Wednesday 24 July 2013

US Iraqi Loot: Assyrian Head to be Seized

Courtyard News Service (Dan McCue, "Looted Assyrian Head Will Return to Iraq" Wednesday, July 24, 2013) thinks we should all be jolly happy that but only "The United States will return an ancient Assyrian head to Iraq, 10 years after it was stolen and smuggled out of the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003". The object is apparently still in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security.
The Customs Service investigated the sale of the Assyrian head by an antiquities dealer in Dubai to a collector in New York in 2008. Law enforcement agents learned that the dealer, Hassan Fazeli, "advised the purchaser that the defendant property was from Iraq, but that Fazeli would list an incorrect country of origin on the United States Customs importation documents," according to the federal complaint. "Fazeli acknowledged to the purchaser that he often listed 'Turkey' as the country of origin on United States Customs importation documents because he had Turkish papers he could use." Prosecutors claim they know of at least two prior occasions when Fazeli tried such a ruse, in each case trying to smuggle Egyptian antiquities into the U.S. Fazeli shipped the Assyrian head to the United States on July 30, 2008. In addition to allegedly falsely stating it was from Turkey, he listed its value as $6,500, though it has been appraised at $1.2 million, the United States [says]. U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman issued a seizure warrant for the shipment containing the antiquity Aug. 12, 2008. Customs agents seized the head the next day. 
Just in case its readers do not know, Couurtroom News Service helpfully adds: "Assyrians are indigenous people of Iraq, being descendents of the ancient Mesopotamians" and (perhaps they missed the newspaper stories): "Widespread looting of antiquities in Iraq broke out shortly after U.S. troops entered Baghdad on April 8, 2003, with a focal point of the activity being Iraq's National Museum".

The case is discussed in more detail (with quotations from the court documents) by Rick St Hilaire ("Seized Assyrian Head Named in Forfeiture Complaint - Smuggling Allegations Raised", Wednesday, July 24, 2013) who is as puzzled as the rest of us about the delay in starting procedings to return the item. Perhaps it has been decorating a HS office as a trophy somewhere in the interim?

It is rare in cases like this for details to be released about the name of the person involved at one end of the chain (the collector who bought it is not named). St Hilaire has checked and found that the Dubai dealer is facing no criminal charges in the US in this or any other case. So presumably is free to carry on trading. The court documents mention his role in the shipping of Egyptian objects from Dubai to the US.   
Vignette: Gilgamesh strangles the illicit antiquities trade (Louvre), the US cannot quite seem to manange the feat.

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