ALTHOUGH THE ANTIQUITIES themselves formed the most vivid and moving aspect of the seizure in Geneva, there was no less interest—for Conforti and for Ferri—in the documentation found in the back office behind Medici’s showroom. While the three archaeologists concentrated on the objects, the paperwork became the responsibility of Maurizio Pellegrini, a photographic and document expert who had one foot in the public prosecutor’s office and the other in the Villa Giulia. Pellegrini was not an officially trained archaeologist, but he had a great deal of knowledge in that field and his examination of the documentation was an exercise in detective work that was no less complex than the archaeologists’ daunting task.

Of medium build, with wavy salt-and-pepper hair, spectacles, and a slightly academic temperament, Pellegrini was, on the surface, a gentle, reserved soft-spoken man, but he proved to be tenacious and strongwilled. He revealed the type of obsessive personality that provides the exacting attention to detail required to trace the hidden links among letters, invoices, and photographs, which did so much to reveal the clever subterfuges in Medici’s business and in his relationships with others. On their trips to Geneva, Pellegrini worked shoulder to shoulder with Bartoloni, Colonna, and Zevi. He shared dinners with them and mainly listened in as Bartoloni and Zevi aired their academic disagreements.

The size of the task facing Pellegrini may be gauged from the fact that there were in Medici’s warehouse thirty albums of Polaroids, fifteen envelopes with photographs, and twelve envelopes with rolls of film. Besides the albums of photographs, Pellegrini calculated that some 100 full rolls of exposed film were seized, making a total of 3,600 images. In addition there was enough paper to fill 173 faldoni, white legal binders, each about six inches thick and tied with white laces. In all, there were close to 35,000 sheets of paper.

His job was not made any easier by the fact that, to begin with at least, he could only consult the documents in Switzerland. He wasn’t allowed to photocopy anything, so he was confined to taking notes and using his memory for matters that were of special interest to him. Then, when he returned to Rome, he would cross town and compare his notes with, for example, exhibition catalogs in museum libraries, or in auction catalogs at Sotheby’s. It was arduous, but after he began to make progress and understand more fully Medici’s business arrangements, he initiated through Ferri a formal request for some of the documentation from the Swiss authorities. This request was granted, and toward the end of 1998, he made a special trip, on his own, to photocopy what he needed.

Just as the three archaeologists had been in an historically unprecedented situation in their examination of the objects under seizure at the Geneva Freeport, so Pellegrini was also in a unique position, for in addition to the documentation seized from Medici, he also had access to the documentation from James Hodges and official Sotheby’s records, both of which showed who bought and sold what at a number of Sotheby’s sales in London. Pellegrini furthermore had access to scientific publications and to the public prosecutor’s files for other ongoing cases in Italy. He therefore had an unrivaled vantage point from which to view the interconnections of the antiquities underworld in an unvarnished way.

The first thing that he observed was that some documentation was original, and other papers were photocopies. This was a simple point—obvious, you would think—but it would prove important in establishing the links between Medici and others in the underground network. The second thing of importance that Pellegrini observed was that the photographic material was of three kinds. There were regular photographs—both prints and negatives—and there were Polaroids. Professional archaeologists do not use Polaroids: The quality is simply not good enough for scientific recording. The use of Polaroid photographs, therefore, was strongly suggestive of clandestine activity, mainly because they offer the advantage that they are instant and do not need to be processed through an independent laboratory that might be a security risk. The third type of photographic material comprised official photographs published in scientific reports.

But there was another aspect to the photography, especially the Polaroid photography, which attracted Pellegrini’s early interest. The Polaroids fell into distinct groups. First, there were photographs of objects that were encrusted with dirt or calcarious deposits, in which the antiquities were often broken and incomplete. In other words, these objects were photographed near where they were excavated, in nearby fields or farmyards, in the houses of tombaroli, even on the back of a truck in one case. Next, however, there were many Polaroids showing the same objects restored, with the fragments joined together. In many cases, although the fragments had been joined together, the joins of the fragments were still visible, as were the gaps (the lacunae) where parts of the vases, say, were still missing. In due course, Pellegrini pieced together why the objects had been photographed in this state—but not at first.

