Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Raffaele Imperiale. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Raffaele Imperiale. Sort by date Show all posts

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














January 20, 2017

Camorra bosses convicted, Van Gogh's can go home to Amsterdam.......shortly.


This week Italian Judge Claudia Picciotti handed down more than one hundred years of prison time in the sentencing of eight members of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan, an organized crime network once affiliated with the Secondigliano-based Di Lauro crime syndicate, and an offshoot of the Naples Camorra.

The court's adjudication closes down one of the Camorra's largest suppliers of cocaine to the Bay of Naples area, paving the way for two recovered Van Gogh paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen 1884 - 1885 to return home to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

The paintings were recovered during an asset seizure warrant executed in September 2016 at property occupied by the parents of drug kingpin, Raffaele Imperiale in Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples, Italy.

On hand for the sentencing hearing of the trial were:

Prosecutor Stefania Castaldi
Prosecutor Maurizio De Marco
Prosecutor Marra Vincenza
Deputy Prosecutor Filippo Beatrice
Prosecutor of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate Maria Vittoria De Simone
Dutch Liaison Magistrate for Italy Hester van Bruggen
Assistant to the Liaison Magistrate for Italy Royal Netherlands Embassy, Rome Peter Hemmes
Van Gogh Museum Attorney Carel Raymakers

The defendants convicted and sentenced January 19, 2017 include:

Carmine Amato - Before his arrest, Amato was one of Italy's 100 most wanted and dangerous criminals.  Considered the regent of the Amato-Pagano clan, a splinter organised crime group of the Di Lauro clan, dominant in the north of Naples, Amato was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.

Vincenzo Scarpa - Drug supplier to Camorra clans in the Vesuvius periphery of the Bay of Naples, including the Gallo-Cavalieri, the Annunziata from Torre Annunziata, the i Falanga of Torre del Greco and the Licciardi of Secondigliano.  Scarpa maintained key alliances with Camorra loyal suppliers based in Spain and the Netherlands. He has been sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.

(Fugitive) Raffaele Imperiale - Clan boss of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan which supplied cocaine to Amato and Scarpa.  Although on the run from the authorities, he admitted to purchasing the Van Gogh paintings and to his illegal operations in letters to the prosecuting authorities.  Imperiale was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in absentia.  He is believed to be hiding in Dubai.

Mario Cerrone - Clan affiliate and business partner to Imperiale, who provided evidence to state authorities. Cerrone also led Italy's Corpo della Guardia di Finanza, which probes financial crimes related to organised crime, together with the Italian Public Prosecutions office, the Naples Direzione distrettuale antimafia and dedicated Dutch investigators to the whereabouts of the two stolen Vincent Van Gogh paintings.  He has been sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.

Gaetano Schettino - A loyalist and drug broker for Raffaele Imperial, he has been sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

Three unnamed defendants - Sentenced to eight years imprisonment respectively.

Six other defendants are still awaiting the outcome of their judicial proceedings in relation to this criminal investigation.

Originally expected to be held as evidence for future lengthy trials, the court in Naples elected to release the Van Gogh paintings from legal seizure on Thursday.  While talk continues between the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and Sylvain Bellenger, Director of the Museo di Capodimonte about the possibility of holding a brief exhibition in Naples, provided security measures are sufficient to guarantee their safety, the Dutch Impressionist's paintings are expected to be returned to Amsterdam as soon as February.


Once back home, the artworks will go on display at the Van Gogh Museum briefly, in the condition with which they were recovered, to celebrate their return. Then the artworks will undergo close examination and conservation treatment to clean and repair damages sustained during their trubulent time with the Italian crime syndicate.

By: Lynda Albertson


September 30, 2016

2 Vincent Van Gogh Paintings Recovered in Italy, Suspected Camorra Entanglements

Breaking News - This article will be updated periodically as ARCA is able to release more news.


The FBI's "Top Ten" unresolved Art Crimes has now been reduced to nine thanks to the dedication and hard work of a division of Italy's Corpo della Guardia di Finanza, which probes financial crimes related to organised crime. Together with the Italian Public Prosecutions office, the Naples Direzione distrettuale antimafia and dedicated Dutch investigators, two of Vincent Van Gogh's historic paintings have finally been recovered during a labor intensive investigation into Italy's organized crime syndicate that is an offshoot of the Camorra.

