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Switzerland's Place in the Return of Antiquities

There have been some major returns of antiquities from Switzerland in recent years. The police raid in the Geneva Freeport in the mid-1990s brought to light the major movement of archaeological material from Italy to the antiquities markets of Europe, North America and the Far East. Photographic evidence seized in these raids has been instrumental in identifying objects that passed through the hands of certain dealers; many of the objects returned from museums and private collections in North America over the last few years were known from these Polaroid images.

Since this initial intervention there have been others. In 2001 a Swiss-Italian raid on a warehouse in Geneva recovered some 100 archaeological items. In May 2002 three warehouses linked with Gianfranco Becchina were raided and some 5000 objects seized. A fourth warehouse in Basel was raided in September 2005. This haul included some 10,000 images of archaeological objects. Three truck-loads of antiquities, about 4400 items, were returned to Italy in November 2008. (500 or so antiquities derived from other cultural areas apparently remain in Switzerland.)

Such returns continue. In May 2009 Italian authorities revealed the fruits of "Operation Phoenix" that had led to the return of 251 items, worth approximately 2 million Euros, from an unnamed gallery in Geneva run by two Lebanese brothers.

The raids have not all been linked to material derived from Italy. In the summer of 2003 some 280 to 300 Egyptian antiquities were seized in the Geneva Freeport and handed over to Egypt. The subsequent trial in Cairo convicted a number of people; the ringleader is reported to have received 35 years. A Canadian passport holder (and resident of Geneva) alleged to be linked to the case was detained at Sofia airport in September 2008 though he was soon back in Switzerland.

Individual items have also been returned from Switzerland: the eye from a statue of Amenhotep III from the Antikenmuseum in Basel; an Etruscan bronze from a Swiss private collector; a marble lekythos from a Swiss-based dealer; and a marble statue of Apollo excavated at Gortyn on Crete and stolen in 1991. In 2002 a bronze statue of Dionysos was returned to Turkey (via the United Kingdom) after being seized in Switzerland as part of the assets of a convicted drug trafficker.

Other recently returned items had passed through Switzerland. These include the "Morgantina" silver hoard returned from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to Italy, and the gold wreath returned to Greece from the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Since 2005 Switzerland has taken a much more firm line about "illicit" antiquities. How much recently surfaced archaeological material continues to pass through Switzerland?

Comments

DR.KWAME OPOKU said…
There appears to be a lot of other looted African archaeological materials in or passing through Switzerland. See the protest letter of Prof.Eric Huysecom and others. http://www.swissinfo
David Gill said…
The details of the protest can be found at:
http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news/Geneva_row_over_African_cultural_heritage.html?siteSect=201&sid=10647290&ty=st ("Geneva row over African cultural heritage", May 2, 2009).
DR.KWAME OPOKU said…
More on looted archaeological materials in Switzerland

Les musées municipaux exposent-ils des oeuvres pillées?
Paru le Mardi 05 Mai 2009
MARIO TOGNI


http://www.lecourrier.ch/index.php?name=NewsPaper&file=article&sid=442355

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