One of Italy’s most wanted, an alleged major cocaine trafficker accused of buying two stolen Van Gogh paintings with drug money has been arrested in Dubai, Italian police said on Thursday.
Raffaele Imperiale, an alleged boss of the Naples-based Camorra organized crime syndicate, was arrested on August 4.
He is being held in the United Arab Emirates while Italy’s justice ministry completes extradition procedures. According to the Interior Ministry, a warrant for his arrest was first issued in January 2016, over money laundering and international drug trafficking offences.
Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said Imperiale had been “a top exponent of international drug trafficking and money laundering, who accumulated huge amounts of illicit wealth thanks above all to cocaine sales.”
In 2016, two paintings stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002 were found stashed in a farmhouse on property owned by Imperiale in his hometown, Castellamare di Stabia, near Naples.
The works, View of the Sea at Scheveningen (1882) and Congregation leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884-1885), were described by police as being of “unquantifiable” value.
The Guardia di Financa found them wrapped in cotton sheets, stuffed into a box and hidden behind a wall in a bathroom, during a major seizure of properties owned by Imperiale and another alleged local drug kingpin.
Imperiale gave an interview to Naples daily newspaper Il Mattino earlier this year in which he denied any link to the museum theft, claiming he bought the paintings because of his passion for art.
“I bought them directly from the thief,” he was quoted as saying, “because the price was attractive… But most of all because I love art.” He also stated he had been living in Dubai for years.
Shortly before the paintings were discovered, police had seized some 40 houses in Spain said to have been bought by Imperiale with criminal cash.
Anti-mafia squads have following Imperiale’s activities for years. The arrest of a close associate of his who supervised the importation of cocaine from Venezuela led to the seizure in 2013 of 1,330 kilos of the drug in Paris.
Imperiale is understood to have lived in Amsterdam for about 10 years while allegedly directing drug shipments to Italy. He then moved to Madrid and eventually Dubai.