Looted artefacts linked to disgraced British dealer Robin Symes returned to Italy

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Italy has recovered a haul of 750 archaeological artefacts with an estimated value of €12m following a lengthy legal battle with the disgraced British antiquities dealer Robin Symes (84).

The collection was unveiled yesterday at a press conference held at Rome’s National Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo and attended by both Italian and Greek officials. Dating from the eighth century BC to the medieval period, the artefacts include ancient marble busts, mosaic fragments, clay vases from Pompeii, a decorated lead sarcophagus and Etruscan jewellery made from gold, bronze and amber. After being looted in central and southern Italy, the objects had been stored in London facilities. They were transferred to Rome on 19 May.

The restitution marks the next stage in Symes’s fall from grace. A legal conflict between the family of the dealer’s Greek partner, the late Christo Michaelides, led to the discovery of a vast collection of looted artefacts stored in nearly 30 facilities in London, New York and Switzerland. Symes was sentenced in 2005 for two years for contempt of court. A further investigation by Italian authorities in 2016 revealed that the dealer had hidden 45 crates of stolen Greek, Roman and Etruscan objects at the Geneva Freeport storage warehouse. Symes’s former company, Symes Ltd, is currently being liquidated.

The 750 objects were returned to Rome following a 17-year legal battle resulting in a negotiation with the liquidators of Symes Ltd signed on 11 May, the ANSA news agency reports. The Carabinieri, Italy’s art hit squad, led the investigation, before the Italian and Greek culture ministries, public prosecutors in Rome, the Italian state attorney and the Italian embassy coordinated efforts to retrieve the objects.

“When countries play as a team they always get results,” Mario Turetta, the general secretary of the Italian culture ministry, said at the conference. Eleni Sourani, the Greek ambassador in Italy, added that Greece and Italy were “celebrating a victory in a difficult, complex and lengthy fight against those who try to profit from our history”.

The works could soon be put on display, Gennaro Sangiuliano, Italy’s culture minister, hinted. “What has been returned must never be locked up in deposits but put in museums or displayed through other initiatives, so that it is immediately available to the public,” he said at the conference.

Another 71 artefacts from the same collection will be transferred to Italy by the US in the coming days, while Italian and Greek archaeologists will study additional fragments so that they can be returned to their countries of origin, the culture ministry said in a statement. Following a separate agreement with the Greek authorities, 350 Neolithic and Byzantine objects linked with Symes were returned to Greece in May.

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