December 19, 2018

Years After Brazen Heist, Tip Surfaces About a Picasso Buried in the Woods

BUCHAREST, Romania — Six years after thieves made off with seven priceless works of art in a brazen nighttime raid at a Dutch museum, an author who wrote a book about the heist said she received an anonymous tip.

The Picasso was buried under a rock in Romania, the letter said.

Mira Feticu, a Dutch-Romanian author based in the Netherlands, said she quickly informed the Dutch police about the November letter pointing to Picasso’s “Tête d’Arlequin” (“Harlequin Head”). But she said she did not hear back from them.

So she and a colleague, Frank Westerman, flew to Romania to find out for themselves if the letter’s claim was genuine. The two landed in Bucharest, the capital, and then drove for more than three hours to a spot near a village, Carcaliu, early Saturday to find the missing Picasso.

“It was buried in a woods not far away from the village of Carcaliu, where the thieves were from,” she said in an interview. “I was told to walk 450 meters down a path and find some markings on a tree. And then a second tree nearby has a red symbol on it. There, under a rock, we found the painting, wrapped in plastic just under the soil. I cried when I saw it.”

Annemijn van den Broek, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, said on Sunday, “I can confirm that the piece was handed over by a third party to the Romanian authorities, and that this happened in the residence of the Dutch ambassador in Bucharest.”

The Romanian Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism released its own statement, which said it was “investigating the circumstances in which a Picasso painting with an estimated value of €800,000 was found on Saturday evening in Tulcea County.”

“The painting, which is part of a batch of seven paintings stolen in 2012 from a Dutch museum, is in the custody of the Romanian authorities and will be authenticated,” the statement added.

Picasso’s “Tête d’Arlequin” (“Harlequin Head”), which was stolen in a Netherlands’ museum heist in 2012.CreditRotterdam Police, via Associated Press

The next step, the authorities said, was to authenticate that the stolen work of art had been recovered at last. The painting was set to be delivered to the National Museum of Art of Romania in Bucharest on Monday in order to be examined by experts, according to local news reports.

The recovery of even one of the paintings would be a stunning break in a long-running mystery. But what were the odds that the thieves — they were in and out of the museum in less than three minutes — or any accomplices would leave a Picasso under a rock? And why choose Ms. Feticu to unveil its recovery?

The stolen paintings had been part of a collection amassed by the Dutch investor Willem Cordia, and had been on display for one week at the Kunsthal Museum when they were taken.

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