Romanian who admitted Dutch art heist to get reduced sentence

BUCHAREST (AFP) - A Romanian who admitted stealing seven masterpieces from a Dutch museum will get a reduced sentence because he acknowledged his guilt, a local court ruled on Thursday.

The court accepted Radu Dogaru's request to benefit from an article in Romania's penal code stipulating that a sentence can be reduced by a third if the suspect admits guilt.

Dogaru, the alleged brain of the spectacular three-minute heist, faces a maximum 20-year jail sentence if found guilty of "aggravated theft".

On Tuesday, he admitted stealing the paintings, including works by Gauguin, Picasso and Monet, in October 2012, but blamed the museum for failing to protect the masterpieces properly.

He told the court the back door he used to break into the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam was not fastened so he hardly needed to use the pliers he had brought.

But the prosecutor contradicted Dogaru, accusing him of trying to play down his part in the burglary.

One of Dogaru's accomplices, Eugen Darie, the driver in the heist, will also get a reduced sentence after he admitted guilt.

The court rejected similar requests from two other accomplices. It also rejected pleas from the four suspects currently in custody, including Dogaru and Darie, to be released on bail.

The next hearing is due on November 19.

No date has been set for the verdict.

None of the paintings was equipped with an alarm, Dutch authorities said.

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

The missing paintings are feared destroyed after Dogaru's mother, who is also facing trial, said she had torched them in her stove in the sleepy Romanian village of Carcaliu in a bid 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 into the possible destruction of the artwork is under way.