Stolen artefacts stashed by British art dealer are returned to Italy
Tuesday 22 March 2016 14.49 GMT
Italian and Swiss police have recovered priceless archaeological artefacts stolen from Italy and stored by a notorious British antiquities dealer, Italy’s culture ministry has said.
The haul, worth €9m (£7.1m), was discovered in 2014 in a storage unit at the Geneva Freeport warehouse complex in Switzerland rented by the disgraced art dealer Robin Symes, a giant in the illegal antiquities trade with ties to Italian tomb raiders.
“Forty-five crates containing tens of thousands of archaeological relics of extraordinary quality” were returned to Rome in January, said the Italian culture minister, Dario Franceschini, as they were unveiled to the press for the first time.
The haul included Etruscan painted sarcophaguses representing human figures, a Roman sarcophagus, marble statues of animals and pieces of the floor and walls of a temple, all dating to between the seventh century BC and second century AD.
“They were stolen from digs in Sicily, Puglia, Campania and Calabria in the 1970s and 1980s,” said the prosecutor Giancarlo Capaldo, adding that the loot had been smuggled into Geneva Freeport decades ago, where it lay hidden.
Italian investigators tracked the artefacts after seizing incriminating papers from an art smuggler, and they were discovered during a joint sting with Swiss police on Symes’s storage unit.
Capaldo said the intention had been to restore the statues, tiles and sarcophaguses and sell them on to clients in Japan, Germany and other countries under false papers.
“This is one of the most important recoveries of the last few decades,” Franceschini said, adding that the antiquities would be restored and returned to the regions across southern Italy from which they were stolen.