Frescoes stolen from ancient tomb go on display in Italy

ROME Five frescoed stone slabs stolen from a tomb in the ancient city of Paestum and trafficked by a notorious artifact smuggler went on display in Italy on Thursday after a 10-year investigation. Police were led to the pieces, all dating from around 400 BC, after an international trafficker known as "The Captain" died in a road accident, leaving thousands of photographs of archaeological finds in his car.A police squad dedicated to tracking down art and artifacts dug up illegally from Italy's numerous ancient sites traced the slabs to the Italian-Swiss border and brought them to Rome. The frescoes show a noble lady and her slave girls, a triumphant warrior on horseback and a young armed man walking with a donkey. Each slab has a ragged crack across the middle, having been cut in half to make smuggling easier. Paestum, a ruined city near Naples originally founded by the ancient Greeks, boasts hundreds of unique ancient tombs. Site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel said illegal digs such as the one that yielded the five frescoes were "devastating". "I invite you to appreciate the beauty of this tomb, but also to reflect on this illicit business and the market that creates opportunities for it," he added.Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, speaking at a news conference with Zuchtriegel, cited the plundering of antiquities in Syria by Islamic State militants, who he said made money by illegally selling fragments. (Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Alison Williams) Read more

Rare, 25-carat pink diamond found among Imelda Marcos collection: Christie's

MANILA A rare 25-carat, barrel-shaped pink diamond has been found among the jewelry collection of former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, Christie's said on Tuesday after the government asked the auction house to appraise her collection of rare stones.The Philippine government could decide to auction the collection after Christie's and rival Sotheby's appraise three sets of jewelry confiscated almost three decades ago after the fall of Imelda's husband, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos."We had an extremely exciting find," said David Warren, director of jewelry at London-based Christie's. "We found an old briolette-cut diamond, which is 25 carats. It has a distinct pink color. Pink diamonds are exceedingly rare."He said the diamond could be valued at $5 million and would significantly increase the value of the entire collection if the collection is auctioned. The three sets in the collection were valued at $6 million-8 million in 1991.Only three pure, vivid pink diamonds of more than 10 carats have appeared for sale in almost 250 years of auction history, according to Christie's. A large cushion-shaped, pink-hued diamond sold for $28.55 million at the Christie's semi-annual jewelry sale in Geneva on Nov. 10.The Philippine government had tried to auction the three sets in 2005 but Imelda Marcos contested the move, claiming ownership of only two of the sets. One was found in the presidential palace after her family's hasty departure in 1986 and another was seized in Hawaii, where they lived in exile.Imelda Marcos, now an elected member of Congress, is best known for leaving behind more than 1,200 pairs of shoes when her family fled. She has vowed to recover her family's seized assets. Ferdinand Marcos was president for nearly two decades before he was ousted in an army-backed uprising in 1986. He was accused of amassing more than $10 billion while in office and died in exile in 1989.Among his assets were paintings by such masters as Monet, Picasso and Van Gogh.The government displayed the 750 pieces in the three sets of jewelery to the media. The collection, kept in a vault at the central bank, includes Burmese rubies, Indian and South African diamonds and Colombian emeralds. "It shows you the excesses of the Marcos regime," said Andrew de Castro, commissioner of the state agency tasked with recovering the wealth amassed by the Marcoses and their cronies."At a time when people were suffering, they were collecting this set of jewelery," he said.Sotheby's will appraise the collection on Thursday. (Reporting by Karen Lema; Writing by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Paul Tait) Read more

FBI investigates violent arrest of fan at Ole Miss football game

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into the violent arrest of a fan at University of Mississippi football game after a video showed a security officer punching the man in the face during the arrest, school officials said Monday.The video, which went viral over the weekend, shows two security officers confronting a man in the stands at Saturday's matchup between Ole Miss and Louisiana State University at the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss.The man is identified as Chris Barnes by his wife, Holly Barnes, who posted the video on her Facebook page. In the video, Chris Barnes is smiling during his conversation with the officers when one of them appears to punch or push him, causing him to fall down behind some nearby spectators.The officers pull Barnes back up, and then one officer punches him in the face as the crowd around them reacts in shock and some fans start trying to pull Barnes away from the officers. "We do not tolerate violent behavior on our campus, and our request for an independent FBI investigation should make it clear that we are taking this situation very seriously," said University Police Department Chief Tim Potts in a news release.The release said the FBI arrived on campus on Monday to begin their inquiry. The officer in question, who has not been identified, was an off-duty officer from the nearby New Albany Police Department working security for the game and has been placed on paid leave pending the investigation, New Albany Police Chief Chris Robertson said in a statement.Barnes was arrested during the incident and posted bail four hours later, his wife said in her post. It was unclear what charge he was booked on, and officials at the Lafayette County Jail declined to release the information. Barnes asked friends to take him to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with a concussion, fractures to his orbital wall and maxillary sinus and damage to eye tissue, Holly Barnes posted."This all stemmed because the officers thought he did something that someone a few rows up did and blamed him and his friends," she wrote in her post, which asked that the officer who punched her husband be punished. "YOU ARE NOT ABOVE THE LAW. THIS IS NOT OK." (Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by David Gregorio) Read more

