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Last Updated: Friday, 7 January, 2005, 23:16 GMT
Suicidal art thief gets 26 months
Stephane Breitwieser appears in court in Strasbourg
Breitwieser claims he was motivated by a love of art
A Frenchman has been given a 26-month prison sentence for stealing several priceless works of art, a day after he tried to commit suicide in jail.

Former waiter Stephane Breitwieser, 33, admits taking hundreds of masterpieces from museums across Europe.

His mother and ex-girlfriend received shorter sentences for their role.

Described by his lawyer as "deeply depressed" - and by himself as a passionate art lover - Breitwieser tried to hang himself on Thursday.

He failed in his attempt when a cellmate raised the alarm.

The prosecutor in his trial had said Breitwieser acted in a "narcissistic" and "egotistical" manner, irrespective of whether he had sold the stolen works or not, and called for him to receive the maximum sentence of three years.

A court in the French city of Strasbourg gave Breitwieser the three-year sentence - but with a 10-month suspension, he will only serve 26 months of it.

'Hidden in coat'

Breitwieser's mother, Mireille Stengel, received a three-year sentence with an 18-month suspension for having destroyed some of the works stolen by her son, who had stored them at her home in Eschentzwiller, eastern France.

She admitted having cut up canvases "to punish her son," who she alleged had "terrorised" her.

Her lawyer said the sentence would be appealed.

Breitwieser's ex-girlfriend, Anne-Catherine Kleinklauss, was awarded a six-month prison term, with another 12 months suspended, on charges of receiving stolen items.

For years Breitwieser scoured European museums, pilfering works which he hid in his rucksack or inside his coat, then simply walked out, the AFP news agency reports.

He was arrested in November 2001 near the Richard Wagner Museum in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Lost works

Breitwieser spent two years in a Swiss jail before extradition to France.

He told the Swiss court he had pilfered more than 200 masterpieces from European galleries, including works by Brueghel, Watteau and Durer.

The French charges mainly relate to thefts from French museums.

He is suspected of taking about 70 works of art, but he is charged with just 20 thefts between 1999 and 2001. Two alleged thefts in Denmark and Austria also appear on the charge-sheet.

After his arrest, about 100 antiques, including vases and incense-burners, were recovered from the Rhine-Rhone canal, where his mother had tried to dispose of them.

But up to 60 paintings have not been found.

Art thief jailed for four years
07 Feb 03 |  Entertainment
Art hoard worth $1.4bn destroyed
16 May 02 |  Entertainment

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