Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Court Upholds Italian Art Dealer's Conviction Over Handling Stolen Church Murals

An Athens appeals court has upheld an 11-year sentence against a Sicilian art and antiquities dealer convicted over the theft four decades ago of four rare murals from an Early Christian rural church in Steni on Evia (Yiannis Papadopoulos, 'Court upholds Italian art dealer's conviction over rare church murals' EWS 05.06.2018)
Gianfranco Becchina, who is now 80 years old, was not present at Friday’s hearing in Athens, but his lawyer told the court that her client, being an expert in antiquities, was unaware of the murals’ importance and had no role in their theft. Judges rejected the appeal, upholding a conviction against Becchina on charges of receiving stolen goods.
'Was unaware of their importance' may perhaps reasonably be inferred to mean that he was not aware that they had come from a documented theft, rather than being chiselled of the wall of a historical building where there were no documents and 'they can't touch yer for it'. We have no information that he had ascertained that there was documentation in his possession that were evidence that he had bought items that were of verifiable licit provenance. The 16th century murals had been stolen in 1978 by a man from Pyrgos in the northwestern Peloponnese broke into the Church of Palaiopanaghias and chiseled them off the walls causing extensive damage to the interior of the listed monument. The man was sentenced to life in prison in 1984 over a string of unrelated thefts:
but the four murals remained missing for years until they were discovered in 2001 during an investigation into a gallery in Basel, Switzerland, run by Becchina and his wife, Ursula Juraschek. There, Swiss authorities discovered a trove of stolen Italian antiquities, as well as the four Greek paintings that [...] were repatriated to Greece in 2010 and are now on display the Byzantine Museum in Athens. Their total value has been estimated in the range of 160,000 euros.

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