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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

US returns stolen 17th century books to Sweden

Two antique books dating back to the 17th century, stolen in Stockholm in the 1990s and sold to Americans by a German auction house were returned to Sweden on Wednesday, US officials said. US authorities handed back the books, intercepted by the FBI from a bookstore in Manhattan and from Cornell University, to the National Library of Sweden at a ceremony in New York.

Both books — whose most recent owners did not know had been stolen — were printed in the early 1600s in Europe during the Renaissance. The work by Italian architect Nicola Sabbatini, printed in 1638 is about stage craft and theater machinery, and “Oculus” by Bavarian physicist Christopher Scheiner is about the history of optics.

It was printed in 1619.

US prosecutors said they are two of at least 56 rare books stolen from the National Library of Sweden by employee Anders Burius between 1995 and 2004. Operating under a fake name, he sold them to German auction house, Ketterer Kunst, for cash. In 2004 he confessed and later committed suicide, US officials said.

Swedish investigators discovered that Ketterer sold 13 of the books to customers in the United States. The Sabbatini book was bought by Richard Lan, owner of Martayan Lan Rare Books in New York in 2001 for more than 27,436 euros ($30,850 by the current exchange rate).

The Scheiner was bought by a bookseller in New York in 1999, which sold it in 2001 to Cornell — one of the most elite universities in the country and based in Ithaca, New York. Both Cornell and Lan surrendered the books voluntarily to the FBI so that they could be returned to the National Library of Sweden after being informed they had been stolen.

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