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March 17, 2024

Girolamini Library Theft - Convictions and acquittals in the network of every bookworm's antichrist

Last week, after some eleven years and over one hundred and twenty hearings, the Court of Naples, presided over by Maurizio Conte, announced some lengthy sentences and penalties in the pursuit of justice with regards to the 1,500 volumes of historical interest and textual treasures that were pilfered from the Biblioteca e Complesso monumentale dei Girolamini

Sentencing la banda degli (dis)onesti

On 12 March 2024 the first criminal section of the Naples court sentenced six defendants (in the first degree) for a series of episodes of embezzlement.  Those convicted were:

Massimo Marino De Caro, the former director of the Girolamini library until 1992 was sentenced to an additional 5 years and 3 months for his primary role in the theft of thousands of volumes from the historic Girolamini library, on top of the 7 years assigned in 2013;

Maurizio Bifolco, of Libreria Antiquaria Calligrammes srl was sentenced to five years and six months; 

Mirko Camuri,  a Verona dance teacher involved in numerous suspicious sales of ancient books, was sentenced to an additional 1 year on top of the 4 years and eight months previously announced.

Luca Cableri,  of Theatrum Mundi and Studio Bibliografico Wunderkammer was sentenced to four years and six months;

St├ęphane Alexandre Delsalle, of Librairie De Ce Paysci Di Delsalle Stephane (also operating as Livre Rare Books (LRB), was sentenced to four years in prison; 

Stefano Ceccantoni, an Orvieto antiquarian was sentenced to two years and six months

Of these, Bifolco is a familiar figure in the London book world and is said to have acted as agent to Italian booksellers handling material from the Girolamini.  He is not a member of ALAI (the Italian ABA), but Cableri and Solni were, until they were suspended. 

Ceccantoni, who eventually collaborated with the magistrates and revealed many details of the case gave statements about some of the activities of the group. 

"I went to Naples to the Girolamini library at least six times." – stated Ceccantoni in the report filed in the investigation documents. He also admitted to loading boxes of books into De Caro's car in the middle of the night. 

Others swept up in the investigation, including Don Sandro Marsano, the priest in charge of the Congregation of the Oratorians of Naples (defended by lawyers Manlio Pennino and Bruno von Arx),  Alejandro Eloy Cabello, Cesar Abel Cabello, Viktoriya Pavloskiy, Federico Roncoletta and Lorena Paola Weigant were acquitted of all charges.  This despite requests from the prosecutor, who during the indictment had asked for 10 years of imprisonment for all the accused.

In terms of financial penalties, the Court ordered property confiscations from De Caro, Delsalle, Cableri and Bifolco, as well as the confiscation of rare books in De Caro's possession. The Court also ordered the confiscation of liquid assets in the form of money held in accounts and securities registered in Bifolco's name which were frozen by the investigating judge on 22 April 2012 and on 28 May 2014 and which totalled 8 and a half million euros. 

Background of the Library:

The extraordinary Girolamini Library of Naples is home to almost 160,000 ancient manuscripts and books and opened its doors to the public in 1586.  Built alongside the Church and Convent of the Girolamini, the library served as the convent’s Oratory and is believed to be one of the richest libraries in Southern Italy.

The collection, which includes many rare editions dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is centred on Christian theology, philosophy, sacred music, and the history of Europe and the Catholic Church.  After the massive Irpinia earthquake, which struck Campania in 1980 the Biblioteca e Complesso monumentale dei Girolamini remained closed for an extended period.  The library's collection, off limits to anyone except specific scholars with collection permissions, suffered from a lengthy period of neglect, only to then be plundered by a network of individuals tasked with its very protection.

Details on the thefts:

In April 2012 it was discovered that as many as 1500 important texts were missing from the library.  At the epicentre of the scandal was the library's appointed director, Marino Massimo de Caro, who was swiftly suspended and subsequently charged with  embezzlement.  Alongside him, other accomplices from Italy, Argentina, and the Ukraine would also be implicated and later prosecuted as a result of the scandal.

On 19 April 2012 the Biblioteca de Girolamini was formally impounded by the judicial authorities as Naples prosecutor, Giovanni Melillo oversaw an investigation into the library's thefts.  This months ruling concludes that impoundment.  

As part of this investigation, the prosecutor authorised the tapping of De Caro's phone, through which Melillo and investigators learned that the library's former director had been stashing looted books in his home, in a storage unit in Verona, and in the basement of an accomplice’s aunt residence, as well as arranging to sell many others onward through various channels.  

Some stolen volumes were fenced through major Italian dealers as well as private collectors. An additional 543 books travelled on to Germany where they were to be auctioned on May 9, 2012 at the Bavarian auction house Zisska & Schauer in Munich after accomplices to the Girolamini library thefts stripped the institution's markings from the titles before their upcoming sale.

While under questioning, De Caro would claim that the books sent to Munich were from his own personal collection.  Despite this, investigations determined that many of the consigned texts in fact came from both the Girolamini Library and the priests’ convent library and that the auction house Zisska & Schauer had paid an emissary of De Caro’s nine hundred thousand euros in advance of the texts' auction date, with De Caro expecting to receive a million euros more after the bidding closed.

With requests for assistance in hand, the German authorities halted the sale at Zisska & Schauer, and later arrested the company’s executive director, Herbert Schauer.

Although this trial focused on the embezzlement of hundreds of volumes from the Girolamini Library, De Caro has been connected to thefts from additional targeted institutions. 

Herbert Schauer was arrested by German authorities on 2 August 2013, following the execution of a European arrest warrant. He was subsequently sentenced in the first degree by the Court of Naples to 5 years of imprisonment for his involvement in receiving stolen property,  however his sentence was overturned by the Italian Court of Cassation.

Call for Collaboration:

ARCA would like to remind book and manuscript collectors that the market for archival literary heritage might be a niche market, but it is still a flourishing one, and one that often overlaps with fine art crimes, driven by the high prices some collectors are willing to pay for the rarest of rare publications.  

Acknowledging that some good faith purchases may be in possession of these stolen items without knowledge of their illicit origin, the Italian authorities are now stressing the need for help from the general public, as well as antiquarian book dealers, and professionals worldwide who are more likely to come in contact with the library's rare material. 

In furtherance to this, the Italian Ministry of Culture has released a 31-page list of the most important stolen texts documented as having been stolen which are known to have been circulated at some point after their theft in Naples.  This list can be reviewed here.

Please note that this listing does not appear to have been uploaded to ILAB's stolen book database which is often the first place most book collectors turn to when checking the legal status of books, manuscripts, and maps that may have been the subject of thefts which have occurred from June 15, 2010 onward.  

Given these items have not been uploaded to the ILAB database (yet), the linked list should be downloaded so that buyers can check for themselves to see if any text they have been offered or may have already purchased has been documented as stolen from this Naples library.