August 22, 2005

Norway police plan more arrests over Munch robbery

By James Kilner

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian police plan more arrests in
their search for Edvard Munch's paintings "The Scream" and
"Madonna," stolen from a museum in central Oslo by masked
gunmen a year ago in a case that has baffled the country.

Conspiracy theories abound over who stole the paintings and
why, but 12 months and five arrests since the robbery on August
22 last year the police have yet to reveal any answers.

"It may take months or years to solve," the police chief
leading the investigation, Iver Stensrud, told Reuters on

False tip-offs, encouraged by a 2 million Norwegian crown
reward, and an unusual silence from the criminal underground
have complicated the search, Stensrud said.

"We think there are very, very few people who know where
the paintings are today. This is a tight disciplined group."

But he said police plan to make further arrests after
questioning eight more people in recent months.

"There are 10 to 15 people who form a core of suspects," he

Politicians, police, art experts and the public have
pleaded for the safe return of the "The Scream," which has
become a cultural icon for Europe's most northerly country.

The famous 1893 painting shows a human figure, hands over
the ears, mouth agape beneath a swirling blood red sky.


"The Scream is an international icon," said the Munch
Museum's chief curator, Ingebjorg Ydstie.

It is not clear who would steal works by the Norwegian
artist, who lived from 1864 to 1944, as they are too well known
to be sold legally.

But Norway's public has remained hooked on stories about
why armed men walked into the Munch Museum on a Sunday morning,
ripped the two paintings off the wall in front of horrified
tourists and made a clean getaway in a waiting car.

One theory was that bank robbers who shot dead a policeman
in the western town of Stavanger during a bungled raid a few
months earlier stole the paintings to distract police.

Another theory said a powerful figure ordered the paintings
for a private collection. Yet another blames a blackmail gang
that wanted to hold Norway to ransom over the works of art.

Some have speculated that the thieves have burned the
paintings, fearing the police were closing in.

But a ransom demand has not been made, police say they
believe the paintings have not been burned, and the
investigation seemed no closer to uncovering the truth after
arresting the suspected Stavanger bank robbers.

"The Scream" is valued at around $75 million and "Madonna"
at about $15 million.