February 14, 2006

Six plead not guilty over “The Scream” art theft

By Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) - Six men pleaded not guilty on Tuesday when
they want on trial over the theft of Edvard Munch's
masterpieces "The Scream" and "Madonna," snatched from an Oslo
museum 18 months ago.

Five of the men -- Stian Skjold, Petter Tharaldsen, Bjoern
Hoen, Petter Rosenvinge and Morten Hugo Johansen -- are charged
with planning or taking part in the theft. The sixth, Thomas
Nataas, is accused of handling stolen goods.

The artworks, painted in 1893, have never been recovered.

"No" the men said in turn when judge Arne Lyng asked them
if they were guilty of the charges in Oslo's central court.

They face up to 17 years in jail if found guilty at the
trial likely to take up to six weeks. Judge Lyng and two other
judges will decide on the case. There is no jury.

Two men wearing black ski masks, one of them waving a gun,
burst into the Munch Museum on August 22, 2004, tore the two
priceless artworks from the walls in front of dozens of
tourists and drove off.

"The Scream," showing a waif-like figure clutching its head
under a swirling blood-red sky, has become a symbol of angst
after a century scarred by horrors from the atom bomb to the
Holocaust. "Madonna" shows a mysterious bare-breasted woman
with long black hair.

Motives for the robbery are unclear but media have
speculated that it was to distract investigators from a bank
robbery in the western port of Stavanger in April 2004 when $10
million was stolen and a police officer shot dead.

The loss of the paintings has been embarrassing for Norway.

In 1994, another version of "The Scream" -- Munch painted
two famous versions of his masterpiece -- was stolen for
several months from Norway's National Gallery by thieves who
broke a window and climbed in with a ladder.

The Munch Museum has since undergone a 40-million Norwegian
crown ($5.86 million) security upgrade.

Public prosecutor Terje Nyboe said he would urge a
reduction in sentences for the men should they be found guilty
if any of the accused offered information about where the
paintings were hidden.

Police believe the works are hidden somewhere in Norway.