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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
10/20/2017

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Ancient Roman artifacts repatriated to Italy following ICE probe

Ancient Roman artifacts repatriated to Italy following ICE probe
Ancient Roman artifacts repatriated to Italy following ICE probe

NEW YORK —  A collection of ancient Roman artifacts were repatriated Friday to Italy following a multiagency investigation, which included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., announced the return of a collection of the artifact to the Italian Republic during a repatriation ceremony attended by the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage, Activities, & Tourism Dario Franceschini, the Ambassador of Italy to the U.S. Armando Varricchio, the Consul General of Italy in New York, Francesco Genuardi, and HSI Acting Deputy Assistant Director Anthony Scandiffio.

In September, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized a section of ancient mosaic flooring pursuant to a search warrant and an ongoing joint investigation into the trafficking of stolen antiquities. The marble flooring section, which dates back to 35 A.D., was originally part of an ornate ship commissioned by the Roman emperor Caligula at Lake Nemi. Following the emperor’s assassination, the ship sank and remained underwater for nearly 2,000 years, until it was excavated in the 1920s. In 1936, the Ships of Nemi Museum was completed to display the ships and the items excavated from them, including the sections of the inlaid mosaic marble floor. The Museum was later used as a bomb shelter during World War II and many of the original tiles were subsequently destroyed or damaged by fire, rendering the mosaic floor piece one of the only known, intact artifacts of its kind from the Ships of Nemi.

*Earlier this year and as part of the same investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized a Paestan red-figure bell-krater, a wide, round wine vessel circa 360-350 B.C., from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as a Campanian red-figure fish-plate, circa 340-320 B.C., from a Christie’s auction.   

All the items were seized pursuant to judicially authorized warrants, but were thereafter forfeited willingly once the owners were presented with the evidence that each had been stolen from Italy.

HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of artwork, specializing in recovering works that have been reported lost or stolen. HSI’s International Operations, through its 62 attaché offices in 46 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations.

HSI's specially trained investigators assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. They also train investigators from other nations and agencies to investigate crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace. Those involved in the illicit trafficking of cultural property, art and antiquities can face prison terms of up to 20 years, fines and possible restitution to purchasers of the items.

Since 2007, more than 8,000 artifacts have been returned to 30 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria; 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru; as well as cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.

Learn more about HSI cultural property, art and antiquities investigations →

Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete the online tip form.

District Attorney Vance also thanked the Consulate General of Italy in New York and HSI New York, in particular, Special Agent John Paul Labbat.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 11/08/2017