Hiding in plain sight: artefacts seized from display in Italian bank

By Federico Maccioni

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian authorities have seized a valuable archaeological collection that had been on display in a meeting hall in the headquarters of an Italian regional bank, police said in a statement on Friday.

The Carabinieri police confiscated pottery artefacts that were kept inside the main branch of Banca Popolare di Bari, in the south-eastern region of Puglia, with the current management blissfully unaware of the items' illicit origins.

The 103 ceramic artefacts, including vases, plates and jugs, date back to between the 5th century B.C. and the first century A.D., and are of "inestimable cultural-historical worth and an extremely important economic value," police said.

The collection came into the bank's possession in 2009 after a transaction worth 100,000 euros ($103,640) was sponsored by the then chief executive and backed by the board.

However, the previous owners had never obtained an official property certificate for the collection in spite of declaring part of it to the relevant authorities.

Four unnamed people are under preliminary investigation for allegedly receiving stolen goods and concealing cultural heritage items, police said.

Popolare di Bari, the biggest bank in Italy's disadvantaged south, was bailed out by peers in a government-backed rescue in 2019.($1 = 0.9649 euros)

(Reporting by Federico Maccioni and Alvise Armellini, editing by Keith Weir)