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The Metropolitan Museum Of Art Was Forced To Hand Over Dozens Of Pieces Of Looted Art

Dozens of ancient artifacts that had been on display in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art have been seized, with officials saying they were previously looted from their countries of origin.

The 27 items — which were confiscated while executing five search warrants in 2022 — will be returned to their home countries of Egypt and Italy in ceremonies next week, Doug Cohen, a spokesperson for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, told BuzzFeed News. Additional artifacts seized from the Met will be returned to Libya and India, he added.

The seizures at the Met are part of the office’s larger goal of repatriating trafficked antiquities. In August, the office announced a 14th-century religious artifact would be returned to Nepal and two 17th-century books would be brought back to Spain after they were found circulating in the private art market.

In addition to those from the Met, dozens more items will be returned to Egypt and Italy in next week’s ceremonies, though officials did not immediately say where they were recovered from.

“58 objects will go back to Italy, 21 from the Met; 16 to Egypt, six from the Met,” Cohen said.

In total, the 27 Italian and Egyptian items seized from the Met are worth about $13 million, according to the New York Times. Eight of them reportedly came to the museum directly from Gianfranco Becchina, an Italian antiquities dealer who has been previously investigated for illegal trafficking of ancient artifacts.

Search warrants, which were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, detail some of the artifacts that were seized in July, including statues of Greek gods and goddesses, bronze helmets, pieces of pottery, and more. Some of the items are believed to date to as early as 600 BCE.

“It should be no secret to collectors, art museums and auction houses that they may be in possession of pieces from known traffickers that were illegally looted,” Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg said in a statement. “The investigations conducted by my office have clearly exposed these networks and put into the public domain a wealth of information the art world can proactively use to return antiquities to where they rightfully belong. Our investigations, which have led to the repatriation of nearly 2,000 objects, will continue.”

The seizures come amid growing criticism of the common practice among museums of displaying art and relics obtained through looting. London’s British Museum in particular has faced calls to return its plundered goods, which include the Rosetta Stone from Egypt, a moai statue from Easter Island, and works from Nigeria, India, Jamaica, Iraq, and more.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for the Met said each of the seized objects has “unique and complex circumstances” and that the museum “has been fully supportive” of the DA’s investigations.

“The museum is a leader in the field in comprehensively reviewing individual matters, and it has returned many pieces based upon thorough review and research — oftentimes in partnership with law enforcement and outside experts,” the spokesperson said. “The norms of collecting have changed significantly in recent decades, and the Met’s policies and procedures in this regard have been under constant review over the past 20 years.”

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