NEW YORK – An antiquities dealer pleaded guilty Wednesday to smuggling Egyptian cultural property into the United States and making a false statement to law enforcement authorities. The guilty plea comes as a result of an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Mousa Khouli, aka Morris Khouli, 38, was an antiquities dealer who arranged for the purchase and smuggling of a series of Egyptian antiquities between October 2008 and November 2009. This included: a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, a three-part nesting coffin set, a set of Egyptian funerary boats and Egyptian limestone figures.
These antiquities were exported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and smuggled into the United States using a variety of illegal methods intended to avoid detection and scrutiny by CBP. This included making false declarations to CBP concerning the country of origin and value of the antiquities; and providing misleading descriptions of the contents on shipping labels and customs paperwork, such as "antiques" "wood panels" and "wooden painted box." Khouli covered up the smuggling by making false statements to law enforcement authorities.
Most of the smuggled antiquities were recovered by law enforcement at the time the indictment was unsealed July 14, 2011. The innermost coffin of the nesting set was seized during a search of Khouli's residence in September 2009. The middle coffin and most of the outer coffin lid were seized in November 2009, after they arrived via sea cargo at the Port of Newark, N.J. The sarcophagus, funerary boats and limestone figures were seized during a search of co-defendant Joseph A. Lewis II's residence in July 2011.
The missing pieces of the coffin lid were forfeited to the government in court Wednesday. They consist of four wooden bird-like figures that attach to the four corners of the coffin lid, and four wooden panels that comprise the rectangular bottom of the coffin lid. Hieroglyphics on the coffin indicate that the name of the deceased was "Shesepamuntayesher" and that she bore the title "Lady of the House."
Khouli faces up to 20 years in federal prison. The defendant also entered into a stipulation of settlement resolving a civil complaint seeking forfeiture of the Egyptian antiquities, Iraqi artifacts, cash and other pieces of cultural property seized in connection with the government's investigation.
HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the unauthorized importation and distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of artwork. The agency specializes in recovering works that have been reported lost or stolen. The HSI Office of International Affairs, through its 70 attaché offices in 47 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible.
HSI 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 on investigating crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.
Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 2,500 items to more than 23 countries.