Italian police have confiscated an allegedly stolen 17th-century painting that is the center of an investigation focusing on Italy’s junior culture minister Vittorio Sgarbi, deepening the latest scandal for the far-right government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

The painting — “The Capture of Saint Peter” by Rutilio di Lorenzo Manetti — disappeared in 2013, sparking a decade-long hunt for the Caravaggio-style artwork, which is worth around €200,000. In 2021, Sgarbi, a well-known art critic, submitted a nearly identical painting with a different name to an art exhibition, catching the eye of Italian journalists who published an exposé in December.

Prosecutors on Friday confiscated the painting for analysis and are investigating Sgarbi over the alleged laundering of stolen goods, according to the art heritage squad of the Carabinieri police.

The center-right politician denies all accusations and claims he found the artwork in a house his mother bought 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,” Sgarbi proclaimed on Saturday. The politician is also being investigated by Italy’s antitrust authority for allegedly accepting large sums of money to appear at cultural events.

Opposition politicians have called for Sgarbi’s sacking, gleefully mocking the Meloni government’s latest gaffe. The prime minister earlier this month was forced to suspend a politician from her far-right Brothers of Italy party after a gun he owned was accidentally fired at a New Year’s Eve party. The politician denied having fired it, but refused to submit to gunpowder residue test.

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