Hole-in-the-roof thieves take pounds 43m pick of Picassos and Braques

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The Independent Online
A ROBBERY at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, in which thieves made off with works worth pounds 43m, was the stuff of films. In one of the world's largest art thefts, thieves sawed a metre-wide hole in the ceiling, shinned down a rope, and unscrewed the Picassos and Braques of their choice from the walls.

It could have been based on the classic 1954 French 'caper-heist' film, Rififi about a jewellery raid in which a gang cuts through a roof, disconnects the alarm system and opens a safe - without saying a word.

According to Swedish police sources, Sunday night's job was also a quiet and very professional affair. It would have needed at least two people to cut through the 8in-thick roof. Ljell Hestrell, the security manager, said: 'They were very careful. Perhaps they used an umbrella, as in the film, to stop bits falling.'

Only the picture hooks mark where five paintings by Picasso and two by Braque were. The works on the 'wanted-list' include Picasso's striking 1921 painting of a reclining figure, La Source, his Cubist La Demoiselle, and Braque's Le Chateau de La Roche- Guyon, 1909.

The museum's chief security officer said several people had been acting suspiciously before the theft - showing an unusually keen interest in doors. Security had been tightened but there was confusion yesterday over why alarms did not sound, and why neither the nightwatchman nor his dog heard anything.

According to TT, the Swedish News Agency, there has been speculation that this was an 'art kidnapping' with the thieves holding the works to ransom. They are too well known to sell easily.

Philip Saunders of Trace, which liaises with the police and art world in tracking stolen works, said: 'Why? I just can't understand it . . . There are three scenarios . . . First, the thieves got in and took what they thought would be valuable; second, they took them for ransom, or 'artnapping' . . . though no reward has been put up and the museum was not insured; and third, they were stolen to order for a collector. I have heard of certain Colombian drug barons with a penchant for Impressionist art.'