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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
05/12/2011

ICE and CBP officials return cultural artifacts to Peru

Peruvian Repatriation
Peruvian Repatriation
Peruvian Repatriation
Peruvian Repatriation
WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) returned a collection of cultural artifacts illegally imported into the United States from Peru. The artifacts were discovered as part of three separate investigations by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York and Denver.

ICE Assistant Director for International Affairs Luis Alvarez and CBP Acting Executive Director for the International Operations Division Abdias Ortiz, repatriated the artifacts to Peruvian Ambassador Luis Miguel Valdivieso Montano at their embassy in Washington.

"The antiquities we are returning today are more than mere objects. They are remarkable treasures of untold historical significance, which provide clues into the lives of our ancestors," said Alvarez. "Sadly, the theft and trafficking of cultural artifacts is one of the oldest forms of organized cross-border crime. ICE HSI will continue to investigate and seize national treasures of other countries that find their way to the Unites States under false pretenses."

"I would like to express my appreciation for this restitution, and the high level of cooperation that exists in this field between both countries," said Ambassador Luis Miguel Valdivieso Montano.

"CBP is pleased to have partnered with ICE and the Peruvian Government to help return these priceless artifacts," said Ortiz. "It is important that we continue to work collaboratively with our foreign law enforcement partners to preserve cultural heritage. Thanks to the dedication of the men and women of CBP, these artifacts will be returned to its rightful owner, the people of Peru."

Artifacts being returned include an 18th century Peruvian manuscript discovered by CBP officers after receiving an investigative lead from ICE HSI agents in New York and Peruvian officials. Acting on this lead, a CBP officer identified an individual arriving in Houston who had several previous records for possession of stolen papyrus manuscripts and an extensive travel history to and from Peru. After a baggage inspection, a CBP officer discovered an old book. The book was detained to determine its value and origin. In May 2010, this individual passed away. In June 2010, ICE HSI received confirmation that the manuscript was stolen from the Recoleta Library in Araquipa, Peru. The book was forfeited.

Additional items being returned include:

  • Inca pottery vessel depicting a man with llama, A.D. 1400-1500;
  • Pot with a feline on one side and standing feline, A.D. 300-360;
  • Handmade textile and two headbands, likely excavated from graves along the Pacific coast of Peru, made from locally grown cotton;
  • Stone jaguar-human sculpture, 1200-1500 years old, likely Chavín or Moche in origin.

These items were also forfeited by the sellers. The repatriated artifacts are valued at more than $43,000.

A 1997 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the United Stated and Peru enables both countries to work closely together to prevent the illicit trafficking of archaeological objects. The MOU places import restrictions on pre-Columbian archaeological artifacts and colonial ethnological materials from all areas of Peru.

ICE HSI plays a leading role in investigating crimes involving the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property. ICE HSI uses its investigative authority to seize cultural property items if they were illegally imported into the United States. It also investigates the illegal trafficking of artwork, especially works that have been reported lost or stolen. ICE's Office of International Affairs, through its 69 attaché offices in 47 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible.

ICE's specially trained investigators and foreign attachés partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities as well as train investigators from other nations and agencies on how to find and authenticate cultural property, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.

More than 2,400 artifacts have been returned to 19 countries since 2007 including paintings from France, Germany and Austria; an 18th century manuscript from Italy; and a bookmark belonging to Hitler as well as cultural artifacts from Iraq including Babylonian, Sumerian and neo-Assyrian items.

This is the second repatriation of items to Peru. In April 2010, ICE and CBP returned 12 pre-Columbian human skulls, circa A.D. 640-890.

CBP is the nation's lead border security agency and is charged with enforcing hundreds of laws at and between our nation's 327 international ports of entry. As part of that mission, CBP enforces bi-lateral agreements and import restrictions on certain foreign cultural property and archaeological materials. CBP works closely with ICE and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to prevent the illegal trade and trafficking of cultural antiquities. CBP partners with ICE to ensure that illegally traded and trafficked antiquities are returned to their rightful owners.

For images from today's repatriation, click here.