Antiques looted by British art dealer return to Italy

Italian cultural officials reported on Tuesday (23 March) that hundreds of antiquities looted by British art dealer Robin Symes have been returned to Italy.

Valued at €9m (£7.1m), the treasure trove of archeological artefacts was uncovered in the Geneva Freeport warehouse complex in 2014. According to prosecutor Giancarlo Capaldo, the loot was smuggled into the Freeport decades ago and was hidden in forty-five crates in a storage unit.

Once a renowned antiquities dealer, Mr Symes came under investigation for trading in looted Greek and Italian artefacts and his connections with Italian tomb raiders. The pieces being returned to Italy are thought to have been stolen from archeological digs made in the 1970s and 1980s in Sicily, Puglia, Calabria and Campania.

The trail to the missing artefacts began with some incriminating papers seized from an art smuggler, which alerted Italian investigators to their existence. They were finally discovered when Italian and Swiss police conducted a raid on Mr Symes’ storage unit. It is thought Mr Symes had planned to restore the pieces before selling them on to buyers in the United States, Germany, Britain and Japan using false papers.

The artefacts will be given to museums in the southern Italian regions from which they had been stolen according to Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini. The pieces date to between the 7th century BC and 2nd century AD and include a Roman sarcophagus, Etruscan painted sarcophagi, remnants of 6th century BC temple, marble statues of animals and bronze objects.

This is the latest haul of pieces traded by Mr Symes to return to Italy. Museums including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles have already returned artefacts to Italy in recent years following verification of their illegal origin.

Mr Symes is facing a civil suit in London for the return of a number of other looted pieces to Italy and Greece. Due to the Italian statute of limitations, time has run out to prosecute him in Italy.

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