The artworks—Picasso’s Tête (1970) and Chagall’s L’homme en prière (1971)—were owned by the Herzikovich family, who kept them at their villa in Tel Aviv. In 2010, thieves broke into the family’s home and stole them, along with $680,000 worth of jewelry, reports the Guardian’s Philip Oltermann.
At the time of the burglary, the paintings had a combined estimated value of $900,000, according to a statement from Belgian authorities. The jewelry’s whereabouts are still unknown.
“Although the collector’s home was equipped with an efficient and sophisticated alarm system, the thieves managed to neutralize them and enter the empty home without being detected,” write the authorities, per a translation from Euronews’ David Mouriquand. “After breaking into the safe containing the jewelry, they took only the paintings by Chagall and Picasso.” Other paintings in the home were left untouched.
For over a decade, law enforcement failed to locate the works. Then, in 2022, police received a tip that an art dealer in the Belgian city of Namur was trying to sell them.
According to the statement, a “delicate” and “meticulous” investigation began. Namur authorities started quietly tracking the suspect, an Israeli luxury watch dealer known by police as “Daniel Z,” per the Guardian. Over the course of several months, they accumulated information about the people he spent time with and the places he visited.
These efforts “made it possible to establish that the suspect was in possession of the works sought and that he could have them at his home or at the home of one of his relations,” Belgian authorities say, per Google Translate.
On January 10, the police raided the suspect’s home—and while they didn’t find the paintings, they did find an unusually large sum of money in the house.
Investigators then questioned the suspect and his wife, who confessed to having the paintings but would not disclose where they were located.
Two days later, the police widened their search to nearby Antwerp, where they investigated a building connected to previous art theft cases, reports the Guardian. In the basement, they found two wooden boxes with lids screwed shut. Inside were the stolen Picasso and Chagall.
“The two paintings have not suffered any damage and are still in their original frame,” the authorities say.
After being questioned in a court hearing, the subject was charged with handling the stolen paintings and was subsequently arrested.