Treasure seized in Bassani battle

September 22, 2000

Unpublished manuscripts by the late Giorgio Bassani and an art collection allegedly worth Pounds 6 million are at the centre of a bitter legal dispute between the writer's children and an American academic who lived with Bassani from 1978 until his death in April.

Last week, police seized what the Italian media have dubbed "the Bassani treasure", reportedly comprising original and unpublished manuscripts, objets d'art, silver and paintings.

The seizure followed a formal complaint by Paola and Enrico Bassani against Portia Prebys, director of the Saint Mary's College Rome Programme in Rome, part of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Ms Prebys is also president of the Association of American Colleges and University Programmes Abroad.

The treasure was found by the police in the cellars of a Rome hotel and impounded pending further investigation.

Bassani's children accused Ms Prebys of "unlawful appropriation", and the owner of the hotel, a friend who said he merely lent the space in the hotel, of complicity.

The legal feud between Ms Prebys and Bassani's wife, Sinigallia, and children goes back many years to when the children accused Ms Prebys of kidnapping their father.

Ms Prebys was acquitted but the children obtained an injunction to see their father when he was seriously ill.

A will, officially registered and witnessed in 1991, included Ms Prebys as an heir. Another will, which is disputed, emerged in 1997 and named only his children as heirs.

Bassani, born in Bologna in 1916, achieved international renown in 1962 with his second novel, Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini. The story is set among the Jewish bourgeoisie of Ferrara before and during the second world war.

Bassani left his wife and children in 1958, 20 years before meeting Ms Prebys, who looked after him when he developed Parkinson's disease.

Ms Prebys said that what had been seized was her property. "There is nothing that belonged to Bassani, and certainly no manuscripts.

"It is all my own property and I can prove it. This is just the latest episode in a legal war that Bassani's children have been waging against me for years."

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