“These ancient treasures we are returning
do not belong in the hands of any private collection
or any one owner. They belong to the people of Iraq
where they will be displayed and protected [...] ICE will
not allow the illicit greed of some to trump the cultural history
of an entire nation.” ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña March 16th 2015.
One of the most significant items returned to Iraq is the Head of Assyrian King Sargon II, a limestone fragmentary head of Lamassu, the winged bull, from the Palace of Sargon II. As part of “Operation Lost Treasure,” HSI New York special agents received information on June 30, 2008, that an antiquities dealer based in Dubai was selling looted Iraqi antiquities to dealers around the world. The special agents seized the limestone statue on Aug. 13, 2008, after it was shipped to New York by a Dubai-based antiquities trading company owned by the antiques dealer. This investigation identified a broad transnational criminal organization dealing in illicit cultural property. Some of the network’s shipments were directly linked to major museums, galleries and art houses in New York. The investigation has resulted in one arrest, multiple seizures of antiquities ranging from Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan, and the return of many of artifacts. A repatriation ceremony with Afghanistan was held two years ago and future repatriations are anticipated.Now, how many Dubai-based antiquity dealers are there who handle antiquities from Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan? Is this dealer still in business? They were reportedly shipped to "a New York business suspected of dealing in looted cultural property". Is this New York business still in operation? Who was arrested in or about August 2008 and for how long - and for what? Were they charged, or did they agree to collaborate?
ICE has returned more than 1200 items to Iraq in four repatriations since 2008. Among them is this case:
HSI Austin special agents viewed a Craigslist posting selling objects consisting of swords, daggers and an ax from various time frames and regions. In June 2012 special agents determined that a Luristan bronze ax from Early Sumeria (present day Iraq) was among the artifacts being sold. The seller had no importation documentation and the ax was among several other items that were subsequently abandoned by the individual.But... Luristan is in Iran... Were any charges pressed? Is this dealer still in business? And one more, this one discussed in this blog, another Dubai-based case:
An investigation by HSI New York dubbed “The Mummy’s Curse” targeted an organization that smuggled cultural heritage objects into the U.S., sold them in antiquities markets and laundered the proceeds back to the source countries. As part of the investigation, 37 Iraqi bronze objects, 21 clay reliefs and 18 pieces of Iraqi glass were forfeited to the U.S. government to be returned to the people of Iraq. This investigation was unique in utilizing money laundering charges, which allowed investigators to seize bank accounts containing the proceeds from the sale of smuggled cultural property. This allowed ICE to identify a large transnational criminal organization, resulting in the issuance of four arrests warrants. So far two convictions have been secured and the agency is seeking an international fugitive involved in the case.Interestingly, in this example, the court case focused on the Egyptian antiquities, we heard rather little about the artefacts from Iraq at the time of the arrest, charging and then conviction, but here they are. As I recall, though a big thing was made at the time of the possibilities of 'money laundering' charges for prosecuting culture crime, nothing much came of that line of the enquiry, so it is interesting to see it mentioned here again.
I refer interested readers to the original for the details of the Saddam Hussain period material seized.
ICE Press release: 'Ancient antiquities and Saddam Hussein-era objects returned to Iraq', 16th March 2015.
UPDATE 19th March 2015
Rick St Hilaire has a useful post on his blog linking the links and filling in the details, he names the Dubai dealer: 'The Assyrian Head Repatriation: Filling in the Details of ICE's Investigation', CHL Thursday, March 19, 2015.