NEW YORK – Investigators in New York have seized 27 ancient artifacts valued at more than $13 million from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including from Greece as well as Italy and Egypt, claiming they were taken unlawfully from their countries.
The New York Times said that some of the objects were trafficked through a network of artifact thieves and fences, including Gianfranco Becchina, who ran a gallery in Switzerland for decades before being investigated for illegal dealings by the Italian government in 2001.
But most of the items had entered the Met’s collection long before Becchina was publicly accused of illicit activity, the paper reported, adding that because the statute of limitations for the thefts had run out that he was untouchable.
The items, seized under the terms of three separate search warrants executed during the last six months, will be returned to their countries of origin — 21 to Italy and six to Egypt — in ceremonies, but Greece wasn’t mentioned.
Becchina has been convicted of receiving stolen antiquities by Greece and Italy seized from him some 6,300 Greco-Roman artifacts deemed looted but he couldn’t be prosecuted because the crimes were too old.
One item, a terra-cotta statuette of a Greek goddess from about 400 B.C. and valued at $400,000, was a 2000 gift from Robin Symes, a British antiquities dealer, the paper said, without indicating how he got it.
Derek Fincham, a professor and expert in cultural property at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, said the Met should have done more to review the origins of the artifacts before being prompted by the law.
“The best institutions treat their collections as a part of the public trust and seriously research the history and acquisition of their collection,” he said.
The Met, under a complicated agreement with Greece, will also display 161 stolen Cycladic antiquities after sending 15 to the Athens’ Cycladic Museum for a year in October – taking them back for 10 years and returning them in small batches.