Five paintings stolen from Paris' Museé d'Art Moderne in Paris in 2010 were thrown away by an accomplice when two suspects were arrested.
The Telegraph's journalist in Paris, Henry Samuel reported:
It took officers from the Serious Crime Brigade more than a year before placing three men -- the alleged thief and two accomplices -- under official investigation.
According to police sources cited by Le Journal du Dimanche, one of the alleged accomplices, a 34-year-old watch repairer known only as Jonathan told detectives that when the other two men were arrested in May, he "panicked and destroyed the canvasses before throwing them into a rubbish truck.
Detectives said that while they remained sceptical about his account, they could not "totally rule out' this catastrophic scenario.
According to Samuel, police first arrested 'a Serb known only as Vrejan T, 43, nicknamed "Spiderman" and who was detained days after last year's heist over a separate art theft from a chic Paris apartment.'
Under questioning, the suspected reportedly recounted how he loosed screws in a window at the Art Deco Palais de Tokyo housing the museum, returned a few nights later to remove the frame and sliced through a padlock on an iron grille.
He had initially gone there only to steal a Léger work to order, he said, but once inside, was "surprised" when the burglary alarm failed to sound.
Being a "veritable art lover," the Serb told police he then wandered around for another hour, eluding 30 closed circuit cameras to cherry pick four other masterpieces. "He found the Modigliani the most beautiful of all," a judicial source told the JDD.
Vrejan T reportedly told investigators he had stolen the Léger for Jean-Michel C, 56, an antiques dealer with a shop called Antiquités Bastille. He was arrested in May for selling other stolen art works.
Detectives told le JDD the Serb gave them his name as he never received the 40,000 euros promised for the Léger.
The antiques dealer denied his claims, and said the Serb left the works at his boutique without his consent. He said he then passed them onto the young watchmaker, a recognized expert used by auction houses. He told police Jonathan B had mentioned potential Israeli buyers.
But the watchmaker told police he simply dumped the priceless works in a dustbin.