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Court orders $122 mln damages in "Scream" theft

Written by: Staff

OSLO, May 2 (Reuters) A Norwegian court ordered two men to pay 122 million dollars in damages on Tuesday after convicting them for the 2004 theft of Edvard Munch's masterpieces ''The Scream'' and ''Madonna'' and jailing them for seven and eight years.

The Oslo court also convicted a third man for supplying a car for the armed robbery, but did not order him to pay damages.

It acquitted three other men, including one who prosecutors suspected had been one of two robbers who entered Oslo's Munch Museum on August 22, 2004 and took the artworks in broad daylight.

The prosecution was unable to prove who had actually grabbed the two 1893 paintings, which have not been recovered despite the offer of a 2 million Norwegian crown (325,900 dollars) reward.

Police attorney Morten Hojem Ervik said police did have some information and he was hopeful the pictures would be found.

''We don't think they have been destroyed,'' Ervik said, and added there was no evidence the paintings had been smuggled out of Norway. ''We know a lot, but I can't share all of that with you here now because this work is still going on.'' Five of the men had been charged with planning or taking part in the robbery, and the sixth had been accused of handling stolen goods. All had pleaded not guilty in February.

Two men wearing black ski masks, one of them waiving a Smith&Wesson revolver, walked into the Munch Museum and pulled the two paintings off the walls in front of dozens of stunned tourists who were forced to lie on the ground. A third man drove a get-away car which was later found.

THREE MOST IMPORTANT Presiding judge Arne Lyng sentenced Petter Tharaldsen to eight years in prison, Bjoern Hoen to seven years and Petter Rosenvinge to four years for their part in the robbery.

''The verdict is unanimous,'' Lyng said as the accused sat stone-faced listening to the judgement.

He said Tharaldsen drove the car, a black Audi station wagon, and Rosenvinge sold the car to Hoen who provided it for the robbery.

Rosenvinge knew it would be used for a heist while Hoen knew what would be taken.

Rosenvinge had also been accused of supplying guns for the robbery, but the court said it could not prove it.

All three said they would lodge appeals.

''It is a good judgement and I am pleased that three of the defendants are now convicted for this crime,'' prosecutor Terje Nyboe told Reuters. ''These three were the most important.'' He said it still could not be proved who had entered the museum.

The court said 8,600 Norwegian crowns was found at Tharaldsen's home, which it said came from a bank robbery in the western port of Stavanger in April 2004 when 10 million dollars was stolen and a police officer shot dead.

TWO WEEKS TO PAY Lyng ordered Tharaldsen and Hoen to pay the City of Oslo 750 million Norwegian crowns (2.2 million) in compensation for the paintings within two weeks. The city had sought 500 million crowns for ''The Scream'' and 250 million for ''Madonna.'' The court did not order Rosenvinge to share in the whopping bill for damages, which the judge acknowledged the others would be unable to pay, because it found he did not know ''The Scream'' and ''Madonna'' were the targets of the theft.

''The Scream'', showing a waif-like figure clutching its head under a swirling blood-red sky, has become an icon of angst in a world scarred by horrors like the Holocaust and the atom bomb.

''Madonna'' shows a bare-breasted woman with long black hair.

In 1994, another version of ''The Scream'' -- Munch painted two famous versions -- was stolen for several months from Oslo's National Gallery by thieves who broke a window and climbed in with a ladder. It was recovered by police posing as buyers.

Reuters PM GC2325

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