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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Trial fails to solve Munch mystery
By Lars Bevanger
BBC News in Norway

Three men have been jailed for taking part in the robbery of Edvard Munch's paintings The Scream and Madonna after one of Norway's largest ciminal investigations.

The robbers were seen carrying the pictures to a getaway car - police handout picture
The robbers were pictured carrying the pictures to a getaway car
But as long as the world-famous artworks remain missing, today will not be viewed as a conclusion by many here.

The three convicted men provided the getaway car, drove it and planned the operation - meaning the two men who actually carried out the robbery are still free.

The police believe they had one of them, Stian Skjold - but he was acquitted in the Oslo court.

Many Norwegians say they care more about getting The Scream and Madonna back than seeing the robbers behind bars.

Edvard Munch is arguably Norway's most famous export and his art is part of the national psyche.

The robbery was watched by an astounded nation, whose people could not believe two of their best-loved works of art had simply been picked off the walls of the Oslo Munch Museum in broad daylight.

Broken picture frames lying in the street
The frames of the Munch paintings were found in the street
At around 1100 on the morning of 22 August 2004, two armed men rushed past guards and visitors, ripped the paintings off the walls and ran to a waiting car.

A bystander caught the men on camera as one of them dropped a painting on the ground before making it into the car, which sped away.

Oslo's main police station is only a few minutes from the museum - but by the time the police arrived, the robbers and the paintings were gone.

The car was later found empty and parts of the frame from The Scream were found scattered along the escape route, prompting art experts to fear for the safety of the fragile masterpiece.

The hunt for the robbers has featured heavily in the media here - and it has been a story with some remarkable twists.

One of the acquitted men, Thomas Nataas, told the media how he was approached by the robbers, who wanted to know whether a bus he owned was unlocked.

The Madonna at a 1999 exhibition in Munich
The Scream was taken along with Munch's Madonna (pictured)
Later, Mr Nataas said, he stumbled across The Scream and Madonna under a seat in the bus.

He told police he had been too afraid to report the find to authorities.

According to media, undercover police were watching as the paintings changed hands at the bus and later in a petrol station forecourt.

But they failed to intervene because they were investigating a different case involving the same people and did not realise exactly what was changing hands.

Arrests

Petter Tharaldsen, who has now been sentenced to eight years in prison, was arrested during a different robbery a week after the paintings were taken. Only later was he charged for his part in the art heist.

A few months later, police made their first arrest directly linked to the Munch robbery. In the following 12 months, four more arrests were made.

But none of the convicted men have shed any light on where the paintings may be. They did not plead guilty and claim not to know where the artworks are.

The Munch Museum had a major security re-fit last year, turning it into a virtually impenetrable fortress. But that was too late to save the museum's most precious possessions.


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