US returns to Spain a stolen letter from Christopher Columbus found in Brazil

Ⓒ AFP/Archivos – JOSEP LAGO – | Monument of Christopher Columbus in Barcelona, ​​from whose library was stolen a rare copy of a letter from the Italian navigator

A rare and valuable letter of Christopher Columbus printed in 1493 and stolen more than a decade ago from the Library of Catalonia was returned by the United States to Spain after a seven-year investigation that found it in Brazil.

The printing of the letter of the Italian Columbus, in which the “discoverer” of America describes the results of his first expedition to the Spanish crown, was sold several times after being stolen in 2004 or 2005, the last time in more than one million of dollars to a collector in Brazil, the US Justice Department said in a statement.

The document was part of the collection of the Library of Catalonia since 1918. It was printed in Rome by Stephan Plannck in 1493 and only 16 copies of these letters are preserved worldwide.

“We are really honored to return this historically important document to Spain, its true owner,” prosecutor David Weiss said after his presentation to the Ambassador of Spain in Washington DC, Pedro Morenés, at a reception held at the diplomat’s residence on Wednesday night. .

In the letter, Columbus narrates the beginning of his expedition financed by Queen Isabel la Católica after his departure from Puerto de Palos in August 1492, and everything that happened in search of the Indies until his arrival in Lisbon in March of 1493, and ten days later to Spain, still believing that he had arrived in the East Indies.

It all began in 2011, when the Delaware prosecutor’s office and the customs police received a clue: several 15th century documents would have been stolen from European libraries and replaced by copies, without the knowledge of librarians or the police of those countries.

A seven-year investigation that also implicated authorities in Spain, France and Brazil found that the stolen Columbus letter was sold in November 2005 for 600,000 euros ($ 708,000) by two Italian booksellers.

After learning that two handprints of the same letter had been stolen and replaced by copies in libraries in Florence and the Vatican, in 2012 an expert in these documents accompanied by an American policeman visited the Library of Catalonia in Barcelona and determined that the version of the letter of Columbus in his possession was false.

In March 2013, authorities discovered that the handprint of Columbus’ letter had been resold for the last time in June 2011 for 900,000 euros (about 1,062,000 million dollars at the current exchange rate).

After extensive negotiations, the person in possession of the letter in Brazil agreed to deliver it in 2014 to agents of the customs police investigation unit.

The authorities continue to investigate, but there have been no arrests yet.

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