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August 19, 2021

No longer a teflon don, Raffaele Imperiale has been arrested in Dubai and is awaiting extradition

In October 2019 the US Drug Enforcement Administration sent documents to the Dutch police documenting a 2017 meeting between drug traffickers held at the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai.  Those in attendance at this convocation are believed to control one of the world's fifty largest drug cartels, holding a virtual monopoly over all Peruvian cocaine and controlling approximately one third of Europe's total cocaine trade. 

The men in attendance included:

  • Raffaele Imperiale, a convicted narco boss to the Camorra and a fugitive from justice on Italy's most wanted list since 2016, 
  • Ridouan Taghi, the alleged head of the Mocro Mafia, a Dutch-Moroccan criminal organisation, 
  • Daniel Kinahan, named in Dublin’s High Court as a senior fugure in the Kinahan cartel, a group involved in attempting to ship €35m of cocaine disguised as charcoal from South America Republic of Ireland in July,
  • and Edin Gačanin, a Bosnian drug trafficker who purportedly heads up the Balkan Tito and Dino Cartel which has a strong footprint in Dubai as well as the Netherlands.

On 19 December 2019 Ridouan Taghi was the first of the four to hear the clang of a cell door.  Expelled from the United Arab Emirates as an undesirable foreigner at the request of the authorities in Dubai, Taghi is currently being held at Nieuw Vosseveld, a maximum-security prison in Vught, as his court case proceeds in the Morego trail. The Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security believe Taghi to be the head of a major cocaine smuggling operation and to have had a hand in at least 11 gangland-related murders as well as a series of attempted murders, one of which, the assassination of journalist Peter R. de Vries, may have been ordered after Taghi was already in custody.

Raffaele Imperiale's arrest, announced officially today, but which actually occurred on the 4th of August, should make Kinahan and Gačanin nervous. 

Imperiale was arrested by Dubai law enforcement authorities, as officers in the Emirates coordinated their actions with Italian investigations initiated by the Naples Public Prosecutor's Office and entrusted to the city's G.I.C.O. (Organized Crime Investigation Group), the Mobile Squad of the Naples Police Headquarters, the Central Services of the Guardia di Finanza and Italy's State Police.  Externally,  international judicial cooperation involved coordination with Italy's Ministry of Justice working closely with the International Police Cooperation Service, Interpol and Europol for the multi-nation police action.

A long term boss who came up in the drug trafficking trade working with the Naples-based Camorra-affiliated Amato-Pagano clan, Raffaele Imperiale, who has lived in Dubai since 2010, is known on ARCA's blog for having purchased two stolen Van Gogh paintings: View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884 - 1885, taken during a brazen nighttime theft at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on December 7, 2002.  

In 2016, as if to underscore his wealth, as well as his sense of impunity while sitting comfortable in Dubai, Imperiale wrote a six-page written statement/confession which he then sent from the UAE to Naples prosecutors, Vincenza Marra, Stefania Castaldi and Maurizio De Marco, along with the deputy prosecutor Filippo Beatrice and the prosecutor of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate, Maria Vittoria De Simone.   In his lengthy missive, Imperiale implied that he had decided to collaborate with justice by agreeing to give up his "treasure" to the state and outlining various aspects of his organization's early involvement in the drug trade.  In an extract of that letter, Imperiale says:

In addition to giving up the location of the stolen paintings, Imperiale's property, which would later be confiscated, included thirteen terraced villas in Terracina, as well as twelve villas in Giugliano, five of which were, ironically, subleased out to NATO under a shell corporation.  In addition to the real estate, Imperiale jokingly added that he planned to leave the Italian state with a fleet of expensive cars: 

"to be allocated to law enforcement agencies for the fight against organized crime."  

