A Ukrainian art dealer who was found guilty of orchestrating the theft of a $1.6 million painting by the impressionist artist Paul Signac from a French museum has been sentenced to five years in prison for the heist. Photo courtesy of Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy/Facebook
Feb. 4 (UPI) -- A Ukrainian art dealer who was found guilty of orchestrating the theft of a $1.6 million painting by the impressionist artist Paul Signac from a French museum has been sentenced to five years in prison for the heist.
Vadym Huzhva, 64, was found guilty by the Nancy Criminal Court of stealing Signac's work "Le Port de La Rochelle" from its frame at the Musée de Beaux-Arts in Nancy, France, according to the regional newspaper L'Est Républicain.
He was also convicted of stealing four other works and has been ordered to pay nearly $325,000 in damages, the newspaper reported.
The painting was made by Signac, famous for developing the post-impressionism movement of pointillism, in 1915.
Investigators discovered that Huzhva and two other men removed the painting from its frame with a box cutter and rolled it up to carry out of the museum under a raincoat one of them was wearing in 2018, the French publication Les Actualites reported.
The painting was thought to be lost until police in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, raided the home of an alleged murder suspect in 2019.
The murder suspect allegedly told Ukrainian police that he had the painting in his closet and asked them to handle it with care while identifying Huzhva as an accomplice, according to the reports.
Huzhva, at the time, was imprisoned in Australia after he was convicted there for stealing a painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in Vienna in 2018.
He was extradited to France upon his release from prison in Australia in 2020 and the painting has since been returned to the museum.
"After restoration by Noëlle Jeannette, Paul Signac's 'Le Port de La Rochelle' is again visible in the museum's permanent collections," the museum said in a statement in September.
Samira Boudiba, Huzhva's lawyer, told Le Parisein that he denies any connection to the theft and claims "it's a conspiracy."
"He's not on the surveillance film. All you can see are three people who cannot be identified. The whole video shows the time the painting was stolen, but that's it," Boudiba said.
"He is accused of stealing a painting in France, which is strange. Without going into the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, he says it's a conspiracy."