Defendant Claims He Threw Out Modern and Impressionist Masterpieces After ‘Spider-Man’ Heist

Have five stolen paintings been destroyed?

Fernand Léger, Still Life With Candlestick (1922). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Fernand Léger, Still Life With Candlestick (1922), is one of five paintings stolen by Vjeran Tomic in 2010. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What became of the five modern and Impressionist masterpieces stolen from the Paris Museum of Modern Art in 2010, in what has become known as the “Spider-Man” heist? During trial, which began January 30, Yonathan Birn, one of the three defendants, announced that the works have been destroyed.

The missing paintings are Still Life With Candlestick (1922) by Fernand Léger, Dove with Green Peas by Pablo Picasso (1911), Pastoral by Henri Matisse (1906), Olive Tree near l’Estaque by Georges Braque (1906), and Woman with Fan by Amedeo Modigliani (1919).

“I threw them into the trash,” Birn tearfully told the court three times, according to the Guardian. “I made the worst mistake of my existence.” He claimed to have panicked when police began investigating in May 2011, breaking the stretchers on which the works were being stored and stuffing them in the garbage.

<em>Pastoral</em> by Henri Matisse (1906). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Pastoral by Henri Matisse (1906). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Investigators are dubious of this claim, the Washington Post reports, and believe instead that the works may have been spirited out of the county. Birn’s co-defendants denied his testimony, saying he was “too smart” to have disposed of the priceless canvases.

The original robbery was carried out by Vjeran Tomic, a veteran thief nicknamed “Spider-Man” for his ability to scale buildings. (The Museum of Modern Art heist is believed to have been a comparatively pedestrian affair with a simple broken window and busted pad lock.) According to the Telegraph, Tomic has 14 prior convictions to his name and calls himself a “veritable art lover,” who spent an hour perusing the galleries during the robbery deciding what to steal.

Vjeran Tomic, the main suspect in the case of the 2010 theft of five masterpieces from the Paris Modern Art Museum, arrives to his trial on January 30, 2017 at the Court house in Paris. Courtesy of Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images.

Vjeran Tomic, the main suspect in the case of the 2010 theft of five masterpieces from the Paris Modern Art Museum, arrives to his trial on January 30, 2017 at the Court house in Paris. Courtesy of Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images.

Birn is a luxury watch expert and dealer who was approached about storing the paintings by co-defendant Jean-Michel Corvez, an antiques dealer who allegedly arranged the heist. Tomic told the court that “these are my artworks,” and that he wants to know what Birn did with them.

If convicted, Tomic faces 20 years in prison, while Birn and Corvez could face half that sentence.


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