It was the perfect Christmas present for art lovers who thought the paintings had been lost for ever after they were stolen – and in particular the Italian art museum which has now got them back.
Seventeen masterpieces – including works by Rubens, Mantegna and Tintoretto and valued at 17 million euros – were carefully wrapped up in Kyiv.
Ukraine’s President Poroshenko then formally handed them over to Italian officials. His country’s border guards retrieved the pictures in May, on a small island on the Dniester River during an attempt to smuggle them into Moldova.
Investigators in Ukraine have reportedly suggested that they were heading to a private collector in Russia – and that the gang involved members from Russia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The art works are now back in Verona – no longer in their original frames but with little more than scratches, according to one expert.
Italy is now planning a new law to combat the theft of the country’s heritage.
“There will be different types of crimes relating to the destruction and damage of cultural heritage. Then there will be a new stand-alone crime of the theft of cultural property – with very severe punishments,” said Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.
Several people have been convicted in Italy since the paintings were stolen from the Castelvecchio Museum in November 2015.
They include a guard at the museum – sentenced to over 10 years in jail for armed robbery – and his twin brother. Their operation to steal the paintings involved a simulated attack on the museum.