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Violin owner rejects Calabrian ransom demand

By JOHN PHILLIPS

PARIS -- French musician Pierre Amoyal said Thursday he refuses to pay Italian gangsters a ransom for his priceless Stradivarius violin, stolen from him two years ago near the northern Italian city of Turin.

On Monday the commander of the Carabinieri paramilitary police in Turin said the violin, which was made in 1717 and once belonged to Czar Nicholas II, is in the hands of the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta,' a mainland version of theSicilian Mafia. The gang is asking for a ransom.

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Amoyal said in a statement at Saint-Maximin la Sainte-Baume in southern France, 'I received 15 days ago a new photograph proving that my violin was not destroyed. It is an immense joy to receive news of this violin, which is a veritable friend.

'But my paying any ransom whatsoever is out of the question.' The artist said he is 'ready to participate in an eventual reward for someone who will allow it to be found again.'

The violin is worth about $1.5 million. The Calabrian gang is better known for the ruthlesness of its human kidnappings than for stealing artworks.

'I have not had any direct contact with the kidnappers. It is my Roman attorney, Gennaro Egidio, who follows the affair,' he said. Egidio is a well-known advocate in Rome specializing in ransom negotiations.

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Amoyal denied press reports in Italy that the ransom demand was for $2.5 million. But he did not say how much the underworld had demanded.

Amoyal, one of the world's leading violinists, was driving down the Italian peninsula from Geneva, where he lives, when the theft took place April 15, 1987.

He stopped his Porsche outside a tobacconist to buy cigarettes. A thief pounced on the sports car and sped off, taking the violin that was inside the car.

The theft upset the musician and he canceled a series of concerts immediately afterwards. Police subsequently identified the car thief who stole the Porsche but he was killed a short time later.

Amoyal said the violin is 'an exceptional artistic work with unique sonority' and as such 'it cannot be negotiated.'

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