Defendant claims five masterpieces stolen in Paris were thrown away

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Five masterpieces stolen from the Museum of Modern Art in Paris were thrown away, a defendant in the current trial said.

Yonathan Birn, one of three people on trial for the theft of artwork worth more than $100 million by Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Braque and Fernand Leger, testified Tuesday in court that he panicked after purchasing one of the paintings and agreeing to store the other four, and threw out the irreplaceable works.

“I threw them into the trash,” Birn, 40, an expert and dealer in luxury watches, told the court. “I made the worst mistake of my existence.”

Investigators and the other defendants do not believe Birn permanently disposed of the paintings, the Associated Press reported, citing court documents. They believe the paintings were taken out of France by Birn and sold, perhaps in Israel to an Israeli collector, the French news agency AFP reported.

The other defendants are Vjeran Tomic, nicknamed “the spider-man,” who carried out the theft and has been convicted of thefts 14 times in the past; and dealer Jean-Michel Corvez, who confessed to being a receiver of stolen goods. They each face a 10-year prison sentence if convicted.