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Spanish police arrest 7 suspects in Francis Bacon painting heist

Spanish police said Saturday they have arrested seven people in connection to the theft of five paintings by renowned artist Francis Bacon worth more than $27.8 million from a home in Spain almost one year ago.

Without naming the suspects or specifying when they made the arrests, Spanish police wrote in a statement that they were tipped off by private British investigators who specialize in stolen art in February. The investigators had received an email from one of the suspects, who sent photos of the paintings and asked whether the work had been stolen.

They noticed what looked like forged signatures on the backs of the paintings in the photos, which provoked them to email Spanish police.

A woman looks at a Francis Bacon painting during an exhibition at the Galleria Borghese in Rome November 11, 2009. Portraits by Italian master Caravaggio and Irish-born 20th-century painter Francis Bacon stand side-by-side in new exhibition connecting their tormented views of humanity despite contrasting approaches to realism. The show at Rome's Galleria Borghese marks 400 years since Caravaggio's death and 100 years since Bacon's birth and at its heart lies their shared fascination with the human form and their predilection for the expressive portrait. Picture taken November 11, 2009. To match Reuters Life! ITALY-CARAVAGGIO/BACON            REUTERS/Max Rossi   (ITALY SOCIETY) - RTXQMYI

A woman looks at a Francis Bacon painting during an exhibition at the Galleria Borghese in Rome November 11, 2009. Photo by Max Rossi/Reuters

Spanish authorities analyzed the metadata from the images and saw that the camera had come from a rental company. Customer records from the company led them to a person in the coastal town of Sitga.

The person who sent the photos “kept in touch with an art dealer in Madrid,” the statement said in Spanish. The person who rented the camera, the art-dealer, the art-dealer’s son and four other people who received the photos were arrested.

Police searched four homes, seized six phones and two computers, but did not recover any of the paintings.

Bacon, who was an Irish-born painter known for his emotionally charged, surrealist work, died in Madrid in 1992 at age 82.

His paintings were stolen from someone who was a close friend of Bacon’s during a professional heist in a heavily policed area while the homeowner was visiting London last July, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais.

The thieves also stole jewelry and other valuables, according to the police statement.

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