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"Narcissistic" art thief sentenced to four years

Stéphane Breitwieser faces a French trial after he has served his sentence in Switzerland Keystone Archive

A Swiss court has sentenced a French man to four years in prison for the theft of dozens of art works in a crime spree that lasted over six years.

This content was published on February 6, 2003 - 19:27

Stéphane Breitwieser, who was accused of boldly plundering museums across Europe, was found guilty on Thursday of stealing 69 works in Switzerland worth more than SFr1 million ($1.2 million).

Once he has served his time in a Swiss prison, Breitwieser will be banned from re-entering the country for 15 years.

After his Swiss sentence is over, he will be handed over to the French authorities.

The 32-year-old is due to stand trial in France for thefts committed in European Union countries.

Breitwieser, who says he stole the works for love rather than money, was tried in Switzerland where he is believed to have committed his first theft in 1995.

Public prosecutors called for a sentence of five years jail, as well as a ten-year ban on re-entering Switzerland.

During the trial in canton Fribourg, the court heard a psychiatric assessment of Breitwieser as narcissistic, childish and antisocial.

His Swiss lawyer had argued that Breitwieser should be found guilty only of "fradulent removal", which carries a sentence of a few months.

The 31-year-old Breitwieser was also described as virtually friendless other than for his mother, which whom he shared a home near the French town of Mulhouse, just over the border from Basel.

The case has highlighted the inadequate levels of security at many museums, churches and art galleries across Europe.

Breitwieser was arrested in November 2001 after stealing a 400-year-old bugle from the Richard Wagner Museum in Lucerne - ending a six-year thieving spree involving some 239 objects.

Refined tastes

His loot included paintings by Peter Brueghel, Antoine Watteau and François Boucher, as well as a 16th century work by Lucas Cranach the Elder, believed to be worth over SFr10.8 million ($8 million).

Breitwieser is alleged to have committed crimes in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria.

Breitwieser's case has drawn public interest because of his boldness. Most of his thefts occurred during opening hours, and usually targeted 17th and 18th century works small enough to be hidden in a rucksack or overcoat.

Much of the loot was stored in his home, although he is believed to have destroyed items he no longer liked.

swissinfo with agencies

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