Stolen Dutch art masterpieces dating from the country’s 17th-century Golden Age have been discovered hidden in a villa in rebel-held eastern Ukraine. The collection has come to light 10 years after it was stolen.
The 24 paintings were valued at £7.2million (10 million euros) in 2005 when they were stolen in an audacious heist from the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, north of Amsterdam. The thieves are believed to have hidden in an antique coffin in the museum until it closed, before disabling the alarm systems and stealing the artworks.
The works, including a piece titled ‘Vanity’ by Jacob Waben (pictured) reappeared in July when two men approached the Dutch embassy in the Ukrainian capital Kiev offering to sell them back along with 70 pieces of silverware.
The chase for the stolen art has been documented by American writer and photographer Michael Yon. He pinpointed one of the owners as Oleh Tyahnybok, a Ukraine politician and leader of the fascist Svoboda party.
Mr. Tyahnybok is an ultra-nationalist known for past dealings with international figures including German Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier, former Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, John McCain and Hillary Clinton.
De Telegraaf newspaper said Dutch stolen art investigators verified the paintings as authentic and established the asking price for a collection that includes works by painters Jan van Goyen and Hendrik Bogaert.
A video of an appeal to the people of the Ukraine for the immediate return of the art can be seen below:
Ad Geerdink, director of the museum, is disputing the asking price and maintains that as the paintings were stolen they should be returned immediately rather than held for ransom, saying: “We only wanted to pay them for their expenses, since these paintings are the legal property of the museum, so it’s not for them to hold or sell the paintings.”
Mr. Geerdink told De Telegraaf that the museum was making the information public now out of concern that the paintings were in danger.
“There are very strong signs that the paintings are now being to other parties or have even been sold,” Geerdink said. “Given the paintings’ fragile condition, it is already one minute to midnight, or even one past midnight.”
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told national broadcaster NOS he had been in contact with Ukrainian political leaders about the case.
“We’ve brought this up at the highest level with the Ukrainians,” he said of the stolen art. “I believe that they are taking it very seriously. We are going to try to ensure it returns to the Westfries Museum.”
The discovery of the paintings could add to the diplomatic complexities surrounding a collection of priceless gold artefacts from Crimea that were on loan to an Amsterdam museum when Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014.
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