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Press Release

United States Returns Stolen Antique Books To The National Library Of Sweden

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

Richard Zabel, the Deputy United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Diego Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the return of two antique books that were stolen from the National Library of Sweden in the 1990s.

Deputy U.S. Attorney Richard Zabel said: “For hundreds of years, the National Library of Sweden’s collection of books, maps, and manuscripts was treasured by the kings and queens of Sweden.  In many ways, the Library contains the cultural memory of Sweden.  The theft of pieces of a nation’s memory and heritage creates holes in its intellectual soul.  There is no repair for such holes without the recovery of what was taken.  I’m proud that this Office has been at the forefront of recovering what has been taken from many different nations’ cultural histories, including Sweden today.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez said:  “We are honored to be part of reparation ceremonies, like the one we are holding here today, because we are able to return a piece of missing history to a country. The books returned today are a significant part of Sweden’s history. The FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and hopefully return stolen artifacts and cultural items to their home countries.”

The two books being returned are part of a group of at least 56 rare or one-of-a-kind books that were stolen from the National Library of Sweden’s collection by Anders Burius (“Burius”), a former employee of the Library, between 1995 and 2004.  After stealing the books, Burius consigned or sold the books to Ketterer Kunst (“Ketterer”), an auction house in Germany.  In 2004, Burius confessed to the book thefts and admitted to Swedish law enforcement officials that he had sold and/or consigned the books to Ketterer under the alias “Carl/Karl Fields.”  Shortly after confessing to the thefts, Burius committed suicide.  Swedish authorities subsequently received information that 13 of the stolen books had been sold by Ketterer to individuals and/or entities in the United States.

The books being returned today are a Christopher Scheiner book entitled “Oculus, hoc est: fundamentum opticum, in quo ex accurate oculi anatome, abstrusarum experientiarum sedula pervestigatione,” printed in 1619 by Danielem Agricolam Oeniponti (the “Scheiner book”), and a Nicolo Sabbattini book entitled “Practica di fabricar scene, e machine ne’teatri.  Ristampata di nouo coll’ Aggiunta del secondo libro,” printed in 1638 by Battista Giouannelli Pietro de’Paoli e Gio (the “Sabbatini book”).  The Scheiner book, which is a famous work in the history of optics, was purchased on May 28, 1999, by bookseller Jonathan A. Hill, who had no knowledge of the book’s theft.  Mr. Hill subsequently sold the Scheiner book to Cornell University, which also had no knowledge of the book’s theft, and which, after being contacted by the FBI about the theft, voluntarily agreed to return the book to the Library.  The Sabbatini book, an important work concerning stagecraft and theater machinery, was purchased on November 19, 2001, by Richard Lan, a gallery owner in New York.  Lan had no knowledge of the Sabbatini book’s theft and, after being contacted by the FBI about the theft, voluntarily agreed to return the book to the Library.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York entered into stipulations with Cornell University and the gallery owner, in which both Cornell University and Lan consented to tender their respective books to the FBI, to allow for the return of these books to the National Library of Sweden.  The stipulations were so ordered by the United States District Court on June 1, 2015.  The Scheiner book and the Sabbatini book were returned to representatives of the National Library of Sweden earlier today at a repatriation ceremony held at the United States Attorney’s Office in New York.  

A list of missing books stolen from the National Library of Sweden between 1995 and 2004 can be found here.

Mr. Zabel praised the investigative work of the FBI in this matter, and its ongoing efforts to find and repatriate stolen property.

This matter is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christine I. Magdo and Sarah E. Paul are in charge of the case.

Updated June 17, 2015

Press Release Number: 15-144