FBI help return over 1,000 artifacts to Italy

Thu Sep 24, 2009 8:18am EDT
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BARI, Italy (Reuters) - Italian police working with the FBI have recovered more than 1,000 Italian artifacts found in the home of a U.S. collector, ranging from medieval scrolls to a letter signed by former dictator Benito Mussolini.

The 1,140 pieces, valued at more than $4 million, were part of a collection of 3,500 articles assembled in the Illinois home of Italian-American collector John Sisto, who died in 2007.

The artifacts, which Sisto collected over the years, were stolen from town archives, libraries and churches in the southern regions of Puglia, Sicily and Molise, and exported illegally, Italian police said.

After Sisto's death, his two sons contacted U.S. authorities after discovering the collection scattered around the family home in Berwyn, Illinois.

The trove included 348 parchments dating back as far as the 12th century, more than 400 archaeological artifacts, and documents signed by famous Italians including 19th century unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi.

"We are returning to Puglia artifacts taken by an immigrant who wanted too many reminders of his own land," said Colonel Luigi Cortellessa, deputy head of the police department in charge of protecting Italy's cultural heritage.

It was not clear how Sisto got hold of the artifacts. Police said Sisto's sons were unaware of their father's activities and contacted US authorities because they did not know what to do with the antiquities.

Italy, together with archaeological powerhouse Greece, has stepped up international efforts in recent years to return looted antiquities smuggled to foreign museums and private collections.

Italy dropped a high-profile lawsuit against California's Getty Museum in 2007 when it agreed to return 40 items and signed a loans and co-operation agreement.

(Writing by Daniel Flynn, editing by Philippa Fletcher)