Art squad unravel thefts

Castelvecchio in Verona. Photo / iStock
Castelvecchio in Verona. Photo / iStock

The news of a 17-painting heist from Verona's Castelvecchio Museum shocked the art world last November.

Eleven masterpieces were stolen - including work by Italian Renaissance painters Pisanello, Caroto and Jacopo Bellini, by Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, and by Dutch artist Hans de Jode.

"An absolute disaster," said one art critic, Italian Vittorio Sgarbi, after the theft. The haul was valued at around US$16 million ($23.4 million), making it one of the most serious art robberies in our history, Sgarbi said.

That's when the Carabinieri Art Squad stepped in. A sort of Italian heritage police, the team specialises in recovering stolen antiquities.

It had surveillance footage from the Italian museum, and testimony from the security guard on duty that night. They got to work. They wire-tapped phones, expanded their search area, and homed in on weaknesses in the guard's testimony.

Investigators combed through 4000 hours of video and hundreds of wire-tapped phone calls before they untangled the crime, culminating in the arrest of 13 suspects.

Among them were the security guard, the guard's twin brother and the guard's Moldovan wife. Eleven of the 13 were Moldovans, while two were Italian.

But where were the paintings? Somewhere in Moldova, said investigators. They don't believe they were successfully sold, but nothing has been recovered yet.

- Washington Post

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