WASHINGTON — Officials representing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Republic of Korea's Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish a framework for the exchange of information and cooperation regarding the protection, recovery and restitution of cultural property.
A ceremony was held at ICE headquarters in Washington to commemorate the MOU signing, the first of its kind between a U.S. agency and an agency from the Republic of Korea. The MOU was signed by ICE Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas S. Winkowski and CHA Administrator Sun-hwa Rha.
"The MOU we are signing today is based on a mutual and deeply held value that both the United States and the Republic of Korea hold dear," said Winkowski. "That is, a nation's treasures are rare and reverential objects, worthy of preservation and protection for generations to come."
In recent years, ICE repatriated to the Republic of Korea nine royal seals, as well as a Joseon Dynasty and Hojo currency plate, looted from the Deoksu Palace in Seoul during the Korean War. Both repatriations resulted from investigations by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that were started in the United States and worked jointly with the HSI Seoul office.
"This MOU is historically significant and represents a strong will of the South Korean government to proactively prevent the illegal trafficking of cultural property by closely coordinating with the U.S. government based on mutual trust and friendship," said Rha. "CHA will continue to fully cooperate with HSI regarding the investigation and prevention of the illicit trade in cultural property, art, and antiquities. CHA would like to express its appreciation to HSI Regional Attaché Taekuk Cho and the HSI Seoul, Korea office for its unwavering commitment and support."
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 Operations, through its 67 attaché offices in 48 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible.
HSI's 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 7,150 artifacts have been returned to 27 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.