Italian police recover 5,000 artefacts

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Media captionThe objects found include decorated vases, delicate frescoes and statues, and fine bronze breastplates, as Tim Allman reports

A record haul of 5,361 rare antiquities has been recovered after a lengthy inquiry into a Swiss-based trafficking ring, Italian art police say.

The works, dating from the 8th Century BC to the 3rd Century AD, included vases, statues and frescoes and were valued at up to €50m (£38m).

Many were found in raids on a number of warehouses in the Swiss city of Basel, police said.

Police said artefacts had been looted from illegal digs and sold abroad.

Museums in Japan, Germany, the UK, US and Australia had bought the antiquities, which came with forged documents, officials said.

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Image caption The antiquities were put on display by police at the Baths of Diocletian national museum in Rome

The 14-year investigation began with a 5th-Century BC Greek vase painted by Asteas depicting the rape of Europa which had been sold by Basel-based art dealer Gianfranco Becchina to the John Paul Getty Museum in California, Italian media said.

Mr Becchina has long maintained his innocence and has never been convicted.

A lengthy inquiry uncovered a network of trafficking that sold artefacts dug up by so-called "tombarolli" (tomb-raiders) in southern Italy and Sicily to museums across the globe.

One of the artefacts displayed by police at a museum in Rome was a 6th-Century BC Corinthian drinking cup depicting the myth of Theseus slaying the minotaur.

The fate of the 5,000 antiquities is unclear.

Initially there are plans to put them on display to the public at the Baths of Diocletian national museum in Rome, before returning them to the Italian regions where they were looted.

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