Fourteen years after their theft from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on December 7, 2002 the two paintings have been recovered during search and seizure operations connected to an ongoing international cocaine trafficking and mafia racketeering investigation.  The artworks were recovered earlier this week in the Castellammare di Stabia area in the Bay of Naples but were kept under wraps as the investigation finalized certain details.

In January 2016 Italian authorities arrested several individuals long suspected of overseas money laundering and international drug trafficking.  Two of those were affiliated with the Scampia splinter group of the Naples clan.  Raffaele Imperiale was the suspected head of the clan, also had ties to Amsterdam, where he reportedly owns or owned an Amsterdam coffeshop.

Until a few months before his arrest Imperiale had been living with his family in one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, where a room costs upwards of €1500 per night.  Mario Cerrone, a clan affiliate turned state witness, is reported to have been the one who led the police to the paintings location -- Raffaele Imperiale's house at Castellammare di Stabia.

The art works recovered are:

View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882
by Vincent van Gogh
oil on canvas, 13 inches x 20 inches
Completed in Scheveningen


This small picture is considered to be one of Van Gogh's finest masterworks. Painted directly on the beach in Scheveningen where the famous Post-Impressionist artist set up his easel and painted “plein-air” (in the open air), Van Gogh's signature style of thickly applied paint still contained grains of sand which had blow onto the canvas and stuck to the paint as the artist worked. 

When ARCA asked investigators who had facilitated the identifications after the recovery of the painting if they had physical access to the paintings and if they could see these fine grains of sand, the investigator responded happily “I have seen them today. And I have smelt the sea.

In terms of its condition upon recovery Managing Director Adriaan Doenszelmann of the Van Gogh Museum stated that the painting appears to have sustained some damage to the paint in its lower left corner causing the paint to break away in an area of approximately 5 x 2 cm.  The painting will undergo full examination by conservators once the Italian authorities release the painting back to the museum.


Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen 1884 - 1885
by Vincent Van Gogh
oil on canvas 41.3 x 32.1 cm
Completed in Nuenen


This painting has been stolen on two occasions.  The first time was on April 14, 1991 when a total of twenty Van Gogh artworks were snatched from the Vincent Van Gogh Museum.  All twenty artworks were recovered in Amsterdam within 24 hours and the four perpetrators involved in that museum heist, including one museum guard and a former employee of the museum's security firm, were arrested and ultimately prosecuted.

Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen appears to have been recovered in fairly good condition.


Outline of the 2002 Van Gogh Museum Theft

Theft Venue: The Van Gogh Museum. The Van Gogh Museum houses the largest collection of the Post Impressionist Dutch masters artworks. In total more than 200 paintings and almost 500 drawings by Vincent van Gogh.
Location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Location in Venue: Rietveld Building
Victim (Owner): Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen is owned by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. View of the Sea at Scheveningen is the property of the Van Gogh Museum 

Time of Theft:  Between 7:00 and 8:00 am on December 7, 2002
Open/Closed: Closed. The robbery occurred shortly before opening time.
Duration of Crime: Estimated at less than thirty minutes.
When Discovered: Immediately. When thieves smashed a window and entered the museum it triggered the museum security systems. 
Primary Object(s) Taken: Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884 and View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 both by artist Vincent Van Gogh
Category of Art Object(s): Both artworks are small oil on canvas paintings
Ancillary Object(s) Touched: None
Ancillary Object(s) Taken: None
Clues Left at Crime Scene: At the entry point thieves left behind a cloth, likely used to reduce the sound of breaking glass,  one ladder, and a rope. They also left objects used to hide their identities, these last two items were found on the steps of the museum.

Suspected Related Crimes: Suspect Octave Durham’s reputation as a thief had already earned him the moniker “the Monkey” for his artful dodger activities.

Entry Method: Thieves used a 15-foot ladder propped up against a first-story window at the rear of the building. The glass window was then smashed with cloth-covered hands or alternative instruments in order for the men to gain entry. 
Exit Method: Same method as entry.
Operational Method: The thieves went straight to the two stolen paintings, removed only these two objects and then exited.
Other Methods of Note: Only method of concealment: head gear to discourage CCTV footage. 

Probable Motive: possibly financial, possibly organised crime related
Follow-up after Post-theft: After the suspects were preliminarily identified police tracked the men for over a year in locations in the Netherlands and in Spain.  Law enforcement authorities then wire-tapped the suspects’ phonesand eleven suspicious phone conversations were documented between February 17, 2003 and May 7, 2004.  
Revised Motive Theory: Financial gain. Likely organised crime related.  Based on the phone conversations and the suspiciously extravagant spending of the suspects after the theft, we can assume the paintings passed from the initial thieves to a secondary party, likely for a significant sum of money. 

