The Local, 'Switzerland returns looted Etruscan treasures to Italy' 14 Jan 2016
In 2014, Italy asked Swiss authorities for assistance in tracking down a stolen Etruscan sarcophagus that was believed to have transited through the toll and customs-free zone that makes up the Geneva Free Ports. A statement issued on Thursday describes what happened next:
"The search led by prosecutor Claudio Mascotto ... at the Geneva Free Ports revealed an unexpected treasure," the statement said. Two rare Etruscan earthenware sarcophaguses, with beautifully sculptured lids representing a reclined man and woman, were found in a warehouse at the Free Ports, along side "many other invaluable archaeological remains". "The prosecutor ordered the seizure of the sarcophaguses first, then extended the decision to all items, considering their suspected illegal provenance," it said.An Italian expert had concluded that the artefacts came from illegal excavations mainly carried out in the Umbria and Lazio regions, and Italian investigators linked some of the items to so-called tombaroli, or tomb raiders, they already had in their sights. Switzerland has now returned to Italy 45 boxes of ancient Etruscan art apparently from this store which had been stashed away for more than 15 years, the material included delicately painted bas-reliefs, vases and fragments of decorated vases, frescoes, heads, busts, and several other votive or religious pieces and two sarcophagi, authorities said.
The antiques had been brought to Geneva by a former high-profile British art dealer, previously linked to trading looted antiquities, the prosecutor's office said, without divulging the art dealer's name. The artefacts had remained stored in the warehouse for more than 15 years, registered under the name of an offshore company, it said.Lobbyists for the antiquities trade deny that freshly-looted artefacts are stockpiled as an investment by the dealers which they represent who buy them cheap when they become plentiful on the market (for example in times of conflict) planning to discretely release them as "old stock" when public sensitivities are lower and any ephemeral paper trails have been dispersed. These people may well be worried by changes in public attitudes and regulation as well as legislation affecting the formerly no-questions-asked antiquities market while their "sleepers" lie hidden from sight. Well they might, if the law was working better, they'd be unsaleable when they "surface".
Here's the glorious 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme'.