December 7, 2016

Sentencing: Museum Theft at the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio


On December 5, 2016 Judge Luciano Gorra, of Italy's Verona tribunal sentenced four of twelve accomplices arrested in connection with the theft of 17 paintings stolen on November 19, 2015 from the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio. 

Ricciardi Pasquale Silvestri, the point of connection between the Italians and the Moldavians criminals involved in the theft, was given the heaviest prison sentence: 10 years and eight months for his role in the armed robbery and kidnapping.  His brother, Francesco Silvestri, the contracted security guard at the Castelvecchio museum on the night of the robbery, also involved in the plot, was sentenced to 10 years for his key role in illustrating the vulnerabilities of the museum. 

Pasquale's Moldovan girlfriend, Svetlana Tkachuk received a six-year prison sentence, for her role and translator between the members of the transnational organized crime group.  Another co-conspirator, also from Moldova, Victor Potinga, was sentenced to five years. Potinga transported the stolen artworks in his van from Verona to Brescia the evening of the theft. 

Two other defendants, Anatolie Burlac Jr. and Denis Damaschin had each entered pleas earlier for their roles in the crime.  Damaschin was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months incarceration for receiving stolen goods, having stored the paintings in his home in Brescia, in Northern Italy before they were disguised in television boxes and transported to the Ukraine. 

Arrested in Romania and extradited to Italy after some initial confusion over his identity, his father is Anatolie Burlac Sr., who is also wanted for questioning in the crime, Burlac Jr. received the lightest of the sentences handed down to date: one year eight months.   This was most likely due to the critical statements he made while being interrogated by the Italian authorities, which contributed to the convictions handed down in the case. Other accomplices, arrested last March, have asked to be tried in Moldova.


Testimony presented in the case against the six in Italy indicate that the theft was originally planned for the 18th of November. It was then postponed to the next evening as the accomplices arrived at the museum on the 18th only to find additional cars in the parking lot indicating their was too much activity in the area to proceed.

According to defence attorneys, the original plan was to rob the museum of one painting only, a theft to order, with only the guard-accomplice present who was to pretend to authorities that he had been subdued during the robbery. Unfortunately, the accomplices arrived prematurely while the museum's cashier was still in the building. By tying her up and gagging her along with their accomplice-cohort, the thieves transformed the museum theft from a simple robbery to armed robbery and kidnapping. 

Photo Credit Sputnik News
Ukrainian law enforcement believes that the works were shipped out of Moldova and into the Ukraine after arrests were made in the case in mid-March.  If the shift was made to hide the evidence or to send the works onwards to buyers in either somewhere in the Ukraine or Russia has not been established with certainty, however Italian police and Ukrainian media reports have suggested that the final buyer was rumored to be a wealthy collector in Chechnya.  According to the Russian news agency TASS, the paintings were sent from Moldova to the Ukraine via the postal service and at the time of their discovery, were awaiting transfer back to Moldova.

All 17 artworks were recovered May 6, 2016 in the Ukrainian region of Odessa during a raid carried out by the special Ukrainian police forces.  The museum pieces were found wrapped in plastic bags and hidden in a willow forest a few kilometers from the border between Moldova and Ukraine on Turunciuk island, a body of land that sits on the left branch of the Dniester River.  Despite their hide spot, the paintings were recovered in better condition that would be expected given their multi-country transport. 

Ironically the wheels of Italian justice have proved surprisingly fast.  Faster even than international negotiations with the representatives of the Kiev government, who currently still holds 14 of the artworks, one year onward after the theft.  The 17 artworks worth an estimated €10m-€15m, are no longer held ransom by an opportunistic group of thieves.  They are being held hostage by diplomatic bureaucracy.

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