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Suspects face charges over Beit art heist

GARDAI are confident several suspects will be charged with the theft of a ?3.8m haul of paintings from the Beit collection following the recovery of the masterpieces yesterday.

Detectives from the arts and antiques section of the national bureau of criminal investigation retrieved the two paintings - snatched from Co Wicklow's Russborough House last summer - in south Dublin.

It was learned last night that the theft was masterminded by a major armed robber and drug trafficker from Crumlin, known in the underworld as 'The Viper' and a former close associate of 'The General', Martin Cahill who was responsible for the previous heist from Russborough House in 1986.

The theft was carried out by a southside Dublin gang with members in Crumlin, Tallaght and Ballyfermot.

Some of the gang were alleged to have been involved in a series of bank robberies in the Midlands late last year and were ultimately targeted by undercover gardai.

Gardai have now discounted a theory that the paintings had been taken to be used as a negotiating ploy to secure the release of another former Cahill associate, Seamus "Shavo" Hogan who was then facing drug charges. Hogan was subsequently shot dead.

But detectives are now satisfied that the paintings were stolen for unscrupulous art collector overseas.

The paintings recovered yesterday, 'Portrait of Madame Bacelli' by Thomas Gainsborough and 'View of Florence' by Bernardo Belotto, were taken from Russborough House on June 26 last year.

The paintings, out of their frames when recovered, were removed to the National Gallery.

Garda files on seven suspects, detained by detectives earlier this year, are currently being examined by the DPP and officers are hopeful that criminal charges will be brought in a number of cases.

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Another man has already appeared in court on charges related to the theft.

The gang who snatched the paintings left behind a number of clues that assisted the garda investigation.

In a hurried bid to escape with the paintings from the home of Lady Beit, the gang failed to set fire to the stolen four-wheel drive van used to ram the front doors.

Items in the van including a cardboard box and rubber gloves were taken away for fingerprint checks.

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