Master paintings stolen in one of the most significant art thefts in Italian history are in the process of being recovered, Reuters reported yesterday.
Armed and masked robbers raided the galleries of Verona’s Museo Civico di Castelvecchio last November. They made off with seventeen paintings including works by Tintoretto and Rubens estimated at a total value of around €15 million (£10.5 million). Eleven of the paintings are considered masterworks.
Following an investigation led by Verona’s city prosecutor, Gennaro Ottaviano, the paintings were uncovered in Moldova. Yesterday (15 March), Verona police together with the specialist cultural heritage unit of Italy’s paramilitary police force, the Carabinieri, reported that they had arrested twelve suspects in connection with the heist. Nine suspects were arrested in Moldova with the remaining three arrests made in Verona.
At the time of the theft a range of conspiracy theories were offered up as to who might be responsible for the raids. Italy’s former junior culture minister and art critic, Vittorio Sgarbi, suggested it may have been masterminded by a terrorist organisation. There were even concerns that ISIS planned to sell the works on the black market to fund their activities.
Others such as the Carabinieri’s deputy head, Alberto Deregibus, suspected the thefts were simply the work of local delinquents.
The audacity of the Verona heist outraged the local authorities including Mayor Flavio Tosi who described it at the time as a “wound for the city”. Art critics blamed drastic public spending cuts, which have undermined security in Italian museums and threatened the country’s valuable cultural heritage. A single guard was on duty at the Castelvecchio museum on the night when the theft took place.
More details of the arrests are expected to be released at a news conference to be held in Verona today (16 March).