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February 25, 2022San Juan, PR, United StatesCultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations

Pre-Columbian clay ancient artifacts returned to the Dominican Republic

SAN JUAN – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in conjunction with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), returned 12 ancient artifacts to the Dominican Republic during a repatriation ceremony, held at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in San Juan on Thursday.

HSI San Juan Special Agent in Charge, Ivan Arvelo, returned the artifacts to the Honorable Opinio Diaz, Dominican Republic Consul in Puerto Rico on behalf of the U.S. government.

“Investigating Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities is an important part of the HSI mission,” said Ivan Arvelo, HSI San Juan Special Agent in Charge. “The return of these artifacts to our brothers and sisters from the Dominican Republic are essential for the continued partnership between the two governments.”

As a result of a cultural property investigation spanning across three separate cases, law enforcement became aware of artifacts smuggled into San Juan from Santo Domingo in December 2013 when a local collector purchased it from an online auction house. There were 28 suspected Pre-Columbian stones and one piece of wooden art identified after a CBP inspection of an incoming ferry boat. Experts from the Puerto Rico Archeological Department indicated that some of the artifacts belonged to the Taino Indian culture and were considered archaeological objects.

“We appreciate HSI ongoing efforts to repatriate twelve Pre-Columbian artifacts to my Country,” said Dominican Republic Consul Opinio Diaz. “This level of collaboration strengthens the friendship and collaboration between both countries.”

“We are happy to witness this return of archaeological pieces to our brother country, the Dominican Republic. The archaeological pieces are going back to their place of origin. This represents an important contribution to its history and identity. Now, there will be new material that can be researched and studied to better understand the past. The Archeology program of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture collaborated in the certification process of these pieces, reaffirming our commitment to cultural collaboration with our Dominican brothers,” said Carlos Ruiz, Executive Director of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.

“I am proud of the CBP Officers that were able to identify these priceless artifacts. It is our privilege to return these historical treasures to the Dominican Republic,” indicated Gregory Alvarez, Director of Field Operations for CBP in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “We will continue working with our state and federal partners to ensure we rescue these types of historical objects from the hands of those who profit on the theft of cultural property.”

HSI works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations and is committed to pursuing a strategy to combat transnational organized crime related to the illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts by targeting high-priority organizations and strengthening international law enforcement partnerships. Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 15,000 objects to over 40 countries and institutions.

Members of the public who have information about the illicit distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of artwork, are urged to call the toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete the online tip form.

HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move.

HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest global footprints in U.S. law enforcement.