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Originally published July 17, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 17, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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The summer heist

The theft of two Picasso etchings from a gallery at Bellevue Square mall sounds like something from "The Thomas Crown Affair," the...

The theft of two Picasso etchings from a gallery at Bellevue Square mall sounds like something from "The Thomas Crown Affair," the twice-made movie about a high-class art thief.

In the movie, the thief is a wealthy rake with a taste for Monet. At the Bellevue gallery, the thieves were two men and a woman with an eye for works by cubist artist Pablo Picasso. The real art heist took just minutes. The woman distracted the salesperson with a question on the merits of a piece conveniently located at the far end of the gallery. The two men, meanwhile, lifted the Picasso etchings from the wall and strolled out into the airy mall. One of the men reportedly was on his cellphone the entire time.

The gallery employee didn't immediately notice the theft. By the time the police were notified, the trio had long since blended into the sea of shoppers lugging high-end finds.

The etchings, "Bacchic Scene with Minotaur" and "Aquatinte 26 mai 1968," were signed by Picasso and valued at $92,000. Special identification numbers will place the works on an international database of missing art. Selling them through major auction houses or on eBay would likely alert law enforcement.

But there exists an underground market for stolen treasures. Unscrupulous art collectors have few qualms about purchasing stolen pieces for their private collections.

The items are rarely intended for public resale and thus remain elusive to law-enforcement recovery efforts.

The Bellevue art gallery plans to step up its security. All that is left is to ponder the plunder of an art gallery on an innocent summer morning.

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