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Seven arrested in Spain over £19m Francis Bacon art theft

Published 28/05/2016

The Prado Museum in Madrid
The Prado Museum in Madrid

Seven people suspected of involvement in stealing five paintings by Irish-born painter Francis Bacon worth more than 25 million euros (£19 million) have been arrested by Spanish police.

The owner of the artworks reported the theft of the paintings and other valuables to the police in July after he returned from a visit to London, a statement said.

None of the paintings has been recovered and the investigation is continuing, police said.

A breakthrough came in February when investigators received an email from a British firm specialising in art which had been asked to verify the provenance of some works.

The person who contacted the firm lived in the northern seaside city of Sitges, police said, and had included photographs of canvases purporting to be by Bacon. The person asked the experts if the works were listed as stolen.

Signatures that looked like Bacon's appeared on the reverse of the paintings, which made the experts suspect they could have been added, the statement said.

An examination of the photographs' metadata revealed the type of camera used and that it was hired out, clues that enabled police to identify the sender and uncover links to a Madrid-based art dealer and a son of the dealer.

The other suspects also received the photographs and were arrested on suspicion of being accomplices and of conspiring to conceal the facts, police said.

The heist appeared to have been professionally planned. The paintings were part of a collection owned by a close friend of Bacon who lived in an apartment close to Spain's Senate, a heavily policed neighbourhood, Spain's leading newspaper El Pais said, citing unidentified sources close to the investigation.

Bacon often visited Madrid, where he spent time studying Old Master paintings in the Prado Museum, and died in the city in 1992 at the age of 82.

Saturday's statement did not say when the arrests were made and did not disclose the names of the suspects.

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