The trial of three men involved in an extraordinary art heist worth €180 million (£155 million), which began on Monday (31 January) is due to resume today in Paris.
Earlier this week, the court heard that the five paintings stolen from the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2010 were tossed in the trash by one of the co-defendants. Panicked by the thought of imminent capture, Yonathan Birn is said to have removed the stolen works from their hiding place in his studio and binned them in 2011.
Co-defendants Birn and Jean-Michel Corvez have been charged with the receipt of stolen goods. The prime suspect, Vjeran Tomic, is charged with stealing cultural property.
Dubbed ‘the Spider-Man’, Tomic is a repeat offender with a history of theft convictions. When French authorities searched his home they found an assortment of climbing gear including ropes, suction cups and a harness.
Tomic told the court this week that he broke into the Museum around 3am on 20 May 2010 to steal a painting by Fernand Léger on instructions from Corvez, an antiques dealer. He removed the glass from a bay window and cut the padlock to the metal grid behind it to avoid detection by the Museum guards.
Emboldened by alleged failures in the Museum’s security and surveillance systems the ‘Spider-Man’ decided to remove four further paintings by Picasso (‘Pigeon au petit pois’), Braque (a view of l’Estaque), Matisse (a Fauvist pastorale) and Modigligani (‘Femme à l’éventail’).
Corvez paid Tomic £34,000 for the Léger but refused the other paintings. The dealer showed them to his friend Birn, a luxury watch dealer who agreed to purchase the Modigliani for £68,835 and store the rest in his studio,
This week, Birn told the court through tears how he disposed of the paintings when French police searched his home in May 2011 in connection with another theft. “I committed the worst error of my life”, he said, explaining how he first broke the frames of the paintings and threw the canvases in the rubbish.
Tomic, Corvez and the investigating judge remain unconvinced that Birn really destroyed the paintings and instead believe they have been removed from France.
The ‘Spider-Man’ faces up to 20 years imprisonment while Birn and Corvez could be jailed for up to 10 years.