AN Irish Traveller gang has been linked to an audacious art theft from a museum in Norway last weekend.
Two thieves broke into the Museum of Decorative Arts in Bergen early last Saturday morning and escaped with a valuable haul of Chinese artifacts.
The thieves were caught on security camera, wearing head-lights and using crowbars to smash the glass cases in which the treasures were displayed.
Norwegian police suspect the same gang of Irish Travellers who have already been linked by Europol to a string of robberies, money laundering, and counterfeit goods.
Gardai expect a formal request for Irish assistance from Norwegian police to follow, according to sources.
The gang is suspected of carrying out a string of robberies from small galleries and museums in provincial cities and towns across the UK and on the Continent. There have been robberies in Belgium, France and Germany.
Europol, the international police agency, issued a statement last year claiming that the gang operated as part of a criminal network that spanned America, Europe and China. The group, known as the Rathkeale Rovers, has been linked to the illegal trade in rhino horns which can fetch up to €200,000. They are believed to have stolen horns from a natural history museum in Brussels and from a collection in a small town in western France last year.
The Criminal Assets Bureau is investigating the finances of some of the principal gang members. However, many of them are resident abroad, beyond the reach of the bureau's asset-seizing powers.
The haul of artifacts stolen from the museum in Bergen included Chinese objets d'art in jade, porcelain, bronze and paper.
A director of the museum, quoted in a local newspaper, said that the thieves were professional, knew what they were after, and were most likely hired to carry out the theft to order. Some of the pieces are more than 4,000 years old.