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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
12/15/2017

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3 ancient statues repatriated to Lebanese Republic

3 ancient statues repatriated to Lebanese Republic
3 ancient statues repatriated to Lebanese Republic
3 ancient statues repatriated to Lebanese Republic

NEW YORK — Following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities (CPAA) group, in coordination with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (DANY), three marble statues originally excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in Lebanon were repatriated to their home country. The Consul General of Lebanon in New York accepted the return of the artifacts on behalf of Lebanon.

"These three pieces have travelled through the underworld of art, being recovered here in New York. Now it is time that they are returned to Lebanon, their rightful home," said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI New York. "The trafficking of cultural property and art is a lucrative criminal enterprise that transnational criminal organizations seek to partake of to make a profit; nonetheless, the cultural significance and worth of these returned treasures is beyond any monetary value." 

This year, HSI New York’s CPAA group, in a coordinated effort with DANY, seized several artifacts pursuant to search warrants and an ongoing joint investigation with partners in local and international law enforcement into the trafficking of stolen antiquities, including:

  • Torso E1912: In November, a marble torso, circa the 4th century B.C.E., was recovered from a private owner who acquired it after the statue was excavated in the 1970s from the Temple of Eshmun, an ancient place of worship near Sidon in southwestern Lebanon. The item was subsequently stolen during the Lebanese Civil War and sold by an antiquities dealer before being shipped to New York.
  • The Calf Bearer: In October, another marble torso, circa the 6th century B.C.E. and valued at approximately $4.5 million, was recovered from a private owner who acquired the artifact after it too was excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in the 1970s, stolen during the Lebanese Civil War, and sold to private collectors.
  • The Bull’s Head: In July, a marble bull’s head, circa 360 B.C.E. and valued at approximately $1.2 million, was recovered from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on loan for display by a private collector who acquired the statue after it was also was excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in the 1960s, transferred to the Byblos Citadel in Jubayl, stolen during the Lebanese Civil War, and sold to private collectors.

All of the items were seized pursuant to judicially authorized warrants, but were thereafter forfeited once the owners were presented with evidence that the artifacts had been stolen from Lebanon.

HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of artwork, specializing in recovering works that have been reported lost or stolen. HSI’s International Operations, through its 62 attaché offices in 46 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations.

HSI's specially trained investigators assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. They also train investigators from other nations and agencies to investigate crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace. 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.

Since 2007, more than 8,000 artifacts have been returned to 30 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 tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete the online tip form.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 12/18/2017