Wednesday 27 April 2011

Seized pre-Columbian Artefacts Return to Panama

Investigations by the U.S. Customs Service (later US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) began in 1998 when they received a tip from Panamanian investigators that an employee of the U.S. government agency, the Panama Canal Commission was smuggling pre-Columbian artefacts out of Panama into the United States ( Goverment Officials Returning Seized pre-Columbian Artifacts to Panama, April 27, 2011). Four large shipping containers being shipped to Oregon and declared as household goods were searched and six pre-Columbian artefacts were found, seized and returned to Panama. A search of the man's home in Panama revealed a further 148 pre-Columbian artefacts.
The man was indicted in 2003 in Oregon for smuggling and conspiracy to transport, receive, possess, conceal and store stolen property. The individual pleaded guilty to smuggling and was sentenced to probation. Two other individuals were also identified as part of the employee’s conspiracy. ICE HSI agents intercepted shipments of pre-Columbian artifacts destined for the United States addressed to one of those individuals, a professor at a U.S. university. Both individuals were indicted for conspiracy to transport, receive, possess, conceal and store stolen property though the charges were ultimately dismissed. The professor agreed to turn over 99 Panamanian pre-Columbian artifacts that he illegally imported into the United States from Panama as part of the plea agreement. In 2005, ICE HSI agents in Los Angeles and Portland supervised the authentication, inventory and seizure of the 99 artifacts.

The artefacts were mostly pottery vessels (which "represent a very complete sample of most of the pottery styles in pre-Columbian Panama from the period A.D. 1 through 1500") pedestal plates, metates and figurines, valued at approximately $100,000. They were probably looted from graves in south-western Veraguas around the shores of the Gulf of Montijo. The items were handed back to Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli at ICE headquarters.

The usual speeches were made.

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