Caper Sees $160Mln Art Stolen

ZURICH -- Three armed men in ski masks stole paintings by Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh and Monet worth 180 million Swiss francs ($163.2 million) from a Zurich museum, police said Monday, calling it a "spectacular art robbery."

The robbers, who are still at large, stole the paintings Sunday from the E.G. Buehrle Collection, one of Europe's finest private museums for Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, said police in the Swiss financial center.

It was the largest art robbery in Switzerland's history and one of the biggest ever in Europe, said Marco Cortese, spokesman for the Zurich police. He compared its magnitude with the theft in 2004 of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" and "Madonna" from the Munch Museum in Norway. The paintings, insured for $141 million, were recovered nearly two years later.

A police statement said the three masked men wearing dark clothing entered the museum a half-hour before closing Sunday. While one of the men used a pistol to force museum personnel to the floor, the two others went into the exhibition hall and collected the four paintings.

The men were about 1.75 meters tall, and one of them spoke German with a Slavic accent, the police said. They loaded the paintings into a white vehicle parked in front of the museum. Police, asking for witnesses to come forward, said it was possible that the paintings were partly sticking out of the van as the robbers made their getaway.