Italy arrests 12 over $17 million Verona art theft in November

ROME (Reuters) - Twelve people suspected of stealing paintings worth some 15 million euros ($16.6 million) have been arrested, Italian police said on Tuesday.

The 17 paintings, including works by Tintoretto, Mantegna and Peter Paul Rubens, were taken by armed robbers shortly before the Castelvecchio museum in Verona closed on Nov. 19.

The robbery prompted recriminations in Italy over the lack of security at the museum, which some critics blamed on public spending cuts. Theories over the culprits ranged from local delinquents to Islamic State.

The thieves acted just after the museum’s 11 staff had left but before a remote alarm system with the police station was activated. They tied up the museum cashier and forced an armed guard to hand over keys to his car, which they used to get away.

Nine of the suspects were Moldovans arrested in their homeland and three were Italians arrested in Verona, Italian media reported. The paintings were located in Moldova and were in the process of being recovered, reports said.

All the arrests were made by Verona police and paramilitary Carabinieri responsible for safeguarding the national heritage, following an investigation coordinated by city prosecutor Gennaro Ottaviano, a Verona police spokeswoman said.

She declined to confirm the nationality of those arrested but said details would be provided at a news conference to be held in Verona on Wednesday.

Reporting by Gavin Jones, editing by Larry King