US’ New York returns 14 stolen antiquities to Italy

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Authorities in New York announced Thursday the return to Italy of 14 antiquities worth an estimated $2.5 million, as part of a criminal investigation into smuggling of stolen artifacts.

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The Manhattan District Attorney’s office over the past two years has been conducting an extensive campaign into looted antiquities that have ended up in New York museums and galleries -- including the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During a ceremony Thursday with the Italian consul general and Italian police representatives, 14 more artifacts -- some 2,600 years old -- were returned to Italy, bringing the total number of repatriated pieces to that country over the past seven months to 214, District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said.

More than 700 pieces worth more than $100 million have been returned in the past year to 17 countries, including Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Greece and Italy, the statement added.

New York, a hub of stolen antiquities trafficking for decades, set up a task force in 2017 to investigate the illicit trade.

According to the statement by District Attorney Bragg, who took office in January 2022, Thursday’s repatriation included the silver “Sicily Naxos Coin,” minted around 430 BCE and currently valued at half a million dollars.
Other notable items included ancient pottery dating to 510 BCE, and a marble head of Roman Emperor Hadrian, dating to 200 CE.

Among the culprits behind the 14 returned pieces, the statement said, were well-known art traffickers Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina, as well as Robert Hecht, the Paris-based American art dealer who died in 2012.

The traffickers had “relied on gangs of tombaroli (tomb raiders) to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean,” it added.

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