Italy art critics, politicians recriminate after $16 million paintings heist

ROME Amid recriminations and wildly diverging theories, Italian politicians and art critics are still trying to comprehend a dramatic robbery which saw 17 paintings including several masterpieces taken from a museum in Verona this week.The paintings worth an estimated 15 million euros ($16 million), including works by Tintoretto, Mantegna and Peter Paul Rubens, were stolen by three armed robbers shortly before the Castelvecchio museum closed on Thursday evening.Art historian and critic Tomaso Montanari wrote in la Repubblica daily on Saturday that it was "inconceivable" that the museum was defended by only "a single, private armed guard, like a supermarket".He blamed "savage" public spending cuts on culture, and called for much tougher sentences for art thieves.Verona's Mayor Flavio Tosi said the theft was "a wound for the city," and asked for increased protection from central government. But he rejected criticism of the security measures that were in place. A city council spokesman said the thieves had acted just after the museum's 11 staff had left but before the remote alarm system with the police station had been activated. They tied up the museum cashier and forced the armed guard to hand over the key to his car, which they used to get away.Art critic Vittorio Sgarbi, a former junior culture minister, said the theft was "an absolute disaster" for Italy and "one of the most serious art robberies in our history." He suggested it may have been organized by Islamist militants as a "demonstrative act" because the paintings would be instantly recognizable and virtually impossible to sell. Mayor Tosi said the thieves were working under commission but Alberto Deregibus, deputy head of the Carabinieri police unit for safeguarding the national heritage, said this was unlikely in view of the large number of paintings stolen. "It may have just been delinquents who thought: 'let's steal them and decide later what to do with them'," he said. (Reporting By Gavin Jones; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky) Read more

Early season snowstorm coats Midwestern U.S., affects travel

CHICAGO/DES MOINES, Iowa A heavy fall snowstorm hit the Midwestern United States on Saturday, blanketing states from South Dakota to Wisconsin with as much as 16 inches (40 cm) of snow, slowing air travel and delaying some events for U.S. presidential candidates.The storm was forecast to travel east into the Great Lakes region, reaching Michigan and upstate New York according to the National Weather Service. It forecast widespread accumulations of 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm) of snow.Forecasters warned that trees that had not already dropped their leaves could be damaged by the heavy, wet snow."We have snow across the area with heavier amounts across northern Illinois," said Amy Seeley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Chicago.While it is uncommon for the Midwest to see such heavy snowfall so early in the year, the storm is not unprecedented, Seeley said, noting that an early November storm in 1951 dropped 9.3 inches of snow over the area."This has happened before, but obviously it's not as common to have this much snow in November," she said. In Chicago, Brian Love, 50, headed out anyway, stopping at a local pharmacy before making a library run."This is good weather to push my bike in," Love said. "The only thing you can do is walk it because it's too slushy and too deep to actually ride."Robert Schneck, 52, a worker for the maintenance division of suburban Park Forest, Illinois, had been called out for an unusual Saturday shift because of the storm. "It couldn't be light and fluffy. It had to be heavy and wet," he said. "Gotta clear a path for people to walk."The storm also caused several Republican presidential candidates to cancel events in Iowa, home of the critical first nominating caucus. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, cut some events from their schedules while U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas canceled plans to visit the state. Snow was forecast to continue into the early evening hours, with single-digit Fahrenheit temperatures hitting parts of the northern Midwest overnight, she said.The storm affected air travel, with 514 U.S. flights canceled by Saturday morning, with Chicago's O'Hare International and Midway International airports the hardest hit. One in three Midway departures had been canceled by 9:30 a.m. (1530 GMT).The Illinois and Michigan Departments of Transportation warned that snow and ice-covered roads would require slow travel. (Reporting by Nikkita Foston in Chicago and Emily Stephenson in Des Moines, Iowa; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Digby Lidstone and Sandra Maler) Read more

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