Serbian police have located the final painting stolen in what was Europe’s biggest art heist four years ago. The painting The Boy in the Red Vest (1888-90), by French post-impressionist Paul Cezanne, was found hidden in a car after a police chase for a suspect in Belgrade.
It was stolen from the EG Buehrle collection in Zurich together with paintings by Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet in February 2008. At the time the theft was the biggest art heist ever in Europe. The authenticity of the painting was confirmed by a Swiss expert and its value was estimated at about 100 million euros ($126 million), prosecutor Miljko Radisavljevic said.
Serbian interior minister Ivica Dacic said four suspects – all Serbian citizens – had been arrested by the members of a specialised police unit fighting organised crime.
The painting, guarded by masked policemen, was shown to journalists at a press conference, as well as a video taped by the police during the arrest of the suspects.
The prosecutor said a two-year investigation into the theft had focused on following a possible sale to a buyer who was reportedly ready to pay 3 million euros for the painting.
During the arrest, police also seized 1.5 million euros as well as a large quantity of arms and ammunition, Mr Dacic said.
The four suspects were identified as Rasko Mladenovic, the alleged organiser of the theft and his accomplices in Serbia – Ivan Pekovic, Goran Radojevic and Bobe Nedeljkovski, all of them already known to the police, Mr Radisavljevic said.
The other paintings stolen from Zurich in the same heist were Poppies near Vetheuil by Claude Monet (1879), Count Lepic and his Daughters by Edgar Degas (1871), and Chestnut in Bloom by Vincent Van Gogh (1890).
The heist involved three armed masked men, and witnesses said they spoke German with a Slavic accent, Swiss police said at the time.
Just days after the theft, Swiss police announced they had found the stolen Monet and Van Gogh paintings in Zurich in the back of a car in the parking lot of a psychiatric hospital. Mr Dacic said the Degas painting was found in 2009.
Photograph: Reuters - Marko Djurica