Italian pensioner awarded ownership of Gauguin stolen from London flat
Rome authorities declare Italian pensioner can keep £28 million Gauguin masterpiece stolen from London flat of Marks and Spencer heiress more than 40 years ago
He also plans to buy a farm outside his home town of Syracuse in Sicily and hopes to use the rest of his anticipated fortune to assure a comfortable future for his children and grandchildren.
He admitted that it had been "a stroke of luck" that he had bought the paintings, which auctioneers had told him were worthless "rubbish" 40 years ago.
"Maybe I had an intuition. I just liked them. When I took them home I said to myself, 'I don't care who painted them, I find them beautiful,'" he said.
The paintings were originally owned by Mathilda Marks, an heiress to the Marks and Spencer empire, but were stolen by con men from the flat she shared with her American husband in Chester Terrace, near Regent's Park in London, in 1970.
The thieves smuggled the paintings by train through France, intending to enter Italy, but panicked while waiting to cross the border and left them on a train heading towards Turin.
They were found by railway inspectors and languished for years in a dusty lost property office before being put up for auction by Italy's national railway network in 1975.
The Fiat worker, who regularly attended the railway auctions as a hobby, bought the two masterpieces for 45,000 lire – just £19 in today's money.
Not realising how valuable they were, he hung them on the wall of his kitchen, first in Turin and later, after he retired, at his home in Syracuse.
It was the curiosity of his son, who had a keen interest in art history, that eventually made him think that the paintings might be more than worthless daubings.
By comparing a dedication on the Gauguin painting with examples of the artist's handwriting, they realised that they had a masterpiece by one of the world's best known artists on their hands.
They contacted a special unit of the Italian police that deals with art and antiquities, who along with art experts confirmed earlier this year that the works were by Gauguin and Bonnard.
The two paintings were then sequestered by the police, who set about trying to establish their rightful ownership.
They liaised with the Metropolitan Police in London to try to discover whether anyone in the UK might have a legitimate claim to the artworks.
But Mrs Marks and her American husband, Terence Kennedy, had no children and no claimants came forward.
"I acquired the painting in good faith and that has been recognised by the authorities in Rome," Nicolo said.
The decision to award the paintings to the pensioner was made by a court in Rome, based on information provided by a special unit of the Carabinieri police that specialises in art and antiquities.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said that had any claimants in the UK come forward, the information would have been passed to the Italian police.
But none did, so the force had no objections to the paintings being returned to the ex-factory worker.#
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An economist by training, she played a key role in all the robberies, which resulted in losses of several million francs’ worth of jewellery, the court heard.
In the case of the Verbier holdup, she rented a chalet in the upscale Valais resort to shelter armed crooks who made off with booty valued at close to four million francs ($4.16 million) from a boutique in the village on November 3rd 2009, the ATS news agency said.
Afterward she planned, supported and physically participated in other heists from shops at Crans-Montana (another ski resort area in Valais), Lausanne and Rolle in the canton of Vaud, the news agency said.
The corpulent woman, who went by the nickname “Monstro”, admitted her role in the robbery of a Lausanne jewellery shop on April 20th 2011 and another one in Rolle In July the same year but otherwise provided confusing testimony, 24heures newspaper reported.
She was arrested on August 8th 2011 as she was planning another robbery and has been kept in preventive detention ever since.
An accomplice, also a Serb, who is currently imprisoned in France, which refuses to extradite him. was sentenced in absentia to four and a half years in jail, 24heures said.
The woman’s court appearance took place under high security.
In May 2013, a couple of members of the Pink Panthers gang made a sensational escape from a prison near Lausanne with three other prisoners.
Two of the inmates were rounded up the next day and one of the Pink Panthers, a 47-year-old Macedonian with French citizenship, was later arrested in August at his home near Avignon.
The other two escapees, including one alleged member of the gang, remained at large.
The Pink Panthers emerged from the conflict in the former Yugoslavia to become the most successful jewel thieves in the world, AFP reported last year.
According to Interpol, they have since 1999 snatched jewels with a value in excess of 330 million euros ($440 million) in heists that are often executed with breathtaking speed and precision.
They gained their nickname with a raid on a London branch of Graff Diamonds in 2003, in which two of them posed as wealthy would-be customers, persuading staff to open doors for them before helping themselves to diamonds worth millions.
Although one of the robbers was overpowered at the scene and another later arrested, only a fraction of the diamonds were recovered, one of them hidden in a pot of face cream.
That was reminiscent of a scene from the 1975 film "The Return of the Pink Panther" and resulted in a nickname that the gang members themselves adopted, wearing pink shirts for a subsequent raid in Zurich.