ATHENS – A 49-year-old man who said he stole three valuable paintings from Greece’s National Gallery in the capital was released after a year in pre-trial detention with no conditions other than wearing an electric bracelet.
George Sarmatzopoulos, a construction worker, reportedly confessed to the crime that happened in 2012 but he wasn’t apprehended until June 2021 in what had been called the Theft of the Century.
The case still being investigated by a magistrateand an Athens Council of Misdemeanors will decide whether the defendant will be referred to trial, said Kathimerini, or walk free in a case that brought widespread attention because of the value of the treasures taken.
He allegedly said he did it out of a “passion for art,” in a theft that took Pablo Picasso’s 1934 work Head of a Woman, Piet Mondrian’s Stammer Windmill with Summer House from 1905 and Guglielmo Caccia’s St Diego de Alcala in Ecstasy with the Holy Trinity and the Symbols of Passion.
A report into the gallery’s security system after the heist revealed serious failings and inadequate measures to protect the artwork.
Police earlier said that he was a painter mainly working at construction sites with indications that he also worked at large warehouses outside of Greece and had a Twitter handle ArtFreak.
During the preliminary investigation, he allegedly stated: “I was moving between Greece, the Netherlands and England… At one point I confessed to a girl in England with whom I had a relationship that I had the paintings, but she didn’t take notice of what I had said,” reported Kathimerini.
The perpetrator entered the gallery at dawn on Jan. 9, 2012 through an unsecured balcony door and triggered repeated false alarms to deceive a guard and reach the paintings without being detected.
The report said he grabbed them and went to a basement where he used a knife to cut them out of their frames and that a second person may have been acting as a lookout as another caution.
He allegedly confessed watching the National Gallery on a daily basis for almost six months to identify potential entry points and learn the guards’ habits, indicating careful preparation for the sensational theft.