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US returns $10 million of looted treasures to Italy

Largest single repatriation of ancient treasures from America to Italy.

The US has returned 200 antiquities stolen from Italy, many of them linked to one Rome-based dealer, in a massive repatriation valued at $10 million.

The Manhattan district attorney's office, which has overseen the operation, confiscated the artefacts from major museums and collections across the US.

The trove, hailed as the largest single repatriation of relics from the US to Italy, included almost 100 items seized from the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art, and an Etruscan ceramic vessel (dating to the seventh century BC) confiscated from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Repatriation ceremony

Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance, who on Wednesday hosted a repatriation ceremony in New York, paid tribute to his office's Antiquities Trafficking Unit and officers at Homeland Security Investigations for their efforts in seizing the looted treasures.

"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,” said Vance.

Dazzling collection

“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."

Among the artefacts being returned to Rome, 150 were seized following an investigation into the shady dealings of Edoardo Almagià, who is accused of trafficking ancient art from Italy, using tombaroli (tomb raiders) to loot and smuggle artefacts out of the country for more than three decades.

Almagià, 70, relied on a “network of scholars, directors, and curators of the most important international museums” to place the stolen objects, according to an expert’s findings adopted by an Italian court.

Carabinieri cultural heritage unit

The hand-over ceremony in New York was attended by Brigadier General Roberto Riccardi, of the TBC cultural heritage unit of the Carabinieri, who flew in to take possession of the artefacts.

He said that expired statutes of limitations have made it very difficult for Italy to prosecute Almagià who lives in Rome.

Almagià has defended his dealings in Roman-era antiquities, reports The New York Times, saying: "There are thousands of items that travel around the world without papers, and they are only asking for papers now, and in the past they never had such requirements."

Riccardi travelled back to Italy with 160 of the artefacts on Thursday while 40 others have gone on display in an exhibition at the Italian consulate in New York until March.
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