Italian fugitive connected to stolen Van Gogh paintings arrested

People stand around a case containing two recovered stolen Vincent Van Gogh paintings during a news conference in Capodimonte, Italy, February 6, 2017. The paintings were found in an Italian country house belonging to an alleged mafia drug smuggler in September 2016, after they disappeared in a heist in Amsterdam. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

ROME, Aug 19 (Reuters) - A suspected Italian drug trafficker who police believe may have bought two stolen Vincent Van Gogh paintings was arrested in the United Arab Emirates, a police statement said on Thursday.

Raffaele Imperiale, 46, was arrested in Dubai on Aug. 4 by local authorities, who cooperated with the Italian police. He had been on the run since 2016 and Italy had included him in the list of its most dangerous fugitives.

In 2016, two Van Gogh paintings stolen in Amsterdam in 2002 - "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen" and "View of the Sea at Scheveningen" - were found by police in a villa Imperiale owned near Naples.

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Each painting was worth an estimated 50 million euros ($58 million), investigators said after recovering them.

Police said Imperiale is a key figure in international drug trafficking and money laundering and has a close relationship with the Camorra mafia gang centred around the southern Italian city of Naples.

"An excellent result which once again demonstrates the ability of our police forces to fight crime," Italy Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said.

The Italian government is working to swiftly finalise the extradition of Imperiale, who is now under custody in the UAE, Italian media reported, citing police.

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Reporting by Angelo Amante, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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