More than $13 million worth of artifacts, totaling 27 items, have been seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art by investigators claiming the objects have all been looted from Italy and Egypt. Now, they’re going back to their place of origin, according to the New York Times, which first broke the story after the seizures were reported by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Three separate search warrants were executed over the last six months to recover the artifacts. “Some of the items passed through the hands of people long suspected to have trafficked antiquities, such as Gianfranco Becchina,” wrote the Times. Becchina operated an art gallery in Switzerland for decades before the Italian government began investigating him for illegal dealings in 2001. The NY Times went on to state that “Most of the items had entered the Met’s collection long before Becchina was publicly accused of illicit activity.” In all, eight of the antiques seized came from him, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Twenty-one items will be returned to Italy, with the remaining six going back to Egypt. Ceremonies are planned next week for their arrival. The events highlight an effort by law enforcement to speed up the pace of reparations that have historically taken years to accomplish, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Among the most expensive items seized from the Met was a terra-cotta kylix, another term for a drinking cup, from 470 B.C., valued at $1.2 million. The Met bought the relic directly from the Becchina gallery in 1979. A terra-cotta statuette of a Greek goddess from 400 B.C. was taken as well. Its estimated value is $400,000.
Of the Egyptian objects that were confiscated, a portrait of a woman on a panel, titled Lady with a Blue Mantle, is valued at over $1.2 million. The Cambodian government has also been pushing the Met to return Khmer artifacts they say were stolen from remote temple sites in the jungle during their civil war during the 1960s and ’70s.
“Each of these objects has unique and complex circumstances, and with all, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been fully supportive of the Manhattan district attorney’s office investigations,” The Met said in a statement. “The museum is a leader in the field in comprehensively reviewing individual matters and it has returned many pieces based upon thorough review and research — oftentimes in partnership with law enforcement and outside experts.”