THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A trove of Dutch Golden Age art stolen from a provincial Dutch museum nearly 11 years ago has been linked to a volunteer nationalist militia in Ukraine, the museum announced Monday.
The Westfries Museum in the northern town of Hoorn went public with claims that the 24 paintings snatched in a burglary on Jan. 9, 2005, along with 70 pieces of silverware are now being offered for sale in Ukraine, saying it wants to deter potential buyers.
The museum also has an important message for the militia, which it said sought a 5 million-euro ($5.4 million) "finder's fee" for the art: It is nowhere near as valuable as you think.
Two representatives claiming to represent a militia of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists contacted the Dutch Embassy in Kiev in July claiming to have the complete collection of stolen paintings, according to a museum statement. They showed a photo of one of the paintings alongside a current Ukrainian newspaper to back up their claim.
Hoorn municipality then used a Dutch expert in stolen art to make contact with the group and offer compensation if the art were returned. At that point, the intermediaries said they wouldn't settle for less than the 5 million euro fee.
The stolen art expert said that in their current condition the 24 paintings would be worth a combined total of no more than 500,000 euros ($540,000).
The paintings include landscapes, naval scenes, and still life works, almost all of them dating back to the 17th century.
In a statement, the museum alleged that the case involves "Ukrainian art criminals who have contacts on the highest political levels" in the country.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told national broadcaster NOS he had been in contact with Ukrainian political leaders about the case.
"We've brought this up at the highest level with the Ukrainians," he said of the stolen art. "I believe that they are taking it very seriously. We are going to try to ensure it returns to the Westfries Museum."