Italy's campaign to recover allegedly looted treasures from museums and collectors worldwide is helping reduce the illegal international traffic of archaeological artifacts stolen from the country, officials said Thursday.
Art thefts in 2007 were down by more than 10 percent compared to 2006, while illegal excavations decreased by four percent, said Gen.
Giovanni Nistri, who heads the art squad of the Carabinieri paramilitary police.
«The figures show how, at the moment, international trafficking ... is surely declining,» Nistri said at a presentation of his unit's yearly report. «In 2007, the trafficking of archaeological items was more domestic and involved objects of less important quality.
Italy is aggressively combatting the pillage of its archaeological and artistic treasures. Its efforts include seeking the return of hundreds of antiquities it claims were dug up clandestinely, smuggled out of the country and sold to top museums worldwide.
So far, Italy has secured the return of dozens of Roman, Greek and Etruscan artifacts from museums including California's J. Paul Getty Museum and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Nistri said that illegally excavated artifacts were generally channeled through Switzerland _ long considered a hub of illegal trafficking _ before reaching other destinations including the United States.
That conduit has been drying up since Italy and Switzerland signed a deal in 2006 under which customs officials must ensure that importers of antiquities have proof of the artifact's origin and of its lawful export from the neighboring country.
No major art theft was reported this year in Italy and thefts from museums also decreased, Nistri said.
«The fact that items are recovered is discouraging (the thefts),» Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli told reporters at the presentation.
The art squad report said that over 95,000 paintings, ancient books and other items were recovered this year _ an increase of 457 percent compared to last year_ while over 28,000 archaeological artifacts were recovered, 16 percent more than 2006.
Italy's art squad, founded in 1969, monitors some 6,000 archaeological sites. A 1939 law makes all antiquities found in the country state property.
Not sure I follow the logic in this one ... how do they know that legal excavations have declined by four per cent? Doesn't it really mean they (the art squad) found out about four percent fewer illegal excavations? And even with that, what does that mean? One fewer than last year?