Antiquities and Archaeology News Switzerland

Swiss return stolen artefacts to Italy

Thirteen-year investigation ends after thousands of items held by Basel art dealer returned

Basel authorities returned looted antiquities to Italy

The Basel city prosecutor’s office has returned the last of a cache of more than 4,500 stolen Italian artefacts to the art crime division of the carabinieri, concluding a 13-year restitution case.

In 2001, the Italian authorities requested help from Swiss authorities in their investigation of a Basel-based art and antiquities dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, and others, for trafficking cultural heritage, receiving stolen goods and failing to declare archaeological finds. Around 5,800 objects, most of which had been illegally excavated, were seized from Becchina’s three warehouses. Once their origin had been verified, several thousand were returned to Italy in 2008. They were joined by the final batch of 68 earlier this month, but hundreds of objects of uncertain origin remain in Swiss possession.

Meanwhile, in New York, federal investigators seized a Roman sarcophagus lid from a warehouse in Queens at the end of February. Authorities said the marble sculpture depicting a sleeping woman, valued at $4m, matches photographs of a work found in Becchina’s files and is believed to have been illegally removed from Italy. According to the New York Times, the object had been exhibited for sale at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan by the gallery Phoenix Ancient Art last year.

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