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Italy's junior culture minister investigated over stolen painting

Italy's junior culture minister investigated over stolen painting

World

The painting disappeared from a castle near the northern Italian city of Turin in 2013

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ROME (Reuters) - Italy's junior culture minister Vittorio Sgarbi, an art critic and outspoken TV personality whose brief includes protecting the country's cultural heritage, is under investigation over a 17th century painting in his possession that police said had been stolen.

The painting disappeared from a castle near the northern Italian city of Turin in 2013, the art heritage squad of the Carabinieri police said in a statement.

Prosecutors suspect it ended up in Sgarbi's hands through fraudulent means and are investigating him over the alleged laundering of stolen goods, police added.

The politician has denied any wrongdoing, and says he found the painting - which he has attributed to Siena-based painter Rutilio Manetti - in a villa his mother bought about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Rome.

Sgarbi, 71, is a long-serving parliamentarian who was close to former primer minister Silvio Berlusconi, who died last year. He is notorious for his short temper, frequent use of swear words and playboy lifestyle - but also respected as a curator and art expert.

The Carabinieri police said Sgarbi is also suspected of having slightly modified the painting, adding a torch to its top left corner to hide its criminal provenance.

The artwork, along with a 3-D copy of it, has been seized from a warehouse following a series of searches ordered by prosecutors, they added.

The painting, which Sgarbi called "The Capture of St Peter," shows a judge sentencing a man who looks like the Christian saint.

Police said the author was unknown but reminiscent of Francesco Solimena and Bernardo Cavallino, two other 17th century Italian painters.