Five on trial in France for brazen

Five on trial in France for brazen

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France - Agence France-Presse
Five on trial in France for brazen

This photo shows the painting ‘The Lane of Poplars at Moret’ by Alfred Sisley

Five men went on trial in France on Monday for the brazen theft from a Nice museum of four paintings by Monet, Sisley and Brueghel that were recovered in an FBI sting operation.

The works, valued at 20 million euros, were stolen in August 2007 from the Beaux-Arts Jules Cheret museum in Nice in a heist that saw the thieves threaten staff, stuff the paintings into bags and escape in five minutes.

The five admitted at the trial in southern France yesterday to having carried out the robbery but denied accusations from museum staff that they were armed.

They face between 30 years and life in prison if convicted on the charges of organized armed robbery and criminal association. A verdict is expected on Friday.

The paintings, “Cliffs Near Dieppe” by Claude Monet; “The Lane of Poplars at Moret” by Alfred Sisley; and “Allegory of Water” and “Allegory of Earth” by Jan Brueghel the Elder were recovered in a sting organised by the FBI and French police in June 2008.

The paintings were allegedly stolen on the orders of a French citizen living in Florida, Bernard Jean Ternus, who pleaded guilty in a US court in 2008 to conspiring to sell the art works. He was sentenced to five years and two months in prison.

Ternus allegedly told the thieves he had buyers lined up to pay three million euros for the paintings, which because of their fame would have been difficult to unload on the black market.

Ternus arranged for the thieves to meet the buyers in the southern French port city of Marseille but was unaware that he had been dealing with undercover FBI and French police agents.