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Ex-con art dealer’s hoard of looted antiquities found in Switzerland

February 1, 2016
Robin Symes (inset) and one of the priceless discoveries Photo: © Ministère public genevois

Robin Symes (inset) and one of the priceless discoveries Photo: © Ministère public genevois

Italian authorities have located a cache of looted Roman and Etruscan antiquities purchased by one time art dealer Robin Symes in Geneva, Switzerland, according to the Telegraph.  Symes, once one of the most well-known antiquities dealers, whose clients included the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and others, was ultimately found in contempt of court in a case involving looted antiquities and spent seven months of a two-year sentence in jail.

The reclining figure of a man Photo: © Ministère public genevois

The reclining figure of a man Photo: © Ministère public genevois

According to the article:

The antiquities were found hidden inside 45 crates …

They had languished there for 15 years, in boxes marked with the name of an offshore company.

The haul includes two life-size Etruscan sarcophaguses, one depicting an elderly man and the other a young woman, both reclining on their sides.

They are among the very few examples of their kind and date from the second century before Christ.

The priceless reclining lady figure

The priceless reclining lady figure

A press release from the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Geneva:

The antiques had been brought to Geneva by a former high-profile British art dealer, whose name has been linked in the past to the trading of several looted antiquities throughout the world.

Restitution to Italy of invaluable objects from its cultural heritage was made possible by the Swiss legislation on international mutual assistance in criminal matters. In concrete terms, this restitution fulfills Switzerland’s commitments based on its ratification in 2003 of the UNESCO Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property.

The Telegraph article also noted:

Many of the items are believed to have been looted from archaeological sites by tomb raiders.

The crates were discovered by a specialist unit of Italy’s Carabinieri police that deals with art crime, with the collaboration of the Swiss authorities.

The objects were “exceptional pieces (which were taken from) clandestine excavations,” prosecutors in Geneva said in a statement.

They are believed to have been looted from tombs in what remains of the ancient Etruscan city of Tarquinia, in the hills north of Rome.

The antiquities have been returned to Rome and are to be unveiled at a press conference later this week.

The investigation dates back to March 2014, when the Italians first began to suspect that looted antiquities might be kept in storage in Geneva.

The search was taken up by the public prosecutor’s office of Geneva, which found “an unexpected treasure – two rare sarcophaguses of Etruscan origin – as well as many other invaluable archaeological remains”.

Numerous terracotta artefacts were recovered

Numerous terracotta artefacts were recovered

In 2006 [Symes] was accused of being part of an illicit antiquities network in a book by Peter Watson, an investigative journalist, entitled “The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums.”

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