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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations

ICE returns looted painting to Poland

Homeland Security Investigations returns looted painting to Poland
Homeland Security Investigations returns looted painting to Poland
Homeland Security Investigations returns looted painting to Poland

More than two decades after being stolen, an 18th century painting titled, "Ascension of Christ" is back in the hands of the people of Poland. At a ceremony April 16 at the Royal Castle in the Old Town part of Warsaw, Poland, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. embassy in Warsaw, Poland, returned the painting to Poland Secretary of State of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage Piotr Zuchowski.

The 9-by-12 inch oil depicting Jesus ascending into heaven with the apostles kneeling below is painted on a wooden oval board and held in a silver and gold-plated frame.

In 2012, HSI New York special agents received information from the Republic of Poland regarding a painting being auctioned on eBay that was believed to have been stolen from the Saint Martin Roman Catholic Church in Siciny, Poland, sometime between 1988 and 1996. According to the eBay listing, the starting bid to purchase the item was $22,000 and the "Buy it Now" price was $35,750.

An HSI undercover investigation determined that the painting had been illegally smuggled into the United States, and it was subsequently forfeited for repatriation to the Republic of Poland.

"The theft of this cherished painting has been a great loss to the people of Poland," said HSI Office of International Affairs Deputy Assistant Director David Thompson. "After all these years, it is now going back where it belongs – to the people of Poland. Homeland Security Investigations will continue its commitment to protecting the world's cultural heritage by investigating looted or stolen cultural property and art and returning it to its rightful owners."

"One of the most essential duties any government has to its people is to ensure the protection and preservation of the country's national heritage," said U.S. Embassy Warsaw Deputy Chief of Mission Douglas C. Greene. "The Polish Ministry of Culture has worked tirelessly to recover its stolen national treasures for the benefit of present and future generations. The United States has long been committed to helping Poland in this effort, and today's ceremony is an important symbol of that support. I commend U.S. and Polish law enforcement for this latest example of our excellent cooperation in support of our common interests and values."

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. The HSI Office of International Affairs, through its 67 attaché offices in 48 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible.

HSI specially trained investigators, assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities.

Since 2007,more than 7,150 artifacts have been returned to 27 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.