New York authorities have seized 27 ancient objects worth more than $13 million from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
According to the NYTimes, authorities say these are artifacts, acquired to capture the glory of ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt, that were stolen.
Some of these objects passed through the hands of people long under the microscope of the authorities, such as Gianfranco Becchina, who ran a gallery in Switzerland for decades before being investigated for illegal dealings by the Italian government in 2001.
However, most of the items had been in the Met’s collection long before Becchina was publicly accused of illegal activity.
The confiscations underline, at the same time, the increased efforts of the authorities against the illegal sale of ancient objects. Authorities have warned that many more illegally sourced items remain in the hands of private collectors and museums.
According to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which is working with federal officials, eight of the items seized by the Met were obtained directly from Becchina.
Becchina has been convicted of receiving stolen antiquities from Greece. In Italy, after a decade-long investigation, a hoard of 6,300 Greco-Roman artifacts was seized from him in 2011 when a judge found the items had been stolen since the early 1970s. But criminal charges there were dismissed on statute of limitations grounds.
Although the Met acquired many of the Becchina items long before it became embroiled in looting cases, an antiquities smuggling expert said that, once Becchina was put under the microscope, the Met should have looked into the provenance of any items it bought from Galerie Antike Kunst Palladion in Basel, Switzerland.
The MET, in a statement, said that information about the Italian objects had only recently been made available to the museum by prosecutor’s investigators, that it had been fully cooperative and that its acquisition reviews had become more stringent in the decades since they were found in its collections. .
The items, seized under the terms of three separate search warrants executed over the past six months, will be returned to their countries of origin – 21 in Italy and six in Egypt – in ceremonies planned for next week.
“The rules have changed significantly in recent decades,” the museum said, “and so have its policies and procedures. The Met in this respect has been under constant review for the past 20 years.”
One of the most notable items seized by the Met was a terracotta goblet – a type of cup – from 470 BC. worth $1.2 million. Purchased directly from the Becchina Gallery in 1979.
Another item is a terracotta statuette of a Greek goddess from about 400 BC. worth $400,000, which was a gift from Robin Symes, a British antiquities dealer. Sumes was involved in the sale of a giant statue of Venus that the Getty Museum bought in 1988 for $18 million and agreed to return it to Italy in 2007.
The value of the 21 Italian pieces seized by the Met in July is $10 million, while the six Egyptian items seized in February and May are valued at $3.2 million.
In a separate report, investigators say a seizure warrant was issued Tuesday for another MET object: a sixth-century stone sculpture depicting a Hindu goddess, acquired in 1993. Officials did not disclose the reason for the seizure.
The prosecutor’s office notes that five of the Egyptian artifacts were found in the MET’s possession by the same network that supplied them with a gold-encased coffin from the first century BC. which the museum agreed to return in 2019.
At the time, museum officials had claimed they bought it from a Paris art dealer in 2017 for nearly $4 million and were misled by a false report of its provenance.
According to the museum, citing officials, some of the Egyptian items it bought were sold using false information, by the same network that sold the Met the gilded casket.