Next came a series of photographs—Polaroids again—in which once more the same objects were depicted, but this time they had been fully restored, with the joins covered over and repainted and polished to look almost as good as new. In some cases, as Pellegrini worked through the documents, he found that many of these restored objects were also depicted in auction house catalogs or in museum publications. Finally, there was a most interesting set of photographs in which Medici, and sometimes others, were pictured alongside antiquities that were on display in particular museums. Over the months, Pellegrini was able to sift the photographs in such a way that, for dozens of objects, he could reconstruct an entire sequence: from objects just out of the ground, dirty and broken, to being restored, to being on display in the world’s museums. Medici, it turned out, was a stickler for keeping records, and it was the photographs that provided Pellegrini with the first inkling of the totality of Medici’s involvement. Many of the photographs had writing on them that directed him elsewhere in the documentation, and no less important, many showed interiors that he began to recognize as the investigation proceeded. This also helped him to piece together the complex web of interrelationships that would in time be fully exposed.


Pellegrini had to start somewhere, so he chose what was far and away the most immediately shocking set of photographs. This was a folder with, on the outside, the words “Pitture romane Via Bo.” It contained a number of transparent envelopes holding negatives, some travel documents that appeared to indicate that certain frescoes had traveled between Switzerland and the United States, and a handful of invoices that appeared to indicate that the frescoes were valued at $141,000. A “ProForma Invoice,” handwritten but on Atlantis Antiquities–headed notepaper, at 40 East 69th Street, listed sixteen objects, including “Noir et jaune. Dessins géométrique,” “Rouge, vert, brun. 5 figures encadrées,” and so on. The list seemed to relate to the frescoes in the warehouse, or some of them, but all did not become clear for a few weeks. On a subsequent visit, Pellegrini had with him a special digital film camera that was able to convert negatives into positive images. He fitted the various negatives into the device and, eventually, reached the wall paintings.

“Mi é preso un colpo!” he breathed. “I was hit.” He couldn’t believe his eyes, and he called out to the professors.

Zevi, the first to reach him, took the camera. “He was speechless,” says Pellegrini. “Scandalized.”

What the images revealed was a dismaying sequence—“a real horror,” as he wrote in his report—in which the first pictures showed three walls of what any expert could recognize as a Vesuvian/Pompeian villa. They could make this identification because the three walls were frescoed in what is called the Campanian II style. The decoration on Roman villas went through what art historians and archaeologists recognize as four styles, between the second century BC and AD 79. Campanian II comes second in this chronology, and decorations in that style differ from what came before and after in consisting of more panoramic landscapes, mythological scenes, and certain architectural features.

The photographs showed three walls partially cleaned of the lapillae filling the room. Two of them were in red, pale blue, and gray. These walls showed two female figures in the foreground with, below them, miniaturized masks and smaller figures. On the right wall was shown an architectural drawing of a two-story building, with a similar symmetric design opposite, on the left wall. In other words, in this first sequence of photographs, the room—or one end of it—is intact. “The frescoes are in an excellent state of conservation, both pictorially and structurally.” However, besides the walls of the room, the photographs also showed a mass of earth mixed with lapillae covering the floor and filling the space to a depth of a few feet; lapillae also encrust the ceiling area. Lapillae are a tell-tale sign to any Italian archaeologist. They are small balls of volcanic ash, formed after the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, which buried so much of the surrounding countryside south of Naples. This was further confirmation, in addition to the subject matter and pictorial style of the frescoes, that this room had been part of a villa that was one of those overwhelmed by the eruption of the famous volcano, but not one known to the official archaeologists. The first sequence of photographs therefore confirmed that this had been a very important discovery, made in a clandestine “excavation” by some tombaroli. It was the next set of photographs, however, that constituted the “horror.”

This second set showed the image of the central wall—the one with the two female figures and the figurines—but laid out like a giant jigsaw. The images had been cut from the original wall, in a number of highly irregular pieces, each in size about as big as a laptop, and then put back together again on panels that were framed—edged—in wood. The fresco had been taken off the villa wall, detached from its right and left companions, and cut up into chunks. That it was the same image was quite clear to Pellegrini, even though there were gaps between the separate pieces: The two females were clearly visible and recognizable. In his report, Pellegrini commented that this operation, normally highly technical (when done by archaeologists), was here done crudely and in a hurry, without any regard for the integrity or sanctity of the images but simply so that the fresco could be quickly and more easily smuggled abroad. This was not all. Other sets of photographs showed that the same procedure had been employed with both the right-hand and the left-hand walls.

