By Ioana Patran

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Radu Dogaru, suspected Romanian ringleader in the theft of seven paintings including a Picasso and Monet from a Dutch museum last year, will never disclose their whereabouts unless his trial is moved to the Netherlands, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

A Bucharest court began a trial on Tuesday of six Romanians charged with stealing artworks worth tens of millions of euros (dollars), a month after hearings were suspended to clear up procedural issues.

Defense lawyer Catalin Dancu told reporters during a trial break that five of the seven paintings, originally believed to be in Romania, were being moved to a different country, possibly neighboring Moldova.

"All the five paintings that were in Romania are now abroad, in the east. In my opinion, in Moldova. A Russian lipovan took the paintings abroad," he said without elaborating, referring to a member of an ethnic Russian minority living in Romania. Dancu said the other two stolen artworks were in Belgium.

"(Accused ringleader) Radu Dogaru has refused to tell where the five paintings are. Radu said: 'If the Dutch don't want to take me, no one sees the paintings'," Danci said.

"Radu does not want to cooperate anymore with Romanian authorities because he does not trust the justice system in Romania."

He reiterated that no painting had been burned.

A Romanian team of experts earlier assessed that three of the paintings could have been destroyed by fire. Dogaru's mother said she had burned them to protect her son as police closed in. She later retracted her statement.

The paintings, which also included works by Matisse, Gauguin and Lucien Freud, were snatched from Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum in October in one of the art world's most dramatic heists of the past few years and among the biggest ever in the Netherlands.

The works stolen were Picasso's "Tête d'Arlequin", Matisse's "La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune", Monet's "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London", Gauguin's "Femme devant une fenêtre ouverte", De Haan's "Autoportrait" and Freud's "Woman with Eyes Closed".

When they were stolen, specialists in recovering missing artworks said there was a good chance of getting them back. They said such pieces were so well known that it was almost impossible to sell them on the open market.

The start of the trial was attended by five of the six suspects. One of the five has been freed while on trial, while the sixth remains at large and is being tried in absentia.

(Writing by Radu Marinas; Editing by Mark Heinrich)


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