Investigators confiscate 27 artifacts from the museum, under the pretext of looting

New York investigators have seized 27 ancient artifacts valued at more than $13 million from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, confirming that the pieces obtained to highlight the glories of ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt were looted.

Some things passed into the hands of people long suspected of antiquities trafficking, such as Gianfranco Picenawho ran a gallery in Switzerland for decades before it was investigated for illegal dealings by the Italian government in 2001. But most of the items entered the Met Group long before Becchina was publicly accused of the illegal activity.

The items, seized under the terms of three separate search warrants executed over the past six months, will be returned to their countries of origin – 21 to Italy and six to Egypt – in a ceremony scheduled for next week. The Manhattan attorney general’s office said the events are part of an effort by law enforcement officials to speed up repatriations that often have lasted in the past for a year or more.

The confiscation also highlights intensified law enforcement efforts against the illegal sale of antiquities, thefts of which are increasingly attributed to looting by gangs and dealers from South Asia to me The Mediterranean Sea. The authorities have warned Many objects of illicit origin remain in the hands of private collectors and museums.

The attorney general’s office said eight of the items seized from the Met — by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in cooperation with federal officials — were obtained directly from Becchina.

Bikina was convicted of receiving stolen artifacts from Greece. In Italy, after a decade-long investigation, a hoard of 6,300 Greco-Roman artifacts was confiscated from him in 2011 when a judge decided the items had been looted dating back to the early 1970s. But criminal charges were dropped there Reasons for obsolescence.

Although the Met acquired many Becchina items before long Was involved in lootingAn expert in the antiquities trade said that once Pekina became suspicious, the Met should have checked the provenance of any items purchased from the Galerie Antike Kunst Palladion in Basel, Switzerland.

The Met said in a statement that information on the Italian objects had only recently been made available to the museum by prosecutors’ investigators, that they had been fully cooperative and that acquisition reviews had become stricter in the decades since the items appeared. her group.

“Collection standards have changed significantly in recent decades, and The Met’s policies and procedures in this regard have been under constant review over the past 20 years,” the museum said.

These episodes were first reported by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

One of the most notable items confiscated from the Met was a terra cotta kilix, or drinking mug, from 470 BC valued at $1.2 million. It was purchased directly from the Becchina Gallery in 1979. Another piece, a clay figurine of a Greek goddess from about 400 BC and valued at $400,000, was a gift from 2,000 from Robin SimsBritish antiquities dealer. Symes was involved in the sale of a giant statue of Aphrodite that the Getty Museum bought in 1988 for $18 million. agreed to return it to Italy in 2007.

In a statement, the Met said, “Each of these things has unique and complex circumstances, and with all that, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been fully supporting the investigations of the Manhattan Attorney General’s Office.”

The value of the 21 Italian pieces, seized from the museum in July, was $10 million, while the six Egyptian pieces, seized earlier this year in February and May, were worth $3.2 million.

Separately, investigators said, a seizure warrant was issued on Tuesday for another piece from the Met: a sixth-century stone statue depicting a Hindu deity, or Matrika, obtained in 1993. Officials did not disclose the reason for the confiscation.

Manhattan Attorney General Alvin L. Bragg, that given the work of his antiquities unit, which he said was responsible for repatriating about 2,000 artifacts, it should be no secret to museums, collectors and auction houses that some of the artifacts in their possession may have been looted by organized human smugglers. “My office’s investigations have clearly exposed these networks, and have put a wealth of information into the public domain that the art world can use to proactively return antiquities to where they properly belong,” he said in a statement.

The seized Egyptian objects include fragments of painted linen and an image of a woman on a painting, a lady in a blue cloak, valued at more than $1.2 million. Prosecutors in the Manhattan attorney general’s office said five of the Egyptian artifacts were supplied by the same network of thieves that supplied the Met. Sheathed golden coffin From the 1st century BC the museum agreed to return in 2019.

In the case of the coffin, museum officials said they bought it from an art dealer in Paris in 2017 for nearly $4 million and were misled by a false account of its provenance that made it look as if the coffin had been legitimately exported for decades. earlier.

The museum said it learned from investigators that some of the Egyptian artifacts it bought were sold using false property records, false data and false documents from the same network that sold the gilded coffin.

Also running is The Met pressure by Cambodian government to return Khmer artifacts it says were looted from remote bush temple sites during the turmoil of the civil war and subsequent years of turmoil.

Derek Fincham, a professor and expert on cultural property at South Texas Law School in Houston, said the Met should have done more to review the artifacts’ origins before they were pushed into action by a law enforcement investigation.

“The best institutions treat their collections as part of the public trust and look seriously into the history of their acquisitions and acquisitions,” he said.

In its statement, the Met said its collection policies are constantly under review, but it considers itself a responsible institution in its handling of disputed evidence.

The Met’s statement said, “The Museum is a leader in the field of comprehensive review of individual matters, and has returned many pieces based on extensive review and research – often in partnership with law enforcement and outside experts.”

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