ROME — The return from the United States of a precious Roman artefact stolen from an Italy museum is thanks to an Italian policeman who strolled through New York on holiday this year, officials said on Friday.
Walking down Madison Avenue, the officer from Italy’s cultural heritage police noticed the marble torso on sale for 350,000 dollars (256,000 euros) in a gallery’s display, they said.
The policeman took a picture on his mobile phone and asked the gallery owner about its origin.
The owner’s reticence made him suspicious and he looked up the statue among stolen artefacts on his return to Italy, finding it had been robbed in 1988 from the archaeological museum in the town of Terracina south of Rome.
Alerted by Italian police, US customs officials seized the work and returned it to Italian authorities on Friday, along with a small bronze statue representing Zeus or Poseidon and valued at 500,000 euros.
The bronze statue, which was stolen from the National Roman Museum in 1980, was sold by Sotheby’s auction house in New York in 2006 and later put on display at an exhibition in Cleveland in the US state of Ohio.
Its owner, an American woman, has agreed to return it to Italy.
“It was all on a voluntary basis,” said Mona Forman from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New York, who travelled to Rome for the handover.
Italy has some of the greatest art treasures in the world and cases of looting and art theft are frequent, with many objects sold off abroad.
A list of the top 10 most wanted artefacts on the website of the Carabinieri paramilitary police is topped by Caravaggio’s 17th century “Nativity”.