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CRIME

Tomb raiders: gang resold stolen plots online

Police in Naples have uncovered a gang who allegedly made a killing from emptying graves of their human remains and reselling the plots, sometimes online.

Tomb raiders: gang resold stolen plots online
The gang allegedly emptied graves and resold the plots at Poggioreale cemetery in Naples. Photo: CityClass

Grave robbing might be a crime that many of us associate with a bygone era, but for more than five years this canny gang managed to tap into the lucrative burial plot market at one of Europe's largest cemeteries.

The gang would empty tombs and chapels – some of them dating back to the 19th century – at Pioggioreale cemetery and dispose of the human remains, before selling the plots for thousands of euros, Adnkronos reported.

Police caught wind of the grave goings-on in 2012, when a family pressed charges after returning to the city to find their loved one's burial plot occupied by a newly restored chapel complete with gate.

Roberto D'Auria, the judge in charge of preliminary investigations, said the gang had an elaborate system worked out that involved a “circle of informers.”

It was made up of a notary, who is accused of providing false deeds for the plots, as well as two owners of a local funeral parlour.

Fourteen others were also involved, including employees of the city council who were responsible for finding forgotten tombs that were fit for “recycling”.

Public prosecutor Vincenzo Piscitelli highlighted the grim reality of “recycling”, stating that it involved more than giving an old tomb a lick of paint.

“Above all else, the tombs needed to be emptied of their human remains, which were then disposed of who knows where,” he said.

Once the gang had identified, emptied and restored a tomb, it was ready to be sold.

Some of the plots were even sold online. One gigantic burial chapel that was seized by the police had been placed online with a whopping asking price of €800,000.

Pioggioreale is the biggest cemetery in Naples and one of the largest in Europe. Laws currently prohibit the private sale of funeral plots. Owners wishing to give up their spot must inform the local authority, who will reallocate the space and collect a fee.

The high cost of burial plots in Naples means that grave robbing is a lucrative business. It costs between €10,000 and €50,000 for a plot – and even then, there's no guarantee it will be an eternal resting place.  

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CRIME

New York returns millions worth of stolen art to Italy

Prosecutors in New York on Tuesday returned dozens of antiquities stolen from Italy and valued at around $19 million, some of which were found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

New York returns millions worth of stolen art to Italy

“These 58 pieces represent thousands of years of rich history, yet traffickers throughout Italy utilized looters to steal these items and to line their own pockets,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, noting that it was the third such repatriation in nine months.

“For far too long, they have sat in museums, homes, and galleries that had no rightful claim to their ownership,” he said at a ceremony attended by Italian diplomats and law enforcement officials.

The stolen items had been sold to Michael Steinhardt, one of the world’s leading collectors of ancient art, the DA’s office said, adding that he had been slapped with a “first-of-its-kind lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities.”

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Among the recovered treasures, which in some cases were sold to “unwitting collectors and museums,” were a marble head of the Greek goddess Athena from 200 B.C.E. and a drinking cup dating back to 470 B.C.E, officials said.

The pieces were stolen at the behest of four men who “all led highly lucrative criminal enterprises – often in competition with one another – where they would use local looters to raid archaeological sites throughout Italy, many of which were insufficiently guarded,” the DA’s office said.

One of them, Pasquale Camera, was “a regional crime boss who organized thefts from museums and churches as early as the 1960s. He then began purchasing stolen artifacts from local looters and sold them to antiquities dealers,” it added.

It said that this year alone, the DA’s office has “returned nearly 300 antiquities valued at over $66 million to 12 countries.”

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