Ukraine recovers four stolen Dutch paintings

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KIEV (Reuters) - Four Dutch masterpieces dating from the country’s 17th-century Golden Age have been recovered by security services in Ukraine over 10 years after they were stolen from a museum in the Netherlands, Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said on Thursday.

The paintings -- part of a group of 24 works valued at 10 million euros ($11.26 million) when they went missing in 2005 -- were said in December to have been discovered in a villa in separatist eastern Ukraine, although the reports were never confirmed.

“I hope today’s success will help improve Ukraine’s image in the future, particularly in the Netherlands,” Klimkin said at a briefing with Dutch Ambassador to Ukraine Kees Klompenhouwer.

Dutch voters rejected a Ukraine-EU treaty on closer economic and political ties in a non-binding referendum on April 6.

Ukraine’s SBU State Security Service has been seeking to recover the missing pictures for the past four months and located the first two, one by painter Floris van Schooten, just before the Dutch referendum, SBU chief Vasyl Hrytsak said.

“Imagine what a trump we had in our hands that we could have played,” he said, adding that the decision was taken not to announce the find to avoid publicity while the search continued for the two other paintings -- works by Dutch master Jacob Waben, secured on Thursday.

Of the 20 paintings still missing, some are known by the SBU to be in territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists, others “might be in Russia,” Hrytsak said.

The paintings first disappeared from the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, north of Amsterdam, when thieves hid in the building before closing time on a winter evening and disabled the alarm system before making off with the artworks.

Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Alessandra Prentice, editing by Pritha Sarkar