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Arts

Greek and Roman Antiquities among Stolen Items Returned to Italy

December 16, 2021

NEW YORK – Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr., on December 15, announced the return of 200 antiquities valued at an estimated $10 million to the people of Italy during a repatriation ceremony attended by Italy Consul General Fabrizio Di Michele, Italian Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (TPC) Brigadier General Roberto Riccardi, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Deputy Special Agent in Charge Erik Rosenblatt.

“For years, prestigious museums and private collectors across the United States prominently displayed these Italian historical treasures even though their very presence in America constituted evidence of cultural heritage crimes,” District Attorney Vance. “The repatriation of this dazzling collection of ancient art begins to address some of the damage done by traffickers and shows the need for all collectors and gallery owners performing due diligence and ensuring pieces they purchased were lawfully acquired. I am honored to return these 200 pieces to the people of Italy – our largest such transfer of antiquities to this illustrious nation. I thank my Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and our partners at Homeland Security Investigations for their superb efforts that have resulted in more than 700 treasures being returned to 14 countries since August 2020.”

“The organized looters and smugglers of illicit artifacts and antiquities are indifferent to what ‘priceless’ means, and continue to plunder and exploit the world’s cultural heritage for profit,” said HSI New York Deputy Special Agent in Charge Erik Rosenblatt. “The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations lead the global fight against transnational criminal organizations who are clearly wrong to believe they can operate with impunity in New York. Today, we have the privilege to send home 200 pieces of stolen history to the government of Italy, and we will continue to use this momentum to hold traffickers accountable and dismantle these depraved organizations driven by greed.”

“It is a source of great satisfaction to see years of bilateral cooperation between the Italian and American authorities, and notably between the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the Homeland Security Investigations, and the Carabinieri, resulting in the return to Italy of hundreds of precious antiquities, dating back as early as to 2500 years BCE,” said Italy’s Consul General Fabrizio Di Michele. “We have selected some of these artifacts for a special exhibit at the Consulate Generale and at the Italian Cultural Institute, in order to make some of these masterpieces, stolen or looted in Italy in the past, available to New York’s public before their handover to our Ministry of Culture.”

The items returned today included:

  • Ninety-six pieces with an estimated value of $1.8 million seized from the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art on May 28, 2021. Among these items are 26 works of ancient pottery ranging from Apulian Volute-Kraters (large, open-mouthed containers used to dilute wine with water during banquets and symposia) to tall, ancient Roman jars known as Amphora. Highlights include a Baltimore Painter Krater, dating to 330 BCE and valued at $100,000, and a 5th century BCE Hydria valued at $150,000.
  • A Head of a Maiden, dating to 4th century BCE and valued at $100,000, seized from the New York-based Merrin Gallery on June 28, 2021. Convicted Italian antiquities trafficker Giacomo Medici possessed this terracotta goddess before it surfaced at the gallery in 1997.
  • A Pithos with Ulysses, dating to 7th century BCE and valued at $200,000, seized from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles on April 2, 2021. A pithos was a large ceramic vessel that the Etruscans used for storing grain, oil, and wine, and even burying dead.

As of today’s ceremony, the DA’s Office has returned 717 antiquities to 14 nations since August 2020, including, in recent months, 27 relics to Cambodia, 104 artifacts to Pakistan, and 248 treasures to India. Earlier this month, our Office announced the seizure of 180 stolen pieces from the collection of Michael Steinhardt, which will be returned to their 11 countries of origin at future ceremonies.

Manhattan DA’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit

To date, the DA’s first-of-its-kind Antiquities Trafficking Unit has recovered several thousand stolen antiquities collectively valued at more than $200 million. More than 1,500 of these priceless artifacts have been returned to their rightful owners and repatriated to their countries of origin, including a total of 717 objects to 14 nations since August 2020. Many hundreds more are ready to be repatriated as soon as the relevant countries are able to receive them amid the pandemic. But more than a thousand must be held awaiting criminal proceedings against the traffickers. The items already returned include a bronze Shiva Nataraja to India;  a pair of statues of Buddha to Sri Lanka; an Egyptian limestone stele dating back to 664 BCE; 45 antiquities dating back to the 2nd century to Pakistan; a gold coffin stolen from Egypt in the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011; a Roman mosaic excavated from the Ships of Nemi; an Etruscan relic stolen from the site of a historic necropolis known as the “City of the Dead”; a marble sarcophagus fragment; a Buddhist sculpture stolen from an archaeological dig site; a pair of 12th century Indian statues; a collection of 8th century BCE bronze statues; and a set of ancient Greek coins, among others.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, handled the recovery of the stolen items with Investigative Analysts Apsara Iyer, Giuditta Giardini, Alyssa Thiel, Mallory O’Donoghue, and Daniel Healey, and former Investigative Analyst Mackenzie Priest. Homeland Security Investigations Special Agents Robert Mancene, John Paul Labbat, and Christopher Rommeney assisted in the recovery. Warrant Officer Angelo Ragusa, of the Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale of the Italian Carabinieri, and the late Paolo Giorgio Ferri, Deputy Public Prosecutor in Rome, also assisted.

District Attorney Vance would also like to thank Antiquarium Ancient Art Ltd., Cleveland Museum of Art, Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art, J. Paul Getty Trust, Merrin Gallery, Phoenix Ancient Art and Hicham Aboutaam, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and Lawrence Sporty for their assistance and cooperation with this investigation.

District Attorney Vance thanked HSI New York and Consul General Di Michele for their assistance with the matter.

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