'Spider-Man' burglar on trial over $153m art haul

PARIS • A burglar known as "SpiderMan", notorious for daring acrobatic heists, went on trial yesterday for the 2010 theft of a €100 million (S$153 million) haul that included works by Picasso and Matisse from a Paris gallery.

Vjeran Tomic, 49, who is facing 14 charges, will stand trial along with two accomplices charged with handling stolen goods. The three were charged over the robbery at the Modern Art Museum of five paintings by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Ferdinand Leger and Amedeo Modigliani.

On May 19, 2010, a thief cut through a padlocked gate and broke a window to get into the gallery, one of the highly visited museums in Paris. The museum's alarms had been awaiting repair for several weeks and the thief managed to knock out a security camera.

Three guards were on duty, but the paintings were found to be missing from their frames only as the museum prepared to open to the public the next day.

When police arrested the Serb in May 2011, Tomic said he had initially broken into the museum for Leger's Still Life With Candlestick from 1922, not thinking he would also be able to steal another four.

Besides the Leger canvas, the other works stolen were Picasso's cubist Dove With Green Peas from 1912 - worth an estimated €25 million alone - French contemporary Matisse's Pastoral from 1905, Braque's Olive Tree near Estaque from 1906, and Modigliani's Woman With A Fan from 1919.

Tomic said he took them all because he "liked" the paintings.

The authorities put the total value of the haul at €100 million, but some experts said they were worth twice that, while admitting it would be totally impossible to sell them on the open market.

French police arrested Tomic after receiving an anonymous tip. Surveillance cameras from the night of the heist recorded only one person entering through a window but the person could not be identified.

Tomic, an athletic 1.90m rock-climbing enthusiast, earned his nickname for clambering into posh Parisian apartments and museums alike, to steal valuable gems and works of art.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline ''Spider-Man' burglar on trial over $153m art haul'. Print Edition | Subscribe