Thursday 27 June 2019

New probe into missing masterpiece taken in 1969 mafia heist

The Caravaggio stolen from Palermo in 1969
The Caravaggio stolen from Palermo in 1969

Nick Squires

Nearly 50 years after it vanished, Italy has opened a fresh investigation into the notorious theft of a Caravaggio masterpiece today worth €17m.

A mafia turncoat has come forward with new information that could lead to the recovery of the celebrated painting, entitled 'Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco', which depicts Mary gazing lovingly at the newborn baby Jesus.

It hung in the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, until it was expertly cut from its frame on a stormy night in October 1969 by unidentified thieves using blades or box-cutters.

The theft is listed by the FBI as number two on its list of the world's top 10 art crimes.

For years, it was thought that the 'Nativity' might have been destroyed, possibly eaten by rats and mice after being stashed in a barn in the Sicilian countryside.

According to another theory, the altarpiece was used as a bedside mat by Toto Riina, the murderous head of Cosa Nostra, who died last year at the age of 87.

The National Anti-Mafia Commission now says it has gleaned new information from the "pentito", or turncoat, that suggests the stolen painting ended up in the hands of two Cosa Nostra bosses, Stefano Bontade and Gaetano Badalamenti. They then smuggled the painting to Switzerland.

Rosy Bindi, the head of the commission, said that investigators had unearthed "interesting elements" that could lead to the work being traced.

"We don't believe the painting was destroyed, as thought in the past," she said.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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