Court regarded the choice of a church as a target as especially deplorable
On Monday, the Helsinki District Court handed down prison sentences to three Romanian men who broke into Helsinki’s Uspenski Cathedral in the summer.
The most severe sentence of three years and four months in prison was given to 36-year-old Ion Vasile.
The Court found him guilty of both the aggravated theft committed in June and of the attempted aggravated theft in August. He was also sentenced to pay more than EUR 180,000 in compensation for damages to the Helsinki Orthodox Congregation. The two other men received sentences of one year and two months each for an attempted aggravated theft.
In June, thieves stole the “Theotokos of Kozeltshan” icon, depicting the Virgin Mary, while also taking jewellery and ornaments that worshippers had left as offerings around the actual work, and further jewels from around a second icon.
Nobody was caught at the scene of crime, but some DNA was obtained from the protective glass covering the icon and from the iron pipe that had apparently been used as a burglary tool.
Another similar break-in into the Uspenski Cathedral occurred in August, when the three men now sentenced to prison were caught. The DNA previously found at the crime scene matched that of Vasile. According to a statement issued by the forensic laboratory of the National Bureau of Investigation, the probability that the DNA came from someone other than Vasile is less than one in a billion.
The court ruled that a more severe punishment was justified, as the target of the robberies was a church.
According to the court, a break-in into a church cannot be compared with other burglaries, as the church is a sacred place for people, and icons and other artefacts enjoy a special status in the Orthodox Church. The stolen icon and jewels have not been recovered. Initially the congregation sought more than EUR 280,000 in compensation for the stolen objects.