The Basel City prosecutor’s office has returned the last 68 of 4,536 stolen art and archaeological objects to Italian police, concluding 13 years of co-operation between the authorities on a criminal investigation, the justice ministry announced on Thursday.
Italian authorities had requested Swiss assistance in 2001 in connection with an investigation into an antiquarian and others who were eventually charged with membership in a criminal organisation, illicit transfer of cultural property, receiving stolen goods, and non-reporting of archaeological finds.
The stolen objects were seized from a Basel art dealership.
The Basel prosecutor’s office initially confiscated around 5,800 objects which had been collected through illegal excavations in Italy. These were displayed at a press conference in November 2008, and several thousand of them – including objects from Etruscan and Roman antiquity – were returned to Italy following an evaluation of their cultural heritage. In addition, five Greek icons were returned to Greek authorities.
After 13 years in which two of the accused persons took legal action 13 times to try to block the return of the artifacts, the Federal Court ultimately ruled that the objects should be returned. The last objects were transferred to the Italian authorities on Tuesday.
The case led to a 2008 bilateral agreement between Switzerland and Italy over the importation and repatriation of cultural property.
According to a statement from the justice ministry, the case demonstrates Switzerland’s desire “not to be misused as a haven and a hub of illegal trafficking of cultural goods”.