Another fresco was shown to have been similarly brutalized. This wall, primarily ochre in color with dark green-to-black painting, showed different shaped vases surrounded by dark borders and, higher up, a rearing horse in a circle of leaves. These images too had been broken into laptopsized chunks, and they were photographed in the process of reassembly, on a trestle table with brushes, jars, and other restoration implements in the shot. In the next photo, the pieces are shown roughly assembled, with about an inch between segments, then more closely aligned as the restoration is completed. It is almost as if the restorers have taken pride in the vandalism.

That was not all. Two of the walls depicted in the photographs were found in the Freeport, packed in bubble wrap and leaning against a wall, as though they were about to be shipped out. The third wall, however, was missing and had presumably already been sold. It has not been seen since. The same may apply to other photographs of other frescoes, which may have been subjected to the same treatment. They include one picture of a head in a semicircular lunette. This was just lying on the floor in the Freeport warehouse. In fact, the Italians don’t know how much Medici had or what he sold. From the dimensions of the walls, it appears that the photographs relate only to the solid lines in the diagram below, and that the room could easily have been of the dimensions outlined by the dotted lines.


Possibly worse than all this was the final sequence in the horse and vases fresco. For, in the end, these images were not reassembled together. This time the pieces had been formed into single panels of smaller dimensions that, Pellegrini concluded, were more easily “placeable” on the market at more accessible prices and were worth more as individual pieces than the complete image if sold as “just one” fresco. In the paperwork, photocopies of two of the vases—inside the square boundaries—were included with a consignment note to an auction house, with the value “$10” attached, which, as Pellegrini noted, must have meant $10,000.

This, then, was the distressing starting point for Pellegrini. It revealed the scale of the traffic in illegally excavated antiquities, and the brutality shown by the tombaroli and those above them in respect to important and beautiful ancient objects, as well as the utter indifference to the archaeological importance of Italy’s heritage, and it showed how inappropriate the word “excavation” is when applied to these activities. The frescoes of at least one important villa had been rudely and crudely ripped from their context and sold off to people (“collectors”) who might profess to care about archaeological objects but obviously had no interest in the original and proper context. One wonders what else was found and looted from this villa, clearly no poor man’s hovel. This indifference applied to everyone in the chain: from the tombaroli to the middlemen, the smugglers, and the restorers, to the auction house personnel, to collectors and to museum curators—wherever these objects end up. It was a matter of money and greed, pure and simple.

Pellegrini had copies made of the photographs of the Vesuvian-Pompeian villa and pinned them above his desk. They fired his indignation and spurred him to explore the paper trail with ever greater determination. For the mild-mannered Pellegrini, the next months would become a crusade.


Although Giacomo Medici was the main target of the public prosecutor, and despite the fact that the sheer quantity and quality of antiquities found in Geneva confirmed that he was indeed a major trafficker in the illicit trade, the Italian authorities knew that he was by no means the only important figure in the underground network. Many years of experience, Pasquale Camera’s organigram found in Rome, and the Sotheby’s documentation leaked by James Hodges all underlined that Medici was just one figure—albeit the most important—in a much larger network. From the start, therefore, Pellegrini was most concerned to sift the documents for other names, other powerful names, people who might link Medici with the international antiquities world: the great auction houses, dealers, galleries, collectors, and museums in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Paris, London, and New York that as often as not seemed to turn a blind eye to the shady origins of this trade. Would the Medici documentation throw any light on this?

Spurred on by the evidence of the Vesuvian-Pompeian villa frescoes, Pellegrini’s next move was to reexamine the documentation from London, reminding himself that Medici had consigned substantial amounts of unprovenanced antiquities to Sotheby’s in London over many years; that other people, Christian Boursaud and then Serge Vilbert, had acted as “fronts” for Medici (although Medici was the beneficial owner of the antiquities, his name never appeared in the documentation or written record; the closest he came was to use the term “Guido’s,” Guido being his father’s name). Pellegrini also recognized that Sotheby’s personnel were aware of Medici’s involvement and knew that he was the beneficial owner but that his name never appeared in their documentation and that he shared an administrative address in Geneva—7 Avenue Krieg—with another antiquities dealer, Robin Symes, who had earlier been shown to deal in both stolen and smuggled antiquities.

