Several Romanian nationals are on trial in Belgium for stealing a bronze statue group that had originally stood at the fountain on ‘t Zand square in the center of Bruges for many years, the ziare.com news portal reported. Presumably, the gang transported the group of sculptures to the neighboring Netherlands right after the theft and sold it at a scrapyard. The statues have never been found, as they were most likely melted down soon after arriving at the junkyard.
The bronze statue group, weighing a total of five tons, disappeared the morning of June 1, 2018. According to Belgian media reports, the statues at the time were standing in a wasteland area and were to be moved to the renovated King Albert I Park.
Last November, the Brussels Times wrote that the police had serious indications that the statue group was stolen by a Romanian gang, which was reportedly responsible for a whole series of metal thefts in Belgium. Four of these were in the vicinity of the abovementioned wasteland area in Bruges.
The theft in Bruges was carried out at nightfall, in a well-coordinated manner, and it took a year for the investigators to find the first leads, ziare.com pointed out. The police eventually discovered that the criminal network consisted of at least 30 individuals, with branches in both the Benelux states and France. Last year, in March, the police got ahold of 13 gang members, with five more arrests carried out subsequently. One of the individuals caught by the authorities last March was the leader of the Brussels branch. It is not known how much money the thieves managed to obtain for selling the Bruges statue group, but it was certainly not their first deed of this kind.
Moreover, as the statues were not recovered, the sculptor, Livia Canestraro, has submitted a claim for monetary compensation in the value of EUR 1 million. “These thieves have destroyed a part of the heritage of the city of Bruges,” stated the artist’s daughter, Livia Depuydt, at a hearing. Furthermore, the City Hall of Bruges, as owner of the statue group, claimed EUR 125,000 in damages. The prosecutors in the case are asking for six years of imprisonment for the leader of the gang and for prison time ranging between four and eight years for the other thieves. The trial process has yet to be finalized.
Title image: The “Bathing Ladies” of Bruges could not be found, as they were most likely melted down soon after the theft