The thief behind one of the biggest art heists in history stepped into the spotlight yesterday as he went on various Dutch talk shows to discuss how he stole two Van Gogh paintings worth millions from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002 and eventually sold them to a Camorra drug boss. In between, he also claims to have stayed at the home of then-FC Barcelona striker Patrick Kluivert while on the run from police.
Burglar Octave “Okkie” Durham is now the subject of a documentary titled The Man Who Stole Two Van Goghs by Dutch news show Brandpunt. In it, he tells reporters and the public everything he did leading up to, during, and after the infamous art heist. It is clear he revels in the attention and he is anything but remorseful, better yet, he is proud of his criminal accomplishment.
The Van Gogh Museum heist in Amsterdam in 2002 went down with relative ease. Durham and Henk, a good friend of his, had been casing the place for some time before they finally decided to go ahead and execute their plan. Using a stolen ladder, some rope, and a hammer the two men entered the museum filled with hundreds of millions worth’ of exclusive art. They grabbed Vincent van Gogh’s View of the Sea at Scheveningen and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen.
While they stole the paintings, they monitored police radios to stay up to date on last minute movements. As cops arrived at their place of entry, the ladder at the front of the museum, the two thieves escaped at the back of the museum using a simple rope. They then get away in a stolen car.
As professional as “Okkie” may claim to have been, he left behind a baseball cap with his DNA in it, putting authorities on his tail almost immediately. A lack of evidence and urgency, however, kept police from searching the burglar’s residence or other locations, giving him enough time to move the paintings to a safe location.
He then tried to sell the paintings to his contacts in the Amsterdam underworld. Many criminals are interested in obtaining famous artwork as they can use it as a bargaining chip in court. Dutch drug boss Cor van Hout was eager to buy the paintings but was shot to death before he and Durham could reach an official deal. Crime boss Mink Kok, currently residing in Beirut, Lebanon, was also offered the Van Goghs but nothing came of it.
Durham then received a call from a man known as “Pinocchio,” who quickly closed the deal and purchased the two Van Gogh paintings. “Pinocchio” was an old acquaintance of Durham and a friend of his partner-in-crime Henk. Authorities only managed to pick up his nickname and were in the dark about his criminal pedigree.
“Pinocchio” nonetheless was an important player in the Amsterdam underworld. He lived there for twelve years and owned Coffeeshop Rockland, where tourists enjoyed smoking some weed. The man behind the nickname is Raffaele Imperiale (photo right), an Italian drug boss with close links to the Neapolitan Camorra.
Durham refuses to say how much Imperiale paid for the paintings, but Imperiale is the one who held onto the works of art until September of 2016 when he offered them up to Italian authorities in exchange for lowering his prison sentence. Prosecutors initially recommended Imperiale to be sentenced to 20 years in prison for drug trafficking, but he managed to negotiate an 8-year reduction. He has yet to serve a day of his sentence as he remains a fugitive, living a life of luxury in Dubai.
Life wasn’t so sweet for Durham, though. When police are hot on his tail he manages to flee to Spain where he eventually runs into Patrick Kluivert, star player of FC Barcelona. The two men knew each other from the old neighborhood back in Amsterdam.
Durham tells Kluivert he is staying at a hotel and Kluivert asks him to crash with him at his mansion instead. The fugitive art thief is hesitant and tells Kluivert he is on the run from police and his presence might cause Kluivert some unwanted media attention. The Barcelona striker is dismissive however, telling “Okkie” he is in the media every day anyway. (See the video clip below in which Durham tells the Kluivert story himself.)
Kluivert denies Durham’s story and has filed a defamation suit against the burglar. The documentary makers say they have two other sources that confirm Durham’s stay at Kluivert’s Barcelona residence.
Durham, who was so worried about Kluivert getting bad press back in the day, now apparently has no issue throwing him under the bus. This despite the fact he considers him a “great guy.”
Unremorseful and proud, Durham is now enjoying his 15 minutes of fame as the star of his own documentary, a guest on primetime talk shows, and the father of a female artist signed to one of the Netherlands’ biggest record labels.
It makes one doubt the saying that crime does not pay.
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