An ancient Italian sarcophagus lid allegedly tied to a convicted smuggler is expected to be seized from a Long Island City storage facility Friday.
A civil complaint was filed Thursday seeking the forfeiture of an ancient Roman marble sarcophagus lid featuring a high-relief sculpture of a sleeping woman, according to U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta E. Lynch.
This specific piece matches pictures found in the files of convicted antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina, according to Italian authorities. The complaint alleges that the piece is considered property of Italy and can be confiscated as stolen property unlawfully brought into the United States.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security‘s Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) agents plan on removing the sarcophagus from the western Queens facility Friday afternoon, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
“Whether looted cultural property enters our ports today or decades ago, it is our responsibility to see that it is returned to its rightful owners, in this case, the Italian people,” Lynch said. “We will continue to use all legal tools available to us to seize, forfeit and repatriate stolen cultural property.”
Becchina, who is an Italian citizen, ran an antiquities gallery in Switzerland, and in 2011 was convicted in an Italian court for illicitly dealing in antiquities. During the investigation, before being convicted, authorities searched Becchina’s gallery and warehouse, and among the items seized were photographs, commercial records and customs paperwork relating to the sarcophagus lid.
Becchina allegedly bought the lid in Italy and shipped it to his Swiss gallery in 1981, according to seized records. The now restored marble lid then reappeared 30 years later at a public exhibition in New York. On Feb. 20, HSI agents located the lid in a Long Island City storage facility.
“The forfeiture of this sarcophagus lid brings us one step closer to returning this stolen treasure to its rightful owner, the Italian people,” said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI in New York.