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CRIME

Italian police bust smuggling gang looting ancient artefacts

The gang used bulldozers and metal detectors to dig up and loot objects dating from 400 BC, including ancient Greek vases and jewels, in southern Italy before smuggling them out of the country.

Italian police bust smuggling gang looting ancient artefacts
Photo: DepositPhotos

European police have busted an international crime gang involved in trafficking tens of thousands of Greek archaeological artefacts looted from illegal excavations in Italy, law enforcement agencies said on Monday.

Police from Italy, Britain, France, Germany and Serbia arrested 23 suspects and carried out 103 searches in the investigation that started in 2017, the EU police agency Europol and Eurojust said.

The artefacts were looted in the southern Calabria region – the “toe” of Italy – before being smuggled out of the country and sold across Europe.

Screenshot: Google Maps

“Illegal excavations were managed by a well-structured organised crime group… led by two Calabrians” living in the southern province of Crotone, the agencies said in a combined statement.

In Calabria “the cultural heritage includes important traces from the Greek and Roman period”, Europol said.

There are several important archaeological sites near Crotone, including  the site of a ruined ancient Greek temple at Capo Colonna.

Italian media said two Calabrian men aged 59 and 30 had been arrested.

The gang also included “fences, intermediaries and mules operating out of different Italian regions” with the looted artefacts then going through contacts in Dijon, Munich, London and Vrsac in northeastern Serbia.

Some of the stolen objects are said to date as far back as the fourth and third centuries B.C. and include five terracotta vases and oil lamps, plates depicting animal scenes, brooches and various jewels, Italian media reports said.

The ruins of an ancient Greek temple at Capo Colonne, Calabria. Photo: Depositphotos

The looters used bulldozers to dig craters, before sifting through the earth and passing it through metal detectors, the reports added, quoting police sources.

“The looting carried out over the course of several years caused considerable damage to Italian cultural heritage,” Europol and Eurojust added.

Coordination between the two agencies enabled “arrests, searches and seizures immediately and simultaneously in the five countries,” they added.

Italy has the highest number of art thefts in the world, and has its own special “art police” squad – Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (TPC), or the Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage – tasked with tracking down stolen artworks and artefacts, many of which are found to have been smuggled abroad.

Last year, three ancient artefacts were returned to Italy by US officials after they were traced to an auction house in New York.

READ ALSO:

Italian and Swiss police in 2016 recovered a haul of archaeological artefacts stolen from Italy and stored by a notorious British antiquities dealer.

The haul, worth nine million euros, 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.

In the last year alone, 8,405 artworks, scultpures, ancient artefacts and other treasures have gone missing in Italy according to the latest police reports.

An ancient Roman sculpture stolen in Italy and put up for sale at a Dutch auction house in 2016. Photo: Remko de Waal ANP/AFP

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CULTURE

Race wide open for Venice film festival prizes

The race was wide open ahead of awards night in Venice on Saturday, after a festival featuring a dark Marilyn Monroe biopic, an imprisoned Iranian director and a morbidly obese Brendan Fraser.

Race wide open for Venice film festival prizes

Critics have been deeply divided on many of the 23 films in competition at the 79th Venice Film Festival, but it has been a stellar year for individual actors. 

There was a huge standing ovation for Fraser, who made an unlikely comeback from the Hollywood wilderness as a 600-pound (272-kilogram) English professor in The Whale, sparking talk of Oscar nominations and a “Brendanaissance”.

Cate Blanchett is also an awards frontrunner for her performance as a classical music conductor in Tar, which takes a nuanced look at cancel culture.

And Hugh Jackman’s performance as a father dealing with a depressed teenager in The Son has been labelled the best of his career.

Hugh Jackman in Venice

Australian actor Hugh Jackman arrives on September 7, 2022 for the screening of The Son as part of the 79th Venice International Film Festival at Lido di Venezia in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

While some reviewers found the Monroe biopic Blonde too relentlessly grim, most were bowled over by the “ferociously emotional” performance from Cuban star Ana de Armas.

Sexual identity has been a recurring theme across the 11-day festival, with Trace Lysette becoming the first trans actress to star in a competition entry for Monica.

Last year’s best actress winner Penelope Cruz played the mother to a trans teen in L’Immensita, whose director Emanuele Crialese admitted for the first time at its press conference that he was born a woman.

Politics and protest

Picking the winners falls to a jury led by actor Julianne Moore, and also featuring Nobel-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro.

A last-minute favourite for the top prize Golden Lion is No Bears by Iran’s Jafar Panahi, who was imprisoned for “propaganda against the system” in July. That was the subject of a flash-mob protest Friday on the Venice red
carpet, led by Moore.

President of the Venezia 79 International Jury, US actress Julianne Moore (C) and other jury members hold on September 9, 2022 a poster showing Iranian director Jafar Panahi, calling for his release from prison. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Another political film to win rave reviews was the documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, which follows artist Nan Goldin and her fight against the Sackler family, held responsible for the opioid drug crisis in the United States.

It is the latest from Laura Poitras, the journalist who first made contact with whistleblower Edward Snowden and won an Oscar for the resulting film, Citizenfour.

There has also been a lot of love in Venice for The Banshees of Inisherin, a pitch-black Irish comedy-drama tracing the falling out of two friends played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.

Argentina 1985, the true story of the lawyers who took on the country’s military junta, was also widely praised.

Venice is seen as a launchpad for Academy Award campaigns, eight of the last 10 Best Director Oscars having gone to films that premiered at the festival.

Netflix had been hoping for a big year, but Blonde tested the patience of many critics, as did Mexico’s two-time Oscar winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrituto, with his fantastical semi-autobiography Bardo.

The streamer is also behind White Noise, a sharp satire of US consumerism and academia starring Adam Driver — but that, too, got a mixed reception from reviewers.

READ ALSO: Ten of the best TV shows and films to help you learn Italian

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