Suspected mastermind of Riviera art theft says FBI framed him
A man suspected of masterminding the brazen theft of four paintings from a Riviera museum told a judge at his trial in southern France on Monday that the FBI had framed him.
Thieves broke into the Jules Cheret museum in Nice at lunchtime on 5th August 2007, dressed as cleaners and took 5 minutes to steal and walk off with the paintings.
The pictures were recovered in Marseille and included “Cliffs near Dieppe” by Claude Monet, “The Lane of Poplars at Moret by Alfred Sisley, and two pictures by Jan Brueghel the Elder: Allegory of Water and Allegory of Earth.
Five men were arrested in 2008 after a sting operation involving a well-known FBI art crimes investigator, Robert Wittman. They were sentenced to between two and nine years in December 2011 by a French court.
Bernard, who is in his sixties and based in Miami, is suspected of planning the operation.
He was picked up after being approached by two men claiming to be Colombian, who said they were looking for art works, particularly paintings by Dutch Old Masters.
He says he was manipulated by the two men, but that in truth he had never asked anyone to steal any paintings.
He maintains that a mysterious Frenchman, who had helped him settle in the United States, had asked him to get some paintings. He said the manner was at first insistent but then threatening.
Bernard Ternus has already served a five year sentence in the US in connection with the theft.
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