The haul, worth nine million euros ($10 million), was discovered in 2014 in a storage unit at the Geneva Freeport rented by Britain's disgraced Robin Symes, a giant in the illegal antiquities trade with ties to Italian tomb raiders.
“Forty-five crates containing tens of thousands of archaeological relics of extraordinary quality” were returned to Rome in January, said Italy's Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, as they were unveiled to the press for the first time.
The booty included Etruscan painted sarcophagi representing human figures, a Roman sarcophagus, marble statues of animals and pieces of the floor and walls of a temple, all dating to between the 7th century BC and 2nd century AD.
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
“They were stolen from digs in Sicily, Puglia, Campania and Calabria in the1970s and 80s,” said prosecutor Giancarlo Capaldo, adding that the loot had been smuggled into the Freeport decades ago, where it lay hidden.
Italian sleuths tracked the artefacts after seizing incriminating papers from an art smuggler, and they were discovered during a joint sting with Swiss police on Symes's storage unit.
Capaldo said the plot had been to restore the statues, tiles and sarcophaguses and sell them on to clients in Japan, Germany and other countries under false papers.
“This is one of the most important recoveries of the last few decades,” Franceschini said, adding that the antiquities would be restored and returned to the regions across southern Italy from which they were stolen.