Man charged as two stolen Banksy works found in Paris

Fiachra GIBBONS
Stolen: The missing Banksy artwork that was outside the Pompiodou Centre museum in Paris

A man was charged Friday after two stolen Banksy artworks were recovered in Paris.

An image of a masked rat wielding a box cutter -- the alter ego the elusive British artist often uses -- disappeared from outside the Pompidou Centre in September, a year after Bansky "blitzed" the French capital with murals.

The museum, which houses Europe's biggest collection of modern art but does not have a Bansky, had filed a police complaint for destruction of property.

The man charged with "stealing a cultural asset" is one of three men arrested in and around Paris earlier this week.

Two works by Banksy were recovered in follow-up searches by the police but the stencilled work on the back of a sign for the Pompidou's car park is still missing.

Thieves used a saw to cut it out of the sign.

The Pompidou theft came seven months after another Banksy work paying hommage to the victims of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris was stolen from outside the Bataclan, the concert venue where Islamic State gunmen massacred 90 people.

Another anti-capitalist mural attributed to the secretive street art star disappeared shortly after Banksy's whirlwind trip, which the highly political artist said was to mark the 50th anniversary of the Paris student uprising of 1968.

It featured a businessman in a suit offering a dog a bone having sawed the animal's leg off.

- Niqab Napoleon -

A source close to the investigation told AFP that they were trying to establish if the recovered artworks were original Banksys or copies.

The two other suspects arrested on Tuesday were later released.

Banksy appeared to authenticate eight of the Paris works on his Instagram account shortly after his trip.

The most dramatic was a pastiche of Jacques-Louis David's "Napoleon Crossing the Alps", with Bonaparte wrapped in a red niqab, which appeared on a wall in an ethnically-mixed district of northern Paris.

Banksy had earlier hailed the French capital as "the birthplace of modern stencil art".

He took on the rat as his avatar -- a symbol of the vilified and downtrodden -- in homage to the Paris street artist Blek le Rat, who started out in 1968 when a general strike by students and workers brought France to a halt.

The artist's work has sold for more than $1 million at auction and fans had covered some of his Paris works with Plexiglass to protect them.

But one of a migrant girl was defaced with blue spray paint shortly after news of its discovery spread on social media.