Ukraine hands back 2 masterpieces stolen from the Netherlands 11 years ago: Officials

Dutch officers stand guard in front of the Return Of Jephta (left) and Lady World by Jacob Waben at the Dutch Embassy in Kiev on Sept 16, 2016.
Dutch officers stand guard in front of the Return Of Jephta (left) and Lady World by Jacob Waben at the Dutch Embassy in Kiev on Sept 16, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - Five stolen 17th and 18th-century masterpieces were handed back to the Netherlands on Friday (Sept 16), Foreign Ministry officials said, and will soon return to a local museum from where they disappeared 11 years ago.

"Ukrainian authorities have handed over five Dutch paintings to the Westfries Museum. The handover has just taken place at the Dutch embassy in Kiev," the ministry said in a statement.

Twenty-four Dutch Golden Age masterpieces and 70 pieces of silverware were stolen from the Westfries Museum in the northwest town of Hoorn on the night of Jan 9, 2005. At the time of their disappearance, the paintings were valued at a total of 10 million euros (S$15 million).

Ukraine in April announced it had recovered four of the paintings, but it did not give details of how the works were retrieved, saying only they were "in the possession of criminal groups".

The four paintings are: "A Peasant Wedding" by Hendrick Boogaert, "Kitchen Scene" by Floris van Schooten, "Return of Jephta" and "Lady World" by Jacob Waben.

A fifth painting, Isaak Ouwater's 1784 piece entitled "Nieuwstraat in Hoorn", valued at around 30,000 euros, was handed back by an unsuspecting Ukrainian art buyer in May, but details over how he came into possession of the artwork remain vague.

The Westfries Museum said in December the 24 missing paintings were thought to be in the hands of an ultranationalist militia fighting the pro-Russian insurgency in east Ukraine.

"At this point it's impossible to say where the other missing paintings are or how long it would take to get them back," the Foreign Ministry said.

The museum, which has previously voiced concern about the paintings' condition, said they would be returned to Hoorn on Oct 7.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said he was "delighted that the paintings are being returned".

"A lot of hard work has been done to make this possible," Mr Koenders added.