Pellegrini also discovered that the Hydra Gallery had discreetly morphed into Editions Services, not only because of unwelcome press coverage but because when Boursaud and Medici fell out over who owned what in Hydra, their argument led to a court case, held in 1986, over ownership of the Hydra Gallery, a court case that Medici won. The existence of the court case nicely confirmed Medici’s interest in both Hydra and Editions Services.

Delving further into the documentation, Pellegrini found that the Hydra Gallery and Editions Services were not the only companies through which Medici consigned antiquities to Sotheby’s. There were at least three others—Mat Securitas, Arts Franc, and Tecafin Fiduciaire, which each sold and bought unprovenanced antiquities at Sotheby’s in London. Headed notepaper, consignment notes, and invoices for each of these companies were found among the folders seized in the Freeport warehouse.

Moving beyond Sotheby’s, and Medici’s Geneva-based companies, Pellegrini sifted another range of names, those of fellow dealers, well known in the antiquities world, all of whom seemed to have an especially close relationship with Medici. Besides Robin Symes and his Greek partner, Christo Michaelides, he found more names. Zurich-based dealers included Frederique (“Frida”) Tchacos-Nussberger, an Alexandrian Greek, and Fritz and Harry Bürki, a father-and-son team of restorers. Also in Zurich were Ali and Hischam Aboutaam, of Lebanese extraction; it appeared they also had a warehouse in the Geneva Freeport. Finally, there were two men in Paris: Nikolas Koutoulakis, a Cretan dealer; and Robert Hecht, who was the joint owner of Atlantis Antiquities in New York, with his partner there, Jonathan Rosen.

Two other groups of people were also highlighted as Pellegrini went through the seized paperwork. One was a group of collectors, or collectordealers, whose collections it appeared Medici had helped to form. These names included the Hunt brothers—Nelson Bunker Hunt and William Herbert Hunt. In the 1970s, this colorful pair had attempted to corner the world’s silver market. They had begun buying silver in 1973, when an ounce cost $1.95; by 1980 it had reached $54.00, when the Hunts and their colleagues owned 200 million ounces, equivalent to half the world’s deliverable supply. Then the government intervened and by March that year the price was down to $10.80. The Hunts (and many others) went bankrupt, in their case to the tune of $2.5 billion. Eight years later, in August 1988, they were convicted of conspiring to manipulate the world’s silver market. During the 1980s, however, while awaiting trial, they had amassed a formidable collection of Greek and Roman coins and Greek and Roman vases. A second couple was Leon Levy and Shelby White, whose collection had been displayed in an exhibition called Glories of the Past at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, from September 1990 to January 1991. A third couple was Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, whose collection had been displayed in the exhibition titled A Passion for Antiquities at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, in 1994–1995, and at Cleveland, in spring 1995. There was Maurice Tempelsman, a Belgian-born mining and minerals magnate, chairman of Lazare Kaplan, the largest cutter of diamonds in the world, who was a Visitor in the Department of Classics at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and best known as the companion of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the twice-bereaved widow of President John F. Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis. And there was George Ortiz, a collector-dealer who lived in Geneva, an heir to the South American Patiñho tin fortune whose collection had been displayed at the Royal Academy in London in 1994 in an exhibition called In Pursuit of the Absolute. Finally, there was Eli Borowksy, a Pole, who had spent many years in Canada but by then had his own museum in Jerusalem, the Bible Lands Museum, filled with antiquities from the civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean. Pellegrini found it most interesting that this set of six names comprised the most valuable antiquities collections formed since World War II. If the documents were to be believed, Medici seemed to have had a hand in all of them.

Finally, Pellegrini came across a set of names that was the most surprising of all. This was a list of museum curators, as often as not professional archaeologists or art historians, who appeared to have been in regular touch with Medici. Among this group were Dietrich von Bothmer, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York; Jiri Frel, Arthur Houghton, and Marion True, all of the Antiquities Department of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles; Robert Guy, of Princeton and Oxford; Fiorella Cottier-Angeli, an archaeologist and art expert who worked for Swiss customs in Geneva; and Professor Jacques Chamay, head of archaeology at the Geneva Museum.

