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Looted artefacts restored to Italy from Geneva

Italian and Swiss police have recovered priceless archaeological artefacts stolen from Italy and stored by a notorious British antiquities dealer, the Italian culture ministry says.

Looted artefacts restored to Italy from Geneva
Italy has recovered crates of stolen artefacts. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

The haul, worth nine million euros ($10 million), was discovered in 2014 in a storage unit at the Geneva Freeport rented by Britain's disgraced Robin Symes, a giant in the illegal antiquities trade with ties to Italian tomb raiders.

“Forty-five crates containing tens of thousands of archaeological relics of extraordinary quality” were returned to Rome in January, said Italy's Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, as they were unveiled to the press for the first time.

The booty included Etruscan painted sarcophaguses representing human figures, a Roman sarcophagus, marble statues of animals and pieces of the floor and walls of a temple, all dating to between the 7th century BC and 2nd century AD.

Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

They were stolen from digs in Sicily, Puglia, Campania and Calabria in the 1970s and 80s,” said prosecutor Giancarlo Capaldo, adding that the loot had been smuggled into the Freeport decades ago, where it lay hidden.

Italian sleuths tracked the artefacts after seizing incriminating papers from an art smuggler, and they were discovered during a joint sting with Swiss police on Symes's storage unit.

Capaldo said the plot had been to restore the statues, tiles and sarcophaguses and sell them on to clients in Japan, Germany and other countries under false papers.

“This is one of the most important recoveries of the last few decades,”Franceschini said, adding that the antiquities would be restored and returned to the regions across southern Italy from which they were stolen.

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SKI

Switzerland heavily criticised for welcoming foreign skiers

Italy has hit out at Switzerland for failing to prevent foreign skiers from hitting the slopes. Some have gone so far as to blame Switzerland for the spread of virus mutations across Europe.

Switzerland heavily criticised for welcoming foreign skiers
The mighty Matterhorn lies on the border with Italy. Photo by AFP
Italy's government last week blocked ski resorts from reopening, the day before skiing was due to be allowed for the first time this winter season due to coronavirus restrictions.
There is also a ban on non-essential travel until February 25th.

“It's a disaster. For a week now, we have been readying the slopes for the opening and preparing the health protocol,” said Denis Trabucchi, an Italian ski instructor. 

But the ban has not stopped Italian snow enthusiasts from hitting the slopes on the Swiss side of the border, as Switzerland has kept its ski infrastructure open despite the pandemic.

Many Swiss and Italian pistes lie close to each other so it is an easy commute from one resort to another.

The mayors of Italian border towns are annoyed that local skiers are ‘emigrating’ to Swiss ski slopes, according to the Provincio di Como newspaper.

“Cross-border skiers are not as numerous as cross-border workers, of course, but ski traffic has increased,” said Massimiliano Tam, mayor of Villa di Chiavenna, a town in Lombardy.

He said that despite bans on such border hopping, many Italians rent apartments on the Swiss side of the frontier so they can ski.

Roberto Galli, the mayor of Livigno, a ski resort in the Italian Alps, is also livid at the “cross-border ski mobility”.

“Customs controls are really limited” he said, calling for more rigorous checks “especially for Italian cars with ski racks and snow on the roof”.

Italian authorities even went as far as blaming Switzerland for the spread of the pandemic across Europe. 

Walter Ricciardi, the head of the Italian government's coronavirus task force, said Switzerland's decision to keep ski slopes open throughout winter, while neighbouring countries shut down theirs, allowed the British strain of coronavirus to arrive on the continent.

READ MORE: Is Switzerland to blame for Europe’s third wave of coronavirus?

A similar situation occurred in December, when French skiers tried to sneak into Switzerland to ski.

France’s authorities quickly announced that French residents heading abroad to ski would have to self-isolate for seven days on return and that border checks would be stepped up in certain areas. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are the Covid-19 rules for skiing in Switzerland this winter? 
 

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