AMSTERDAM/ROME (Reuters) - Italian police have recovered two paintings by the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh that were stolen in Amsterdam 14 years ago, as part of an operation against the Camorra mafia group that operates around Naples.
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam said the paintings had been removed from their frames but appear to have suffered only slight damage. It was not immediately clear when they would be returned to the museum, which is the largest repository of Van Gogh's work.
The paintings, "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen" (1884/5) and "View of the Sea at Scheveningen" (1882), are both from relatively early in Van Gogh's short, tempestuous career.
Italian financial police seized "assets worth tens of millions of euros from a Camorra group involved in international cocaine trafficking", according to a statement. They said the assets included the paintings, which were "priceless".
"They're safe," said Van Gogh Museum director Axel Rueger said in a statement. "I no longer dared to hope that I could ever say that, after so many years."
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi informed his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte about the police operation before the funeral in Jerusalem of former Israeli leader Shimon Peres, a source in Renzi's office said.
In the 2002 heist, thieves used a ladder to climb onto the museum's roof and break into the building, escaping by sliding down a rope.
Two men were later caught and convicted of the theft thanks in part to DNA evidence linking them to the scene. They were sentenced to 4 years and 4 years six months, respectively, but the paintings were not recovered.
The Scheveningen painting is one of only two sea scenes Van Gogh painted in the Netherlands, and "an important example of Van Gogh's earliest painting style, in which he already appeared rather unique", the museum said.
The museum said a patch of paint in the lower left corner had been chipped off.
The painting of the Nuenen congregation where Van Gogh's father worked as minister was made for his mother and finished after his father's death in 1885. It appears undamaged but further investigation is needed to determine both paintings'exact condition and restoration needs, the museum said.