US returns 200 ancient objects to Italy, some of them very rare

The United States returns 200 ancient artifacts to Italy, some of them very rare and valuable: from illicit trafficking, many of them were stored in American museums, including the Getty in Los Angeles.

Two hundred ancient objects that had been illegally exported overseas are returning to Italy from the United States. The return of the massive amount of antiquities, with an estimated value of $10 million, was announced Wednesday by Cy Vance, Manhattan district attorney, who symbolically returned the antiquities to Italy during a ceremony attended by the Consul General of Italy, Fabrizio Di Michele, the commander of the Carabinieri’s Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, General Roberto Riccardi, and the deputy special agent in charge of U.S. homeland security investigations, Erik Rosenblatt.

Most of the artifacts (about 150) were confiscated from Edoardo Almagià, an antiquarian who formerly resided in New York (he left the American city in 2003 and now lives in Rome), and who is now suspected of being a trafficker. According to the indictment, Almagià allegedly instructed several grave robbers to loot artifacts from different areas of Italy, including the southern and central regions of the country, Sicily, and Sardinia. Almagià then allegedly used a “network of scholars, directors and curators from the most important international museums,” explains the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, “to place stolen objects, according to the findings of an expert witness adopted by an Italian court.” To date, the district prosecutor’s office has issued 18 seizure orders against Almagia, resulting in the consifcation of the approximately 150 objects.

According to court documents filed in the investigation, Almagià allegedly kept a ledger, identified as a “Green Book,” in which he listed many of the antiquities he sold, the price he would pay the tombmaster for each find, the price realized, and sometimes even the buyer. The complete ledger contains entries for nearly 1,700 looted antiquities that, according to the prosecution, Almagià allegedly bought from tomb raiders in Italy and then sold in the United States. “The available evidence,” the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office memo goes on to state, “reveals that Almagià demonstrated an astonishing candor toward his clientele about the ways in which he sourced looted antiquities on the black market. For example, in order to inform them of the objects he might soon be offering for sale, he would provide customers with details of the clandestine and illegal excavations taking place.” Almagià had also been under investigation in Italy: in fact, Italian prosecutors in 2006 had charged him with crimes against Italy’s cultural heritage, and in particular the charge was that of receiving stolen goods, illegal exporting of goods, and participation in a criminal conspiracy aimed at trafficking such goods. Eventually, however, the charges had been dropped due to the statute of limitations. However, in 2013, the president of the Ordinary Court of Rome ordered the confiscation of Almagia’s antiquities already seized in New York and Naples, as well as those not yet found. The president described Almagià as having “contributed to what was one of the greatest looting of Italy’s cultural heritage in terms of the amount of loot,” and added that he and his accomplices had “torn pages from the book of Italy’s history.” Now Almagià remains at large in Italy, to be seen if the United States will seek extradition.

The pieces include ninety-six artifacts (estimated value of $1.8 million) seized from the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art on May 28, 2021, including 26 pieces of ancient pottery ranging from Apulian volute craters (large, spouted vessels used to dilute wine with water during banquets and symposia) to ancient Roman amphorae, and then a crater from 330 B.C.B.C. worth $100,000, as well as a 5th-century B.C. Hydria, worth $150,000 (all but two of the ninety-six pieces have ties to Almagia). In contrast, at the Merrin Gallery in New York, a head of a maiden dating from the fourth century B.C. and worth $100,000 was seized. Then there is a pithos with the figure of Ulysses, from the 7th century B.C. and worth $200,000, seized at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles on April 2, 2021, another object (along with six others also seized at the Gettu Museum) linked to Almagia.

“For years prestigious museums and private collectors in the United States have put these historic Italian treasures on display, even though their very presence in America has been evidence of crimes against cultural heritage,” said District Attorney Vance. “The repatriation of this extraordinary collection of ancient art begins to address some of the damage caused by the traffickers and shows the need for all collectors and gallery owners to perform due diligence and ensure that the pieces purchased were acquired legally. I am honored to return these 200 pieces to the Italian people, our largest transfer of antiquities to this illustrious nation.”

“Organized looters and smugglers of illicit artifacts and antiquities are indifferent to what ’priceless’ means and continue to plunder and exploit the world’s cultural heritage for profit,” said Erik Rosenblatt. “The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations lead the global fight against transnational criminal organizations that are clearly wrong to believe they can operate with impunity in New York City. Today we are privileged to send home 200 pieces of stolen history to the Italian government, and we will continue to use this momentum to hold traffickers accountable and dismantle these unscrupulous, greed-driven organizations.”

“It is a source of great satisfaction to see years of bilateral cooperation between Italian and American authorities, and in particular between the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations and the Carabinieri, that have led to the return to Italy of hundreds of valuable antiquities,” said Consul General of Italy Fabrizio Di Michele. “We have selected some of these artifacts for a special exhibition at the Consulate General and the Italian Cultural Institute, in order to make available to the New York public some of these masterpieces, stolen or purloined in the past in Italy, before their delivery to our Ministry of Culture.”

Pictured is a detail of the hydria seized from the Fordham Museum.

US returns 200 ancient objects to Italy, some of them very rare
US returns 200 ancient objects to Italy, some of them very rare

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.