'Gentleman Thief' Sent To Jail

It may well be a functional salt cellar, but it's hard to imagine anyone feeling overly hungry at the breakfast table when confronted by such a trinket. The riot of writhing gold figures, topped by a stark naked Neptune, god of the sea, alongside Ceres, goddess of the earth, is not really what you want to be faced with as you tuck into your daily boiled egg. But it appears that Robert 'the Robber' Mang, Viennese ladies' favourite, was not really after an addition to his dinner service when he swiped the treasure from the city's famed art museum.

Rather, Mang stole the 40 million pound treasure as a prank. Or so his defense ran in Vienna's courts this month. So cocksure was the mischievous meddler that he even sent a text message to the police, mocking their investigation: "Thank you for your efforts," he wrote, "we'll get back to you."

But Mang's cheek was to prove his undoing, as the cops soon traced the message. After his photograph was released as the prime suspect, Mang promptly handed himself in.

The defendant, a bona fide alarms expert through his ownership of a security company, claimed that he had committed the crime on a whim after partying at a nightclub. His stated aim was to reveal the lax security at the grandiose Habsburg-era Kunsthistorisches Museum. The piece he swiped, a sixteenth century salt cellar ('Saliera') by Benevuto Cellini, is the only existing work in gold by the Italian artist. The 'gentleman thief' as he is now known, tried to extort a ransom from the police, but his plan unravelled following the mischievous text.

The court was unmoved by the defendant's claims of misadventure. Nor was it moved by the dozens of women who thronged the court in his support (thousands of admiring ladies sent the robber raunchy fan-mail as he sat in the clink awaiting trial). It has also emerged that the defendant had been going through a divorce at the time of the theft. Nevertheless, it has come to light that Mang's claims that the robbery was 'on a whim' were not entirely consistent with the truth, as the prosecutors proved that he had paid a couple of visits to the museum in the weeks leading up to the theft.

The Viennese court has ruled that Mang must serve four years for the robbery. Viennese talk-boards are aflame with anger at the harshness of the sentence, but there is a possibility that Mang will get out earlier, provided he doesn't get up to any more pranks.


not shown