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Trove of antiquities found in secret Swiss store—and they are linked to a disgraced British art dealer

Objects widely thought to be connected to Robin Symes will be unveiled in Rome this week

by Anny Shaw, Gareth Harris  |  2 February 2016
Trove of antiquities found in secret Swiss store—and they are linked to a disgraced British art dealer
One of the antiquities found in store in Geneva. Photo: © Ministère public genevois
Swiss and Italian police have discovered a haul of priceless Roman and Etruscan antiquities in the Geneva Freeport widely reported to be linked to Robin Symes, a former British dealer with a chequered past.

Forty five crates containing objects including two life-size sarcophagi, as well as fragments allegedly from Pompeii, were seized by Swiss authorities after a tip-off from the Carabinieri and have been returned to Rome. The artefacts, due to be unveiled at a press conference later this week, have been hidden in the Swiss warehouse for 15 years. The store was registered to an offshore company.

Prosecutors in Geneva said that the objects were “exceptional pieces (which were taken from) clandestine excavations”. The investigation was first launched in 2014 by the Italian authorities, and the search was taken up by the public prosecutor’s office in Geneva. Italian experts concluded that most of the antiquities were illegally excavated in the regions of Lazio and Umbria.

  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois
  • Photo: © Ministère public genevois


According to the Telegraph, Symes stored his collection of antiquities in 29 warehouses around the world, including Switzerland, during a lengthy court battle with the family of his late partner, Christo Michaelidis. He eventually lost the bitter legal fight and declared bankruptcy.

In 2006, The Medici Conspiracy, a book by the investigative journalist Peter Watson, linked Symes to an illegal antiquities network, but the former dealer was never charged and has denied that he knowingly sold looted goods. Symes served prison time in 2005 for contempt of court in an unrelated case; he could not be reached for comment.

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