A German museum worker who replaced famous artworks with fakes and sold the originals to buy a Rolls-Royce and luxury watches has been handed a suspended prison sentence.
The man, who hasn’t been identified because of Germany’s strict privacy laws, stole at least three artworks while working for the Deutsches Museum in Munich.
At a hearing on Monday, he was given a suspended sentence of one year and nine months and ordered to pay back more than €60,000 (£52,000) that he had earned from his criminal spree.
During his time at the museum between 2016 and 2018, the man, who is now aged 30, worked in a technical capacity in its archives, where had access to an extensive collection of artefacts and art.
His string of thefts included swapping the oil painting The Fairy Tale of the Frog Prince by the Bavarian artist Franz von Stuck for a forgery. The man then sold the original piece at a Munich auction house for €70,000.
Von Stuck achieved international fame in the early 20th century when he was celebrated for his seductive female nudes that depicted classical mythology.
The man told the auction house that he had inherited the painting from his grandparents.
He stole a further three paintings by 19th-century German artists, two of which he managed to sell at auction.
The man reportedly used the proceeds to finance a luxurious lifestyle that included driving a Rolls-Royce, wearing expensive watches and buying a new apartment.
He “acted without thinking and could no longer explain his behaviour today”, the court said in a statement.
One of the world’s foremost science museums, the Deutsches Museum boasts an extensive collection of artefacts from the natural sciences.
But it is also in possession of a large art collection that was given to it by donors.
The case is a serious embarrassment for the institution and Ketterer Kunst, the Munich auction house that facilitated the sales.
Auction houses are supposed to check art works for authenticity and legal ownership to prevent criminality.
The trial had echoes of the conviction of Wolfgang Beltracchi in 2011, the most infamous art fraudster in recent German history.
Mr Beltracchi, who was born Wolgang Fischer, was a charismatic and talented forger who admitted to selling forgeries of paintings by elite German artists such as Max Pechstein for millions of euros.
He too managed to convince auction houses that the paintings were passed down to him by relatives.