Paintings stolen in 1979 art heist back in east German museum

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Five valuable paintings stolen in a heist almost exactly 40 years ago have been returned to their home in a museum in Gotha in eastern Germany.

The prime minister of the state of Thuringia said  on Monday.

“The works by Frans Hals, Anthony van Dyck, Jan Lievens, Hans Holbein the Elder and from the studio of Jan Brueghel the Elder, were publicly presented in Berlin last week.

“The paintings are now back on the walls of the Gotha museum,’’ Bodo Ramelow said.

They were stolen on Dec. 14, 1979, from the collection of Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha, a small town 140 kilometres west of Leipzig.

The thieves broke into the museum using climbing irons a few days before a newly installed alarm system in the castle museum was due to be activated.

At the time, the works by the Dutch Old Masters were valued at about 5 million East German marks but are now believed to be worth up to 50 million euros (55.5 million dollars).

The theft prompted an extensive investigation, with the police questioning 1,000 people, to no avail.

In July 2018, anonymous sources contacted the castle foundation through a lawyer, saying they had the paintings, but could not produce a plausible acquisition history.

Secret negotiations led to the recovery of the paintings in September 2019.

It remains unclear how they were stolen or where they were kept for the last four decades.(dpa/NAN)

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