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US returns $20 million worth of stolen antiquities to Italy

60 precious antiquities returned to Italy.

The New York County district attorney's office has returned 60 antiquities stolen from Italy, including a first-century fresco from Herculaneum, in a repatriation valued at $20 million.

The archaeological treasures, which had been smuggled out of Italy and sold illicitly in the US, were presented at the culture ministry headquarters in Rome on Monday.

The artefacts, including statues, vases and bronzes, were recovered thanks to the collaboration between Italy's Carabinieri art squad - the Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (TPC) - and the New York County district attorney's office.

Italian culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano hailed the repatriation operation as "a great success" as part of efforts to "combat the illicit trafficking of goods that belong to our nation."

The works, looted by tombaroli or 'tomb raiders' in Italy and handled by private dealers, had been sold to public and private collections in the US, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

As a result of the criminal investigation, one major dealer has received a lifetime ban from purchasing antiquities, according to a statement on the culture ministry website.

Last year Italy opened a new museum showcasing ancient artefacts that were looted from Italian archaeological sites and trafficked abroad before being rescued by art police.

The Museo dell'Arte Salvata (Museum of Rescued Art) is housed in the Octagonal Hall at the Baths of Diocletian, part of the National Roman Museum network in Rome.

The collection boasts 260 Etruscan, Greek and Roman artefacts, many of which were stolen by tombaroli before making their way out of Italy into private collections, museums and auction houses.

Photo Ministero della Cultura

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