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Stolen Roman statue recovered by Italian art police after chance discovery in Belgium

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Italian antiquities police the Carabinieri Art Squad with the recovered statue in Brussels
Italian antiquities police the Carabinieri Art Squad with the recovered statue in Brussels   -   Copyright  Carabinieri via AP
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Italian police say they have recovered a 1st-century Roman statue that was stolen from an archaeological site on the outskirts of Rome in 2011.

The discovery was made by two off-duty Italian art squad police officers in a Belgian antiques shop, the Carabinieri Art Squad said in a statement on Monday.

An Italian businessman has been referred to prosecutors for further investigation into allegations he received and then exported the statue abroad, working under a Spanish pseudonym.

The “Togatus” statue, featuring a headless Roman wearing a toga, has an estimated value of €100,000. It was stolen from the Villa Marini Dettina archaeological site in November 2011.

The two officers were on assignment in Brussels when they took a walk after work in the city's Sablon neighborhood, which is known for its antiques shops, on February 3 this year.

On spotting a marble statue they suspected was from Italy, they cross-referenced it with a database of stolen antiques and confirmed their suspicions.

The Carabinieri Art Squad, also known as the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage or Carabinieri TPC, was established in 1969 as the world's first specialist police unit for combating art and antiquities crimes.

In recent years the force has also helped return thousands of artefacts looted and sold by ISIS from cultural sites in Iraq and Syria.