The Swiss and Italian police have uncovered a massive Swiss-Italian antiquities smuggling ring. Police seized 5,361 vases, bronze statues, and frescoes worth an estimated £38 Million, or €50 million, during a raid on a number of Swiss warehouses, the Guardian reports.
The head of the Italian military police, Carabinieri General Mariano Mossa stated to the press, “This is by a long shot the biggest recovery in history in terms of the quantity and quality of the archaeological treasures.” The artworks date from the 8th century BC to the 3rd century BC and were displayed for journalists at the Terme di Diocleziano National Roman Museum.
The trove was found during an investigation into the dealings of the Sicilian art dealer Gianfranco Becchina and his Swiss wife Ursula Juraschek. The duo are allegedly part of a smuggling ring that sourced antiquities from illegal excavations in southern Italy, sent them for restoration in Switzerland, and sold them around the world with forged documents of provenance.
The arrests could have serious implications for a number of museums. The art dealer has reportedly sold pieces to a number of illustrious institutions including the Ashmolean Museum, the Louvre, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Metropolitan Museum, the Princeton University Art Museum, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the J. Paul Getty Museum. In 2005, the Getty Museum was forced to return three valuable looted artefacts in light of certain revelations coming to light about one of Becchina’s associates.
The Getty Museum had bought the a work from Becchina, and alerted investigators that he may too be involved in illegal antiquities sales after details regarding the piece came to light. In fact the art dealer has been suspected of smuggling since 1994 when Italian police discovered a photograph of a Paestan red-figure krater by Asteas, in the wreckage of a car belonging to the known and convicted antiquities smuggler Pasquale Camera. The Getty Museum had bought the krater from Becchina, alerting investigators that he may too be involved in illegal antiquities sales.
Swiss and Italian police seized 140 binders containing over 13,000 documents including shipping records, invoices, and thousands of polaroid photos during a raid on Becchina’s Basel warehouse and gallery as long ago as 2002, Palladion Antique Kunst, Chasing Aphrodite reported. In 2011, Becchina was convicted of being an important middleman in the illegal antiquities trade. He later appealed the conviction, but the seizure of his archives was upheld.
But according to police the charges against Becchina expired, which allowed him to remain a free man. However, now police have secured even more documents including photos and receipts that could finally land the art dealer in jail.