Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., today announced the return of 42 antiquities to Italy collectively valued at nearly $3.5 million. The pieces were recovered pursuant to several ongoing criminal investigations, and had previously been trafficked by prominent smugglers, including Giacomo Medici, Giovanni Franco Becchina, and Edoardo Almagià. Many of the pieces were passed to the disgraced British art dealer Robin Symes or sold to the collector Shelby White. The items were returned during a repatriation ceremony attended by Consul Cesare Bieller of the Consulate General of Italy in New York, General Vincenzo Molinese of the Carabinieri’s Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, and Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge at Homeland Security Investigations, New York.
“We continue to undo the damage wrought by decades of well-organized antiquities smuggling networks throughout Italy. I am proud that we have successfully repatriated more than 200 antiquities to Italy since I took Office, but there is a lot more work to be done. We are going to continue to aggressively find, recover and return stolen artifacts from Italy in partnership with HSI, the Consul General’s Office and the Carabinieri,” said District Attorney Bragg.
“Today we celebrate a great investigative success thanks to an Italian American collaboration which will conclude with the repatriation of important works of art to Italy. I wish to thank the NY District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security with whom we have worked with for many years to protect our cultural Heritage,” said General Vincenzo Molinese of the Carabinieri’s Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.
“It is both an honor and a privilege to return these invaluable artifacts to the people of Italy, representing the very essence of their nation’s history and profound heritage,” said HSI New York Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo. “HSI stands at the forefront in investigating crimes related to the unlawful trafficking and dissemination of cultural treasures, artistic marvels, and ancient relics, ensuring their rightful repatriation. We remain resolute in our commitment to collaborate with our esteemed counterparts, both foreign and domestic, to safeguard against the plundering of antiquities and guarantee that those who seek to gain from these heinous acts are held fully accountable.”
Giacomo Medici, Edoardo Almagiá and Giovanni Franco Becchina all led highly lucrative criminal enterprises – often in competition with one another – where they would use local looters to raid archaeological sites throughout Italy, many of which were insufficiently guarded. After being looted, the traffickers would arrange for the pieces to be cleaned, restored, and supplied with false provenance, before offering them for sale at auction houses and galleries around the world, often using Robin Symes as their intermediary.
The pieces being returned today include:
- An Apulian calyx krater by the Underworld painter. This large calyx krater, which stands over two feet tall, was created in Apulia in southern Italy around 335 B.C. and features painted scenes from the myth of Dirce. It was looted from a tomb in southern Italy and appears fragmentary and unrestored in a Polaroid photograph from the “archive” of the notorious Italian antiquities-trafficker, Giacomo Medici, who smuggled it out of Italy. From Medici, the vase passed to the disgraced British dealer Robin Symes, who laundered the piece through Sotheby’s London. It was seized from a private New York collection in July 2023.
- Two Etruscan tile paintings. These painted tiles, dated to 440 B.C.E., once decorated a tomb in the Cerveteri necropolis complex, an Etruscan-era archaeological site in Central Italy. They were looted during a clandestine excavation in the 1980s before ending up in the hands of Robin Symes in London. Symes then sold the pair to Shelby White and Leon in 1992 for $1.6 million. White and Levy returned the tiles to Symes prior to 1999 after questions about their illicit origins were raised by multiple scholars. They remained in Symes’ NY storage unit until they were seized in March 2023.
- Gold treasure (five coins and a fibula). This group of gold coins and jewelry were buried together in Italy sometime during the late third or early fourth century C.E. As such, they constitute a small hoard. They were looted and smuggled out of Italy shortly before appearing on the international market in 1987 at Ariadne Galleries, in New York, where they were purchased by Shelby White and Leon Levy.
During District Attorney Bragg’s tenure, the ATU has recovered nearly 850 antiquities stolen from 27 countries and valued at over $170 million. Since its creation, the ATU has recovered over 4,500 antiquities stolen from 30 countries and valued at over $390 million. Under District Attorney Bragg, the ATU has also repatriated more than 1000 antiquities stolen from 19 countries and valued at nearly $185 million. Since its creation, the ATU has returned more than 2,500 antiquities to 25 countries, collectively valued at more than $250 million.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, supervised the investigations, which were conducted by Assistant District Attorneys Yuval Simchi-Levi, Taylor Holland, Bradley Barbour, and Christine DiDomenico; Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analysts Giuditta Giardini, Alyssa Thiel, Daniel Healey, and Hilary Chassé; and Special Agents Robert Mancene, Megan Buckley, and Robert Fromkin of Homeland Security Investigations. Investigative support was provided by Italian Carabinieri Officer Angelo Ragusa. The District Attorney’s Office recognizes Shelby White and the Princeton University Art Museum for its assistance and cooperation with our investigation.