Masters worth ‘hundreds of millions’ stolen

THIEVES have broken into a Dutch museum and walked off with works by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin and Matisse potentially worth hundreds of millions.

Police have not said how the thieves pulled off the early-hours heist in Rotterdam on Tuesday, but an expert who tracks stolen art said the robbers clearly knew what they were after. ”Those thieves got one hell of a haul,” said Chris Marinello, who directs the Art Loss Register.

The heist at the Kunsthal museum is one of the largest in years in the Netherlands, and is a stunning blow for the private Triton Foundation collection, which was being exhibited publicly as a group for the first time.

”It’s every museum director’s worst nightmare,” said Kunsthal director Emily Ansenk, who had been in Istanbul on business but returned immediately.

News of the theft ”struck like a bomb”, she said at a press conference in the museum’s cafe.

She declined to reveal any details of how the thieves got in and out with the paintings, or how the museum is protected, other than describing its security as ”state of the art” and ”functional”.

Willem van Hassel, the museum’s chairman, said its security systems were automated and did not use guards on site.

Police arrived at the scene five minutes after an alarm was triggered, he said. He described the museum’s insurance as adequate for the exhibition.

The collection was on display as part of celebrations marking the museum’s 20th anniversary.

Police spokeswoman Willemieke Romijn said investigators were reviewing videotapes of the theft, which took place about 3am local time.

Mr Marinello said the items taken could be worth ”hundreds of millions of euros” if sold legally at auction. But he said that was now impossible. Interpol sent a bulletin alerting member countries to the theft, along with images of the stolen paintings. Mr Marinello said the thieves had limited options available.

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