Some of the documentation was relatively easy to follow. For example, although the vast majority of the material seized in Geneva concerned unprovenanced material—that is, antiquities for which there were no records because they were discovered by tombaroli in the ground, Medici was also involved with several straightforwardly stolen objects. These antiquities had been stolen from specific sites, such as churches, archaeological displays, museums, or even private collections. This, of course, is how the Carabinieri had targeted Medici in the first place.c But, as Pellegrini was soon to find out, this was by no means an isolated instance. Among the masses of paperwork was a catalog, number thirteen in a series published by the Carabinieri Art Squad itself, showing objects that had been stolen from various locations in Italy. Medici’s copy of the catalog had a bookmark in it, at a page reporting the theft of two Roman capitals (the decorated and carved top portions of stone columns) that had been stolen from the Villa Celimontana and from the archaeological site of Ostia Antica, the vast archaeological park covering the entire area of the ancient city of Ostia, Rome’s onetime thriving port. The entry showed a photograph of one of the capitals.

Both the capitals were there, in the warehouse in Geneva, but—and this also incensed Pellegrini—they appeared to have been altered, by abrasion and other damage, in a crude attempt to disguise what they actually were. The bookmark, slipped in at the appropriate place, gave the game away and confirmed that Medici not only had stolen objects on his premises but that he must have known they were stolen.

In line with this was a folder marked “IFAR Reports,” inside which was a set of magazines called Stolen Art Alert, the publication of the International Foundation for Art Research, a not-for-profit organization in New York. Each month, Stolen Art Alert publishes a list of photographs, a record of art that has been stolen. It is not unlike the Carabinieri list but covers thefts worldwide, not just in Italy. Medici not only had these records but some of the contents were marked with felt-tip highlighting. These included a second-century AD sarcophagus, stolen from the Villa Taverna in Frascati in 1987, and a second sarcophagus, undated but Roman, stolen in Rome in 1986. Pictures of both these objects were among Medici’s Polaroids. He could not have been unaware that the objects he had were stolen.

Elsewhere, Pellegrini found a photograph of a marble head of Eirene, the Greek goddess of peace and wealth, on the back of which was written, in Italian, “Geneva 7/7/93—I hereby declare selling to Mr. Jacques Albert the object depicted in this photo exclusively owned by me and of legitimate provenance (‘di legittima provenienza’). In faith Luzzi Franco. Received Fr 120.” This marble head was stolen in 1993 from the archaeological site of Villa Adriana in Tivoli, Emperor Hadrian’s haven near Rome, where he had a library and a theater and studied philosophy “in peace.” Franco Luzzi was a well-known art and antiquities dealer, who, as Pellegrini, Ferri, and Conforti all knew, had close ties to Medici (he featured in the organigram). In fact, by the time Pellegrini came across this photograph, with the writing on the back, the marble head had already been recovered and was back in Italy. But it was another testament to Medici’s involvement.

These stolen objects were few in number compared to the unprovenanced antiquities that were Medici’s main line of business, but they were important for what they revealed about his attitude and the world in which he moved. Tombaroli, and even Medici on occasions, in the proceedings against him, like to portray themselves as lovers of the arts, as “experts” or professional archaeologists in a sense, helping to “preserve” material that would otherwise be “lost” to history. How plausible is that when the same people knowingly trade in openly stolen artifacts, and deliberately damage them to disguise where they came from? Instead, their real motivation now stands out. They deal in antiquities for one reason and one reason only: the money it brings in.


Pellegrini’s main contribution to Ferri’s investigation was the way he used the documentation to throw light on what we might call the strategic organization of the antiquities underworld. Indeed, Pellegrini’s discoveries in this realm are a major contribution to the history of both archaeology and criminology.

His first insight was his identification of the existence in the antiquities underworld of “triangulations.” A “triangulation” is a term originally used in arms dealing, when middlemen are trying to disguise who the ultimate “end-user” is for a particular set of weapons when general trading in them is, for one reason or another, forbidden. Or, more generally, when for political reasons one country tries to circumvent international sanctions. In this case, it is essentially a way of covering up who the real source of an unprovenanced antiquity is. “A,” the real source (Medici, for example), wants to sell to “C,” a museum or a collector. “C” does not wish to be seen buying from “A.” In this case, “A” passes the object to “B,” the “safe” intermediary (usually, but not always, a dealer in Switzerland), who then “sells” on to “C.” Of course, the intermediary is recompensed in some way for his or her role in the transaction, but the chief purpose of the triangulation is deception.