While the stolen Van Goghs were successfully recovered in September 2016 in a villa occupied by Imperiale's parents in Castellamare di Stabia, it would be less than a year later, when the DEA had intel on the 2017 meeting held at the Dubai five-star hotel.  Imperiale was still in the business of underworld dealing and banked on the fact that no extradition treaty between Italy and the UAE had been entered into force. Despite his letter to the Italian prosecutors, he displayed no real intent at leaving behind a criminal career build on the multinational trade in illegal drugs.

If anything, with two of his Dubai-based cartel friends, Taghi and Kinahan, settling down in the country with him, Imperiale seemed to have upped his game in the gulf,  even as the Italian courts sentenced him in abstensia to 18 years behind bars for drug trafficking and money laundering [19 January 2017].

In April 2019, still on the lam in Dubai, Imperiale's sentence of 18 years in prison was reduced to less than half that, purportedly because of a miscalculation by the Italian sentencing judge, given that the fugitive don had "voluntarily" relinquished twenty million euros in assets (the value of the Van Goghs excluded).  

More recently, investigators have evidence that seems to show that Raffaele Imperiale had a business relationship with a brutal enforcer working for the Mocro Mafia in their brutal turf war; a Chilean criminal by the name of Richard Eduardo Riquelme Vega, who was arrested in Santiago in December 2017 after arriving from Dubai and extradited to the Netherlands.  Vega, known as "El Rico" (the rich one) is believed to be responsible for the beheading of Nabil Amzieb, whose severed head was left in front Café Fayrouz in Amsterdam in 2016.

Since then, Vega has been convicted of operating an assassination ring and laundering the proceeds of crime.  It was from "El Rico" Vega's phone that investigators extracted a video that showed the enforcer with Imperiale and Daniel Kinahan together in Dubai as well as a large number of encrypted messages between the South American and Ridouan, among others, in which there is said to have been communication about the liquidation of rivals. 

Gathering evidence in their investigation into Vega's role in the Mocro organisation, law enforcement officers were also able to retrieve encrypted messages between Vega and Imperiale.  In one conversation it is alleged that the pair discussed business in Amsterdam. In another, how to eliminate an inconvenient rival broker in Dubai.

In the meanwhile, the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in criminal matters between the Government of the Italian Republic and the Government of the United Arab Emirates, done in Abu Dhabi on 16 September 2015 and the extradition treaty between the governments of Italy and the UAE, moved forward. Ultimately, and after ratification was authorized by law n. 125 of October11, 2018, the bilateral agreements entered into force on April 17, 2019.

For now, it's unclear if additional criminal charges will be filed against Imperiale in Italy, aside from the ones he has already been convicted and sentenced for.   It does seem likely, that as law enforcement compare evidence in connection to these mult-nation investigations that new charges, in addition to his previous Italian convictions, may likely be on Imperiale's horizon. 

Until then, today's press release, issued by the delegation of the Public Prosecutor of Naples, shows us that Imperiale's carefree life of drug and art crime has finally come to a halt, as the Italian Ministry of Justice has announced that it is finalizing the agreements to complete his extradition procedure.

By:  Lynda Albertson

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

August 27, 2021

The lifestyles of Cocainenomics: Dubai Police release video footage of Raffaele Imperiale and announce the arrest of another fugitive Raffaele Mauriello

The General Department of Criminal Investigation of the Dubai Police has released a somewhat dramatic video that shows the capture and arrest of fugitive Raffaele Imperiale, the Camorra affiliated boss of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan which supplied cocaine to Amato and Scarpa, who, years back and already on the run in Dubai, admitted to purchasing two stolen Van Gogh paintings and to his illegal operations in letters to the Italian prosecuting authorities.  Sentenced in absentia, Imperiale is known to have continued working in the illegal drug trade, even after his conviction and despite being named as a fugitive wanted for prosecution in a 27 January 2016 red list notice. 

Living under the assumed name, Antonio Rocco, mafia boss Imperiale continued to meet and transact underworld business with affiliates of his crime syndicate in various locations in the UAE city.  Video images of his arrest released by the Dubai police attest that the Italian drug lord was using a Federation of Russia driving license and passport, as at least one means of staying below law enforcement radar.  

