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U.S. Returns Smuggled Italy Artwork

February 29, 2000

ROME (AP) _ The United States returned a 2,450-year-old golden plate that had been spirited out of Italy by smugglers, but asked Italy in return Tuesday to clamp down on modern-day pirates.

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foglietta praised Italian police and U.S. customs workers for tracking down the artifact, but urged Italy in turn to crack down on pirated American goods at a ceremony marking the return of the Greek-inspired vessel.

``The works of genius of living artists may seem more prosaic, but they also need to be protected from theft,″ Foglietta said, referring to unauthorized copies of music CDs and computer software widely sold in Italy and other nations.

Italy’s culture minister said the return of the solid gold platter, which dates from 450 B.C., when Sicily was ruled by Greece, marked a step forward for repatriation of cultural artifacts.

``In the future, when treasures are stolen, they must be returned to their country of origin,″ Culture Minister Giovanna Melandri said at a news conference displaying the glittering plate together with a Roman fresco returned from Switzerland.

The plate was excavated illegally during construction work near Palermo, Sicily around 1984, spirited to Switzerland in 1991 and then bought by a Manhattan collector.

The collector fought a five-year legal battle to retain possession but eventually lost out when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal against a July 1999 repatriation order.

The fresco depicting a peacock, dating from first-century Pompeii and missing since 1957, was returned following its discovery by officials examining a private Swiss collector’s catalogue.

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