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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
12/02/2009

Stolen antiquities returned to Italy

NEW YORK - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) returned cultural artifacts to the government of Italy. A Corinthian column krater and Pompeii wall panel fresco were both noted on the Italian Carabinieri website as stolen art works.

The objects were returned in a repatriation ceremony in New York by James T. Hayes, Jr., ICE special agent in charge in New York, and were received on behalf of the Italian government by Laura Aghilarre, deputy consul general for Italy in New York.

"We are pleased to return the Corinthian column krater and Pompeii fresco panel to the people of Italy. These antiquities represent a part of Italy's national heritage and identity," said James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New York. "Today's repatriation demonstrates the success of cooperative efforts between ICE and foreign governments to preserve cultural treasures."

"The return of stolen or illegally acquired archeological material or cultural objects to their country of origin is both a legal and moral requirement for the Italian government. According to UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural branch, Italy is by far the country which maintains most of the world's historical artistic heritage" said Francesco Maria Taló, consular general for Italy in New York. "Practically all major styles of western architecture can be found in Italy. American and Italian institutions and museums are effectively co-operating in order to protect this common heritage of humanity."

The column krater form of Corinthian pottery dates to 580 to 570 B.C. and derives its name from the unusual form of the handles, which look like small columns. ICE agents recovered the krater from Christie's auction house in June. The investigation into the Corinthian column krater revealed it may have been illegally introduced into the art market by Giacomo Medici and a third party at Sotheby's Auction house in 1985.

Medici was arrested in Italy in 1997 and prosecuted for the smuggling of antiquities. During that trial, it was concluded that the Corinthian column krater originated from the archaeological sites of Latium, a region of Lazio, Italy. Hundreds of pieces of ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan art were identified by authorities during the investigation as having been illegally handled by Medici. He was sentenced in 2004 by the Tribunal of Rome to 10 years in prison and fined 10 million Euros, which is one of the largest penalties ever meted out for smuggling antiquities.

The fresco panel, rectangular with a white background depicting a female minister, white wash on plaster with a modern wooden frame, was previously located at the excavation office in Pompeii and was reported stolen with five other fresco panels on June 26, 1997. The fresco panel, which was the subject of an international search by INTERPOL, was reported stolen in Italy 12 years ago. It was located by the Art Loss Register of New York, which brought it to the attention of Italian authorities and ICE, which recovered it in June.

The investigation revealed that, between 1903 and 1904, the Italian government authorized a farmer, Giuseppe De Martino, to restore his farmhouse, which was located on an archeological site in Boscoreale, province of Naples. During the restoration, six important frescos, originating from Pompeii, were found.

On July 12, 1957, the government of Italy purchased the frescos. On June 26, 1997, after the completion of work on the excavation site, the Italian government observed that the six frescos were missing and subsequently reported the theft.

ICE, the largest investigative agency of the Department of Homeland Security, handles investigations into stolen or illegally exported cultural artifacts that show up on the world market.

For more about ICE's cultural heritage investigations, please go to: http://www.ice.gov/news/library/factsheets/cultural-artifacts.htm.