Scenes in the three-minute video released by police give us a sanitised look at policework in the UAE, as well as a voyeur's peep show inside Imperiale's Dubai digs, complete with luxury cars, a villa, duffle bags containing hundreds of dollars, and boxes of unopened phones, which may have been used to impede wiretaps.  One of the most bizarre images on the film was a rather ironic Avengers artwork hanging on Imperiale's wall.  Hanging next to an elevator, the painting or poster depicts a maniacally grinning Pablo Escobar, recreating the Colombian narcoterrorist's mug shot photo by Colombia's Cárcel del Distrito Judicial de Medellín during Escobar's years of Argento O Piombo. The irony here is not lost as it was with the use of bribes (silver) with a not-so-subtle threat of violence (lead), that allowed the Medellín Cartel drug lord to pump an endless supply of cocaine into the market while remaining free from justice for as long as he did. 

Major General Khalil Ibrahim Al Mansouri, Assistant Commander-in-Chief for Criminal Investigation Affairs at the Dubai Police, told UAE news services that police had also arrested fellow Camorrista Raffaele Mauriello, also known as 'o Chiatto', another prominent member of the Amato-Pagano clan.  Like Imperiale, 31-year-old Mauriello, was a fugitive on the run from Italian justice for almost three years.  

Wanted in connection with charges of murder as well as drug trafficking, Mauriello was apprehended in Dubai on 14 August, following closely on investigations coordinated by the Public Prosecutor of Naples, led by Giovanni Melillo, and conducted by the Mobile Squad of the Naples Police Headquarters, led by Alfredo Fabbrocini, with the support of the Central Operational Service of the State Police.

Imperiale's clansman was identified by law enforcement authorities in Italy as having been involved in two mob hits during the violent Third Scampia feud, which resulted in the murders of Fabio Cafasso, killed in Scampia in 2011, and the double murder of Andrea Castello and Antonio Ruggiero, each killed one day after each other in Casandrino in 2014.  Prior to their arrest, Imperiale and Mauriello had been under close surveillance by Dubai investigators from the General Department of Criminal Investigation, aided by analysts working at the Dubai Police Criminal Data Analysis Centre and the “Oyoon” AI Surveillance Programme. The Oyoon (Eyes) project is part of the Dubai 2021 plan to enhance the emirate’s global position in terms of providing a safer living experience for all its (legal) citizens, residents and visitors.

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

September 22, 2021

How many bags of cocaine could a Monet buy?

Back this summer shots were fired by one of two suspects fleeing the scene of an attempted theft of Claude Monet's painting De Voorzaan en de Westerhem at the Zaans Museum in the Netherlands.   Yesterday, in an unexpected turn of events, one of the two suspects turned himself over to the Noord-Holland police.

More surprising still, this suspect, listed as Henk B in Dutch news services, appears to be Henk Bieslijn, the Dutch national who was previously sentenced on 26 July 2004 to four years in jail, along with his coconspirator Octave Durham, for their roles in an earlier museum burglary which nabbed Vincent Van Gogh's Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen and View of the Sea at Scheveningen. 

While both culprits were convicted and served out their prison sentences, the two Van Gogh's, stolen from the Van Gogh Museum on 7 December  2002 remained in the hands of the Italian underworld.  Both paintings were eventually recovered in 2016 in Castellammare di Stabia, in the Bay of Naples, where they had been stored by their purchaser, Raffaele Imperiale.  Imperiale is the Camorra affiliated crime boss of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan who was arrested in August in Dubai and is awaiting extradition.

Imperiale is alleged to have given up the Van Gogh paintings to the Italian authorities in exchange for a lower prison sentence.  Given Henk B's connections to organised crime, it seems reasonable to speculate that had this attempted theft of the Monet been successful, the French artist's painting too would likely have been brokered to members of the underworld. 

