President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych thanked Germany for returning Caravaggio’s “The Kiss of Judas”, which had been stolen from the Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art, to Ukraine."

"I am very grateful for the opportunity to bring back this great painting, which belongs to Ukraine. This is a gift to the Ukrainian people from law enforcement officers, who performed their professional duty," Viktor Yanukovych said at the joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

A Caravaggio painting stolen from a museum in Ukraine two years ago was recovered by police as four men tried to sell it in Berlin, official said Monday.

Police confiscated the 16th-century painting — known as "The Taking of Christ," or "The Kiss of Judas" — and arrested the three Ukrainians and a Russian on Friday, Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office said.

They are believed to be members of an international gang of art thieves, and 20 other suspected members of it were arrested in Ukraine, the police said.

The painting, worth several million euros (dollars), was stolen from the Museum of Western and Eastern Art in Odessa, Ukraine, in July 2008 by thieves who entered the museum at night and cut the painting out of its frame. From a Reuters report "Police said they entered through a window, bypassing an outdated alarm system by removing a pane of glass rather than breaking it. They then escaped across the museum's roof."

Anke Spriestersbach, a police spokeswoman, declined to release any information about the potential buyer, saying the investigation is still under way.

The arrests in Berlin were made in cooperation with Germany's special GSG 9 forces and Ukrainian police.

The painting is dated by 1573-1602. The Ambassador of the Russian Empire in France acquired the painting and transferred it to the Odessa Art College early in the 20th century. Then it belonged to the Gallery of the old painting (today’s Museum of Western and Eastern Art) However, Caravaggio authorship was under question. In mid 1950s, it was proven that the Italian master in fact painted this work.

Kiev specialists restored the masterpiece in 2006.


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