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April 5, 2023Washington, DC, United StatesCultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations

HSI Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Program repatriates over 135 artifacts in 2nd quarter of fiscal year 2023

WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) mission includes investigating the criminal importation and distribution of stolen or looted cultural property. U.S. federal customs laws provide HSI special agents with the unique authority, jurisdiction and responsibility to take a leading role in cultural property, art and antiquities (CPAA) investigations. In the second quarter of fiscal year 2023, the CPAA program repatriated more than 135 artifacts to multiple nations.

“HSI special agents work alongside international, federal, state and local partners — as well as private institutions — to pursue individuals and networks engaged in the trafficking of cultural property, art and antiquities,” said HSI acting Executive Associate Director Steve K. Francis. “I emphasized recently that while looted cultural property, art and antiquities are often assigned a dollar value in marketplaces, the cultural and historical significance of these artifacts extends far beyond any monetary value.”

In case you missed it:

  • HSI New York worked with the U.S. State Department and Manhattan district attorney to repatriate a cosmetic spoon made of carved ivory dating back to approximately 800-700 B.C.E. to the Palestinian Authority Jan. 5. The item was seized pursuant to a multinational criminal investigation, which has resulted in the seizure of dozens of stolen antiquities from a prominent American businessman and marked the first time a cultural object had been returned to the Palestinian Authority.
  • HSI Philadelphia, with assistance from HSI Wilmington and in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, repatriated two rare coins and a mosaic fragment to the Cypriot ambassador to the United States Jan. 25.
  • HSI New York, in conjunction with the Manhattan district attorney and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, repatriated 14 antiquities to Italy Feb. 2. The repatriation included the Sicily Naxos Coin (circa 430 B.C.E), the Priam Painter Hydria (circa 510 B.C.E), and the Hadrian Head (circa 200 C.E.).
  • HSI New York, HSI Philadelphia and HSI Washington, D.C. combined 77 artifacts, including an ancient brass bowl, folios from a Quran and more than 60 stele from several investigations for a repatriation of cultural property to the country of Yemen Feb. 21. The ceremony, attended by representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was hosted by Yemen’s ambassador to the United States at his residence.
  • HSI New York repatriated a large, clay cuneiform tablet during a ceremony with the U.S. Department of State and FBI at the Consulate of the Republic of Iraq March 8. The tablet, which dates to the Middle Babylonian period, circa 1270 B.C.E., was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on suspicion of being illegally imported into the United States.
  • HSI New York collaborated with the Greek Consulate in New York to return 29 antiquities March 21, including the extraordinarily rare Eid Mar coin, which commemorates the murder of Julius Caesar. The coin was recovered as part of multiple criminal investigations into high profile traffickers and smugglers.
  • HSI New York worked with the government of the Republic of Türkiye (Turkey) to return 12 artifacts March 22 that were recovered as part of criminal investigation into antiquities possessed by a prominent American philanthropist and antiquities collector.
  • HSI New York liaised with Cambodian officials to return a looted 11th century Khmer sandstone lintel to the Kingdom of Cambodia March 31.

Since 2007, HSI investigations have led to the repatriation of over 20,000 objects to more than 40 countries and institutions. The repatriated objects have included paintings, sarcophagi, statues, coins and illuminated manuscripts.

“Cultural heritage is irreplaceable; once a piece of history is destroyed, it is lost forever,” said Francis. “It is our goal to save as much of this history as we can.”

In fiscal year 2022, HSI’s CPAA program repatriated cultural property to more than 15 countries, including France, India, Iraq, Italy and Mali. Among the repatriated items were cuneiform tablets, religious artifacts and architectural drawings stolen from Jewish communities during the Holocaust.

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