For now, it remains to be seen what Henk Bieslijn knows, what his motives were and if he will cooperate with the Dutch police.

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

January 22, 2023

Sunday, January 22, 2023 - No comments

"Con il traffico di opere d'arte ci manteniamo la famiglia." Words from Cosa Nostra Boss Matteo Messina Denaro?

«Con il traffico di opere d'arte ci manteniamo la famiglia

"With the trafficking of works of art we support our family."  So read a purported intercepted pizzini, stated to have been written by Cosa Nostra boss Matteo Messina Denaro to one of his men.

Pizzini, literally little messages, are generally codified messages which represent the orders, thoughts and concerns of the mafia's men in power. Provenzano for instance, was known to write his on a small typewriter, folding and taping them into tiny squares, so that he could communicate his orders among the uomini d'onore through these tiny secret messages while on the run as a mafia fugitive.

When captured and deciphered by law enforcement, pizzini like these can serve as evidence, paper accomplices, which like informants, give concretised clues on mafia operations and in some cases, outlining specific orders given in the commission of crimes by clan bosses. 

News of this leaked message was first published in a 2021, in a Huffington post article by Vincenzo Musacchio, a Jurist and Professor of Criminal Law.  It is now making the airwaves again, following Messina Denaro's arrest.

But even if this pizzini turns out to be real evidence, proven to have been written by Messina Denaro, it merely confirms what we already know.  

The trafficking of art as a form of "currency" has already been concretised through other well known organised crime cases in Italy.  One of the more dramatic examples, a few years back, is that of Camorra clan boss, Raffaele Imperiale, who held on to two Van Gogh paintings, first stolen in Amsterdam and later recovered at a property connected to him in the Bay of Naples.

While both were potent actors in Italy's organised crime syndicates, Imperiale and Messina Denaro are not the only mobsters who have used art for illegal means. The art market is a global one, allowing for easy movement of assets across borders. 

Art and antiquities are attractive financial instrument, especially for the underworld, as it can be used by criminals as a means of concealing the proceeds derived from illicit activities.  This can also include purchasing legitimate works of art with dirty money, selling it at a later date for a profit and thereby "washing" the money so that it appears that the funds come from a legitimate, and now more traceable, source. 

Criminals may also use art and antiquities as a means of transferring large sums of money across international borders, as art is not subject to the same regulations and scrutiny as financial banking transactions. 

Art and antiquities can also been used as collateral for underworld loans, or when the location of stolen material is disclosed during plea deals, may sadly serve as a bargaining chip used by charged offenders as a means of negotiating lower prison sentences, as we have just seen in Germany this week.

What comes out publicly in the Messina Denero investigation, related to art and antiquities crime, which might back up this slip of paper should be interesting. 

For now, we will have to settle with seeing the back side of the Sicilian crime boss' wardrobe, in one of his hideouts.  A space where Messina Denero could access - via a sliding wooden wall - an armoured room, complete with boxes of jewels, precious stones, and it seems, paintings...but also empty boxes. 

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

July 14, 2022

Thursday, July 14, 2022 - 1 comment

In Memoriam - Dick Drent (1959-2022)

It is with deep regret that we learned of the passing of our former museum security and risk management professor and dearest friend Dick Drent, who passed away on the 12th of July 2022.

Dick served as a professor with ARCA’s Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection for more than a decade. Each year, his course not only provided participants with a thorough knowledge of the fascinating field of museum security, but drew upon his own magnificent career which spanned over three decades working on investigations, security and risk management. His unrivalled experience, his humour, and inspiring way of earning the respect of others, made his courses unique and unforgettable.  Entering a museum would never be the same again for anyone who had the privilege of studying with him. Or in his own words ‘your days of solely enjoying a museum or art will be over. Forever’. 

