Source AP ©

Frenchman charged with theft of artifacts from dozens of churches

A Frenchman went on trial Monday accused of stealing chandeliers, a prized 16th century statue and other relics from churches in eastern France, with some later shipped to the United States or put up for sale on e-Bay.

Eric Pocic, 45, allegedly broke into dozens of Roman Catholic churches in the Lorraine region in 2004 and 2005 and stole items with a total value of about EUR600,000 (US$850,000), officials said. Most have not been found.

Prosecutor Michel Senthille said the most valuable object among scores pilfered was a multicolored 16th century statue with an estimated value of about EUR50,000 (US$70,000). It was recovered by police.

Police found his DNA or traced his mobile phone to some of the churches, judicial officials said. Pocic has acknowledged a role in some, but not all, of the cases.

He faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty at the trial in northeastern Nancy, which is due to end Wednesday.

Two antiques' dealers from northeast France and nearby Belgium are also on trial accused of helping Pocic to sell the goods.

The French dealer allegedly put some objects, including a goblet, up for sale on eBay while the Belgian allegedly shipped some to Louisiana, in the United States, officials said.

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