Spider-Man art burglar who stole Matisse and Picasso works gets eight years in prison

Vjeran Tomic had confessed to the theft of five paintings worth over 104 million euros (S$156 million), during a pre-dawn break-in at the Paris Museum of Modern Art, near the Eiffel Tower, on May 20, 2010.
Vjeran Tomic had confessed to the theft of five paintings worth over 104 million euros (S$156 million), during a pre-dawn break-in at the Paris Museum of Modern Art, near the Eiffel Tower, on May 20, 2010.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (NYTimes) - A cat burglar was handed an eight-year prison sentence by a criminal court here on Monday for stealing five masterpieces from one of the city's finest museums.

Vjeran Tomic, 49, had confessed to the theft of five paintings worth over 104 million euros (S$156 million), during a pre-dawn break-in at the Paris Museum of Modern Art, near the Eiffel Tower, on May 20, 2010.

His acrobatic methods and garrulous manner captured the imagination of members of the news media, who gave him the nickname Spider-Man.

He made off with works by Modigliani, Léger, Braque, Matisse and Picasso.

The crime, one of the three judges said while announcing the verdict, amounted to stealing "cultural goods belonging to humankind's artistic heritage."

Tomic said at the trial that he had initially been commissioned to steal at least the Léger, but decided to press his luck when he realised the alarm systems remained silent.

His haul included Picasso's Dove With Green Peas and Matisse's Pastoral. The Matisse "embodied my youth," the thief told reporters outside the court before the verdict.

Two accomplices, standing alongside him in court, were also given prison sentences. Jean-Michel Corvez, 61, an antiques dealer said to have commissioned the heist, was sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in it and for storing the paintings.

Yonathan Birn, 40, a clockmaker, was sentenced to six years in prison for storing the paintings later.

Both accomplices were also fined 150,000 euros. Tomic was fined 200,000 euros.

And all three men were ordered to collectively pay a 104 million euro indemnification, the paintings' estimated value when they were stolen, to the city of Paris.

The sentences were slightly more lenient than the seven-to-10-year terms requested by a prosecutor at the end of a two-day trial this month.

Some mystery remains as to whether the paintings were sold, hidden somewhere safe or, in a worst-case scenario, destroyed, as one defendant claimed during the trial.

Since the burglary, the city of Paris has stepped up security at its 14 museums, including the Petit Palais. Other museums, like the Louvre, are managed by the French national government.

The three men left the court in handcuffs and were taken to prison. It was not clear whether they would appeal.

Other sensational burglaries in recent years have included the theft of Munch's Scream in 2004 in Oslo, Norway, by armed robbers, and that of Francis Bacon paintings from a private residence in Madrid in 2015.