When Mireille Breitwieser, a former nurse, found out that her son Stephane, 33, had been arrested on suspicion of stealing paintings worth tens of millions of pounds from museums across Europe, she rushed into his bedroom and started chopping up all the canvases she found there, prosecutors said yesterday.
The most valuable painting he stole was Lucas Cranach the Elder's Sybille, Princess of Cleves, valued at about £4.5m.
Mrs Breitwieser, 53, told investigators she had wanted to "punish" her son when she found out what he had done, by destroying what was most dear to him.
She faces charges of concealment and destruction of stolen goods, and risks five years in prison if the court in Strasbourg finds her guilty. Her son's former girlfriend, Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus, was also in court yesterday, charged with handling stolen goods.
Breitwieser, a former waiter who was extradited to France from Switzerland this year, is standing trial for a second time, in connection with the theft of 26 art objects which he stole in France, Austria and Denmark.
In his defence yesterday he insisted that he acted out of a passion for art rather than from an attempt to make a profit. "I've only stolen what interested me for my collection," he said.
"There was no desire for cupidity, no desire for lucre," his defence lawyer, Joseph Moser, said yesterday. "In this case, he never resold or sought to resell a work of art ... This was truly passion in its purest form."
Of the 240 pictures and pieces of art he stole, only 112 have been recovered, with works by Watteau, Boucher and Dürer still missing. Many of those rescued were badly damaged during the theft and concealment - although Breitwieser insisted that he had tried to "restore" the works in his collection.
"I think Mr Breitwieser will go into the record books, not only for the number of thefts he committed, but also for the destruction of art works," said Bernard Darties, head of France's central office for the prevention of art theft. Breitwieser usually slipped the stolen items under his coat, waiting for the museum guards to be distracted. From his prison cell in Switzerland, he wrote to a number of the small museums which he had targeted, offering them advice on ways they could improve security.
2. CHICAGO Chicago Sun Times - FBI agents masters in art crimes
BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org Apr 26, 2011
Agent Luigi Mondini keeps a fake bottle of 1945 Petrus wine on his. Agent Brian Brusokas has phony prints attributed to Picasso and Dali, a fake Rodin sculpture and a bogus Babe Ruth autographed baseball.
“Sounds like I need to clean up my desk,” Brusokas said. They’re both members of the FBI’s Art Crime Team. They and 11 other agents are stationed across the United States to investigate everything from art counterfeiting to theft of all sorts of cultural objects. The team, whose work takes them around the globe, was formed after the looting of Iraq’s national museum in 2003 when 14,000 works of art were stolen.
“Just like you go onto CARFAX or Edmonds when you buy a car, I would triple that when you buy a painting,” he said. “There are some really good forgers out there.” Mondini said he received a call from a tiny auction house in Bloomington, Ind., asking about the authenticity of a supposed Picasso it was commissioned to sell. “We found it on eBay and it was a fake,” Mondini said. “The auction house would have been done if it sold a bad Picasso for $2 million. It’s tough to rebound from that. I told them ‘don’t auction off any more Picassos!’ ”One of Brusokas’ favorite capers involved a Presidential Medal of Freedom made for James Lovell, the commander of the Apollo 13 space mission.
A woman was trying to sell the item on eBay. Brusokas’ investigation took him to the White House, which confirmed the medal was authentic but damaged in the manufacturing process and intended to be destroyed.
The government had made another medal for Lovell. But somehow the blemished original got on to the market. Brusokas said he recovered the original and returned it to the White House.
“Capt. Lovell is a national hero,” Brusokas said. “It was an honor to return the medal.” No one was charged in the case, but that doesn’t bother Brusokas or Mondini.
“Working art-crime cases gives you two chances to right a wrong: One, criminal punishment, which is fantastic, but number two, in a theft case, the opportunity to get the thing back to the person who owns it. It makes people very happy,” Brusokas said