I’m back among the Criminal Element again, this time with a story about antiquities smuggling:
Our story begins with a pot and a pig.
In 1970, an Italian man working on a canal near Naples discovered a remarkable piece of crockery: a 27-inch-tall, double-handled chalice or krater, black with red painted figures. A black marketeer offered the worker a million lire ($1,533 then) and a suckling pig for the chalice. An old pot was useless; a pig, the worker could use.
The black marketeer then sold the krater to Gianfranco Becchina, owner of the Antike Kunst Palladion gallery in Basel, Switzerland. Becchina recognized the krater as a masterwork by Asteas, a Greek vase painter active in Paestum (an ancient Greek colony outside present-day Naples) between 350 and 320 B.C. It was worth a lot more than a pig.
Of course, this was all totally illegal.