Gunmen steal 4 Impressionist paintings worth $163m

Updated: 2008-02-12 14:26

ZURICH, Switzerland -- Three gunmen in ski masks and dark clothes burst into a museum just before closing time. After a quick run through the building, they hustled out the door and sped off with paintings by Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh and Monet valued at US$163.2 million (euro112.23 million).

A police handout shows the painting 'Poppies near Vetheuil' by French artist Claude Monet (1840 - 1926). [Agencies]

A police handout shows the painting A police handout shows the painting 'Blossoming Chestnut Branches' by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). [Agencies]

Authorities appealed Monday for any witnesses to help reconstruct the robbers' getaway from the E.G. Buehrle Collection, a private museum of Impressionist works whose founder had his own troubled history with stolen art.

"This is an entirely new dimension in criminal culture," police spokesman Marco Cortesi said, calling it the largest art robbery in Switzerland's history and one of the biggest ever in Europe.

The three robbers entered the museum a half-hour before its scheduled close Sunday. While one trained a pistol on museum personnel ordered to lie on the floor, the two others collected four paintings from the exhibition hall, police said.

The men, one of whom spoke German with a Slavic accent, loaded the paintings into a white vehicle parked out front. Police said the paintings may have been sticking out of the trunk as the robbers made their getaway.

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