Hungarian Art Thieves Face Several Years in Prison in France
The trial of a seven-member gang of Hungarian art thieves started this week in Bordeaux. The group is accused of stealing antique maps and cut-out pages of books, valued at millions of euros, from French libraries for years. So far, only one of them have confessed to the group’s alleged crimes.
The suspects – six men and a woman – presented fake library cards in several French cities, including Toulouse, Nancy and Lille, in order to get access to valuable old books from the 16th to 18th centuries. They then cut maps out of the books using craft knives and stole the pages. In total, the gang allegedly stole an estimated 4 million euros (1.5 billion forints) worth of artifacts from public libraries in France between 2011 and 2013.
The group, probably part of a larger European network, was caught in 2012, when one of the member’s cars was searched by Hungarian custom officers, who found 110 ancient maps, stamped by the Toulouse public library.
Hungarian authorities alerted their French counterparts, who started to investigate the case and found that the found maps were stolen. The man, András Katona, who claims to be a plumber, said he bought the maps, estimated to be worth 450,000 euros (HUF 143 million) “at an Italian market from a gypsy with a Yugoslavian accent.”
Only one of the suspects admitted to the thefts: Katona’s cousin, Károly Forgó, who has lived in France for the last 20 years. He claimed he acted alone and that “powerful people” approached him about the job, but he refused to name them.
Prosecutors are seeking five years in prison for Forgó, 2-3 years for Katona, his wife and another man, while Tibor Szathmári, a 69-year old antique dealer specializing in ancient maps, is facing seven years, while his co-worker faces six years behind bars.
Szathmári has denied the charges, but also refused to clarify the source of his income. Hungarian investigators found two new trucks and a Bentley at his luxury estate in Hungary.