“Italian police arrested 52 people and recovered several hundred smuggled archeological artifacts as part of their “tomb raider” investigation into international art theft.
More than 300 carabinieri of the finance police and paramilitary art squad searched suspects’ homes in eight Italian provinces early today and found smuggled goods of “considerable worth,” Italy’s Culture Ministry said in an e-mail.
Three years of investigations into a group of Sicilian “tomb raiders” led to the searches, arrests and uncovering of a wider international network, with contacts in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, the U.K. and U.S., the statement said. The investigation and raids were coordinated by the magistrates from the Sicilian province of Gela, the e-mail said.”
The Bloomberg story got one important detail very wrong. It incorrectly stated that the Getty has agreed to return 52 antiquities to Italy. In fact, Italy demanded the return of 52 objects; the Getty has agreed to return 25 of them in principle, along with one other which was not on the list.
The Malta Star has more on this story as well. It seems that many of the Sicilians arrested were not “from usual criminal backgrounds but rather from the professions and the business community and also include collectors and antiquarians.” If that’s true, it would be quite a blow to the antiquities trade. One difficulty the Italian authorities may have is following through with convictions of these individuals, who may be considered upstanding members of their community.