The authorities pursuing a thread in one of the biggest rare book heists in Italian history said thisweek that some of the 20,000 books seized two years ago from the private Milan library of Marcello Dell’Utri, a former senator in prison for Mafia association, had been removed from public libraries and religious institutions across Italy.
The Carabinieri police in Monza, outside Milan, said in a statement that a preliminary investigation had found among the books “the presence of works removed from public and ecclesiastical libraries, in a manner and at a time still unknown.” The books date from the 15th to the 19th centuries and are valued at several million dollars, the police added.
Once they have determined the provenance of the books, a process expected to take some time, they will pass the information to the Milan prosecutors conducting the investigation, said Capt. Francesco Provenza, who directs the cultural heritage squad of the Monza Carabinieri.
The authorities first seized the books in 2013 from Mr. Dell’Utri’s Via Senato Library in Milan, a private foundation, as part of an investigation into Mr. Dell’Utri on charges of money laundering and illegally exporting cultural heritage. The library is now closed. That investigation in turn stemmed from a 2012 inquiry into the theft of more than 2,000 rare volumes from the Baroque-era Girolamini Library in Naples. The library’s former director, Marino Massimo De Caro, a protégé of Mr. Dell’Utri’s, was sentenced last year to seven years in prison for charges related to the thefts.
One of the most vivid personalities in recent Italian history, Mr. Dell’Utri, 73, a Palermo native, helped deliver Sicily for former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in his first election in 1994. Months before Italy’s highest court confirmed the conviction that sent him to prison for Mafia ties last June, Mr. Dell’Utri fled to Beirut, Lebanon, where he was captured by Interpol agents, and then extradited to Italy.
In an interview with The New York Times in the Via Senato Library in Milan in December 2013, Mr. Dell’Utri distanced himself from Mr. De Caro, then on trial for the Girolamini heists. He also showed off annotated volumes from the “Library of Utopia” series that the library had published. It included “Pinocchio,” by Carlo Collodi. “That a puppet wants to become a man, a piece of wood, is the height of utopia, no?” Mr. Dell’Utri said at the time.