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Man wanted for buying stolen van Gogh paintings arrested in Dubai

Written by on 19/08/2021

A man wanted in Italy for allegedly buying stolen Vincent van Gogh paintings – and also being an international drug trafficker – has been arrested in Dubai.

Raffaele Imperiale, 46, is supposedly a kingpin in the Camorra crime syndicate, based in the city of Naples.

He was arrested on 4 August, according to a joint statement by Italy‘s state police and financial crime investigators.

View of the Sea at Scheveningen (1882), left, and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1885)
Image: View of the Sea at Scheveningen (1882), left, and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1885)

Since his arrest, Imperiale, 46, has been held in the UAE while Italian authorities complete the extradition process.

In 2002, two paintings by van Gogh – “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen” and “View of the Sea at Scheveningen” – were stolen in Amsterdam.

They remained missing until 2016.

Police in Italy discovered the works – wrapped in cotton, hidden behind a bathroom wall – in a villa near Naples, which Imperiale owned.

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The pieces were estimated to be worth €50m each (£42.8m) at the time they were recovered.

Speaking to Italian newspaper Il Mattino earlier this year, Imperiale said of the paintings: “I bought them directly from the thief, because the price was attractive. But most of all because I love art.”

According to Italian news outlets, Imperiale lived in Amsterdam for about 10 years.

During this time, he is alleged to have directed drug shipments to Italy.

He then left the Netherlands, and lived in Madrid, Spain, before moving to Dubai.

Imperiale “was able to construct an imposing network of international drug trafficking, in particular in cocaine,” the police said.

The investigators said that Imperiale started working as an “international broker” in the drug trade in the early 2000s.

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2016: Van Gogh paintings found in Mafia home

His ties to the Camorra clan survived the feuding atmosphere of Naples’ underworld.

The arrest of the 46-year-old is, according to Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese, “an excellent result which once again demonstrates the ability of our police forces to fight crime”.

 Sky News

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