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Romanian prosecutors seek 18 years for art thieves

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanian prosecutors are seeking 18-year sentences for two men who admitted to stealing seven paintings worth millions, including works by Picasso, Monet and Matisse, from a Dutch museum in a nighttime raid, their lawyer said.

Closing arguments were heard Tuesday in the case of Radu Dogaru and Eugen Darie. They will be sentenced on Nov. 26. Defense lawyers asked for clemency, claiming the defendants believed the paintings were copies and noting that the owners received a massive insurance payment.

The Triton Foundation, which owned the seven paintings that hung in Rotterdam's Kunsthal, has been paid 18 million euros ($23.8 million). Insurers Lloyds of London are listed as a civil party in the trial.

Chief defense lawyer Catalin Dancu said he expected ringleaders Dogaru and Darie to get seven years because they had pleaded guilty. But the prosecution on Tuesday asked for the maximum sentence of 18 years.

Dogaru, Darie and another man, Alexandru Bitu, who played a lesser role in the theft, admitted they took the paintings from the Kunsthal in October 2012. The stolen paintings included Pablo Picasso's 1971 "Harlequin Head," Claude Monet's 1901 "Waterloo Bridge, London," Henri Matisse's 1919 "Reading Girl in White and Yellow" and Paul Gauguin's 1898 "Girl in Front of Open Window."

The works have never been found. Dogaru's mother added a twist to the case by telling prosecutors that she burned the paintings — then retracted her statement. The trial will continue for Dogaru's mother Olga, who is charged with destroying the works. Three others, including Bitu, are also on trial, and their court case will resume on Dec. 3.

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