You are here

Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Columbia

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

United States Files Complaint Seeking Forfeiture of Ancient Sculpture Stolen from Italy and Smuggled into the United States

Government Seeks to Return Statuette Dating to the Fifth Century B.C.E. to Italian Government

           The United States has filed a civil complaint seeking the forfeiture of an Attic Etruscan votive statuette that was recovered by the FBI and HSI years after it was illegally excavated and smuggled out of Italy. The United States intends to return the artwork to its rightful owner.

           The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu, Timothy R. Slater, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, and Raymond Villanueva, Special Agent in Charge of HSI’s Washington Field Office.

           The artwork, an unusually detailed bronze statuette of a young woman, measures approximately 4.5 inches tall. The figurine’s features are believed to be reminiscent of the fifth century B.C.E., when historical Etruria covered what is now Tuscany, in Northern Italy.  The statuette has been described as “among the best known examples of small scale Etruscan bronze sculpture.” 

           The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and seeks forfeiture of the sculpture on the basis that it represents the proceeds of the interstate transportation of stolen property and possession of stolen goods.

           “The recovery of this artwork stolen from Italy and its people reflects our commitment to pursue justice for victims of crime here and abroad,” said Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. “The looting of cultural heritage for profit is unacceptable, and we will continue to assist in the efforts to return such items to their rightful owners.”

           “The FBI works to return stolen art to preserve the culture and history of countries around the world,” said Timothy R. Slater, Assistant Director in Charge FBI Washington Field Office. “This action sends a clear message to art dealers and galleries that trafficking in stolen art ultimately does not pay. We encourage those who suspect that a piece of art is stolen to report it to law enforcement so we can return it to its rightful owners. The FBI worked closely with our HSI partners to recover this important piece, and will continue to aggressively investigate theft of cultural property.”

           According to the complaint, the statuette is allegedly part of a trove of objects discovered during an illegal excavation in the Tuscan region of Italy.  It was allegedly smuggled out of Italy in violation of Italian law to a prominent art gallery in Switzerland that allegedly dealt in antiquities trafficking. In approximately 1989, an American art gallery purchased the statuette and later sold it to a private collector. The statuette resurfaced when the collector tried to sell it using another American art gallery in New York. The offering price for the sculpture was $95,000.

           HSI obtained custody of the statuette, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office commenced forfeiture proceedings. The government plans to return the statuette to the Italian Republic upon its filing of a claim of ownership.

           The lawsuit is captioned United States v. One Attic Etruscan Votive Statuette of a Female Figure.

           This case is being investigated by HSI’s Washington Field Office, the FBI’s Washington Field Office, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zia M. Faruqui and Arvind Lal, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Williamson, and Supervisory Paralegal Specialist Elizabeth Swienc, all from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, are representing the government. 

Press Release Number: 
Updated December 10, 2019