By Dan Fastenberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fifty-eight stolen antiquities worth an estimated $19 million were returned to Italy by New York authorities in a ceremony on Tuesday.
The items, many on display at the city's Metropolitan Museum of Art for years, included "The Marble Head of Athena," worth an estimated $3 million.
"We are privileged to return it today," said Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, chief of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office's antiquities trafficking unit, promising "many more seizures and many more repatriations" over the rest of the year.
The returned items also included a drinking cup called "White-Ground Kylix," "Bronze Bust of a Man," and vases, platters and other kitchenware. Some came from the collection of billionaire hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt.
The antiquities were sold by convicted looters, including Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina, who used locals to raid unguarded sites in Italy, according to the Manhattan DA's office.
The pieces are "part of our past, our ancestors," Italian police General Roberto Riccardi said at the ceremony. "And they belong to the community. They will go back to the community to which they belong and to the future generations."
Since the start of 2010s, Bogdanos' antiquities unit has seized 4,500 pieces valued at more than $250 million, he said.
Bogdanos attributes the success to unprecedented cooperation.
"It's happening now because ... the Manhattan District Attorney's Office formed the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, the only one of its kind in the world in which prosecutors, investigators and analysts are all on the same team."
(Reporting by Dan Fastenberg; Editing by Richard Chang and Stephen Coates)