Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into football star Ezequiel Lavezzi for attempting to take a stolen Pompeii statue to Paris during his multi-million pound transfer in May 2012.

Argentine striker Lavezzi was in the process of moving from Italian club Napoli to Paris St Germain when he was stopped at Naples' Capodichino airport for a routine customs check, according to Italian daily Il Mattino.

Police were shocked to discover that one of the wrapped boxes contained a marble bust from the first century AD, allegedly from the Pompeii archaeological area.

Asked why he was unlawfully carrying with him a priceless work of art, Lavezzi said it was "a gift from a Neapolitan living in Posillipo [residential quarter of Naples]".

The bust was subsequently withdrawn by police.

The ancient city of Pompeii was ruined in AD 79 when giant volcano Mount Vesuvius blew its top. The ash and rock helped preserve many buildings almost in their original state, and left behind the indentations of thousands of people killed as they tried to hide before impact.

The site has come to symbolise decades of mismanagement of many of Italy's cultural treasures. Last week the head of UNESCO's National Commission in Italy, Giovanni Puglisi, warned the Government that it had "until December 31 to adopt suitable measures for Pompeii," before a progress assessment by the organisation next February.

In a January report, the UN agency documented structural shortcomings and light damage at the site. The documents triggered an international outrage because Pompeii is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Italy, attacking around 2.3 million visitors a year.