The trail of stolen paintings has gone cold in a Romanian village
On a snowy day in January, Radu Dogaru, sheltering with a computer at his mother’s house in this remote Romanian village, set out the terms for a deal that had eluded him for months but that now seemed tantalizingly close. Communicating on Facebook with a fellow member of a gang that, three months earlier in Rotterdam, had pulled off the biggest art theft in decades, Mr. Dogaru said he wanted to “finish the show” and work out a sale of the stolen paintings to a wealthy local wine producer who had sent word that he was keen to buy.
The paintings, by Picasso, Monet, Matisse and other modern masters, were worth tens of millions of dollars. But Mr. Dogaru, desperate to unload the canvasses, told his accomplice, Mihai Alexandru Bitu, that the eager buyer could have “the dogs” for 400,000 euro, about $531,000, and agreed to take the paintings to a meeting the next day to complete the sale.
“What do you think about this buyer, so hot suddenly?” asked Mr. Dogaru, according to a record of the exchange. “Yesterday he was not interested, and now he is hitting the phones.”
What he did not realize, though, was that the buyer, Serghei Cosma, was cooperating with the Romanian prosecutor’s office and planned to attend the meeting with an agent masquerading as an art expert. The whole thing was an elaborate sting operation.
“We were about to catch them red-handed,” said Raluca Botea, the chief prosecutor in a special Romanian unit.
Just a few hours later, however, the operation fell apart, when Mr. Dogaru received a warning that the police were tapping his cellphone. Now, more than six months on, the fate of the paintings is still unknown, as law enforcement authorities in Romania and the
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