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Klimt works taken down following threats

Paintings to be given back to a woman who says they were taken by Nazis
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Austrian museum ordered five precious Gustav Klimt paintings put in storage Friday following threats that they would be destroyed to keep them from being returned to an American who says the Nazis stole them from her Jewish family.

The move was recommended by the Interior Ministry, following the e-mailed threats, the Belvedere Museum said.

Later Friday, police said they arrested a 50-year-old man from Lower Austria province who was tracked down through his Internet provider. Interior Ministry spokesman Rudolf Gollia said the man, who was not identified, had confessed to e-mailing the threats.

“Now that the immediate threat for the paintings has been eliminated, it is up to the museum to decide whether the paintings will be exhibited again,” Gollia said.

Scores of visitors of the Belvedere Museum were disappointed Friday to find the paintings had been removed.

Austria agreed Tuesday to abide by an arbitration court ruling and give up ownership of the paintings to Maria Altmann, who says they were looted from her family by the Nazis.

Altmann, 89, a retired Beverly Hills clothing boutique operator, was one of the heirs of the family that owned the paintings before the Nazis took over Austria in 1938.

The paintings’ estimated worth is at least $150 million.

Culture Minister Elizabeth Gehrer said her ministry was exploring ways to be able to keep at least two of the best known pictures on display in Austria, but ruled out buying them.