During his career in law enforcement, Dick fought organised crime and terrorism, mostly within the Netherland's Undercover and Sensitive Operation Unit. In 2005, he left policing to take on the role of director of security for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Over the next ten years he worked with this award-winning museum developing an OCE matrix which challenged traditionally reactive methods of museum risk management and instead took on a proactive security approach which focused on preventing incidents before they happen.  

While working at the VGM and after starting his own security and risk training consultancy, Dick served as the Van Gogh Museum's chief investigator working together with law enforcement authorities towards the eventual recovery of two stolen works of art by Vincent Van Gogh: View of the Sea at Scheveningen and 
Dick receiving the confirmation
that the two Van Gogh paintings recovered
from drug lord Raffaele Imperiale
were the art works stolen
during the 2022 Van Gogh Museum heist.
Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen. 

These paintings were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in 2002 and successfully recovered 14 years later in coordination with Italian and Dutch law enforcement after it was determined that the paintings were held by one of the leaders of a Camorra affiliated drug trafficking clan operating throughout the Bay of Naples, the Netherlands and Spain.

Even after the paintings were recovered, Dick's security guard instincts carried on, even during the press event at Naples Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte when this recovery was being celebrated.  In a room filled with over two hundred members of the press and law enforcement officers, Dick stood guard over the two Van Gogh paintings as if they were heads of state, ensuring that they were well protected. 

Besides these memorable recoveries, Dick was also active in several other ways for ARCA. In Lebanon, he was one of our key instructors in a specialised training program for countering antiquities trafficking in the Mashreq, a joint collaboration between UNESCO with ARCA along with other affiliated NGOs working on art and heritage crime in conflict, post conflict and transit countries. 

Dick also stepped in to provide online eLearning courses when the COVID pandemic made our summer training program too risky, and assisted ARCA in any way he could, using his expertise, wide network, and endless energy to advance the mission of our association in the fields of cultural property protection.

Having him here to teach with and for ARCA was a profound gift.  One that we will miss dearly. 

We are incredibly grateful for everything he has done for the association and for the whole ARCA family of alumni, professors, staff, and volunteers, all of whome will miss him tremendously.

Our thoughts are with Dick’s wife Petra, his daughter Simone, his granddaughter Kato Marie, his son in law Wouter, and his bonus daughter Barbara. 

A condolence service will be held on Tuesday, the 19th of July at 7:00 pm in Zaandam. 

The pain of this hard good-bye is our heart’s tribute to the privilege to knowing, learning, and working with him. 

Rust zacht, beste makker,

ARCA Alumni
ARCA Professors
Edgar Tijhuis, academic director
Noah Charney, founding president
Lynda Albertson, CEO

Ohhh I am so sorry to hear this. He really did stand out and I loved all the stories he shared with us about the museum. I will always remember him. 
Please stay strong. I know deep in my heart that he will stay alive inside all of us. No one forgets a friend and a professor....he worked so hard in his careers and passed on knowledge and changed us all. I say this with a tiny tear in my eyes. I don't think I can ever forget what he gave us at ARCA. Please know that he will live forever. You will see and feel him in every course you succeed in. You all made it happen. Stay strong for his sake. 🌸❤️  --Rania Kataf - ARCA 2016

Dick was so very important and he did it through his heart. There are tons of people who insist you listen to them and respect their authority, but he never did that. He was always himself and that assurance and humor made you want to be near him, learn from him, work with him. -- Summer Clowers - ARCA 2013

Very sad to hear this. Such good memories from Dick’s course, especially at the museum trip. All the best wishes to Petra, family and friends. --Max Van Steen - ARCA 2019

I’m so very sorry to hear this 😞 Please pass our love on to Petra and the family. Dick was an incredibly generous, kind and gifted individual. He will be missed.  --Alexandra Taylor - ARCA 2019

Goodbyes really hurt when the story is not finished and the book has been closed too soon.  I will truly and deeply miss you my dear friend.  --LA

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