SHARE
COPY LINK

CRIME

New York returns 200 stolen antiquities to Italy

A New York prosecutor announced Wednesday the return of 200 antiquities valued at $10 million to Italy, the latest stolen artworks to be recovered by United States investigators.

Roman vases at the Altes Museum in Berlin.
Roman vases at the Altes Museum in Berlin. Photo: Gary Todd/Flickr

The works include a ceramic vessel dated from the 7th Century BCE called “Pithos with Ulysses” and a terracotta image of a goddess entitled “A Head of a Maiden” from the 4th Century BCE.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said 150 of the artifacts related to his office’s investigation into Edoardo Almagia.

He was an Italian New York-based antiquities dealer who left the United States in 2003.

Vance said Almagia was investigated in Italy for trafficking and selling looted artifacts to US buyers but remains at large.

Vance added that 100 of the returned artworks had been seized from the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art in New York.

This latest batch of returned antiquities represents just some of the stolen artefacts the US has restored to Italy in recent years.

In 2017, US officials returned artefacts worth at least $90,000, dating back as far as the 8th century BC, that had been stolen in the 1990s from burial sites and places of archaeological significance in Italy and smuggled overseas.

READ ALSO: The US just returned $90,000 worth of stolen artefacts to Italy

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance ordered that the stolen items be returned to Italy.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance ordered that the stolen items be returned to Italy. Bryan R. Smith / AFP

The items included a Sardinian bronze ox and Sardinian bronze warrior from the 8th century BC, a Greek bronze Heracles from the 3rd or 4th century BC and a 4th-century BC drinking cup depicting two goats butting heads.

In 2018, three stolen items were returned to Italy from the US after Italian Carabinieri officers from the country’s famous ‘art squad’ or cultural heritage unit saw that they had been listed for sale by a New York auction house.

The ancient Greek items – a wine carafe, a decanter for precious oils and a soup tureen – had been illegally dug out of an archaeological site in Italy and smuggled into America.

Speaking at a 2018 ‘repatriation ceremony’ held at the headquarters of the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC, where the artefacts were formally returned to the Italian government, Italy’s then-culture minister said the government planned to crack down on such crimes.

READ ALSO: Italy to crack down on art crime after stolen artefacts recovered in USA

Since August 2020, the New York district attorney’s office has returned more than 70 antiquities to 14 countries, including almost 30 relics to Cambodia, 100 artifacts to Pakistan, and almost 250 items to India.

Earlier this month, Vance announced that prominent US art collector and billionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt had returned 180 works of art and antiquities stolen from around the world – some from ancient Greece – that are estimated to be worth $70 million.

The move allowed the 80-year-old  to avoid indictment and trial for the time being, but bans him for life from acquiring antiques on the legal art market.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CRIME

Italy marks 30-year anniversary of anti-mafia judge murder

Thirty years ago, the Sicilian mafia killed judge Giovanni Falcone with a bomb so powerful it was registered by experts monitoring volcanic tremors from Etna on the other side of the island.

Italy marks 30-year anniversary of anti-mafia judge murder

The explosion, which ripped through a stretch of motorway near Palermo at 5.56 pm on May 23rd 1992, sent shockwaves across Italy, but also signalled the start of the mafia’s decline.

Anti-mafia prosecuting magistrate Falcone, his wife, and three members of his police escort were killed.

The mob used a skateboard to place a 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) charge of TNT and ammonium nitrate in a tunnel under the motorway which linked the airport to the centre of Palermo.

Falcone, driving a white Fiat Croma, was returning from Rome for the weekend.

At a look-out point on the hill above, a mobster nicknamed “The Pig” pressed the remote control button as the judge’s three-car convoy passed.

The blast ripped through the asphalt, shredding bodies and metal, and flinging the lead car several hundred metres.

The three policemen on board were killed instantly.

READ ALSO: Could body found on Italy’s Mount Etna help solve long-standing mafia mystery?

Falcone, whose wife was sitting beside him, had slowed seconds before the explosion and the car slammed into a concrete guard rail.

His chauffeur, who was sitting in the back, survived, as did the three agents in the convoy’s rear.

A “garden of memory” now stands on the site of the attack. Oil from olive trees that grow there is used by Sicilian churches for anointing children during baptisms and confirmations.

‘Mafia massacre’

Falcone posed a real threat to the Cosa Nostra, an organised crime group made famous by “The Godfather” trilogy and which boasted access to the highest levels of Italian power.

It was he who gathered evidence from the first mafia informants for a groundbreaking trial in which hundreds of mobsters were convicted in 1987.

And at the time of the attack, he headed the justice ministry’s criminal affairs department in Rome and was working on a package of anti-mafia laws.

His murder woke the nation up. The Repubblica daily attacked the “mafia massacre” in its headline the next day, with a photo of the famous moustachioed magistrate, while thousands of people in Palermo protested in the streets.

All eyes turned to fellow anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino, Falcone’s close friend and colleague, who gave an interview at the start of July saying the “extreme danger” he was in would not stop him doing his job.

On July 19th, just 57 days after his friend, Borsellino was also killed in a car bomb attack, along with five members of his escort. Only his driver survived.

Amid national outrage, the state threw everything it had at hunting down Cosa Nostra boss Salvatore (Toto) Riina, who was involved in dozens of murders during a reign of terror lasting over 20 years.

Riina was arrested on January 15th, 1993, in a car in Palermo.

The truth?

The murders of Falcone and Borsellino “in the long term turned out to be a very bad business for Cosa Nostra, whose management team was decapitated by arrests and informants’ confessions”, Vincenzo Ceruso, author of several books on the mafia, told AFP.

Dozens of people have been convicted for their roles in the assassinations.

But Roberto di Bella, now an anti-mafia judge at the Catania juvenile court in Sicily, said that while “the majority of the perpetrators have been tried and convicted”, there remained “a part that is still not clear”.

Survivors insist there are still bits of the puzzle missing and point to Falcone’s belief there could be “possible points of convergence between the leaders of Cosa Nostra and the shadowy centres of power”.

“We still don’t have the truth about who really ordered the murder of Giovanni Falcone, because I don’t believe that ignorant people like Toto Riina could have organised an attack as sophisticated as that in Capaci,” Angelo Corbo, one of the surviving bodyguards, said in a documentary.

He said he was not alone in believing there were “men in suits and ties” among the mobsters.

However, an investigation into possible “hidden orchestrators” of the Capaci attack was thrown out in 2013.

“There is no evidence of the existence of external backers. There is no doubt that these are mafia acts,” author Ceruso said.

SHOW COMMENTS