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17 stolen artworks returned to Italy with only scratches

The Carabinieri and police forms with one of the recovered paintings that were stolen from a museum in Verona, the airport of Verona in Italy.

(Filippo Venezia, AP)

Seventeen masterpieces valued at 17 million euros ($17.7 million) were returned to Italy from the Ukraine on Wednesday after being stolen by a masked, armed robbers of a Verona art museum last year.

The Italian Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini, who travelled to Kiev to retrieve the paintings, including works by Rubens, Tintoretto, and Mantegna — said the possibility of ever recovering them once far. Still, the paintings are returned with little more than scratches after their long ordeal, according to an art expert.

“It’s an important day, because it all works back to Verona intact,” Franceschini said. “It was an ugly story that was a nice story.”

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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko handed over the paintings to Franceschini, in a ceremony in Kiev, saying: “the theft of a masterpiece of the paintings is to compare the stealing of a part of the heart of the city.”

The paintings, wrapped in plastic bags, were recovered in May by the Ukrainian border guards who intercepted them on a small island on the Dniester River during an attempt to smuggle them into Moldova.

They were stolen in November 2015, when three armed robbers entered the Castelvecchio Museum, housed in a medieval castle, at the end of time, just for the alarm system is activated. The robbers quietly removed the paintings before he escaped in a security guard of the car.

A security guard at the museum, Pasquale Silvestri Riccardi, was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 10 years and eight months in prison earlier this month. Five others were also sentenced, including Riccardi is a Moldovan friend, who got six years, and his twin brother, who was sentenced to eight months.

Two Moldovans are the process in their own country for the thefts.

Franceschini credited strong cooperation between the enforcement of the law in the three countries for the repair of the paintings and the find of the thieves, with special praise of Italy’s Carabinieri art squad. The minister of culture also announced that the government would introduce legislation this week making the theft or the damage of the Italian cultural heritage specific offences with increased penalties.

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Curator, Ettore Napione traveled for the retrieval of the paintings, studying them carefully with gloved hands before it is packaged for the journey home. The works were displayed in simple wooden frames made for them, after they are restored, because the thieves had cut the paintings from their original frames, which they then discarded.

‘They have scratches, nothing is very serious,” Napione said.

The paintings are displayed together in their home in the Castelvecchio Museum for approximately a month beginning on Friday, prior to a restoration and reframing.

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