Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Looted goods returned

General Eisenhower inspecting looted Nazi treasures.

This is but a small token to lost national treasures and millions of pieces will remain missing [as those of Iraq] and the science of technology has certainly played a major roll in discovering the artifacts despite the fact that this enterprise will never be eliminated.

"Miami returns looted artifacts to Colombia
Pieces recovered in smuggler's stash"


Vanessa Blum

July 9th, 2008

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

There were emerald beads as large as thimbles. A ceremonial statue of a man chewing a coca wad. A gold filigree nose ornament and other jewelry buried in Colombian graves 1,000 years ago or more.

On Tuesday, U.S. officials in Miami returned to the Colombian government those relics and others recovered during a 2005 art smuggling investigation.

Experts described the cache of roughly 60 antiquities as a priceless cultural treasure, with some items dating back as far as 500 B.C.

"These pieces are part of the history, part of the identity of the Colombian people," said Diego Herrera, director of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History. "They are not commodities."

Carol Damian, an art history professor at Florida International University, examined all of the artifacts and authenticated them as pre-Columbian — that is of the era preceding the exploration of the Americas by Christopher Columbus.

Damian said the items were ritual objects looted from Colombian grave sites. That authorities found many of the art pieces stored haphazardly in a 1985 GMC van belonging to Italian art dealer Ugo Bagnato shows "callous disregard" for their significance, Damian said.

South Florida law enforcement officials seized the artifacts during an undercover investigation that began after a Broward County drug suspect turned over five art pieces purchased from Bagnato. The suspect said Bagnato sold smuggled art from a "Winnebago-type" van, according to court records.

In September 2005 an undercover federal agent posed as a customer and met with Bagnato in a Broward warehouse. The agent purchased a clay vessel approximately 3,500 years old and a statue with a gold ring in its nose, each for $2,000, according to court records.

Authorities ultimately seized more than 400 items from Bagnato's van and Miami storage facility.

The Gemological Institute of America in San Diego, which planned to buy 16 Colombian emeralds from Bagnato, contacted authorities after learning of his arrest and turned over the gems. The emeralds, once strung as a necklace, range from .9 carats to more than 32 carats.

Bagnato pleaded guilty in 2007 to selling and receiving stolen goods. The Miami resident spent 17 months in prison before federal authorities deported him to Italy.

Last year authorities returned to the Peruvian government more than 400 antiquities recovered from Bagnato, including ancient pottery, burial shrouds and gold jewelry.

Anthony Mangione, special agent-in-charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in South Florida, said such artifacts should not be treated "as souvenirs to be displayed in somebody's house."

"The United States is not going to stand idly by while people plunder other nations' treasures," Mangione said.

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