March 17, 2016

Was the Verona Museum Theft Commissioned? Possibly

By Lynda Albertson

Surprising news continues to come out regarding the Thursday, November 19, 2015 theft from the Verona Civic Museum of Castelvecchio where thieves had made off with seventeen Italian and foreign artworks worth an estimated €10m-€15m including rare pieces by Peter Paul Rubens, Bellini, Pisanello, Mategna, the Venetian artist Tintoretto and his son.

The Italian-Moldovan band, led by twin brothers Francesco and Pasquale Silvestri has been code named Operation Gemini after the two brothers found to be at the heart of the theft's organisation.

During a joint press conference conducted by the Squadra Mobile della Questura scaligera, the Servizio Centrale Operativo (Sco) of Italy's State Police and the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale,  the Public Prosecutor of Verona, Mario Giulio Schinaia stated With these arrests we have partially repaired an offence to the city of Verona, which, however, will only be rectified when the stolen" paintings will be recovered.” 

General Mariano Ignazio Mossa speaking on behalf of the Carabinieri TPC work in breaking the case indicated that his squad had been working in conjunction with local Verona law enforcement from the very beginning, arriving in the city from Rome on the morning after the dramatic theft.  He stated that the law enforcement groups had worked together jointly and continuously from that day forward, without leaving the city throughout the four month investigation. 

With some bitterness in his tone, the general told members of the press that the specialised task force had intentionally elected to work on the developing case silently.  This lips-are-sealed style of law enforcement is something sometimes criticised by the press, who clamour for the release of information from the moment a scandalous museum heist occurs.  

As a rule of thumb, the Carabinieri TPC has long been reticent about releasing much in the way of breaking news information when a major theft investigation is ongoing as the inopportune release of details sometimes serve as an impediment which can then compromise their ongoing investigation. Given the Italian art squad's successful history of recovery, the tactic has served them extremely well. 

General Mossa relayed that sometimes the media mistook the task force’s silence as a lack of attention to the severity of the theft, but in reality the decision preserved the integrity of their investigation and allowed officers to work efficiently to develop the inculpatory evidence necessary to arrest the two Italian brothers as well as Pasquale's Moldovan partner Svetlana Pkachuck.

Pkachuck is considered to be the link to the nine others from the the Republic of Moldova, five of whom were reported to be residing in nearby Brescia where the museum guard's getaway car was reported abandoned.  

Authorities have indicated that the investigation was a laborious one that involved prosecution wire taps into the band's activities and the painstaking review of some 4,000 hours of CCTV footage.   The biggest breakthrough came when the task force identified two Renaults driven by Moldovan members of the group.

Based upon wiretapped conversations authorities believe that three or four of the artworks stolen by the Italian-Moldovan band of thieves were stolen from the museum specifically for one individual. The rest appear to have been grabbed opportunistically, possibly to be sold later, after the commissioned transaction had concluded. 

“We need to wait, its too much of a big mess”  Pasquale Ricciardi Silvestri is said to have said during an intercepted wire tap. 

“They’re afraid, do you understand? We calm things down… what difference is : one month, two months, three months, four months ... what changes? We say nothing and do nothing.  That is fair. ” 

Some have speculated that the masterpieces may have been buried during the initial post-theft phase and then transported to Moldova. We hope to recover works of art abroad. Arresting those responsible is the first step. We are confident we will recover them, said an optimistic General Mossa.

For more details please see the press conference video below with the prosecutor Mario Giulio Schinaia of Verona, the director of the SCO - the Central Operations Service of the Police - Renato Cortese, General Mossa commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the commissioner Enzo Mangini and the provincial commander of the carabinieri Peter Oresta.



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