Famed Art Thief Dies

Erik the Belgian, born Rene Alphonse van den Berghe, died on June 19th at the age of 80.

His heyday was in the Seventies, robbing Spanish churches and monasteries of perhaps hundreds of precious items, primarily over a seven-year period.

In an interview with Karmentxu Marin for El Pais in 2012, Erik told of his life as a thief, the difficulties inherent in moving stolen art, and the importance of inside information:

"It depends who was waiting for the works that were inside. You cannot steal a work without having a client who is waiting for it. If you do, you go straight to jail. Everything is easy to steal. It depends on who commissions you. They put in alarms, but whoever has placed them shows you how to disconnect them. They're not a problem. The important thing is to have a client."

Late in his life, Van den Berghe seemed to enjoy the portraying himself as the gentleman thief. "I am no small-time crook," he said. "I am a high-class thief. I have stolen for the love of art and I have stolen luxury items. Money has no luxury value."

The fact is, however, that the bulk of his crimes involved stealing from little-guarded, lesser-known religious sites, where security was not an object. When asked if he was proud of his exploits, he replied "Not in any way." But, ironically, his modesty didn't stop him from writing a book about his criminal career, titled Erik the Belgian: For the Love of Art.

Here's a short piece from the time of the publication of his book.

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