Looted antiquities worth $19m returned to Italian authorities in New York

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Nineteen looted antiquities, collectively valued at almost $19m, were turned over to Italian authorities by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in a repatriation ceremony held on 10 October at the Italian consulate in New York. The objects were seized amid multiple ongoing investigations related to the activities of known dealers in looted antiquities, according to a statement by the District Attorney’s office. Tuesday’s ceremony follows a number of other high-profile returns of antiquities to Italy earlier this year.

Pieces returned this week include a Corinthian bronze helmet from the sixth century CE, a gilded bronze plaque featuring a Dionysan religious ceremony and dating from the first century CE, and an Apulian plate bearing an image of the god Eros dated to around 350 BCE. Many of the repatriated objects are connected to notable smugglers and gallerists, all under scrutiny for illegal trade within New York City. Among them are Robin Symes, who is under ongoing investigation in the UK for trafficking-related crimes, and the late dealer Jerome Eisenberg (as well as the Royal-Athena Galleries, which he directed). The Manhattan District Attorney claims to have recovered a total of 125 looted items from the Royal-Athena Galleries since 2017.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during the 10 October repatriation ceremony at the Italian consulate in New York Courtesy Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

During Bragg’s two-year tenure, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office has returned more than 275 items to Italy alone, and more than 1,000 total objects to 27 countries. This has been accomplished in collaboration with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), an arm of the US Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that has worked with the Italian Carabinieri to crack down on antiquities trafficking on both sides of the Atlantic.

The HSI works with governments worldwide, and was also responsible for the identification and return of a pre-Columbian chalice to Argentine authorities last week (5 October) in Los Angeles. The chalice was recovered during a routine customs inspection of goods, and passed along to a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles for analysis.

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