Identified People Involved in the Crime
Handler(s): None publically announced.
Accomplice(s): Dutch-born Octave Durham, A.K.A. "The Monkey" and Henk Bieslijn
Organization(s) Involved: Investigators suspect possible Italian Mafia /Syndicate (Camorra) involvement.
Ultimate Possessor: Unknown.
Arrests: In 2004, police arrested Octave Durham in Spain and Henk Bieslijn in Amsterdam.
Total Length of Investigation: Ongoing
In March 2010 Giovanni Nistri, of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale stated that he believed that the pair stole the paintings on behalf of the Neapolitan Camorra. According to him at the time, there were "important clues to allow the presumption that members of the Neapolitan Camorra were somehow involved in the theft and the consequent possession of the two paintings. 
Evidence Used In Prosecution: Witness Testimony, CCTV Footage, 11 wire-tapped phone conversations, DNA evidence collected at the scene from discarded headgear found on the scene.  Financial records of the suspects directly after the theft which included suspicious purchases of high value including: watches, new furniture, home renovations, and foreign travel to Thailand, Euro Disney, Ibiza, and the Dominican Republic.
Criminal Sentencing: Octave Durham received a prison sentence of 4.5 years. Henk Bieslijn received a prison sentence of 4 years. In addition, each individual was ordered to pay the Van Gogh Museum €350,000 in damages. Despite their convictions, both continued to deny responsibility.

Artwork Recovered: Yes, in moderately good shape, the week of September 25, 2016

Why Steal Van Gogh?

Van Gogh, who in his lifetime only sold one painting, commands big figures in the contemporary art world. Eight masterpieces by Van Gogh paintings are ranked among the world's 50 most expensive artworks ever sold.    Echoing that, the wave pattern of art theft often mirrors the whimsy of the art market. Then thieves follow the path of least protection or resistance striking at objects known to be of value in places that allow for the opportunity.

How many Vincent Van Gogh artworks have been stolen? 


When opportunity has knocked, art thieves have often had a preference for works of art attributed to Vincent Van Gogh.   But just how many artworks by Vincent van Gogh have been stolen?  Take a look here. 

By: Lynda Albertson

January 31, 2020

Vasil Bozhkov's antiquities collection ordered to be seized by Bulgarian authorities


The National Museum of History (NIM) has received a prosecutorial decree and a letter from the Ministry of Culture to seize and accept the art and antiquities collection of Bulgarian gaming czar Vasil Bozhkov.  This court order, along with seizure orders pertaining to his business assets, accompanies charges stemming from an investigation into allegations of serious financial violations within the gambling industry.  Filed on 29 January 2020 by the country's Prosecutor General, Ivan Geshev, the post-communist era mogul has been indicted in absentia for a series of offenses ranging from leading an organized crime group, incitement to commit criminal offenses, extortion, coercion, blackmail, and attempted bribery of an official. 

Believed to be the country’s richest man, Bozhkov has been referred to as Bulgaria's most infamous gangster, and as being reportedly active in money laundering, privatization fraud, intimidation, extortion, racketeering, and illegal antiqueè [sic] dealing as attested in a diplomatic cable of the US Embassy in Sofia, as far back as 11 September 2009 and released publically via WikiLeaks.  As owner of the country's biggest lottery,  Bozhkov has often been linked in the Bulgarian press to the Bulgarian mafia, but up until now, he has never been convicted of any crime. 

Bozhkov's ancient art collection consists of more than 3,000 antiquities and dates from 4,000 BCE though the 6th century CE.  With questionable provenance and transparency in their acquisition, the assembled objects, some of which can be viewed in the film below, include ancient treasures left by the Greeks, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Bulgars, and Thracians, one of the most powerful Indo-European tribes of the ancient world, and one who played an important, creative, and key role in the shaping of European civilization as a whole and Bulgaria's culture in particular. 


Bozhkov also founded the Thrace Foundation in 2004, perhaps to lend credibility to his seemingly controversial collection and began holding exhibitions at various locations throughout Europe thereafter.  Marking Bulgaria's entry to the EU in 2007, his Brussels exhibition, "The Grandeur of Bulgaria" was abruptly terminated at the European Parliament following outraged complaints about the collections origins. One of the most vocal critics was Vassil Nikolov, then director of the National Archaeological Institute with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and president of the state committee responsible archaeological surveys throughout the country. He signaled out the Bozhkov exhibition as "the fruit of grave-robbing." 

