Above: An Immigration and Customs Enforcement photo of a looted  illuminated choir leaf that was returned to Italy after being discovered in Oregon. Boy, I bet the Italians are going to be mad when they see someone stamped an ICE logo on it.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement photo of a looted illuminated choir leaf that was returned to Italy after being discovered in Oregon. Boy, I bet the Italians are going to be mad when they see someone stamped an ICE logo on it.

Everyone loves good smuggled antiquities stories, so we couldn’t resist passing along this piece from ICE that wraps up four investigations …

ICE returns stolen and looted art and antiquities to Italy

APRIL 26, 2012
WASHINGTON — Seven stolen and looted objects of Italian cultural heritage will soon be on their way back to Italy, following a ceremony Thursday in which U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano officially returned the antiquities to Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero at the Embassy of Italy in Washington.
Two 2,000-year-old ceramic vessels, one Roman marble sculpture, one Renaissance painting and three music sheets from choir books dating back to the 13th century were recovered during four investigations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). All four of the investigations involved the collaboration of ICE’s offices in New York and Rome and Italy’s national police force, the Carabinieri.
“The United States and the Department of Homeland Security are proud to honor our commitments to our ally, Italy,” said Secretary Napolitano. “We will continue to work to ensure cultural artifacts and treasures that were stolen and entered this country illegally are recovered and returned to their rightful home nations.”
Two of the four investigations have been linked to Gianfranco Becchina, an Italian national allegedly associated with Italian organized crime and a competitor of the Giacomo Medici smuggling organization, which has been identified by the Carabinieri as the most prolific known traffickers of Italian cultural heritage.
The first investigation tied to Becchina is the case involving the two 2,000-year-old ceramic vessels. In 2009, investigators learned about the sale of an Attic red-figured pelike, circa 480-460 B.C. for $80,500, and a red-figured situla, circa 365-350 B.C. for $40,000, at Christie’s New York auction house. The investigation determined that these two objects were looted from archeological sites in Italy and smuggled into Switzerland. The ownership of the objects was transferred before they arrived in a Beverly Hills, Calif., gallery and subsequent consignment to Christie’s in New York. HSI special agents in New York seized the objects, and upon authentication, both were forfeited for return.
The second investigation tied to Becchina involved a Roman marble statue, a janiform herm that was believed to have been smuggled out of Italy into the United States via Switzerland. HSI special agents in New York initiated an investigation into the sculpture which had been auctioned and sold at Christie’s for $26,250. It was later seized at Christie’s pursuant to a seizure warrant obtained by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and in May 2011, forfeited to HSI for return to Italy.
HSI’s investigation concluded that the two ceramic vessels and the statue were removed from Italy in violation of Italian law and brought into the United States in violation of U.S. customs laws and regulations. Specifically, the objects had been removed in violation of a bilateral agreement negotiated by the U.S. State Department, first in 2001 and renewed in 2006 and 2011, between the United States and Italy prohibiting the importation of certain Italian archaeological material into the United States without proper export documents.
A third investigation began in 2008, when HSI special agents in New York received information concerning a renaissance painting, “Leda e il Cigno” (Leda and the Swan) by Lelio Orsi. The investigation revealed that the painting had been illegally imported into the United States in 2006 through New York’s JFK International Airport and auctioned at Sotheby’s New York in January 2008 for $1.6 million. The buyer rescinded the purchase after learning of the Italian criminal investigation and it was judicially forfeited in January 2011 to HSI by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
The fourth investigation began in 2010, in Portland, Ore., concerning two illuminated choir book leaves. The pages are believed to have been removed from two different antique chorus books, one stolen from the St. Paul Church in Pistoia, Italy, in 1990, and the other from the Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Siena, Italy, in 1975. The manuscript pages were being offered for sale online by a rare book dealer in Oregon. HSI special agents in Portland investigated the case and the manuscript leaves were surrendered by the dealer. In June 2011, the special agents seized a third manuscript page that had been the subject of a previous investigation but never recovered.

The same book dealer had the choir book page in his possession, and, after examining evidence of the theft provided by the Italian government, agreed to surrender it to HSI special agents.

(4.28.12)

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