Questions remain over recovery of Munch paintings
By Lennart Simonsson Sep 1, 2006, 14:20 GMT
Oslo - Two stolen masterpieces by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch appeared only to have sustained minor damage after their theft from a museum in August 2004, museum officials said Friday.
Two armed men ripped the famous paintings - Madonna and a version of The Scream - off the museum walls and fled in a stolen car.
Oslo police announced Thursday they had retrieved the works that were stolen from the Munch Museum, where security has since been improved.
Acting museum director Ingebjorg Ydstie said experts had determined the works were authentic and were now safely back in the museum's care.
'Two small holes in Madonna' had been detected, she said while The Scream, which was painted on cardboard, had been 'damaged in one corner,' likely when it was dropped on the floor.
Experts would study the paintings in detail, but an ordinary museum visitor would perhaps not be able to detect the damage.
While art experts welcomed the safe return of the works announced Thursday, speculation continued over whether police had been tipped off by the alleged ringleader of a April 2004 bank robbery in the coastal city of Stavanger, in which a policeman was killed.
The 31-year-old David Toska, sentenced to 19 years, has according to recent media reports offered to help retrieve the paintings in return for a reduced sentence and better terms in prison including more visitation rights with his girlfriend.
The opposition Progress Party urged Justice Minister Knut Storberget to clarify if a deal had been made.
Norwegian media have speculated that the Munch paintings were stolen to divert police resources from the bank robbery probe.
Oslo police said that no ransom was paid, and no new arrests had been made.
In May, a Norwegian court sentenced three men to jail terms ranging from four to eight years for their role in the theft.
The Oslo district court also ruled that two of the men - alleged heist mastermind Bjorn Hoen and co-defendant Peter Tharaldsen - should pay damages of 750 million kroner (121 million dollars) to the city of Oslo for the stolen Munch masterpieces.
Three other defendants in the case were acquitted.
With the recovery of the works, prosecutor Terje Nyboe said Friday he would drop demands of the 750 million kroner payment.
Nyboe - who has appealed the acquittal of two of the men including one of the alleged robbers - told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that damages should be limited to the cost for restoring the works.
An appeal trial is pending in January.
Munch, who lived from 1863 to 1944, is considered one of Europe's most important expressionist artists. He made several versions of the two recovered works.© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur