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Lawyer for 3 Romanians charged in Dutch art theft says there's insufficient proof for charges


Daniela Dede lawyer for Mihai Alexandru Bitu, not seen, speaks to the media in Bucharest, Romania, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. Lawyers for three Romanians Mihai Alexandru Bitu, Radu Dogaru and Eugen Darie, charged with stealing valuable paintings from a museum in the Netherlands last year, including works by Picasso, Monet and Matisse say there is insufficient evidence to charge them. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

BUCHAREST, Romania - BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) A lawyer for three Romanians accused of stealing valuable paintings from a museum in the Netherlands insisted Friday there was insufficient evidence to charge them.

At a court hearing in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, defence lawyer Doina Lupu urged that the three men not be extradited to the Netherlands for allegedly stealing seven works by Picasso, Monet and Matisse, among others.

"There is no evidence that this was an organized criminal group," she said. "The arrests were based on assumptions and on simple declarations and these are not enough. "

All three men deny any links to the Oct. 16 theft at Rotterdam's Kunsthal gallery.

A prosecutor told the court Friday that suspect Radu Dogaru took two paintings one each by Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin to be evaluated by Maria Dragu, the curator for foreign paintings at the Romanian National Art Museum.

Dogaru denied this and Dragu is on leave, the Romanian museum said Friday.

The other two suspects, Alexandru Bitu and Eugen Darie, also denied being involved in the theft. Darie did tell the court he had visited the Kunsthal gallery twice to look at its bronze sculptures.

The Bucharest Court ruled Friday that the men should be kept in custody pending an investigation.

The thieves broke in Oct. 16 through a rear emergency exit at the gallery, grabbed the paintings off the wall and fled, all within two minutes.

The stolen paintings came from the private Triton Foundation, a collection of avant-garde art put together by multimillionaire Willem Cordia, an investor and businessman, and his wife, Marijke Cordia-Van der Laan. Willem Cordia died in 2011.

The stolen paintings were: Pablo Picasso's 1971 "Harlequin Head;" Claude Monet's 1901 "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London;" Matisse's 1919 "Reading Girl in White and Yellow;" Gauguin's 1898 "Girl in Front of Open Window;" Meyer de Haan's "Self-Portrait," around 1890; and Lucian Freud's 2002 work "Woman with Eyes Closed."

The gallery said it had a "state-of-the-art" automated alarm system.


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