French Police Break Antique and Art Theft Ring

CLERMONT-FERRAND, France (AP) - Police cracked a ring of art traffickers who broke into chateaus and made off with art, jewels and period furniture, arresting 60 suspects across France and Belgium, a prosecutor said Friday.

Some 390 investigators began tracking the case in December 2003 after some 50 break-ins at chateaus and manor houses, all using the same method.

Thirty-nine of the thefts occurred in the lush, mountainous Puy-de-Dome region where Clermont-Ferrand is located, and most of the suspects come from the same family, said Michel Valet, criminal court prosecutor in this city in central France.

He said the thieves stole the goods, stocked them and then resold them to antique dealers in France, Belgium and Germany. Some specialized in bronzes, others in paintings or furniture, he said.

Officers seized some 500 stolen works and furniture - including a Louis XVI chandelier - as well as nearly $2.7 million in cash and savings.

Of the 60 arrested, 19 have been placed under investigation - a step short of being charged - and 17 have been jailed, he said.