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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
03/04/2010

Pendant engraved with image of Peter the Great returned to Russian authorities

Artifact reported stolen from Hermitage collection was offered for sale in Seattle

MOSCOW - A silver pendant with an engraved image of Peter the Great, who served as the Tsar of Russia from 1682 to 1725, was returned to Russian authorities March 4 during a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The pendant was among 1,200 historical items linked to Peter the Great that were given to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, in August 1947. The family of Tsar Nicholas II, who served as Russia's final emperor from 1894 to 1917, had donated the pendant.

In July 2006, the museum announced that more than 200 items from its permanent collection, including the silver pendant, had been stolen. The Hermitage collection includes more than 3 million artifacts of world culture and art.

Russian authorities reached out to ICE for assistance in May 2009 after they learned that an antiques dealer in Seattle was offering a pendant for sale that was very similar to the one stolen from the museum. ICE agents there located and recovered the pendant and turned it over for forensic examination by experts with the Moscow Kremlin museum.

"Artifacts of historical or cultural significance allow the public to experience a nation's heritage and these items shouldn't be offered as souvenirs for sale to the highest bidder," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Seattle. "ICE is committed to working with our global law enforcement partners to investigate those who seek to benefit financially from this type of illegal activity."

The engraved pendant, which measures 2.6 by 1.7 cm and weighs about two grams, is believed to have been crafted by artisans in the central Russian province of Kostroma in the late 18th or 19th century. Historically, Peter the Great is credited with modernizing and expanding the Russian Empire into a major European power.

ICE was joined in this investigation by the Russian Federation's Ministry of Culture, the Russian Federation's Investigative Committee at the Public Prosecutor, the Seattle Police Department and the ICE attaché in Moscow.

As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE plays a leading role in investigating crimes involving the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property, art and antiquities. ICE's Cultural Property Art and Antiquities unit and Office of International Affairs works jointly to identify, investigate and eventually return art and cultural items to their countries of origin or rightful owners.

ICE's Cultural Property Art and Antiquities unit uses investigative authority to seize cultural property, art and antiquities if they were either 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 his 50 Attache offices worldwide, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations. The Office International Affairs also facilitates the repatriation process with foreign governments.

ICE works with experts in the field of cultural heritage, art, and archeology to authenticate the items, determine their true ownership and return them. Those involved in the illicit trafficking of cultural property, art and antiquities can face prison terms of up to 20 years, fines, and possible restitution to purchasers of the items.