gear at his home: gloves, ropes, climb­ing shoes and suc­tion cups. He re­moved the glass from a bay win­dow with­out break­ing it and cut the pad­lock of the metal grid be­hind it, al­low­ing him to move from one room to an­other with­out rais­ing the se­cu­rity alarm.

Tomic was there to steal a paint­ing by Fer­nand Leger and pos­si­bly a Modigliani or­dered by Corvez, the 61-year-old an­tiques dealer who con­fessed to be­ing a re­ceiver of stolen goods. Tomic said when he came across the Pi­casso, the Matisse and the Braque paint­ings, he de­cided to take them as well.

Sev­eral hours af­ter the head­line- mak­ing bur­glary, Tomic said he of­fered the five paint­ings to Corvez, who said he was “to­tally stunned’’ by them.

Corvez said he ini­tially gave Tomic a plas­tic bag con­tain­ing $ 43,000 in small de­nom­i­na­tions just for the Leger, be­cause he was un­sure he would get buy­ers for the other paint­ings.

Corvez then be­came wor­ried about keep­ing the art­works in his shop af­ter sev­eral months and showed them to his friend Birn, who agreed to buy the Modigliani for $86,000 and to store the oth­ers in his stu­dio. The Modigliani was hid­den in a bank safe, he said.

Birn said he pan­icked when po­lice be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing. He says one day in May 2011 he re­trieved the Modigliani from the safe, re­turned to his work­shop to break the stretcher bars on all the can­vasses with fierce kicks and then threw them all into the build­ing’s trash.

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