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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
04/13/2016

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ICE HSI seizes an ancient artifact linked to an Italian art smuggler

NEW YORK – Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Wednesday seized an ancient Attic Red-Figure Nolan Amphora by Charmides Painter (475- 460 B.C.). 

This seizure follows a joint international investigation led by HSI New York, and the Italian Cabanieri. The Italians traced the Nolan Amphora to a gallery in New York City. It is believed that the Nolan Amphora might have been in the United States illegally since as early as 1997. HSI agents tracked down and recovered the item within hours after Italian authorities provided details of the artifact.

According to the Italian Carabinieri Protection of Cultural Heritage Command, the piece matches photographs found in the files of convicted antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina. It is currently alleged that the antiquity is the property of Italy and is therefore forfeitable as stolen property that was unlawfully introduced into the United States.

Becchina, an Italian citizen, operated an antiquities gallery in Basel, Switzerland. In February 2011, he was convicted in an Italian court of illicitly dealing in antiquities.  During the investigation that led to his conviction, Swiss and Italian authorities searched Becchina’s Swiss gallery and warehouse and seized Italian archeological artifacts, commercial documents and photographs of thousands of artifacts that Becchina had sold.  Among the documents in Becchina’s archive were photographs, commercial records and customs paperwork pertaining to the Nolan Amphora by Charmides.

“The seizure of this ancient amphora by the Charmides Painter brings us one step closer to returning this stolen treasure to its rightful owner, the Italian people,” said Angel Melendez special agent in charge of HSI New York. “The seizure and the remarkable speed at which we took action is a testament to HSI’s commitment to intercepting and recovering stolen cultural artifacts and repatriating them to their rightful owners.”

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 HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete its online tip form.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 04/19/2016