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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations

ICE conducts training conference on countering antiquities trafficking in Iraq

HSI conducts training conference on countering antiquities trafficking in Iraq
HSI conducts training conference on countering antiquities trafficking in Iraq

BAGHDAD – The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad hosted a delegation of nine American subject matter experts in the fields of federal law enforcement, justice and cultural heritage protection including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents, from Dec. 17 to 20 at a training conference on "Countering Antiquities Trafficking." The four-day training, sponsored by HSI in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, was provided to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior police investigators representing 15 provinces on methods of identifying Iraqi cultural heritage sites, and preventing and investigating looting and illegal trafficking within and beyond Iraq's borders.

Assistant Chief of Mission Ambassador James Knight opened the conference stating that, "Perhaps the most important reason for organizing a meeting such as this is Iraq's unparalleled cultural heritage. Preserving that heritage is to preserve some of mankind's greatest treasures. Not only are they a precious window into the past, they are tangible reminders to future generations of Iraqis of a glorious history."

"The countering antiquities trafficking conference in Baghdad marked a new beginning in HSI's efforts in assisting Iraqi Antiquities Police in their fight against the illegal trafficking of Iraq's cultural property," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ransom Avilla, HSI liaison in Baghdad. "We are hopeful that this training conference will provide the tools necessary for Iraqi Ministry of Interior police to detect, investigate and protect their national heritage."

Other law enforcement agencies that participated in the training conference included U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Justice, Interpol and the U.S. National Park Service.

In July 2011, ICE repatriated to the government of Iraq a collection of objects illegally imported into the United States from Iraq. The objects included Saddam Hussein-era paintings and two AK-47 rifles, and a Western Asiatic necklace (circa 3rd-2nd millennium B.C.). These objects were discovered as part of four separate investigations by HSI special agents in Tampa, Fla.; Newark, N.J.; El Paso, Texas, and Little Rock, Ark. In February 2010, ICE repatriated six objects to Iraq ranging from its ancient past to its recent political history. The collection that was returned included a stone tablet with ancient writing, a Babylonian clay statue, a Roman coin, ancient gold earrings and a chrome-plated AK-47 inscribed with a picture of Saddam Hussein. In 2008, ICE returned 1,046 artifacts that were seized in four separate investigations dating back to 2001. The items included terra cotta cones inscribed in Cuneiform text, a praying god figurine that was once imbedded in a Sumerian temple and coins bearing the likenesses of ancient emperors. Remnants of ancient Cuneiform tablets, which were seized by the Customs Service in 2001, were recovered from beneath the ruins of the World Trade Center. The ancient tablets were subsequently restored and returned to the government of Iraq. These repatriations are the latest in a series that ICE has returned to the people of Iraq since the agency was created in 2003.

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. The HSI Office of International Affairs, through its 73 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 provide cultural property investigative training to law enforcement partners for 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, more than 6,600 artifacts have been returned to 24 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 HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete its online tip form.