The pair of off-duty police officers were in Belgium on a separate investigation when they spotted the suspicious looking statue in the Sablon neighborhood of Brussels.
Having become suspicious of the statue’s origins, the two officers opened an investigation into the origins of the artifact once back in Italy.
The pair went on to cross-reference the photographs they had taken in the Belgian antiques shop with adatabase that details stolen artifacts. It was here that they worked out its true origin.
The statue is made of marble and shows a headless, toga-clad figure of a “Togatus.” It apparently dates from the 1st century BC and was stolen around a decade ago by robbers who remain unknown.
Before the theft, the statue was located at the Roman archeological site known as the Villa Marini Dettina on the outskirts of Rome, according to Italy’s Heritage Tutelage Carabinieri Unit.
The statue was confiscated and returned to Italy in February. According to authorities, it is worth around 100,000 euros (£87,000) although it appears to be damaged, potentially from tools used in digging.
An Italian businessman, who went by a Spanish pseudonym and is thought to have been involved in the illegal trafficking of cultural objects, has been referred for further investigation to prosecutors in Rome.
It is alleged that he received and then went on to export the statue abroad, the Carabinieri art squad said in a statement on Monday.
In recent years, Italy has been making particular efforts to repatriate antiquities that they say were illegally taken and trafficked from the country.
These have included Roman artifacts which were spotted being sold at the London auction house Christie’s last year. The auction house later withdrew the lots.