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Stolen Rembrandt on view again in Sweden as suspects detained

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STOCKHOLM, Sept 22 (AFP) - Four men arrested in Copenhagen for allegedly trying to sell a stolen Rembrandt painting were to be remanded in custody in Sweden on Thursday, prosecutors said, as the masterpiece went back on display in time for a major exhibit.

"I will ask the Stockholm district court to remand the four in custody today" for two weeks, Swedish prosecutor Ronnie Jacobsson told AFP.

The men, all Swedish nationals, were arrested last week in a Copenhagen hotel as they were allegedly trying to sell the painting, a Rembrandt self-portrait valued at some 37 million dollars (30.2 million euros), for a mere 200,000 dollars.

The quartet, who are suspected of dealing in stolen goods, were escorted by Swedish police from Copenhagen on Wednesday.

The work was stolen along with two paintings by the French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir in a spectacular armed heist at Sweden's National Museum in December 2000.

According to media reports, two of the men were suspects in the robbery but were later acquitted by a Stockholm court.

The heist took place just five minutes before closing, when three masked and heavily armed men walked into the museum, in the center of the Swedish capital, and snatched the precious artworks from the walls as crowds of witnesses looked on.

The three robbers threw spikes onto the road to slow the police chase and set several parked cars on fire before fleeing in a speedboat waiting for them outside the waterfront museum.

Nine men were later handed heavy prison sentences in Sweden for their role in the theft, including a 47-year-old Swede currently serving eight years for masterminding the robbery.

The Rembrandt was the last of the three paintings to be recovered. Renoir's "Conversation" was recovered in Stockholm in April 2001, by chance, during a drug investigation, while "Young Parisian" was found in the United States earlier this year.

The self-portrait was returned to the National Museum late Wednesday, just hours before a new exhibit opened on Thursday entitled "The Dutch golden age. Rembrandt, Frans Hals and their contemporaries".

The director of the museum's collections, Torsten Gunnarsson, told AFP the museum was delighted to have the masterpiece back and said he could not have planned it better.

"The exhibit is already attracting a lot of attention but we are especially happy to have the missing link back in place. The timing is unbelievable," he said.

Heavy crowds streamed through the museum on Thursday, where the Rembrandt was displayed behind a glass window. Visitors appeared to be paying special attention to the recovered painting.

Extra security was in place, and a specially-assigned security guard stood beside the masterpiece.

"Now that we have gotten this piece back we want to make it clear that we have good security at the museum and that we are taking extra good care of it, " the museum's head of security Jan Birkehorn said.

He said the National Museum had reviewed its security after the dramatic robbery, improving the technical aspects in particular.

However, "I don't think you can ever protect yourself from an armed robbery, " he said. "If you're threatened with a gun, you just have to step aside."



COPYRIGHT 2005 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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