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September 8, 2013Washington, DC, United StatesCultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations

ICE returns stolen antiquities to Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

ICE returns stolen antiquities to Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) returned five gold artifacts and an ancient vase to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Monday during a repatriation ceremony at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C.

HSI Assistant Director for the Office of International Affairs John Connolly presented the objects to Afghan Ambassador to the United States Eklil Hakimi.

"Afghanistan is a nation with a proud cultural heritage, and I’m delighted that HSI has been instrumental in returning to the Afghan people a long lost piece of their history that should have never been stolen," said HSI Assistant Director John Connolly. "Today marks HSI’s fourth cultural repatriation to Afghanistan since 2005. We are committed to the continued cooperation between our countries and beating back this illicit trade through dedicated law enforcement efforts, partnerships and training thus preserving and protecting the world’s ancient and valued treasures."

"These items are national treasures that form the country’s identity and distinguish Afghanistan from the rest of the world," said Ambassador Hakimi. "We are grateful to the U.S. government, particularly U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations for returning these extraordinary symbols of our past civilizations to their rightful owner today. As we look beyond 2014 into the ’Transformation Decade,’ the repatriation of these artifacts assures us that Afghanistan will once again thrive as a cultural and artistic hub. We value our relationship with the United States and the assistance they have provided in helping to preserve our nation’s history and identity."

The vase is a 12.75-inch Roman oinochoe, or wine pitcher, from the 5th to 8th century A.D. Also returned were three 4-by-3.25-inch 5th century B.C. gold foil appliques depicting antelopes and two antique coiled gold ornaments from approximately the 17th century, weighing approximately one pound.

On March 21, 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the HSI New York El Dorado Task Force seized a shipment containing the gold artifacts and the ancient vase at Newark Liberty International Airport, Central Air Cargo Examination Facility, after HSI New York special agents discovered they were destined for a New York City man and later to a New York business suspected of dealing in looted cultural property. Through the investigative process, the antiquities were found to have originated in Afghanistan. On Jan. 25, 2012, the shipment was administratively forfeited.

HSI New York, London and Dubai are conducting this ongoing investigation.

Previous repatriations to Afghanistan include: On June 2, HSI Kabul returned a late 19th century historic "jezail" rifle ammunition speed loader to the people of Afghanistan following an investigation. The ammunition speed loader had disappeared from the Kabul National Museum in the years after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan. On May 22, 2008, HSI repatriated eight Bronze Age circa 2,000 B.C. artifacts to Afghanistan. The artifacts, likely looted from northern tombs, had been illegally removed from Afghanistan and sold in the United States. Additionally, on May 23, 2005, ICE repatriated two rare coins, estimated to be more than 2,000 years old, which were looted during the unrest following the departure of Russian forces in 1988. The Indo-Greek coins of Agathokles, dated between 171 and 160 B.C., were looted from Kabul Taliban factions.

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 75 attaché offices in 48 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 7,150 artifacts have been returned to 26 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.

Learn more about the Embassy of Afghanistan at

Updated: 04/13/2015