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January 21, 2021

A striking blow to the prosecution for embezzlement of volumes stolen from the Biblioteca dei Girolamini in Naples.

The Biblioteca dei Girolamini in Naples

In a striking blow to the prosecution, former senator of Forza Italia, Marcello Dell'Utri has been acquitted by judges of the first criminal section of the Court of Naples of complicity in the embezzlement for the appropriation of thirteen volumes stolen from the Biblioteca dei Girolamini in Naples.  The theft was one of the most dramatic thefts ever to hit the rare-book world, with the prosecutor, Michele Fini, Antonella Serio and Ilaria Sasso del Verme having asked for seven years of imprisonment for the ex-politician. 

Law enforcement and Italian prosecutors began investigating the thefts at the historic library in 2012, following an email sent by philologist Filippomaria Pontani to art historian Tomaso Montanari after a disheartening visit to the shuttered library.  In that email, he recounted how the Girolamini, closed to the public for years, was in extreme disarray with numerous books and manuscripts missing. 

As news of the scandal spread, investigations into the situation ultimately led to the arrest of the director of the library, Massimo Marino De Caro, an international forger and swindler welcomed in the sacristies and antechambers of power, who appeared at the head of a network of collaborating actors who facilitated the laundering of stolen  historic books into the rare book market.  To remove proof of the books stolen origins, seals identifying the manuscripts as part of the Girolamini collection were removed or in some cases torn out altogether,  leaving telltale bite marks on the sacrificed pages. 

De Caro was ultimately sentenced to seven years in prison, the same penalty the Italian prosecutors had been asked for Dell’Utri.  De Caro was also convicted in additional judicial proceedings for the theft of a dozen volumes in the Abbey of Montecassino, the Observatory Ximeniano in Florence and from within the library collection of the Ministry of Agriculture.

With the help of this network of middlemen, book dealers and book conservators De Caro had been able to successfully steal thousands of books, some of which were acquired by, or gifted to, his Sicilian patron, Marcello Dell’Utri.   Yet, throughout the Girolamini investigation, the ex senator has proclaimed that he was unaware of the illegitimate origins of these historical volumes. In total, the former politician would ultimately surrender more than a dozen volumes traced to the Girolamini including:

De rebus gestis by Antonio Carafa

In hoc volumine haec... by Capitolinus et al., Aldina edition, printed in Venice in 1519 

Artificium perorandi by Giordano Bruno, 1612 "Clavis artis Iullianae" by Johann Heinrich Alsted, 1609 

De Principe by Leon Battista Alberti, 1520 

Panegyricus Philippo V Hispaniarum by Giovan Battista Vico, 1702 

Lu vivu mortu effettu di lu piccatu di la carni by Antonino Damiano, 1734 

La luce massonica. Visione di un confratello del p. Cristoforo by MGL of 1886 

L’asino d’oro by Lucio Apuleio filosofo platonico by Apuleius, 1665 

De optimo principe dialogus by Giovanni Bernardo Gualandi, c1561 

Trattato del governo de principi by Saint Thomas Aquinas, c 1577 

Petri Pauli Vergerij Iustinopolitani by Pietro Paolo Vergerio the Elder, 1526 

Leo Baptista De Albertis Florentius De Princepe by Leon Battista Alberti, 1520

➣and Utopia by Thomas Moore, 1518. The latter of which Dell'Utri did not return as he was unable to find it. 

But this case was not Dell'Utri's only brush with the law.  Apart from the bibliophile's passion for collecting rare books and incunabla, the ex politician and friend of Silvio Berlusconi has been found guilty of tax fraud, false accounting, and complicity in conspiracy with the Sicilian Mafia.   The last charge of which was upheld by the  Court of Cassation on 9 May 2014.  As part of that decision, and after exhausting appeals, the third criminal section of Palermo's Appellate Court declared Dell'Utri a fugitive and he was detained in Lebanon at a luxury hotel on an International Arrest Warrent a month later. 

Afterward, Dell'Utri was extradited back to Italy.  There he served 4 years in prison before being released to house arrest to serve out the remaining portion of his sentence, due to a substantial heart condition. 

In April 2018 Dell’Utri was again sentenced to 12 years in prison in the court of first instance, for undermining the state, via his involvement in the Trattativa Stato-Mafia, the negotiation between important Italian functionaries and Cosa Nostra members, that began after the period of the 1992 and 1993 terror attacks by the Sicilian Mafia.  His lawyers appealed that decision in March 2019 to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg because he was allegedly illegally tried twice on the same facts and once acquitted

In closing this week's chapter on the library thefts, the judges of the first criminal section, chaired by Francesco Pellecchia, accepted the defence's arguements as made Dell’Utri's lawyers Claudio Botti and Francesco Centonze, showing that at least where books and manuscripts are concerned, Dell’Utri is still made of teflon. 

By:  Lynda Albertson