Sep 2, 2022 - Politics & Policy

New York investigators seize over $13 million worth of artifacts from Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 2020.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 2020. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

New York investigators have seized dozens of artifacts worth more than $13 million from the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the last six months, alleging they had been looted from around the world, according to the New York Times.

Why it matters: The seizures indicate that the Manhattan district attorney’s office is stepping up efforts to close backlogged repatriation cases and crack down on the theft, looting and illicit trafficking of cultural property.

  • The seizures were spearheaded by the Manhattan district attorney’s antiquities trafficking unit working with federal officials.

By the numbers: In total, 27 artifacts were seized from the Met through at least three search warrants, according to the Times.

  • The antiquities are expected to be returned to their countries of origin in repatriation ceremonies set for next week.
  • Twenty-one of the relics will be returned to Italy and six to Egypt.
  • At least eight of the artifacts had been acquired by the Met through Gianfranco Becchina, who maintained a gallery in Switzerland and was convicted in Italy of illegally dealing in antiquities.

The big picture: Last month, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced that the antiquities trafficking unit made two other seizures of looted artifacts, returning two books authored by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz to Spain and a 14th century sculpture to Nepal.

  • The books had been stolen from a Spanish library, sold by a Barcelona auction house in 2011 and passed between three private collectors before showing up for auction in New York in 2021.
  • The Nepali sculpture was stolen from a shrine in the 1960s and resurfaced on the New York art market in 2022, where it was seized by the antiquities trafficking unit.

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