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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
12/03/2008

ICE returns stolen antiquities to Egypt

Egyptian consulate in New York received artifacts taken from a Cairo museum in 2002

NEW YORK, N.Y. - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today returned cultural artifacts to the Government of Egypt. The 79 ancient artifacts came from a region in Egypt known as Ma'adi, which is an archeological site in Egypt identifying an ancient civilization dating back to 3,900 - 3,600 B.C.

The objects were returned in a repatriation ceremony this morning by Peter J. Smith, ICE special agent-in-charge in New York, and were received on behalf of the Egyptian Government by the Honorable Ambassador Hussein Mubarak, Consul General for Egypt in New York, and Mr. Attiya Radwan, the Head of the Central Department for Upper Egypt Monuments.
In October 2006, ICE received a tip from the Art Loss Register, a London-based company with offices in New York, about the sale of the Ma'adi artifacts to a U.S. antiquities dealer. A subsequent ICE investigation resulted in the federal criminal conviction of Edward George Johnson, who pleaded guilty to the charge of possessing and selling stolen antiquities.

"When Edward George Johnson stole these items from Egypt, he robbed a nation of part of its history," said Peter J. Smith, special agent-in-charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in New York. "The repatriation of the Ma'adi artifacts reunites the people of Egypt with an important piece of their cultural heritage."

"The Egyptian stolen artifacts, regardless of its money value, have always been important to the Egyptian people because they form a part of their culture and identify as well as its role in the effort to unravel and piece together some of the mysterious parts of the ancient Egyptian history and civilization which is part of the common heritage of mankind," said Ambassador Hussein Mubarak, Consul General for Egypt in New York. "Egypt is grateful to the U.S. government for the repatriation of the Egyptian stolen artifacts."

The items returned were seized by ICE in a 2006 investigation, and are among 370 pre-dynastic artifacts discovered missing from the Ma'adi museum in Cairo during the summer of 2002. The theft, from one of the museum's storage magazines, was reported to the republic of Egypt's Supreme Council of antiquities (SCA) and to police worldwide.

The ICE investigation revealed that the Ma'adi artifacts were fraudulently sold by Edward George Johnson, who was an active duty Chief Warrant officer in the U.S. Army assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt in 2002. He brought the items to the U.S. and sold them to a dealer claiming that they were family property dating back to the early 20th century.

In 2003, the owner of Sands of Time Antiquities, then located in Atlanta, Sue McGovern, purchased approximately 100 Egyptian antiquities from Johnson, who said he had inherited the large collection from his grandfather who had worked in Egypt in the mining industry in the late 1920's and early 1930's. In fact, Johnson had used his diplomatic status to illegally ship the Ma'adi artifacts he had acquired in Egypt to the U.S., in violation of Egypt's export laws, diplomatic protocol as outlined in the Vienna Convention, and U.S. law for smuggling the artifacts into the country.

On buying the collection, McGovern discovered inside some of the pieces, paper from a 1932 calendar with markings and numbers indicative of excavation notes (plot numbers, etc.).

In 2004, she sold some of the pieces to other antiquities dealers in New York, Holland and London, where an expert on the Ma'adi excavations recognized that the story behind their acquisition was false and notified the dealer.

In July 2008, Johnson admitted that his story about his grandfather was false and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession and selling of stolen antiquities. He was sentenced in September 2008 to 18 months probation and was ordered to make restitution to the antiquities dealer to whom he sold the artifacts.

ICE's Office of Investigations works to identify and return items of cultural and historical value to their countries of origin under the Cultural Heritage Program. In 2007, ICE officials returned an antique vessel in the form of an alabaster duck to the Egyptian government. The vessel, which is over 4,500 years old, had been stolen from the Egyptian Antiquities Inspectorate in 1979. For more about ICE's cultural heritage investigations, please visit: http://www.ice.gov/news/library/factsheets/.