Foiled French Art Thieves Say the FBI Made Them Do It

The museum in Nice (Photo courtesy of Getty)

Paging Hollywood! Seven armed robbers accused of trying to steal $31 million in art from the Beaux Arts museum in Nice, France, claimed today that that they were, in fact, entrapped by the FBI and would never have attempted the crime without provocation of an undercover agent.

The men brandished pistols and hand grenades as they made off with Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Allegory of Water and Allegory of Earth, Alfred Sisley’s Avenue of Poplars at Moret and Claude Monet’s Cliffs Near Dieppe, in August 2007. Lawyers for Pierre-Noel Dumarais, the 64-year-old leader of the gang, say the scheme originated with FBI agent Robert K. Wittman (author of the book Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures, who claims to have recovered over $225 million in stolen art and antiquities), who posed as a “corrupt art dealer” according to The Daily Mail, and used his frequent pseudonym “Bob Clay.”

Mr. Wittman dismissed their defense as self-serving:

“I don’t think anything I did ‘encouraged’ anyone to obtain Chechen hand grenades and semi automatic pistols in order to commit armed robbery. It is a fanciful defense at best, at worst, it is a defense of desperation used only when criminals are caught.”

Mr. Wittman is now retired, but apparently hoped to connect with a network of black market dealers through this heist, with the long-term goal of recovering the $300 million in art famously stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in 1990.

Foiled French Art Thieves Say the FBI Made Them Do It