A letter written by famous Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky dated Feb. 11, 1876, was one of eight documents returned to the Russian Federation during a repatriation ceremony Thursday.
The documents were returned by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) at the Spaso House, a neoclassical style mansion and residence of every U.S. ambassador to Russia since 1933, in Moscow, June 13.
The repatriated documents, consisting of imperial and military decrees dating from the 18th to the 20th centuries, were seized by HSI special agents after being put up for sale on auction websites based in the United States. Asking prices for the documents, which had been missing since the early 1990's, ranged from $300-$15,000. Along with Tchaikovsky's letter, the documents returned include original letters from Empress Ekaterina II, Emperor Alexander II, Emperor Nikolas II and other significant figures in Russian history.
The documents were found and recovered in a joint effort between HSI Moscow, Russian law enforcement, the Russian Ministry of Culture, HSI special agents in the United States and the U.S. Department of Justice. The documents were taken from the Russian National Historical Archives in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Russian National Archives of Literature and the Arts in Moscow, and the Russian National Military Historical Archives in Moscow.
The three year investigation began when HSI offices in Atlanta, Manchester, New Haven and New York received information that more than 30 Russian imperial and military decrees were identified as stolen. 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.
Since 2007, more than 7,150 artifacts have been returned to 26 countries. 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.