Trove of Looted Antiquities Belonging to Disgraced Dealer Robin Symes Found in Geneva Freeport

Symes was linked to a trafficking ring and sent to prison 2005.

One of the priceless Etruscan sarcophagus found the cache at the Geneva port.Photo: © Ministère Public Genevois.
One of the priceless Etruscan sarcophagus found the cache at the Geneva port.
Photo: © Ministère Public Genevois.

Forty-five crates containing a trove of Roman and Etruscan antiquities belonging to Robin Symes, a disgraced British art dealer who was sent to prison in 2005, have been found in the Geneva Freeport.

The operation was carried out by the art crime department of Italy’s Carabinieri police in collaboration with the Swiss authorities. The antiquities were returned to Rome early last month, according to Le Temps, and are expected to be unveiled at a press conference later this week.

According to the Telegraph, the trove of antiquities had been languishing in the Geneva vault for over 15 years, kept in boxes labeled with the details of an off-shore company, but belonging in fact to Symes, as police confirmed.

The cache includes two life-size Etruscan sarcophaguses, one depicting an elderly man and the second, a young woman. These are extremely rare and priceless items dating from the second century BC, the Telegraph reports.

The second Etruscan sarcophagus found in the cache at the Geneva Freeport.Photo: © Ministère Public Genevois.

The second Etruscan sarcophagus found in the cache at the Geneva Freeport.
Photo: © Ministère Public Genevois.

A priceless assortment of terracotta pots, decorated vases, busts, bas-reliefs, and fragments of frescoes from Pompeii were also found in the trove, thought to include a variety of artifacts looted from the ancient Etruscan city of Tarquinia and other archaeological sites in the Italian areas now known as Umbria and Lazio.

The investigation first began in March 2014, when Italian police suspected the looted antiquities might have been stored in the Swiss vault. The public prosecutor’s office of Geneva joined the investigation and located the trove, then linked it to Symes.

Symes, once a successful and reputable antiquities dealer in London, fell from grace when he was accused of belonging to an international network of antiquities looters and traffickers. Symes was convicted for two counts of contempt of court for disregarding orders in relation to the sale of a £3 million Egyptian statue and, in January 2005, was sent to prison for two years. He served only seven months.

To complicate things further, according to the Daily Mail, photographs of the items contained in the Symes cache were located in the possession of an Italian policeman found dead in strange circumstances while under investigation for art trafficking in 1995.

One of the numerous antique terracotta pots found in the cache at the Geneva Freeport.Photo: © Ministère Public Genevois.

One of the numerous antique terracotta pots found in the cache at the Geneva Freeport.
Photo: © Ministère Public Genevois.

Last Friday, The Local reported that the J. Paul Getty Museum had finally returned to Italy a rare terracotta head representing the Greek god of Hades, which was found to have been smuggled from Italy over three decades ago. The museum had initiated the return in 2013.

The precious head had been on display at the LA museum since 1985, when it was purchased for $500,000 from Maurice Tempelsman, the Belgian businessman and long-time companion of former US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, via Symes.


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