November 4, 2016

Anatomy of a Confession - How much are two stolen Van Gogh's worth to an alleged Naples drug kingpin?

In recent developments on the Van Gogh recovery in Italy case, the newspaper La Repubblica has announced that Italian prosecutors have been contacted by the office of Sylvain Bellenger, Director of the Museo di Capodimonte about the possibility of holding an exhibition in Naples of the two Vincent Van Gogh paintings recovered during an asset seizure warrant executed in the Bay of Naples involving alleged-drug kingpin Raffaele Imperiale.  


At present, both paintings are being held under high security as evidence in the criminal case against 14 indicted defendants, 12 in custody and two with outstanding extradition warrants. How long the paintings will remain in Italy while the lengthy court case proceeds remains unclear. 


Since ARCA reported on the initial stages of the Van Gogh paintings recovery, witness testimony and written statements have now been made public which shed more light onto what law enforcement officers and prosecutors know about this cocaine syndicate's "acquisition" of the stolen Van Gogh artworks. 

One time partner and indicted associate Mario Cerrone informed Italian authorities that Raffaele Imperiale purchased the paintings with illicit proceeds from the Amato-Pagano clan's coffers. The Amato-Pagano clan, is a organized crime network once affiliated with the Secondigliano-based Di Lauro clan. This organized crime group is known to have supplied the Bay of Naples area with a steady stream of cocaine distributed by dealers working with the Camorra crime syndicate.

In testimony given as state's evidence, Cerrone indicated that Imperiale purchased the two stolen Van Gogh paintings shortly after the time of their theft in the Netherlands, sometime between the Autumn of 2002 and the first months of 2003. Considering the purchases as investment, Imperiale probably believed he could launder clan funds buying the paintings, then resell the Van Goghs for more than his initial purchase price once the case had grown cold.  Cerrone estimated that the Amato-Pagano clan accumulated USD $15 million annually in illegal crime proceeds meaning that the paintings were a significant investment. 

As most of ARCA's regular blog readers understand, selling stolen masterpieces on the licit art market is virtually impossible. From this we can hypothesize that Imperiale may have held onto the paintings following the arrest of the two thieves in the Netherlands, while planning how to use the artworks as a bargaining chip in replacement for illicit revenue.  

Given the artworks inestimable value, the paintings could have been used as collateral for the purchase of drugs, weapons, counterfeit goods or other clan-needed commodities, or for reducing the amount of liquid capital the clan would need to transfer during any given transaction making them a good substitute for reducing the clans exposure and risk.  As a final alternative, the paintings represented a bargaining tool with prosecutors for if and when members of the clan who knew about them, were arrested. 

Ironically, Raffaele Imperiale himself has now added more information to the puzzle by writing a six page written statement/confession/memoir which he sent from Dubai to the Naples prosecutors, Vincenza Marra, Stefania Castaldi and Maurizio De Marco, who along with the deputy prosecutor Filippo Beatrice and the prosecutor of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate Maria Vittoria De Simone coordinated the investigations conducted by law enforcement.  In his statement, the unrepentant Imperiale informed prosecutors that he has selected two lawyers to represent him, Maurizio Frizzi and Giovanni Ricco. Both Genovese attorneys have relationships with the Amato-Pagano clan.

In addition to naming his lawyers, and perhaps in consideration of lighter sentencing if convicted, Imperiale's statement went on to outline various aspects of his organization's illicit operation.  A direct quote from the clan leader's autobiographical confession, in which he implicates himself in organized crime and drug trafficking, is translated here:







Left - Raffaele Amato 
Top Right- Paolo de Lauro 
Middle Right - Mario Cerrone 
Bottom Right - Cesare Pagano



Imperiale went on to say that he had decided to collaborate with justice by giving his seized "treasure" to the state.  Some of the seized property include thirteen terraced villas in Terracina as well as twelve villas in Giugliano, five of which are ironically, subleased out to NATO under a shell corporation.  In addition to the real estate Imperial also plans to leave the Italian state a fleet of expensive cars  "to be allocated to law enforcement agencies for the fight against organized crime."

When speaking in relation to the stolen Van Gogh paintings, Imperiale indicated that he had purchased (without explaining from whom) "some goods", not simply the two Van Gogh paintings, paying five installments of one million euros each for a total of €10 million for both paintings.   

Sketch of Raffaele Imperiale in Dubai
Imperiale is currently still a fugitive, believed to be living in an undisclosed location in Dubai.  To date, the United Arab has responded negatively to requests for extradition, citing repeated technicalities in paperwork emanating from the Italian court system.

By: Lynda Albertson














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