Antiquities recovered in USA: Image courtesy of Manhattan DDA

US returns $10m of stolen antiquities to Italy

Culture News

An investigation into artefacts looted from Italy since the 1980s uncovers stolen antiquities valued at around $10million. Among the pieces was a statue unwittingly bought by Kim Kardashian West.

An investigation by Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance recovers 200 Roman, Greek and Etruscan artefacts smuggled out of Italy. The antiquities, valued at $10million, had been looted since at least the early 1980s before being smuggled out and sold to private collectors, museums or auction houses.

Half of the stolen antiquities were found at New York’s Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art.

Stolen from Italy

A white marble head of the Roman emperor Settimio Severo was stolen in 1984 from a museum in Italy’s southern Campania region. It was found in June 2020 as it was about to be put up for auction at Christie’s in New York.

Other artefacts include a 7th century BC ceramic vessel called Pithos with Ulysses, and a 4th century BC terracotta image of a goddess known as A Head of Maiden, The Guardian reported.

Kardashian West became caught up in the investigation after the US government named her in a civil forfeiture claim for an ancient Roman statue. Originally looted from Italy, it was confiscated at Los Angeles port in 2016. The statue, known as the Fragment of Myron’s Samian Athena, was bought by the reality TV star from a Belgian art dealer. It was part of a shipment in her name that contained 40 antiques. She was not accused of any wrongdoing.

Edoardo Almagía

The vast majority of the stolen artefacts are believed to be connected to Edoardo Almagià, an Italian antiques dealer who lived in New York until 2003. Almagià was investigated in Italy for smuggling and selling stolen artefacts. However, he will not face criminal charges since the statute of limitations for the crime has expired.

“He is free and living in Rome,” said General Roberto Riccardi, the chief of Italy’s cultural heritage protection squad. “Lots of time has passed and so the crime is no longer pursuable.”

Almagía has been under investigation for decades by both Italy and the US. Italy alleges his business is part of “one of the biggest lootings of Italian cultural heritage”.

According to the news channel TGCom24, he has defended himself, saying: “There are thousands if art objects travelling the world without documents and in the past it was always like this.” He added that “only now have the Italian and American regulations become stricter”.

Loss of artefacts equals loss of heritage

Riccardi heads up Italy’s cultural heritage protection squad. Set up in 1969, it has retrieved more than 3 million stolen artefacts. Recently, more than 2,000 relics looted from Puglia were recovered in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

“The thefts create incalculable damage to our heritage and culture,” said Riccardi. “Firstly, a community loses an object of its heritage. Secondly, a whole mine of information for archaeologists disappears when an artefact is removed from its context.”

Of the pieces recovered in Italy, 160 will travel back to Rome with Riccardi. The remaining 40 will go on display in an exhibition at the Italian consulate in New York until March.

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