U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) protects the United States by promoting homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration. To accomplish this mission, ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) coordinates with state, local, federal, tribal and foreign law enforcement to promote goodwill with foreign governments and citizens. Returning a nation's looted cultural heritage or stolen artwork protects the world's cultural heritage and knowledge of past civilizations. The Smithsonian Institution's Museum Conservation Institute provides HSI special agents with on-site training on how to handle, store, photograph and authenticate cultural property and works of art. Since 2007, more than 6,600 artifacts have been returned to 24 countries.
Below are 10 of ICE's top repatriations.
ICE returned a Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton, looted from the Gobi Desert and illegally smuggled into the United States, to the government of Mongolia May 6, during a repatriation ceremony at a Manhattan, N.Y., hotel. The Bataar was seized in New York by HSI special agents after it sold at a Manhattan auction for $1.05 million. The return of this cultural property to Mongolia was the culmination of an investigation led by HSI New York and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.
ICE returned a 16th century tapestry, stolen in 1979 from a church, to the government of Spain April 17, at a repatriation ceremony at the Spanish ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C. The tapestry was seized by HSI special agents in Houston after it was sold at auction. The wool and silk tapestry was stolen in December 1979 from a national cathedral in Roda de Isábena, in the province of Huesca, Aragon, Spain. The tapestry depicts St. Ramon, the Virgin Mary with infant Jesus, Saint Vincent of Saragossa and Saint Valerius, and was used as an altar piece in the Romanesque cathedral. The tapestry was produced in the early 1500s and was part of the church's collection when the cathedral was declared a national monument by royal decree in 1924.
ICE returned more than 4,000 pieces of stolen and looted cultural artifacts to the government of Mexico at a repatriation ceremony Oct. 25, 2012, at the Consulate of Mexico in El Paso, Texas. The items were recovered in 11 separate investigations by HSI special agents. Among the archeological pieces returned to the people of Mexico were five pre-Columbian statues, more than 4,000 pre-Columbian artifacts and 26 pieces of pre-Columbian pottery, which date back more than 1,500 years.
ICE returned 14 stolen and looted cultural paintings and artifacts to the government of Peru at a repatriation ceremony at the Embassy of Peru in Washington, D.C., July 12, 2012. The items were recovered in five separate investigations by HSI special agents in New York; West Virginia; Wilmington, Delaware; and Austin and Houston, Texas. Returned to the Peruvian people were nine religious paintings, a monstrance and four archaeological items that date back more than 2,000 years.
ICE repatriated 99 pre-Columbian artifacts seized as a result of operations by HSI Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., to Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, April 27, 2011. These items, previously imported into the United States, were discovered as part of an investigation that began in 1998, under the U.S. Customs Service, an ICE legacy agency. HSI special agents intercepted shipments of pre-Columbian artifacts destined for the United States addressed to a professor at a U.S. university. The professor and one other individual were indicted for conspiracy to transport, receive, possess, conceal and store stolen property though the charges were ultimately dismissed. The professor agreed to surrender 99 Panamanian pre-Columbian artifacts, valued at approximately $100,000, which he illegally imported into the United States from Panama as part of the plea agreement.
Seven stolen and looted objects of Italian cultural heritage were repatriated April 26, 2012, at a ceremony at the Embassy of Italy in Washington, D.C. Two 2,000-year-old ceramic vessels, one Roman marble sculpture, one Renaissance painting and three music sheets from choir books dating back to the 13th century were recovered during four HSI investigations.
ICE returned the Julian Falat paintings "The Hunt" and "Off to the Hunt" during a ceremony at the Polish Consulate in New York, to the president of Poland, Sept. 22, 2011.The oil on panel paintings were stolen from the Polish National Museum in Warsaw, Poland, by the Nazis during World War II. In 2006, after the Polish government became aware that the paintings were going to be sold at auction in New York, it enlisted the assistance of HSI. Aug. 16, 2011, both "The Hunt" and "Off to the Hunt," also known as "Before Going Hunting in Rytwiany," were judicially forfeited for return to the government of the Republic of Poland.
ICE presented a painting by Edgar Degas, "Blanchisseuses Souffrant Des Dents," to the acting French Ambassador to the United States, Jan. 21, 2011. The painting, completed between 1870 to 1872, depicts two views of a laundress with a toothache. In 1961, the painting was loaned to the Musée Malraux in Le Havre in Normandy, France, but was stolen from the museum in December 1973. In October 2010, the Degas painting appeared in the Sotheby's New York catalogue for a pending auction of impressionist and modern art.
In a ceremony at the National Geographic Society, ICE returned an ancient sarcophagus to the Arab Republic of Egypt, March 10, 2010. The artifact was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) during routine inspections of goods coming into the United States and given to ICE, which investigated its path through the international art world. The coffin was intercepted by CBP at Miami International Airport in 2008 and initially scrutinized for agricultural concerns. ICE contacted the importer to establish whether the coffin had been exported legally from Egypt. The item was determined to be owned by Egypt through its cultural patrimony laws.
ICE presented six cultural items to the Ambassador of Iraq to the United States in a ceremony at the Iraq Embassy in Washington, D.C., Feb. 25, 2010. The items ranged the timeline of Iraq's history, from its ancient past to its recent political history. The items returned included 8th-7th century B.C. Neo-Assyrian gold earrings; a Babylonian clay foundation cone from 2100 B.C.; a Sumerian bronze foundation cone and stone tablet with inscription from 2,500 B.C. to 1,800 B.C.; an Iraqi coin from 250 B.C.; and an AK-47 bearing Saddam Hussein's image.