September 22, 2005

Oslo police quiz suspect over “The Scream” theft

By Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian police detained a woman on
Thursday suspected of links to the unsolved 2004 theft of
Edvard Munch's masterpieces "The Scream" and "Madonna" and to
an alleged gang of bank robbers already on trial in Norway.

"We arrested a woman early this morning at her home in
Oslo," police lawyer Morten Hojem Ervik told Reuters.

He declined to comment on whether police suspected that the
theft of the 1893 paintings from the Munch Museum in Oslo by
masked gunmen in August 2004 was linked to the gang behind the
bank robbery in April last year.

The woman, in her 40s, was charged with handling stolen
goods after police said banknotes in her possession were from
the robbery of a central bank branch in the western port of
Stavanger. A policeman was shot dead by the escaping thieves.

"We do not believe she took part in the robbery itself,"
Hojem Ervik said.

He added that the woman, whose name was not released, was
separately suspected of having been an accomplice in the Munch
robbery, but gave no details. Two men yanked the paintings off
the walls and drove off in a car driven by a third man.

Norwegian media have speculated that the theft of the
paintings might have been to divert police attention from
investigating the bank robbery. Murder can mean Norway's
stiffest jail sentence, of 21 years.

Thirteen men went on trial charged with the robbery in the
western port of Stavanger this week. All deny involvement in
the Munch theft.

Police have separately charged six men with involvement in
the Munch theft, but none have gone to trial. Three are being
held in custody. Police say they believe another 10 to 15
people in the criminal underground were involved.

"The Scream" shows a human figure, hands clutching the ears
and mouth agape beneath a swirling blood-red sky. The painting
has become an icon of angst for a world scarred by horrors from
the atom bomb to the Holocaust.

"Madonna" shows a mysterious bare-breasted woman with long,
flowing black hair. Both are too well known to be sold openly.

Other theories hold that the paintings have been spirited
out of the country for a shadowy collector or were stolen to
demand a ransom from the Norwegian government. One newspaper
speculated that the thieves have burned the paintings.