Co-defendant in French art heist says he tossed masterpieces in the trash


(JTA) — A co-defendant on trial for the theft of masterpieces from the Museum of Modern Art in Paris said he tossed the five paintings in the trash to avoid arrest, countering investigators’ claims that they were sold to a collector, perhaps during a trip the accused took to Israel.

Yonathan Birn, one of three people on trial for stealing artwork worth more than $100 million by Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Braque and Fernand Leger, testified Tuesday in court that he panicked after purchasing one of the stolen paintings and agreeing to store the other four, and threw out the irreplaceable works.

“I threw them into the trash,” Birn, 40, an expert and dealer in luxury watches, told the court. “I made the worst mistake of my existence.”

Investigators and the other defendants do not believe Birn, who is Jewish, permanently disposed of the paintings, The Associated Press reported, citing court documents. They believe Birn took the paintings out of France and sold them, perhaps in Israel to a collector there, the French news agency AFP reported.

The other defendants are Vjeran Tomic, nicknamed “the spider-man,” who allegedly carried out the theft and has been convicted of thefts 14 times in the past, and dealer Jean-Michel Corvez, who confessed to being a receiver of stolen goods. They each face a 10-year prison sentence if convicted.

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