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Romanian police arrest three over Dutch art theft

Romanian police have arrested three suspects in the lightning-speed, audacious theft of seven masterpieces from an art museum in Rotterdam. The works included pieces by Picasso and Monet.

The three were detained for up to 29 days at the request of the Romanian prosecutor's office responsible for terrorism and organized crime (DIICOT), the local news agency Mediafax reported on Tuesday.

Seven works, which included paintings by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse, were stolen in a nighttime raid on the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam. The paintings are thought to be worth up to 200 million euros ($265 million) on the open market.

The arrests followed a ruling by a Bucharest district court late on Monday.

"The three were arrested as part of a Romanian investigation and not at the request of Rotterdam police," a statement from Dutch police read.

This photo released by the police in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, shows the 1971 painting 'Harlequin Head' by Pablo Picasso. Dutch police say seven paintings stolen from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam include one by Pablo Picasso, one by Henri Matisse, and two by Claude Monet. The heist, one of the largest in years in the Netherlands, occurred while the private Triton Foundation collection was being exhibited publicly as a group for the first time. (Foto:Police Rotterdam/AP/dapd)

Picasso's "Tete d'Arlequin," was among the works that were swiftly taken

The theft, the biggest in the Netherlands in more than 20 years, took place in the early hours of October 16 and left detectives baffled. Rotterdam police released grainy security footage, which captured images of two apparently young males entering the museum and making their escape barely 90 seconds later. Investigators circulated the video in the hope that someone might recognize the "odd" bags that the thieves used.

Hunt still on for missing works

Despite the arrests, nothing is known of the whereabouts of the pictures. Experts estimate that the pieces would likely fetch only a tenth of their true value on the black market, if it were possible to sell them on at all.

The works listed as stolen were "Tete d'Arlequin" by Picasso, Matisse's "La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune," Monet's "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London," Gauguin's "Femme devant une fenetre ouverte," Meyer De Haan's "Autoportrait" and Lucian Freud's "Woman with Eyes Closed."

In 1991, thieves in Amsterdam stole 20 works by Vincent van Gogh, only to dump them less than an hour later.

rc/ccp (AFP, Ap, Reuters)