US returns stolen antiquities to Italy
(Reuters) - Seven works of ancient art and other antiquities that had been looted and smuggled out of Italy were returned to that country's government by U.S. officials in Washington on Thursday.
Two 2,000-year-old ceramic vessels, one Roman sculpture, one Renaissance painting and three music sheets from choir books dating to the 13th century were recovered in four separate investigations by U.S. law enforcement. They were handed back to Italian ambassador Claudio Bisogniero at a ceremony attended by U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
The Italian government, like others, has been working hard in recent years to identify stolen or looted works of art in other countries and have them returned home.
"Given the quality of some of the antiquities that have been returned, the ceremony held today at the embassy should also be viewed as a chapter of the vital cultural relationship between Rome and Washington," Bisogniero said in a statement.
Two of the four items returned on Thursday were linked to Italian national Gianfranco Becchina who has been accused of having ties to Italian organized crime and is currently the subject of an ongoing investigation by Italian officials.
No arrests over the objects were made by U.S. officials, a Homeland Security department spokeswoman said. And once identified, all were forfeited by their owners or dealers.
The objects linked to Becchina included ceramic vessels - an Attic red-figured pelike and a red-figured situla - looted from archeological sites in Italy and smuggled into Switzerland where ownership was transferred. They landed at a California gallery before consignment for sale to Christie's auctioneers in New York, U.S. officials said.
Similarly, U.S. investigators learned a Roman marble statue also ended up at Christie's New York after being smuggled out of Italy through Switzerland.
In 2008, Renaissance painting, "Leda e il Cigno" (Leda and the Swan) by Lelio Orsi was also recovered after it was sold at an auction at Sotheby's in New York for $1.6 million.
Finally, the three choir book leaves were recovered from a rare book dealer in Portland, Oregon, who similarly gave them up to be returned.
(Reporting By Christine Kearney, Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Jill Serjeant)
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