ATHENS – It was a sensational crime that gripped the country’s attention for its brazenness – the theft of three valuable artworks from Greece’s National Gallery in 2012 – but the man who did it won’t go to jail.
Giorgos Sarmantzopoulos, 50, was found guilty of aggravated theft but a court recognized his good behavior after the heist and suspended his sentence pending appeal, said ArtNews.
He must wear electronic monitoring and stay within 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) of his house, the report said, but otherwise walked free despite the theft, that included Picasso’s Picasso’s painting Head of a Woman (1934), Piet Mondrian’s painting Stammer Windmill with Summer House (1905), and Guglielmo Caccia’s sketch St. Diego de Alcala in Ecstasy with the Holy Trinity and the Symbols of Passion.
Sarmantzopoulos got into the gallery through an unlocked balcony door and tricked guards by triggering repeated false alarms to lull them and then took the paintings and fled to a staircase into the basement, the report said.
There, he removed the paintings from their frames using a pocketknife and claimed that he acted alone although another account detailed a second person who supposedly kept watch, the site said.
He got away with it for some nine years before being arrested and telling authorities that he had been working in construction as a painter and that he stole the paintings out of a self-described “passion for art,” not for profit.
At the time of his arrest, Sarmantzopoulos handed over the paintings by Picasso and Mondrian to the authorities and claimed that the third by Caccia was destroyed but won’t be punished for it.
“The irreversible damage was seen during the inspection. The color consistency was damaged. These works must be kept in special conditions so that they are not damaged,” Eftychia Agathonikou, Director of the museum’s collections, testified.
Lawyer and art collector Stelios Garipis told the court that Sarmantzopoulos was “a member of an international ring. A Dutch detective contacted me and told me that he has a lot of information about him… It was no coincidence that two works were returned,” the site added.
“The painting (by Caccia,) which is supposed to have been destroyed, was rumored to have appeared in an auction in Florence. I contacted the National Gallery to see what actions they had taken,” Garipis continued.
“The simplest thing would have been to send documents (to the auction house) and see who received the painting. Because it wasn’t sold. They (the National Gallery) did nothing,” he testified to no avail.
It is unclear if the Caccia was actually destroyed. According to Garipis, foreign experts subsequently identified the work in Florence as the same Caccia piece that had been stolen from Athens, the report added of the case.