Spain returns 'looted' Peruvian artefacts

Spain has returned 45 allegedly contraband pre-Columbian artefacts to Peru during a visit by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia.

Twelve of the artefacts returned yesterday were pieces “of high archaeological and artistic value” stolen from the Lords of Sipan tomb site in the 1980s, said Walter Alva, lead archaeologist on the dig. They include gold necklace pendants in the shape of an owl’s head and a toad, and an embossed gold sceptre.

Gold masks and jewellery from the La Mina Mochica tomb in northern Peru and ceramics from several pre-Columbian cultures were also returned, the foreign ministry said.

The artefacts were among 253 pieces that Spanish police seized in 2007 from a warehouse owned by Costa Rican Leonardo Patterson, a renowned antiquities dealer and former United Nations cultural attache.

Patterson had assembled them for a 1997 exhibit in Spain containing 1,760 pre-Columbian artefacts from across Latin America, valued at more that €78m.

Mr Alva tipped off Interpol that most of the Peruvian pieces in Patterson’s exhibit were looted from tombs before his archaeological teams arrived. At Interpol’s request, a Lima court issued an international arrest warrant for Patterson in 2004.

Patterson denies any wrongdoing, saying the artefacts were on loan from German businessman and collector Anton Roeckl for the exhibit.

“I wish they would keep my name out of it,” he said in Germany yesterday. “I gave all that stuff back to Mr Roeckl. It’s his.”

Mr Roeckl declined to comment.

The remaining 208 artefacts from the seizure were being packaged in Spain and would be repatriated shortly, National Culture Institute director Cecilia Bakula said.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia arrived in Peru on Sunday. They will visit two temples today which were built by the Mochica culture 1,500 years ago.

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