NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office returned five ancient coins to the government of Greece Monday, after the prosecution of a prominent collector from Rhode Island.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and Greek officials held a ceremony marking the repatriation of coins dating to about 515 B.C.
“The people of Greece gave us democracy, medicine, astronomy, and the Olympics, so this really is a small price to pay,” Vance said.
The coins will be returned to a museum display.
“The coins being returned to us by the New York County District Attorney are exquisite ancient artifacts that reflect Greece’s culture, history and enduring strength,” said Ambassador Christos Panagopoulos. “Back home, where they belong, they will be displayed — with the gratitude of the Greek people to the DA — for all to admire, our citizens and visitors to Greece alike.”
The coins were part of a case against Rhode Island hand surgeon and coin aficionado Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss, whose January 2012 arrest during a coin auction at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel roiled the numismatic world.
An orthopedics professor at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School and author of a hand-surgery textbook, Weiss also had been on a coin collector and investor for 35 years and had served as on the board of the American Numismatic Society.
He later pleaded guilty to attempted criminal possession of stolen property. Those charges involved three coins he thought were fourth century B.C. Greek pieces that had been illegally taken from Italy — but were actually forgeries, prosecutors said. Weiss was aiming to sell one of them for about $350,000 and two others for about $1.2 million apiece, prosecutors said.
Weiss also forfeited his interest in about 20 other coins as part of his plea agreement, which also required him to do 70 hours of community service and write an article about the problem of trading in coins of uncertain origin.
His prosecution furthered a series of court cases and disputes over collecting and trading in objects that Italy and other countries consider looted pieces of their cultural patrimony.
Institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles have agreed to return various items to Italy. A former Getty assistant curator was criminally prosecuted in Rome, but the trial ended in 2010 with a judge saying the statute of limitations had expired.
Other countries, including Turkey and Greece, also have taken action in recent years to reclaim antiquities.
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