Officials in Greece say they have recovered two priceless paintings — one by Pablo Picasso and another by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian — stolen from the National Gallery in Athens in 2012.
During a news briefing in Athens Tuesday, a spokesman said police acted on a tip and arrested a 49-year-old handyman who confessed to the crime. Police had originally believed the burglary had been the work of two people.
The official offered details to reporters of how the man had plotted to steal the two paintings — Picasso's 1939 "Woman's Head" and Mondrian's 1905 "Stammer Mill with Summer House.”
He said the thief broke into the museum in the early morning hours, and, to mislead the guard on duty, had activated the alarm in one part of the gallery while he broke into another.
He added the thief had originally hidden the paintings in his home but later wrapped them and hid them in a ravine in the town of Keratea, about 20 kilometers from Athens. They were recovered there Monday in good condition.
Speaking at the same news conference, Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said it was a day full of joy and emotion. She explained the Picasso painting is of special value to the Greek people because the painter personally dedicated it to them for their struggle against fascist and Nazi occupying forces during World War II.
She said the painting bears his hand-written dedication. “That is why it was impossible for this painting not only to be sold but even to be exhibited anywhere as it would be immediately identifiable as being stolen from the National Gallery."
The Mondrian painting was a gift to the National Gallery by a Greek owner. Both paintings will be displayed at the gallery later this year when it reopens following extensive renovations.
The Associated Press, Reuters News Service and the French news agency, AFP contributed to this report.