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A Ukrainian Militia Is Holding Dutch Masters' Paintings for Ransom

But these aren't the most savvy art thieves we've seen...
December 9, 2015, 6:50pm
Painting, Jacob Waben, Vanity, 1622 Oil on canvas, 151 x 131 cm. Courtesy Westfries Museum

A treasure trove of paintings and silverware from 17th and 18th century Dutch Masters has reportedly surfaced in a ransom scenario perpetrated by The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. In 2005, two dozen paintings by peers of Vermeer and Rembrandt, including Herman Henstenburgh, Izaak Ouwater, and Henrik Savrij, as well as a collection of silver plates, bowls, and cutlery, were stolen from the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, according to a statement released on the museum's website. Now the group is attempting to sell the collection back to the museum for 50 million euros—or else, presumably.

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An art expert named Dr. Arthur Brand has been handling the negotiations since an anonymous caller contacted the Dutch embassy in Kiev, claiming to have all the stolen paintings. The first negotiation happened in August, and by October his informants revealed that Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the extremist Svoboda party (who last year proposed recognition of the fighting role of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists during World War II), was behind the ransom.

Now, the modern iteration of the OUN, known for marching in support of alleged WWII Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, apparently goes around burglarizing museums, and attempted to cash in on the decade-old heist this summer. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to have an art historian on hand, because their 50 million euro asking price is about 48.7 million euros too many "if in good condition," according to Dr. Brand.

Since it appears the paintings have been handled as roughly as one might expect a military unit to handle them, Dr. Brand offered to compensate them the more accurate 500,000 euro valuation. The OUN responded that a finder's fee of five million euros was the lowest they would go.

As museum director Ad Geerdink puts it, “We have done everything we can and have reached a dead end." As of November, Dr. Brand has uncovered a deal to sell several of the Westfries Museum's paintings to "a group of foreign criminals," while a Ukrainian lawyer is attempting to sell more of them through foreign channels.

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"Now that it seems that the artworks are disappearing again, we want to sound the alarm to let potential buyers know that they are dealing with stolen art, to give a correct representation of the actual value of the art works, but also to send a signal that these artworks only belong in Hoorn," Geerdink continues. "They are invaluable to the story we are telling about the extremely riveting period of the Golden Age in West Friesland.”

Find a full list of the stolen artworks on the Westfries Museum website.

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