Gold antiquities looted from China were returned by a French billionaire after a long effort by Beijing to recoup pillaged art. The antiquities were purchased by billionaire luxury tycoon François Pinault. The four gold heads of prey birds are worth €1 million (£710,000). Mr Pinault, owner of brands from Gucci to Saint Laurent, donated the 7th century BC solid gold works to Paris’s Guimet museum of Asian art  15 years ago.

It was soon discovered the antiquities were stolen in 1992 from the tomb of a noble of the Zhou dynasty in Gansu province. China says the birds of prey were pillaged amid a wave of thefts in the early-to-mid nineties by farmers in the western state of Qins. A corrupt civil servant apparently smuggled the antiques out of China and Mr Pinault bought the birds of prey unsuspectingly.

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Chinese authorities filed a complaint 10 years ago, but discreetly maintained they wanted a diplomatic restitution. Art Newspaper reported in April that Mr Pinault handed the four birds of prey heads to the Chinese embassy in Paris and did not ask for compensation.

Another collector,  Christian Deydier, returned 28 other artefacts. China promotes the repatriation of pillaged works, putting pressure on auction houses to cancel sales of items and even buying them via a corporate offshoot of the people’s Liberation Army, the China Poly Group. China  has a big thirst for gold as the world’s largest consumer of gold.

Photo: Rex Features.