New York returns $19m worth of stolen art to Italy

The marble head of goddess Athena in a wooden box
A marble head of the goddess Athena

New York’s district attorney has returned $19m (£16m) worth of stolen art to Italy.

The 58 pieces include a marble head of the goddess Athena dated 200 BC, worth an estimated $3m alone.

The stolen artefacts were sold on to museums and private dealers by convicted looters, said Mr Alvin Bragg.

It is the city’s latest effort to return plundered goods to their country of origin – $66m worth have been returned so far this year.

The head of the DA’s antiquities trafficking unit promised there would be “many more seizures and many more reparations”.

Homeland Security was part of the investigation to seize and repatriate these objects to the Italians – 21 of these came from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Although the pieces have immense monetary value, an Italian police commander described them as “priceless”.

Gen Roberto Riccardi said he felt especially happy knowing that these objects would be returning to communities, who would know “where we come from, about our history, about our identity”.

Investigators had worked for years to track down the art smugglers’ trails and locate the items that were being repatriated, according to Homeland Security officials.

Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina are among the convicted robbers who used a network throughout Italy to steal pieces from unguarded sites, according to the DA’s office.

It said that Medici’s apparatus looted the marble head of Athena from a temple in central Italy, which was then installed at the Met in 1996.

Pasquale Camera was another regional crime boss, who organised the robberies as early as the 1960s from churches and museums, according to the office.

It said these objects were eventually imported to the US where they were sold to American billionaire Michael Steinhardt, who is now banned from buying antiquities after evidence found that items he owned had been looted and illegally smuggled.

In 2021, Mr Steinhardt surrendered treasures worth $70m as part of a deal which means he will not face criminal charges.

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