Man on trial over art theft


THE mystery surrounding the theft near Murwillumbah in 2004 of $67 million worth of artworks, including a painting claimed to be by French impressionist Paul Cezanne valued at $50 million, may soon be solved.

Brett Michael Williams, of Southport on the Gold Coast, appeared before Judge Black and a 12-person jury in the Lismore District Court yesterday after pleading not guilty to a charge of break, enter and steal from the dwelling of John Opit at Limpinwood, near Murwillumbah.

And while the authenticity of the Cezanne painting, Son in a High Chair, may be disputed by some, Crown prosecutor John Baxter-Wright made the point that the value of the theft was not under judgement.

Williams, dressed in a dark-coloured suit, sat quietly in the dock listening intently to evidence and taking notes.

It is alleged between February 21 and 26, 2004, Williams broke into Mr Opit's house, stealing a large quantity of possessions, including a matchbox collection, a laptop computer worth $6000, a chainsaw, an electric guitar and artworks, including paintings by American Winslow Homer valued at $2 million, John Peter Russell and John Opit valued at $250,000 each, John Glover valued at $150,000, Arthur Street valued at $30,000 and two prints by Norman Lindsay valued at $3000 each.

Mr Opit was absent from his home at the time of theft, attending a party, and could not return because the road to his home was impassable due to recent rain.

The paintings were recovered four months later from the garage of a duplex at Robina. The owner of the duplex, an elderly woman, found the paintings when she came to visit her son, Toby Bond, who occupied the duplex.

No link was found between Mr Bond and the stolen artworks.

The trial is expected to continue for four days.

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