Private collections such as this one in Bulgaria, are often deemed unacceptable, given they are established without concerns for the the provenance of the objects  accumulated and against the backdrop of rampant treasure hunting which is actively eviscerating Bulgaria’s tremendous historical and cultural heritage.

Trying to get ahead of this week's growing scandal, the Thrace Foundation issued an interesting one page press release while their founder remained missing.  Via email, the press release, sent to ARCA and others in the heritage protection community, stated that the authorities had stormed into the laboratory and museum of Thrace Foundation. Their press release read in part:
"At the moment, the Bulgarian authorities are blatantly violating the law by seizing priceless objects from the Vasil Bojkov Collection without any legal justification. The authorities made the decision to export fragile and unique works of art in plastic bags during the unregulated raid that took place in the building of Nove AD Holding, which has the status of a museum."
The Prosecutor’s Office has denied the accusations that Bozhkov’s collection was being mishandled, with the National Museum of History (NIM) reporting that nine museum staff members are involved in the process of packing and transporting the items.

Charged in absentia, Bozhkov's current whereabouts were unknown at the time of this articles writing.  The last flight of his private jet was from Sofia to Dubai.

UPDATE 2 February 2020: Bulgarian Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev, confirms that Vasil Bozhkov, who is the subject of a European arrest warrant, has been detained in the United Arab Emirates.  Bulgaria will now prepare a formal extradition request for his return to Bulgaria to face charges, but given that the U.A.E. and Bulgaria do not have a bilateral extradition agreement, the wait for his return, may stretch indefinitely.

With at least nine people wanted by the Italian judiciary in the UAE, on charges including mafia association, money laundering, drug trafficking, and tax fraud,  the country has become a well-known refuge and money laundering paradise for criminals with big bucks.  Avoiding extradition when its own bilateral agreement was not signed, Raffaele Imperiale, who hid two stolen Van Gogh paintings in one of his family's homes, has avoided his own convictions in absentia for more than ten years.  

Imperiale supplied weapons for a clan feud in the drug ravaged Scampia neighborhood of Naples, working within the drug trade with criminal Rick van der Bunt, who was liquidated in Spain in 2008. Imperiale has been spotted at the seven-star Burj al Arab hotel in Dubai with others who are believed to control the European cocaine trade.

By:  Lynda Albertson

February 6, 2017

Press conference: The Van Gogh of the Camorra on display at the Capodimonte Museum in Naples

Via Miano, 2, 
80137 Naples, Italy

Live Periscope link to event

Image Credit: sAG
In a standing room only event, the two stolen paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen 1884 - 1885 by Vincent Van Gogh were presented to the international press today at the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples Italy.  This press conference follows the convictions of eight members of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan, an organized crime network once affiliated with the Secondigliano-based Di Lauro crime syndicate, and an offshoot of the Naples Camorra.  The historic artworks were recovered during a lengthy investigation into the cocaine business overseen by figurative, Raffaele Imperiale.

Image Credit: sAG
The paintings, stolen 14 years ago, will be hosted for just 20 days on the second floor of the Museo di Capodimonte next to the Hall of Caravaggio through February 26, 2017.

Image Credit: ARCA
On hand for the press conference were Antimo Cesaro, State Secretary for Cultural Assets and Activities and Tourism in Italy, Joep Wijnands, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Rome, Sander Bersée, Director General of Culture and Media of the Ministry of Culture and Science, the Netherlands, Luigi Riello, General Prosecutor of Naples, Giovanni Colangelo, the Public Prosecutor of Naples, Herman Bolhaar, Head of the Dutch Public Prosecutors, Lt. Gen. Giorgio Toschi, Commanding General of the Guardia di Finanza, Gen. B. Gianluigi D'Alfonso, Provincial Commander of the Guardia di Finanza in Italy, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, Head of the Amsterdam Police as well as the undercover officers and investigators most closely connected to this case.

Image Credit: ARCA
Image Credit: ARCA
The Museo di Capodimonte is open every day except Wednesday from 08:30 to 19:30 (last entry at 18:30).

Image Credit: ARCA

Image Credit: sAG

Image Credit: sAG

Image Credit: sAG

Image Credit: Museo Capodimonte

Image Credit: Museo Capodimonte

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: VGM

Image Credit: ARCA