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Switzerland returns stolen art works

After more than a year's investigation involving mutual Swiss and Italian legal assistance, Switzerland has returned to Italy four paintings stolen nearly four years ago.

This content was published on December 1, 1999 - 16:24

After more than a year's investigation involving mutual Swiss and Italian legal assistance, Switzerland has returned to Italy four paintings stolen nearly four years ago.

The paintings by the 18th century Milanese artist Angiolo Maria Crivelli were handed back by Switzerland at a ceremony on Wednesday in the city of Bellinzona, the capital of southern canton Ticino.

A representative of the Federal Police Office in Bellinzona said the handover marked a victory in the fight against the illegal trade in cultural assets and that the case was solved thanks to the excellent cooperation between Swiss and Italian authorities.

The paintings have an insurance value of SFr200,000 ($126,000). They were stolen in February 1996 from a house near Milan and were traced to Switzerland when the owner of a gallery in Ticino tried to sell them in Italy.

The Milan justice authorities made a request for legal assistance in July 1998, asking Switzerland to seize the paintings and return them.

The gallery owner was not involved in the theft itself but was ordered to pay the costs of the operation because he did not take steps to check where the paintings came from or how they came into Switzerland.

The thieves have still not been found.

Switzerland is an important art market and has been criticised for not having ratified international agreements against trafficking in stolen art works.

In 1997, Switzerland returned a stolen work to France following a legal assistance request.

From staff and wire reports.

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