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Judge adjourns art theft trial as defendant seeks deal

A Bucharest court has adjourned a major art theft trial on opening day, after an apparent deal offered by the main suspect. The defendant offered to return several masterpieces - paintings that were feared destroyed.

The main suspect from a robbery at a Dutch museum offered prosecutors a deal on Tuesday, according to the AFP news agency. In exchange for being tried in the Netherlands, AFP reported, the defendant promised to return five of the seven stolen masterpieces to the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam.

The October 2012 heist captured works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Jacob Meyer de Hahn and Lucian Freud, along with a pair of Claude Monet paintings. Radu Dogaru is the alleged mastermind of the theft, with the artworks worth an estimated 18 million euros ($24 million) in total.

"Radu Dogaru tried to make a deal with the [Dutch] prosecutors," his lawyer, Catalin Dancu, told AFP. "He said: 'Send me back to the Netherlands and I will give you five of the paintings.'"

There was some doubt as to whether Dogaru could make good on this promise, considering that some or all of the art was feared burned.

Dogaru's mother Olga had told prosecutors earlier this year that she burned the paintings in her stove at home, trying to protect her son. Last month, however, she retracted that statement. Romania's National History Museum analyzed ashes from the fireplace, saying it found remnants of three oil paintings and nails from frames used before the end of the 19th century. The museum said it could not prove which paintings the ashes stemmed from. Four of the stolen works were oil paintings.

Dogaru's lawyer on Tuesday told AFP that he could not confirm whether or not his client still possessed any of the paintings.

Two main defendants are on trial in the capital Bucharest, along with four alleged accomplices. One of them is still on the run and was set to be tried in absentia.

msh/dr (AFP, dpa)