Ending a long-running mystery, a construction worker guided the police to the hiding place after admitting he had taken the works in a daring one-man raid on the National Gallery in Athens in 2012.
By Niki Kitsantonis July 1, 2021
ATHENS — When paintings by Picasso and Mondrian and a sketch by the Italian artist Guglielmo Caccia went missing from the National Gallery in Athens in 2012, it was the beginning of a mystery that lasted for nearly a decade.
That mystery ended this week when the works by Picasso and Mondrian were recovered unscathed from a ravine in a forest near Porto Rafti, a town east of Athens.
In custody is not a gang of thieves who planned a Hollywood-style heist, but a 49-year-old construction worker, with the Twitter name ArtFreak, who was arrested on Monday.
The theft appears to have been years in the making as an obsession with art morphed into something criminal. The suspect, who was remanded to police custody after appearing before an investigating magistrate on Thursday, is reported to have told the police that he had “always been interested in art.”
Comments that the suspect made to investigators were leaked in the Greek news media, and the suspect’s lawyer, Sakis Kehagioglu, confirmed that what has been published is what his client told the police. The suspect’s name has not yet been released by the authorities.
The suspect detailed his bold, one-man break-in, telling the police, “In 2012 I entered the National Gallery and got three paintings,” according to the leaked comments. He said he “deeply” regretted his actions, which weighed on his conscience and left him sleepless.
The three artworks were Picasso’s “Head of a Woman,” a 1939 work that the Spanish master later dedicated to the Greek people for their resistance to the Nazis; “Stammer Windmill,” a 1905 work by the Dutch painter Mondrian; and a sketch by the 16th-century Italian artist Guglielmo Caccia. The Caccia sketch was damaged during the robbery and discarded, the suspect told the police.
After confessing, the suspect led officers to the ravine and a briefcase wrapped in plastic containing the Picasso and Mondrian works. According to the news reports, the suspect said he had moved the paintings there in May after reading that the police might be onto him.