However, the practice is less obvious, and more deceptive, than the simple triangle, because Pellegrini identified a form of antiquities traffic that was quite unknown before, except to its practitioners, and revealed a new level of organization and cynicism that will prove shocking to many people. This is the practice known to insiders as “the sale of the orphans.” “Orphans” (or “orfanelli,” meaning little orphans) in this case refers to fragments of vases, in particular vases by well-known painters or potters, such as Euphronious, Exekias, or Onesimos. Fragments of their vases—small pieces of pottery—may be quite valuable in themselves, worth as much as several thousand dollars each.

When a vase by a well-known artist or potter is found in fragments, it is sometimes deliberately kept that way. The point of this tactic is that these fragments will be introduced on to the market one or two pieces at a time, over a number of years. The aim is twofold. In the first place, it is to create, in the mind of a museum curator or a collector, a growing desire—a passion—to acquire or own a truly amazing work. By slowly building up the vase, the appetite of the collector or museum is whetted, and this is another area where triangulation comes into play. To prevent naive trustees from spotting what is actually happening, the fragments arrive in the museum over several years but also via several different routes: They may all start with person “A” and all end up with entity “C,” but they reach “C” via “D,” “E,” “F,” “G,” and so on. Trustees are expected to accept the (specious) argument that the subsequent fragments “turned up” in a later dig and this explains how they reached the market by different routes. In fact, the whole rigmarole is a setup.

A second function of fragments is to “sweeten” other acquisitions that museums or collectors are thinking of making. Say a museum has three or four pieces of a valuable vase and is anxious to acquire more, but is, at one particular moment, thinking of acquiring something quite different, a valuable stone head maybe, or a fresco. Should there be any problem or delay with this larger acquisition, then a fragment of the vase that the museum already has part of will suddenly materialize on the market, in the possession of the same dealer offering the larger piece to the museum. The fragment will have surfaced via a triangulation, of course, one dealer doing another dealer a favor, and the museum or collector will be offered the fragment, or orphan, either as a gift, if the main deal goes through, or more cheaply than would otherwise be the case (in the jargon “a partial gift”).

The sale of orphans alerted Pellegrini to one final, more general and particularly cynical aspect of the antiquities trade. The phenomenon of triangulation shows that dealers operate together, do each other favors, cover for one another, and the trading in fragments, in orphans, shows that these triangulations can be quite widespread. Pellegrini asked himself why that should be, and it was some time before he could answer his own question. When he did, however, he surprised even himself. But his insight was confirmed by Ferri’s later investigations.

Because he had access to so much documentation, Pellegrini was in a unique situation to make an overview not only of what was in the papers seized at the Geneva Freeport, but also what was not in them. And what was not in them was an entire set of names—the names of Gianfranco Becchina, who was based in Basel and carried out similar activities to Medici; Sandro Cimicchi, a restorer also based in Basel; and Raffaele Monticelli, who worked in a similar capacity to Pasquale Camera. These names had all been in Pasquale Camera’s organigram, but they weren’t in the Medici documents—why was that? What Pellegrini deduced from this was that the illicit trade in looted antiquities out of Italy was actually divided into two broad groups. Both led to Hecht but by different routes. One led to Hecht via Camera, Medici, Bürki, Symes, and Tchacos. The other led to Hecht via Monticelli, Becchina, Cimicchi, and a Lugano dealer—the equivalent of Tchacos or Symes—named Mario Bruno.

Later, as Pellegrini delved deeper into the paperwork, he found the source of this divide. It lay in an intense rivalry between Medici and Becchina. They were competitors who disliked each other intensely and never passed up an opportunity to do one another harm. Their rivalry suited Hecht, of course: It fueled competition, which only added to the efficiency of the trade and, from Hecht’s point of view, served to keep prices down. Later still in the investigation, Ferri discovered that this rivalry was real enough that the members of the different groups referred to each other as being part of a “cordata.” In Italian, a cordata, coming from “corda,” the word for rope, refers to a group of rock climbers or mountaineers who are bound together on a mountainside for mutual safety. It was a vivid image, all too accurate.

Pasquale Camera’s organigram had outlined the overall organization of the illicit traffic, but the triangulations and the two distinct “cordate” brought extra levels of sophistication. As with the triangulations, the main purpose of these cordate was to keep the end point of the chain—collectors and museums—“clean.” The entire illicit trade out of Italy was organized so as to protect the sources of revenue.

It made cynical sense, but did the museums and collectors know all this? Pellegrini’s next task was to try to find out.

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