More than 5,000 precious artifacts from the past have been recovered in an operation by the Carabinieri that has been described as the biggest recovery of stolen archeological items in history.
The collection comprises vases, bronzes, statues and frescoes, including rare pieces, stolen from different Italian archeological sites, spanning a period of 1,000 years, from the 1st century BC to the 2-3rd century AD. They are estimated to be worth 40 million euros.
Presenting the artifacts in Rome, Carabinieri general Mariano Mossa said, “This is by a long shot the biggest recovery in history, in terms of the quantity and quality of the archeological treasures.”
The items were found following an international investigation that began with the recovery of a vase by one of the most active ancient Greek vase painters in Southern Italy, Asteas, at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It was during that investigation that the Carabinieri intercepted an intermediary who immediately appeared suspicious to them, a Sicilian art dealer by the name of Gianfranco Becchina. Following a series of raids on warehouses in Switzerland owned by Becchina, the Carabinieri recovered the items, smuggled illegally from sites in Southern Italy for at least ten years; the antiquities still there were going to be restored and sold abroad.
The Carabinieri explained that buyers of such antiquities are not common criminals, but rather “white-collar criminals” from the financial world, and even museums; dealers forge provenance papers and create fictitious histories for the antiquities, so that museums and private collectors can buy them in good faith.
Authorities plan to return the items of this amazing collection, currently at the Terme di Diocleziano National Roman Museum, to the archaeological museums of their supposed areas of origin, namely Lazio, Campania, Sardinia, Puglia, Basilicata and Sicily, where they will go on display for the public to see.
The bad piece of news in this story is that Becchina and his wife, an accomplice in the crimes, will remain free because the charges against them have expired, police said.