Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., announced the repatriation of 14 antiquities collectively valued at nearly $2.5 million to Italy. Recovered during multiple on-going criminal investigations, the antiquities had been stolen by several high-profile antiquities traffickers and smugglers that are being investigated by this Office. The objects mark Italy’s latest ceremony with the District Attorney’s Office, which has returned 214 stolen Italian antiquities, collectively valued at approximately $35 million, in the past seven months alone. The 14 antiquities were officially repatriated on February 2, in a ceremony with Consul General Fabrizio Di Michele; General Vincenzo Molinese, Commander of the Carabinieri’s Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage; Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge at Homeland Security Investigations, New York; and Francis Russo, Director of Field Operations at Customs and Border Protection, New York.
“Italy’s rich cultural history is on full display with these stunning objects being returned today. We are proud to have returned hundreds of objects to the people of Italy in just the past few months, which is emblematic of the strong collaboration with have with our law enforcement partners at home and abroad,” said District Attorney Bragg.
“Homeland Security Investigations is honored to stand with our esteemed partners from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the United States Attorney’s Office Eastern District of New York, US Customs and Border Protection and the government of Italy to return these treasured antiquities to their rightful home,” said Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York. “Italy’s rich history has long attracted looters and smugglers looking to profit from ancient artifacts without regard to the cultural history and the priceless value to the Italian people. These 2600-year-old artifacts were part of life in the ancient world, especially the amphora which were viewed as lasting symbols of prowess and excellence. Now, they will return to their rightful home.”
“Once again the cooperation of the District Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations proved crucial for the recovery of looted or stolen Italian antiquities” said Fabrizio Di Michele, Consul General of Italy. “Together with the Italian Carabinieri’s Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, they have worked tirelessly to allow these invaluable treasures to be returned to the place they belong. This is the fourth repatriation of antiquities in just 14 months. I have no doubt that this fruitful collaboration will produce further results in the next future.”
The 14 antiquities had been stolen and smuggled by high-profile antiquities traffickers Giacomo Medici, Giovanni Franco Becchina, and Robert Hecht, among others. These traffickers relied on gangs of tombaroli (tomb raiders) to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean. After being looted, the traffickers would arrange for the pieces to be cleaned, restored, and supplied with false provenance, before offering them for sale at auction houses and galleries around the world.
Among the pieces being returned:
-The Sicily Naxos Coin. Minted circa 430 B.C.E in the Greek colony of Naxos, on Sicily, this silver coin features the bearded Dionysus on one side and his squatting drinking partner, Silenus, on the reverse. The Sicily Naxos Coin first surfaced on the international art market in 2013, when a known trafficker offered the coin for sale with no provenance whatsoever. Prior to its appearance at a London-based auction house, a co-conspirator of the trafficker supplied false provenance for the coin. The Sicily Naxos Coin is currently valued at $500,000 and was among a group of coins seized at JFK airport as it was being smuggled into New York pursuant to an ongoing joint investigation between this Office, HSI, and Italy. At least one individual has been arrested in the course of this investigation with more to follow.
-The Priam Painter Hydria. Dating to 510 B.C.E, the Hydria depicts a chorus of nine goddesses by the famed Priam Painter. The piece first surfaced in Italy after being looted by Giovanni Franco Becchina, a well-known antiquities trafficker. From Italy, the piece was then smuggled and laundered by Paris-based Robert Hecht. Hecht ultimately sold the piece with false provenance to Shelby White in New York County in 1989. In 1999, Shelby White loaned the Hydria, currently valued at $900,000, to the Met, where it remained on display until DANY’s seizure.
-The Hadrian Head. Dating to 200 C.E., the marble head of the Emperor Hadrian was first documented uncleaned and covered in marine encrustations in a polaroid photograph. The polaroid was recovered by Italian law-enforcement authorities during a raid of the office and warehouse of well-known antiquities trafficker Giacomo Medici in 1995. After being smuggled out of Italy by Medici and his co-conspirators, the piece was then laundered with false provenance by dealer-trafficker Robin Symes before being sold in New York County in 1992. In 2005, the Hadrian Head, currently valued at $250,000, was accessioned by the San Antonio Museum of Art, where it remained on display until DANY’s seizure pursuant to DANY’s investigation into the trafficking network that operated in New York and around the world.
During District Attorney Bragg’s tenure, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU) has recovered more than 700 antiquities stolen from 26 countries and valued at more than $90 million. Since its creation, the ATU has recovered almost 4,500 antiquities stolen from 28 countries and valued at more than $300 million.
Under District Attorney Bragg, the (ATU) has also repatriated more than 700 antiquities stolen from 17 countries and valued at more than $100 million. Since its creation, the ATU has returned more than 2400 antiquities to 23 countries and valued at more than $180 million.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the ATU and Senior Trial Counsel, supervised the investigations, which were conducted by Assistant District Attorneys Yuval Simchi-Levi and Taylor Holland; Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analysts Giuditta Giardini, Alyssa Thiel, Daniel Healey, and Hilary Chassé; and Special Agents Robert Mancene and Brenton Easter of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Investigative support was provided by Italian Carabinieri Officer Angelo Ragusa, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer John Buonincontri, Eastern District of New York Deputy Chief Artemis Lekakis, HSI Special Agent Patrick Shipman, and CBP Program Manager Chris Foulkes. The District Attorney’s Office would like to thank the San Antonio Museum of Art and Shelby White for their assistance and cooperation with our investigations.