Somewhere in Hollywood, a screenwriter is licking his or her chops over this one: A European art trafficking ring has been busted with 5,361 antiquities, dating back to the 8th century BC and worth $50 million.
The BBC reports that the haul, the result of a 14-year investigation, included "vases, statues, and frescoes looted from illegal digs" that were found "in raids on a number of warehouses" in Basel, Switzerland. The group responsible has been making a tidy profit selling its ill-gotten objects to museums with forged documents, including Los Angeles' J. Paul Getty Museum, which acquired a "5th century BC Greek vase painted by Asteas depicting the rape of Europa."
The thousands of objects will go on display at Rome's Baths of Diocletian museum before being "returned to the Italian regions where they were looted."
The NY Post elaborates:
"This is by a long shot the biggest recovery in history in terms of the quantity and quality of the archaeological treasures," Carabinieri Gen. Mariano Mossa told a news conference.
The items were found during an investigation into Basel-based art dealer Gianfranco Becchina and his wife, accused by prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved "tombaroli" tomb raiders in southern Italy, dealers and buyers around the globe.
Becchina is free after the statute of limitations expired on the charges, police said.
The investigation showed how dealers would forge provenance papers for the antiquities and create fictitious histories for them, so that museums and private collectors could in theory buy them in good faith, police said.As a result, perhaps more important than the antiquities themselves is that Italian authorities now have detailed documentation of Becchina's inventory, including photos and receipts, that was also found in the warehouses, police said.
For over a decade, Italy has been on a campaign to reclaim treasures that were looted from its soil and sold to top museums and private collectors.
Image via the NY Post.