Man convicted of van Gogh and Hals thefts from Dutch museums


A three-judge panel in the Netherlands on Friday found a man guilty of stealing paintings by van Gogh and Frans Hals from museums and sentenced him to eight years in prison and a heavy fine.

The central Netherlands court ruling did not name the 59-year-old from Baarn, who had previously only been identified as Nils M. under Dutch privacy laws.

By taking the valuable paintings, the court said, the thief, who had already served a five-year sentence for theft of works of art, had deprived the public of part of its national cultural heritage.

Works of art, the court said in a statement, “are important to present and future generations. People have enjoyed them for hundreds of years. With thefts, man has not only deprived museums enormously, but also society and the international public, they can no longer see and appreciate the paintings.

Baarn man’s lawyer Renske van Zanden said he would appeal the ruling.

Nils M. denied knowing anything about the thefts of paintings, which were not recovered. But prosecutors said his DNA evidence was found at both scenes – on a broken picture frame in a museum and on a sturdy strap likely used during the getaway at the second – an event the court said he couldn’t explain.

In its decision, the court described the accused as an “incorrigible and calculating criminal”, and referred to the previous conviction – he had used explosives to blow up the door of a museum in Gouda to steal a monstrance in 17th-century gilded silver, or church ship, in 2012. The court also noted the similarities between the two heists from last year. Both thefts took place shortly after 3 a.m., involving heavy force breaking into museums and involving an accomplice who helped the thief escape on a scooter, prosecutors said. The accomplice has not been identified.

Van Gogh’s painting, “The Rectory Garden at Nuenen in Spring”, was part of a temporary exhibition at the Singer Laren Museum, on loan from the Groninger Museum in Groningen, when it was stolen in March last year . Security camera footage showed a man with a hammer smashing two glass doors in the museum and fleeing with the painting under his arm. The picture frame was left in pieces in the parking lot.

Hals’ painting, “Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer”, was stolen five months later, in August 2020, from the Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden museum in Leerdam. The back door had been smashed and police found an orange tension strap attached to a flag pole in the garden outside the museum which prosecutors said was likely used to lower the Hals or the thief along from a 10-foot wall near a waiting scooter.

In addition to the theft of paintings, the accused was convicted of possession of a firearm and illegal drugs, discovered during his arrest at his home in April.

The van Gogh had an insured value of 2.5 million euros, or approximately $ 2.9 million.

The court said the Hals was valued at 16 million euros, or about $ 18.7 million, and that an insurance company would cover just under half the amount of the loss. The remainder of the bill for the missing payment, the court said, was borne by the defendant, who worked in a garage repairing cars before his arrest.


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