Two stolen Vincent Van Gogh paintings worth millions of euros were found in an Italian country house belonging to an alleged drug mafia smuggler 14 years after they disappeared during a heist in Amsterdam, in what the FBI calls one of the top 10 global art crimes.
The recovered artworks — View of the sea at Scheveningen and Congregation leaving the reformed church in Nuenen, which are each worth an estimated €50 million — were taken from the Van Gogh museum in 2002.
This painting called Congregation by Van Gogh was stolen by Italian Mafia 14 yrs. ago - recovered today in Italy. pic.twitter.com/ZLeCPnwzWv
— Fernando Ortega (@Ferndiggity) September 30, 2016
“It is a great day for us today to see the works and to know that they are safe and that they are in safe hands,” said Axel Ruger, director of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum.
“We may have to be a bit patient, but we hope that we will have them soon back where they belong,” he said, adding that the museum would respect Italian legal procedures.
The paintings were wrapped in cloth inside a safe in a country house south of Naples that prosecutors say belonged to Raffaele Imperiale, a 41-year-old fugitive businessman accused of running a drug trafficking ring.
The arrests of 11 members from this alleged ring in January led investigators to the paintings.
Imperiale is now suspected by Italian authorities to be living in and running a construction business in Dubai.
Along with the artworks, which Naples prosecutor Giovanni Colangelo said were probably purchased with drug proceeds, police seized a small airplane, boats, 49 properties, and 88 bank accounts worth €20 million.
The paintings vanished when thieves used a ladder to climb on to the roof of the Van Gogh museum to break into the building. They escaped with the paintings by sliding down a rope.
Two men were later tried and convicted of the theft as DNA evidence linked them to the scene, but the paintings were not recovered until now.