Ukraine has officially returned five works by Dutch painters from the 17th and 18th centuries to the Netherlands. The works were stolen in 2005 from the Westfries Museum in the Dutch city of Hoorn.
Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine (PGO) head Yuri Lutsenko took part in the transfer ceremony held in the Dutch embassy in Kyiv on Friday.
"We now see masterpieces of Dutch culture, which should bring pleasure to museum visitors the world over – not to the individuals who stole them," Lutsenko said.
He expressed thanks to Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) agents, who were able to find the works after 10 years.
The PGO head also told journalists that by giving back the paintings he was only carrying out the official act of transfer.
"This is occurring in the legal sense, as well, by means of the PGO, which is authorized to conduct international activities, including the return of stolen works of art to Holland," he said.
Deputy SBU head Hluhovsky said the paintings were indeed found in eastern Ukraine.
"Yes, several of them were in eastern Ukraine," he said without elaborating.
At the end of the ceremony Westfries Museum Director Ad Geerdink said that 10 years ago the paintings were taken at night from the museum after disabling the security system and rolled them up.
He said it was possible that the works were re-sold and the owners of the stolen paintings changed several times during the course of the decade. In his words, two of the works, including the painting, titled "Woman of High Society," are not in the museum frames, and only two of the works are in good condition. Girdnik said the value of the paintings had fallen.
"Paintings in bad condition lose their value. We said publicly that 24 paintings had been stolen so they would not be sold," Girdink said.
He said that presently five of the works are worth about EUR 200,000, adding the historical and artistic value of the paintings is what the museum values the most.
The museum director said the works would be exhibited in the museum about three weeks after the documents are received.
As earlier reported, in December 2015 a representative of the Westfries Museum said approximately 24 paintings stolen in 2005 was in the possession of the volunteer defense battalion, which was trying to sell them for EUR 50 million. The museum representative said the battalion was in touch "with top-level politicians [in Ukraine]," mentioning Svoboda Party Oleh Tiahnybok and former SBU chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, who heads an anti-corruption movement. Both men rejected the claims.
In mid April of this year SBU agents together with police from the Netherlands found several paintings stolen in 2005. According to SBU chief Vasyl Hrytsak, four paintings were found and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin announced they would be returned after they were examined.
On May 30 an unidentified man brought a painting by Izaak Ouwater, titled Nieuwstraat in Hoorn, made in 1784, which is probably one of the paintings stolen from the Westfries Dutch museum. The man who brought the painting said that he had received it as a present several years ago. He said he decided to bring it to the embassy after he found out that it was part of a stolen collection. The returned painting is in very bad condition and requires restoration.