Ukraine has recovered 17 paintings, including works by Peter Paul Rubens, Jacopo Tintoretto, Antonio Pisanello, Giovanni Caroto, Andrea Mantegna, which were stolen by armed robbers from the Castelvecchio museum in Verona last November, State Border Guard Chief of Ukraine Viktor Nazarenko said on Wednesday in a report to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
The Ukrainian authorities will now invite Italian experts to authenticate the paintings – which have an estimated value of more than EUR16 million ($18.3 million) and prepare for them to be handed back, his office said in a statement.
The art works were found about 1.5 km from the border with Moldova in Odesa region on May 6, 2016, the statement said.
For his part, director of operational search activity department of the State Gorder Guard Service of Ukraine Petro Tsyhykal said that the operation conducted by the Italian law enforces was called "Twins" because two brothers stole the paintings. One worked as a security guard at the museum.
They imitated an attack on the guard and stole the paintings. The theft was commissioned by someone in Russia, probably by a private collector in Chechnya, he said.
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Poroshenko said recovering the paintings showed what Ukraine was capable of.
"Today, this brilliant operation reminds the world about the efficient struggle of Ukraine against smuggling and corruption, inter alia, smuggling of works of art," Poroshenko said.
The paintings were stolen on November 19 by thieves, who acted just after the Verona museum's 11 staff had left, but before a remote alarm system with the police station had been activated. They tied up the museum cashier and forced an armed guard to hand over keys to his car, which they used to get away.
In mid March Italian police detained ten citizens of Moldova on suspicion of involvement into the robbery in Verona museum.