Dutch art heist thief jailed in Romania, paintings still missing

A Romanian man who masterminded the theft of seven masterpieces from a Dutch museum was sentenced to nearly seven years in jail on Tuesday, but the fate of the paintings remains a mystery.

Radu Dogaru, 29, had admitted planning the three-minute heist of works by Picasso, Monet and Gauguin in October 2012 at the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, dubbed the "theft of the century" in the Netherlands.

Despite an estimated value of 18 million euros ($24 million), none of the paintings was equipped in the museum with an alarm.

"Radu Dogaru will serve six years and eight months in jail," judge Adrian Ioan Chitoiu said in a Bucharest court. Dogaru stayed in his cell and was not present for the sentencing.

One of his accomplices, Eugen Darie, who drove him to and from the Rotterdam museum also received the same jail term.

The court convicted Darie and Dogaru of "aggravated theft" and "taking part in a criminal organisation".

They both got a reduced sentence because of their guilty pleas.

Prosecutors had requested a 18-year jail term for Dogaru but have not said if they intend to appeal the sentence.

Despite great expectations in the art world, Dogaru's trial did not reveal any clues as to what happened to the works of some of the world's most famous painters.

Among the paintings stolen were Pablo Picasso's "Tete d'Arlequin", Claude Monet's "Waterloo Bridge", and "Femme Devant une Fenetre Ouverte, dite La Fiancee" by Paul Gauguin.

After the theft, Darie transported the paintings to Romania hidden in pillowcases.

They tried several times to sell them but without success.

After the last attempt, an art expert alerted the police leading to the arrest of Dogaru and his accomplices.

But the paintings have not been found and may have been destroyed.

Dogaru first said he could retrieve five of them, but later said without showing proof that they were given to a Ukrainian living in London.

The artworks are feared to have been destroyed after Dogaru's mother, who is also facing trial, said she torched them in her stove in the sleepy village of Carcaliu in eastern Romania, seeking to destroy evidence against her son.

She later retracted her statement, but experts from Romania's National History Museum said ashes retrieved from her stove included the remains of three oil paintings and nails from frames used before the end of the 19th century.

A separate investigation is under way to determine if the masterpieces ended up in ashes in a Romanian village.

With little knowledge of art but eager to steal valuable pieces, Dogaru and his accomplices settled on the Kunsthal by chance.

After searching for museums on their GPS, they initially found themselves at Rotterdam's Museum of Natural History but soon realised its exhibits could not be resold.

They then chanced upon a poster advertising the exhibition of 150 masterpieces from the private Triton Foundation.

The man who is accused of stealing the paintings with Dogaru, Adrian Procop, is still at large.

Three of the alleged accomplices will go on trial as unlike Dogaru and Darie they have not admitted guilt.

iw/mr/boc