Guy Says He Threw $100M Worth of Stolen Art Away

But no one's really buying Yonathan Birn's story
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 31, 2017 8:47 AM CST
Co-Defendant in $100M Heist: I Threw Paintings Away
Chief suspect Vjeran Tomic arrives at his trial in Paris on Monday.   (Nicolas Garriga)

A co-defendant in one of the world's biggest art heists testified in court Monday he destroyed and threw away five art masterpieces worth more than $100 million that were stolen by a thief nicknamed "the spider-man" by French media. Yonathan Birn, accused of receiving stolen goods, was among three people who went on trial in the case, the AP reports. The five paintings stolen in 2010 from Paris' Museum of Modern Art—a Picasso, a Matisse, a Modigliani, a Braque, and a Fernand Leger—have never been found. "I threw them into the trash," Birn tearfully repeated three times in court. "I made the worst mistake of my existence." Investigators, however, are convinced the five paintings have been taken out of France, but they haven't been able to prove it, court documents show. And Birn's co-defendants testified he was "too smart" to destroy the masterpieces.

Lead suspect Vjeran Tomic, the one dubbed "the spider-man," testified he was the one who broke into the museum on May 20, 2010, and took the paintings. Several hours after the burglary, Tomic said, he offered the five paintings to 61-year-old antiques dealer Jean-Michel Corvez, who confessed to being a receiver of stolen goods. Corvez became worried about keeping the artworks and showed them to his friend Birn, a 40-year-old expert and dealer in luxury watches. Birn said he agreed to buy the Modigliani for $86,000 and to store the others in his studio; the Modigliani was hidden in a bank safe, he said. Birn said he panicked when cops began investigating and threw them all into his workshop building's trash. Tomic said he was sure Birn didn't destroy the paintings and wants to know where they are. "These are my artworks," he said. The trial is set to resume later this week. (More art heist stories.)

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