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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 14:24 GMT
Art thief jailed for four years
Frenchman Stephane Breitwieser arrives at the court in Bulle, Switzerland, 4 Feb 2003.
Mr Breitwieser hoarded his cache at his mother's house
A French waiter who stole paintings and artefacts worth more than $1bn (614m) has received a four-year jail sentence.

Stephane Breitwieser, 32, was accused of stealing 69 works from museums across Switzerland since 1995.

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of at least five years for his crimes.

Mr Breitwieser claimed he stole the artworks out of love, not a desire for money.

His Swiss lawyer had argued Mr Breitwieser deserved to have the charges changed to the lesser crime of "fraudulent removal", which carries a sentence of only a few months.

Stephane Breitwieser
He stole his first painting in 1995

But the court heard a psychiatrist's report during the three-day trial that said Mr Breitwieser, also facing charges in France, had a high probability of re-offending.

He was arrested in November 2001 near the Richard Wagner Museum in Lucerne, Switzerland, days after he allegedly stole a hunting horn dagger dating from 1584.

Police said he has confessed to stealing 69 works from museums across Switzerland since 1995.

Interruptions

Following his trial in the region of Gruyeres, where he faces up to 10 years in jail, he may be extradited to France on further charges.

On the first day of his trial on Tuesday, Mr Breitwieser interrupted court proceedings several times to correct the description of a painting.

The wine waiter told the court about his first theft in 1995, which took place on a visit to the Gruyeres medieval castle in central Switzerland.

When he found himself alone in an empty room he took a small 18th-Century painting by German artist Christian Wilhelm Dietrich, valued at $2,100 (1,200)

"I was fascinated by her beauty, by the qualities of the woman on the painting and by her eyes," he said.

Vandalised

Mr Breitwieser then went on to steal more than 200 paintings and artefacts from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, it is alleged.

But much of what he stole was destroyed by his mother, Mireille Breitwieser, who cut up works and threw antiques into the Rhine-Rhone canal when she learnt of her son's arrest.

Among the vandalised canvasses were works by Antoine Watteau and Peter Bruegel.

Musical instruments

Mr Breitwieser hoarded his cache at his mother's house and made no attempt to sell them on.

About 110 objects, valued at $10.7m (6.5m), have been recovered including glassware, china and musical instruments.

But up to 60 paintings have not been found, with investigators fearing they were destroyed by Mrs Breitwieser.

She was arrested last year on suspicion of handling stolen goods and was jailed for three months.

See also:

04 Feb 03 | Entertainment
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