NAPLES • Two Van Gogh masterpieces stolen in Amsterdam 14 years ago have been recovered from the home of a notorious Italian drug boss near Naples.
The 1882 Seascape At Scheveningen and 1884/85 Congregation Leaving The Reformed Church In 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 yesterday.
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 34km south-east of Naples, a notorious hot spot 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 artworks 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.
"But it can be assumed they were not preserved under suitable conditions", and their frames had been removed, the museum said.
Paint had also broken away from the bottom left corner of the Seascape painting.
Dutch police opened an international hunt in 2002 after thieves apparently used a simple ladder and a length of rope to steal the two artworks, which are worth millions of dollars.
The criminals broke into the museum in downtown Amsterdam on Dec 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.