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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
09/26/2019

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Ancient gold coffin repatriated to Egypt in New York ceremony

Ancient gold coffin repatriated to Egypt in New York ceremony
Ancient gold coffin repatriated to Egypt in New York ceremony
Ancient gold coffin repatriated to Egypt in New York ceremony

NEW YORK — A repatriation ceremony took place Wednesday following the recovery of a stolen Egyptian artifact previously on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This following an investigation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. The Gold Coffin of Nedjemankh was presented to the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Hassan Shoukry who accepted the piece on behalf of the people of Egypt.

“The high profit business of smuggling and trafficking antiquities has been around for centuries,” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, special agent in charge of HSI New York. “But it is the responsibility of a buyer to confirm the proper provenance of a piece of art or antiquity. The tremendous collaboration between HSI New York and the Manhattan DA in building art cases has allowed us to strengthen relationships within the art world, both domestic and global; develop investigations to track the illicit movement of stolen art and locate its final destination; and, return the priceless cultural property to its rightful homeland for its citizens to enjoy.”

“Coming as we do from all over the world, New Yorkers place a strong value on cultural heritage, and our office takes pride in our work to vigorously protect it,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. “Returning stolen cultural treasures to their countries of origin is at the core of our mission to stop the trafficking of stolen antiquities. I am honored to repatriate this extraordinary artifact back to the people of Egypt, and I thank my office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit as well as our partners at HSI New York for their diligence in this investigation.”

In February 2019, HSI New York and the D.A.’s Office executed a search warrant and seized the Gold Coffin of Nedjemankh from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on display, as part of an ongoing joint investigation with law enforcement partners in Egypt, Germany, and France. The extraordinary coffin, crafted in Egypt between approximately 150 and 50 B.C.E., once held the remains of high-ranking priest Nedjemankh. It was stolen from the Minya region of Egypt in the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution in October 2011. It was then smuggled out of Egypt and transported through the United Arab Emirates to Germany, where it was restored, and to France, where it was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in July 2017.

Once presented with evidence of the theft, the Metropolitan Museum of Art fully cooperated, culminating in Wednesday’s repatriation ceremony to return the artifact to Egypt, where it will be on public display. It has an estimated value of €3.5 million, or approximately $4 million.

HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Unit, dedicated to cultural property investigations in the New York area, has recently established the Virtual Global Cultural Property Task Force (VGCPTF). With this taskforce, The New York team is now able to establish real-time information sharing on global, multi-jurisdictional criminal investigations and build upon existing relationships with domestic and international partners. Through these efforts the VGCPTF will be able to develop evidence in each respective nation to identify and prosecute the network of looters/thieves, brokers, shippers, dealers, and end purchasers of illicit art and antiquities. The enhanced operational abilities of this initiative will support the efforts of HSI’s Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities (CPAA) program, a member of the congressionally mandated Cultural Antiquities Task Force. HSI CPAA takes an expanded approach to collaborating with cultural property professionals in local governments, museums, and auction houses; to protect, recover, and restore cultural antiquities and worldwide sites as part of a whole-of-government approach to combatting cultural property trafficking.

HSI is the investigative arm for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illicit 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 77 offices in 51 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations.

Despite increasingly aggressive enforcement efforts to prevent the theft of cultural heritage and other antiquities, the illicit movement of such items across international borders continues to challenge global law enforcement efforts to reduce the trafficking of such property. Trafficking in antiquities is estimated to be a multi-billion dollar transnational criminal enterprise.

HSI is committed to pursuing a strategy to combat transnational organized crime related to the illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts by targeting high priority organizations and strengthening international law enforcement partnerships. Future meetings and implementing steps identified at the London meeting will include law enforcement in the broader cultural property community.

The public, government and private institutions often aid HSI in identifying, investigating and prosecuting illicitly trafficked cultural property. If you have information about the illicit trade of cultural property or art, call the HSI Tip Line, 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or report tips online. For information specific to the New York area, email HSINYTRADE@ice.dhs.gov.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 09/26/2019