Two Van Gogh paintings stolen in 2002 found in mafia raid

Two Vincent Van Gogh paintings stolen 14 years ago from the Dutch museum dedicated to his work have been recovered by Italian police in a raid on the mafia in Naples.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam said the Dutch artist's paintings had been removed from their frames but appeared largely undamaged.

The works, 1884's "Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen" and 1882's "View of the Sea at Scheveningen", are both from relatively early in Van Gogh's career.

They were stolen by thieves who broke into the museum in December 2002 using a ladder before escaping by sliding down a rope.

The police investigation began in 2002 after two paintings were snatched from Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum by thieves in a daring robbery. Credit: Reuters

Two men were later caught and convicted of the theft but the paintings were not recovered.

Italian financial police confirmed the "priceless" paintings were seized along with "assets worth tens of millions of euros" from a Camorra mafia group it said was involved in international cocaine trafficking.

Van Gogh Museum director Axel Rueger hailed the surprise recovery, saying "They're safe. I no longer dared to hope that I could ever say that, after so many years."

It was not immediately clear when the paintings would be returned to the museum, which is one of Amsterdam's top tourist attractions.