Stolen art found in drug lord’s cas­tle

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

TWO Van Gogh mas­ter­pieces stolen in Am­s­ter­dam 14 years ago have been re­coved from the home of a no­to­ri­ous Ital­ian drug boss near Naples, Ital­ian and mu­seum of­fi­cials an­nounced on Septem­ber 30.

The 1882 “Seas­cape at Schevenin­gen” and 1884-85 “Con­gre­ga­tion Leav­ing the Re­formed Church at Nue­nen” were “re­cov­ered dur­ing a mas­sive, con­tin­u­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion … con­ducted by a spe­cialised Ital­ian pros­e­cu­tions team in­ves­ti­gat­ing or­gan­ised crime,” the Van Gogh Mu­seum said in a state­ment.

Ital­ian in­ves­ti­ga­tors raided a home be­long­ing to in­fa­mous drug baron Raf­faele Im­pe­ri­ale, who was ar­rested 10 years ago at the same lo­ca­tion at Castel­lam­mare di Stabia, some 34 kilo­me­tres (21 miles) south­east of Naples, a no­to­ri­ous hotspot for Neapoli­tan mafia ac­tiv­ity.

Im­pe­ri­ale, who be­longs to the Amato-Pa­gana clan, is be­lieved to have sub­se­quently fled to Dubai, where he owns a con­struc­tion com­pany, the Neapoli­tan edi­tion of Ital­ian daily La Repub­lica re­ported. A new ar­rest war­rant had been is­sued against him ear­lier this year, the news­pa­per added.

“The in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­firms that crim­i­nal or­gan­i­sa­tions are in­ter­ested in art works that are both used as a form of in­vest­ment as well as a source of fund­ing,” Ital­ian Cul­tural Min­is­ter Dario Frances­chini said.

Van Gogh Mu­seum of­fi­cials said they were over­joyed that the paint­ings had been re­cov­ered.

“The cu­ra­tor who in­spected the au­then­tic­ity and prove­nance of the works at the re­quest of the Ital­ian Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions Depart­ment drew a firm con­clu­sion: ‘They are the real paint­ings!’,” said the mu­seum, which houses hun­dreds of paint­ings, draw­ings and sketches by Vin­cent van Gogh made up to his sui­cide in 1890.

De­spite a 14-year jour­ney, the two paint­ings “ap­pear to be in fairly good con­di­tion”, the mu­seum said.

“But it can be as­sumed they were not pre­served un­der suit­able con­di­tions” and their frames had been re­moved, the mu­seum added.

Paint has also bro­ken away from the bot­tom left cor­ner of the “Seas­cape” paint­ing.

Dutch po­lice opened an in­ter­na­tional hunt back in 2002 af­ter thieves ap­par­ently used a sim­ple lad­der and a length of rope to steal the two works, worth mil­lions of dol­lars.

The crim­i­nals broke into the mu­seum in down­town Am­s­ter­dam on De­cem­ber 7 that year us­ing the lad­der to climb onto the roof, where they broke through a win­dow and used a rope to get in and out of the heav­ily for­ti­fied build­ing.

The dar­ing heist left Dutch po­lice flab­ber­gasted at the time. The paint­ings’ where­abouts were un­known un­til be­ing re­cov­ered in the Naples area, the Van Gogh Mu­seum said.

“Af­ter all those years you no longer dare to count on a pos­si­ble re­turn,” said the mu­seum’s di­rec­tor, Axel Rueger, who has trav­elled to Naples to view the miss­ing Vin­cents.

“The paint­ings have been found. That I would ever be able to pro­nounce th­ese words is some­thing that I no longer dared to hope for,” he said.

“The art his­tor­i­cal value of the paint­ings for the col­lec­tion is huge,” said the mu­seum.

“Seas­cape at Schevenin­gen” is the only paint­ing in the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion dat­ing from Van Gogh’s pe­riod in The Hague be­tween 1881-83.

It’s also one of only two seas­capes that he painted dur­ing his years in The Nether­lands and is a “strik­ing ex­am­ple of Van Gogh’s early style of paint­ing, al­ready show­ing his in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter”.

The “Con­gre­ga­tion Leav­ing the Re­formed Church at Nue­nen” is a small can­vas Van Gogh painted for his mother in early 1884 of the church where his fa­ther was the min­is­ter.

It was un­clear when the paint­ings were to re­turn to Am­s­ter­dam, as they were used as proof in an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Italy, the mu­seum said.

The Van Gogh Mu­seum, which opened its doors to the pub­lic in 1973, is one of Am­s­ter­dam’s mostvis­ited at­trac­tions in the Dutch cap­i­tal that gets some 17 mil­lion vis­i­tors every year.

The miss­ing Van Goghs are not the only stolen Dutch mas­ter­pieces to have been re­cov­ered this year.

Ukraine ear­lier this month handed back five 17th and 18th­cen­tury mas­ter­pieces which dis­ap­peared from an­other Dutch mu­seum on north­west Nether­lands 11 years ago.

Pho­tos: AFP

Axel Ruger (cen­tre), di­rec­tor of the Van Gogh Mu­seum, poses next to two re­cently re­cov­ered stolen paint­ings by late Dutch artist Vin­cent Van Gogh en­ti­tled “Con­gre­ga­tion Leav­ing the Re­formed Church in Nue­nen” (left) and “The Beach At Schevenin­gen Dur­ing A Storm” (right) in Naples on Septem­ber 30.

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