Museum Security Network

ICE Agents Recover Stolen Italian Artifacts Smuggled into the United States

by Gary Nurkin last modified 10-29-2009 08:30 AM

Investigating officials have identified a large smuggling organization that appears to have moved items out of Italy to other locations in Europe from which they were smuggled into the United States.

Art Daily, October 29, 2009

NEW YORK, NY.- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents seized two stolen Italian artifacts that date back more than 2,000 years. The items were illegally excavated in Italy, smuggled into the United States and offered for sale in New York. The recovery was the result of a joint international investigation between ICE and the Italian Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

The Italians have traced one of the objects recovered, a Red-Figured Situla (circa 365-350 B.C.), back to the Puglia region of Italy and the other, an Attic Red-Figured Pelike (circa 480-460 B.C.), to Etruria, Italy. The artifacts have an approximate combined value of $120,000.

“The recovery of these unique cultural artifacts serves as a deterrent to large-scale smuggling organizations trying to benefit financially from a nation’s history and heritage,” said James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New York. “ICE is committed to working closely with foreign governments to find and return stolen works of art and antiquities to their rightful owners.”

Investigating officials have identified a large smuggling organization that appears to have moved items out of Italy to other locations in Europe from which they were smuggled into the United States. Typically, the items were then sold through antiquities galleries in the United States to obscure their origins before introducing them into major auction houses. The illicit proceeds of the sales were then laundered back to the source countries. The trail of these two seized items started in Italy, moved to Geneva, and then, according to the evidence uncovered so far, arrived in Beverly Hills. The gallery involved in the sale of these items has been associated with other looted materials that have ultimately been repatriated to their source countries.

The Attic Red-Figured Pelike and the Apulian Red-Figured Situla were part of a collection that in the late 1990s was presented to an expert in the antiquities trade who described the collection as “fresh”, meaning that they were new to the international marketplace for such items. Items of this same collection have been traced back to Giacomo Medici. Similarly looted pieces that have passed along this route for smuggled antiquities are believed to have ended up at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles rather then public auction houses.

Medici was arrested in Italy in 1997. During judicial proceedings in Italy against Medici for the smuggling of antiquities, it was concluded that a Corinthian column krater, which was seized by ICE in June, originated from the archaeological sites of Latium, a region of Lazio, Italy. Hundreds of pieces of ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art were identified by authorities during the investigation as having been illegally handled by Medici. He was sentenced in 2004 by the Tribunal of Rome to eight years in prison and fined 10 million Euros, which is one of the largest penalties ever meted out for antiquities crimes.

Giacomo Medici’s operation was thought to be one of the largest and most sophisticated antiquities networks in the world. His operation is believed to be responsible for illegally digging up and illicitly introducing thousands of antiquities into the international art market.

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