A French art dealer, detained by Swiss police since last November, is suspected of having stolen millions of francs worth of rare European art.
Police believe the suspect, 31-year-old Stephane Breitwieser, is responsible for the theft over a period of five years of around 170 pieces of art from museum galleries in Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria.
Breitwieser was detained and placed in police custody in the Swiss city of Lucerne in November 2001 on an international arrest warrant issued by French authorities.
Folco Galli, a spokesman for the federal justice ministry in the Swiss capital, Bern, confirmed that French officials had requested judicial assistance from Switzerland and that the suspect had been questioned in the presence of French police.
The suspect's mother, 51-year-old Mireille Breitwieser, is also being held for questioning in the French city of Strasbourg after paintings were found cut to shreds at the family home in Eschentzwiller, a town located by the Swiss border.
Police have begun draining part of a canal close to the Swiss border after reports emerged that pieces of artwork had been seen floating on the surface of the water.
swissinfo with agencies