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Dutch court sentences man to eight years for Van Gogh, Hals thefts

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A Dutch court sentenced a man to eight years in jail Friday for stealing two paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Frans Hals from small museums, although the works themselves remain missing.

The man, identified in the Dutch media as Nils M., 59, was arrested in April in the central town of Baarn for last year’s thefts of Van Gogh’s 1884 work “Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring,” and 17th century painter Hals’s “Two Laughing Boys.”

“With the thefts, this man not only brought enormous harm to the museums, but also to society and the international public,” the Lelystad District Court said.

“They can no longer view and enjoy the paintings,” the court said in a statement.

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The Van Gogh painting was stolen from the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam in March 2020 while it was closed due to coronavirus measures.

It is around 10 kilometers (six miles) from Baarn where the suspect was arrested.

The “Two Laughing Boys” by Hals was meanwhile taken in August from the Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden museum in Leerdam.

Police found DNA at both crime scenes linking Nils M. to the thefts.

The accused denied having anything to do with the thefts and said he did not know where the paintings were.

“The court did not believe this. His DNA was found at both crime scenes and the man could not explain how that was possible,” the court said.

Dutch art detective Arthur Brand, dubbed the “Indiana Jones of the Art World” for finding a number of lost paintings, hailed the news of the sentencing.

He hoped the paintings – for which he too was on the hunt – would be uncovered soon.

“It could take years of course, but hopefully it doesn’t take too long,” he told AFP.

“We know in which circles they are circulating and it just takes one person to do the right thing and come forward,” Brand said.

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