Artworks worth an estimated €5 million (£4.2m) have been stolen from a transport lorry in Madrid in what police described as the “biggest robbery of contemporary art in Spain” to date.
Around 30 pieces were taken, including artwork by Pablo Picasso, during transportation from galleries in Cologne, Germany to Madrid in a robbery that had all the hallmarks of “an inside job”.
The works were contained in a transport lorry parked inside a warehouse in the Madrid suburb of Getafe. CCTV footage shows three masked thieves breaking into the site on Saturday. They drove the truck away after reportedly finding the ignition key in the glove compartment.
The lorry was found abandoned empty three days later and is being examined by a forensic team specialising in art theft.
At least 20 of the artworks came from the Stefan Röpke gallery in Cologne which staged an exhibition of Basque artist Eduardo Chillida last month.
“All the works were insured and were being returned to our sister gallery in Madrid,” said the director of the gallery in Cologne.
“The police have contacted us and told us not to publicise exactly which pieces have been taken as it may affect the investigation,” he said adding that “it has all the hallmarks of an inside job”.
“We used a company that regularly transports art from here across Europe taking combined shipments from different galleries in the area.”
The Crisostomo transport company had no comment to make on the theft.
The investigation is being conducted by a police unit specialising in art theft. “We are working hard to prevent the thieves taken the stolen art out of Spain as once they cross borders, recovery becomes difficult,” said a spokesman on condition of anonymity.
Only an estimated 15 per cent of stolen artworks are recovered, the police unit said adding that it had become the third largest trade on the black market after drugs and arms trafficking.
David Fernandez, the director of the Juan Gris gallery in Madrid, said they had a sculpture and a collage by Chillida stolen in the theft.
“It gave us a big fright because nothing like this has ever happened to us,” he told Spanish National Radio. “We’re upset because they are important pieces and irreplaceable.”