Spanish police posing as art dealers, beggars and street cleaners arrested two men and recovered paintings worth millions of dollars belonging to one of the world's richest women, authorities said yesterday. The sting operation recouped 10 of the 19 works that were seized from the Madrid mansion of construction tycoon Esther Koplowitz last August, in what police dubbed the biggest international art heist in decades. The haul, including works by Spanish old master Francisco de Goya and French impressionist Camille Pissarro, was estimated to be worth more than 30 million euros ($29.35 million). “The operation remains open until we have recovered all of the missing works,” police chief Juan Cotino told a news conference on Monday, three days after Friday's sting. In the guise of an agent for a shadowy art collector, an undercover Spanish agent lured the suspects to a luxurious Madrid hotel under the pretence of buying a painting by Dutch master Pieter Brueghel. The hotel was surrounded by scores of police in various disguises. As soon as the painting's identity was confirmed by an FBI expert posing as an art professor, the two suspects were arrested. A further nine works of art were found nearby, stashed in the boot of a car. The suspects had planned to show them to the undercover agent after the first sale was completed. Police said they were still working to recover the other stolen paintings, which include Goya's The Donkey's Fall and a canvas by Cubist painter Juan Gris, Guitar on a Chair. Criminal elements in Colombia and Eastern Europe had expressed an interest in buying the art on the international black market, sources said. Police said the two men arrested, Juan Manuel Candela and Angel Suarez, were members of a well-known gang of bank robbers. A third man, Luis Miguel del Mazo, turned himself in to police after the arrests. Del Mazo had worked as a security guard at Koplowitz's residence and allowed the others access to the house last August when it was unoccupied for refurbishment, police said. Even though Del Mazo was found bound and beaten in a closet at the house, police had long suspected he was a conspirator. He was briefly detained in December, together with Candela and Flores. Koplowitz, an aristocrat and one of the world's wealthiest women, is the controlling shareholder in Spain's biggest construction and services firm Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas.

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