An Italian culture minister is being investigated over a missing 17th century painting that has been found in his possession, police have said.
Junior culture minister Vittorio Sgarbi could have gotten his hands on the painting through fraudulent means and was now being investigated over alleged laundering of stolen goods, the art heritage squad of the Carabinieri police said in a statement.
The 17th century painting disappeared in 2013 from a castle near the northern Italian city of Turin. The Caravaggio-style artwork, estimated to be priced around €200,000 captures a judge sentencing a man who looks like a Christian saint. Mr Sgarbi called the painting “The Capture of St Peter”.
Police officials said the painter was unknown but the style was reminiscent of Francesco Solimena and Bernardo Cavallino, two other 17th century Italian painters.
According to the Carabinieri police, Mr Sgarbi – who is also an art historian, critic, and a prominent TV personality – may have tampered with the artefact and slightly modified the painting, adding a torch to its top left corner to hide its criminal provenance.
Mr Sgrabi rejected the charges of any wrongdoing to procure the painting. The 71-year-old lawmaker said he found the painting in a villa his mother bought 100km (60 miles) north of Rome.
“I have nothing to fear. I will defend myself by all means against those who speculate on the matter and those who become complicit in it,” he said.
He added that the painting belongs to Siena-based painter Rutilio Manetti.
The long-serving parliamentarian is notorious for his short temper but has garnered respect in the country for being a curator and art expert.
The Carabinieri Art Squad has seized the artwork from a warehouse, along with its 3D copy after a series of searches ordered by the prosecutors, the officials said.