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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations

Federal authorities return ancient coins to Bulgaria

Federal authorities return ancient coins to Bulgaria
Federal authorities return ancient coins to Bulgaria

NEW YORK – Hundreds of ancient coins that were smuggled into the United States are back in the hands of their rightful owner, the people of Bulgaria. The coins were stolen and smuggled from Bulgaria into the United States for sale to the highest bidder.

At a ceremony today at the Bulgarian Consulate in New York, U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) returned 546 ancient coins to Bulgarian Ambassador Elena Poptodorova.

"It is a special privilege to receive today, on behalf of the Bulgarian people, a part of our rich antique patrimony that was unlawfully taken away from us," said Poptodorova. "I would like to thank both the HSI and CBP for their excellent work and high professionalism in retrieving these valuable ancient coins and returning them to where they belong, their homeland Bulgaria."

"Today our two countries send a message to those who mistakenly perceive cultural theft as a low-risk, high-return business," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "We are deeply gratified to be able to return these cherished ancient coins that were looted and stolen from the people of Bulgaria. HSI and its partners at CBP remain committed to intercepting stolen cultural artifacts and repatriating them to their rightful owners.

"CBP is extremely proud to have played an important role in returning these valuable national treasures to their rightful owners," said Robert E. Perez, director of CBP’s New York field operations. "CBP’s cooperation with HSI demonstrates the continuing resolve of law enforcement in the United States to address illegal trafficking in stolen artifacts."

In September 2011, HSI special agents learned of a shipment of ancient coins from Bulgaria destined for the United States. HSI New York, in close coordination with CBP’s Customs Air Cargo Examination Facility, examined and seized the coins. An investigation of the coins revealed the shipment contained a false country of origin, a false description of the commodity and were undervalued.

The consignment of ancient coins is one of the channels and methods of illegal trafficking in movable cultural valuables originating from the territory of contemporary Bulgaria. The return of the coins to Bulgaria is a result of the active cooperation between the General Directorate for Combating Organized Crime within the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Bulgaria and the expertise of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – both HSI and CBP – in its shared efforts to prevent, solve and document transnational cultural heritage crimes.

HSI is continuing to look for connections to organized crime related to stolen illicit property out of Bulgaria.

HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illegal importation and distribution of cultural property, including the illicit trafficking of cultural property, especially objects that have been reported lost or stolen. HSI’s Office of International Affairs, through its 75 attaché offices in 48 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible.

HSI's specially trained investigators – assigned to both domestic and international offices – partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. They also provide cultural property investigative training to law enforcement partners for crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.

Since 2007, more than 6,600 artifacts have been returned to 24 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria; 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru; as well as cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.

Learn more about HSI cultural property, art and antiquities investigations. Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete its online tip form.