The Savoys begin a legal battle against Italy to recover their royal jewels | people

While politics is busy these days choosing the next President of the Republic, the Savoys, the royal family without a throne, have risen on a war footing against the Italian government, which they will sue. The heirs of the last king of Italy, Umberto II, who had to flee the country into exile by forced marches in 1946, when the Italians opted for the republic in a referendum, now claim the crown jewels, since then kept in a safe at the Bank of Italy in central Rome. It is a treasury of nearly 7,000 diamonds and 2,000 pearls mounted on nearly twenty necklaces, earrings, tiaras and brooches that have been worn by queens and princesses such as Elena de Orleans, Margarita Teresa de Saboya or María José de Belgica, wife of the last Italian monarch.

The history of jewelry is ancient and turbulent, like that of the monarchy itself in Italy. Three days after the referendum, on June 5, 1946, the prime minister at the time, Alcide De Gasperi, asked the outgoing king, Umberto II, to hand over to him the royal jewels, until then kept in a safe in the palace of the Quirinal, in that at that time the official residence of the royal family and today the seat of the Presidency of the Republic. The ruler alleged in his request that, according to the provisions of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Italy, the crown jewels were given to kings “as endowments” for the exercise of their functions, but not as property personal. The treasure went to a safe in the central deposit of the Bank of Italy, then headed by Luigi Einaudi, who, curiously, soon after became the second President of the Italian Republic.

In the act of handing over the jewels to the Bank, it is stated that they must be kept and “held at the disposal of those who are entitled to them”. The problem is that it is not clear whether it is the Italian state or the Savoyard family. According to the interpretation of the royal heirs, Prince Víctor Manuel and Princesses María Gabriela, María Pia and María Beatriz, the treasure belongs to them. “According to the regulations, the bank is the depositary and must return the jewelry to the depositors, the heirs,” family lawyer Sergio Orlandi, who will claim ownership and restitution of the jewelry in court, told this newspaper. The Italian government and the Bank of Italy have so far rejected.

Official portrait of Margarita María Teresa Juana de Saboya.

In these more than 70 years of republic, no one has thought of what to do or how to value the royal treasury, made up, among other things, of the gold, silver and diamond diadem of the Duchess of Aosta; the diadem of flowers in gold, silver and diamonds, the crown of the Marquis and the necklace of more than 600 pearls of Queen Margrethe Teresa of Savoy or the brooch with the cord of the Savoyard family of María José of Belgium. In 2006, the region of Piedmont, cradle of the Savoys, requested that at least the jewels be exposed, following the example of the British Crown, which collects millions of pounds each year with this system. At that time the Governor of the Bank of Italy was Mario Draghi, now Prime Minister, who gave the green light, but the exhibition did not take place because the necessary government approval was never arrival.

With the beginning of the Republic, all movable and immovable property of the royal family was confiscated by the Italian state, as stipulated by the Constitution. Although the confiscation of the real estate was carried out immediately, the same was not done for the jewellery, which has not left the Bank since then. The family’s legal representative alleges that unlike the other assets, the jewelry was never confiscated and was held in abeyance, so it must be returned. “These are jewels of great importance, with great historical and economic value,” explains Orlandi, who clarifies that he cannot indicate any economic amount.

The jewelry box was only opened once, in 1976, with the permission of a judge, to list the pieces and for fear that they might have been stolen at that time. The Bulgari firm took care of the expertise and set its value at around 2,000 million lire, or around 18 million euros today.

The family tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with the Bank of Italy, the Italian government and the Ministry of Economy to agree on the return of the diamonds. Prince Manuel Filiberto, son of Víctor Manuel, who has the powers of the heirs to start negotiations, traveled to Rome for this, “very determined to pursue the cause”, according to the lawyer.

On the call to reach an agreement, only the Bank appeared, which argued that it cannot make any move without the approval of the institutions. The representation of the government and the ministry, as explained by the lawyer, limited themselves to sending a letter to the mediation center in which they allege that in their opinion the jewels belong to the State. “That the jewels remained in a Bank of Italy safe is ridiculous. If we recover them, we will put them on display,” the prince said.

The family has given the state ten days to return the jewels, before presenting the case to the courts to open a legal battle that promises to be long.

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