Sunday, 15 March 2015

Stolen Artefacts to be Returned by US to Iraq

Assyrian statue
fragment of
Sargon II
In an event that sends out multiple political messages, US officials tomorrow are expected to repatriate about 65 seized stolen objects to the Iraqi government at the Iraqi Consulate in Washington. The items includes the head of a massive lamassu statue of King Sargon II. The head was seized in August 2008 at the Port of New York as part of a shipment from a Dubai merchant. It had been stolen in 2007 or 2008 from Sargon's palace.
Other artifacts to be returned to Iraq, officials said, include clay tablets and glass pieces — as well as Bronze Age spear blades, an ax head and other weaponry dating back more than 4,500 years to the Sumerian period. [...] The items — seized during several multiyear, multistate investigations into smuggled antiquities conducted by Homeland Security Investigations [...] “We are talking about a broad transnational criminal organization that deals in illicit cultural property,” said Brenton M. Easter, a special agent with the Homeland Security Department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Many of the items originated with a Dubai-based antiquities dealer who was trying to sell them, with false paperwork, to museums, galleries and art houses in New York, officials said. Mr. Easter said that several arrests have been made and that federal prosecutions are underway as a result of two of the investigations, known as Operation Lost Treasure and Operation Mummy’s Curse. He said he could not reveal more details because the cases are continuing and are likely to lead to new seizures and possible arrests.
Let us hope that charges are pressed and information released about just what has been going on down in Dubai. Also being repatriated are a water urn, a door knocker, a soap dish and several gold-plated objects stolen from one of the Baghdad palaces of Saddam Hussein during the 2003 American invasion. Here's something on an 2012 "Operation Lost Treasure", involving international drugs smuggling out of Dubai, are they related? [Update, the caption to the film says  this stuff comes from "five separate investigations", led by HSI offices "in New York; Baltimore, Maryland; Austin, Texas; and New Haven, Connecticut"].

Meanwhile the dealers and their lobbyists who are vehemently contesting that any stolen Middle eastern artefacts could be on the US (in particular) market really do need to read their newspapers - because the rest of us do and draw inferences from their constant denials.

And all those saying buying antiquities "saves" them from fundamentalist smashers might like to look at where this fragment comes from, a complete lamassu. So how was this New York-seized fragment detached so symmetrically while retaining all the elements  that make it so collectable? A random fracture (for example when the palace roof collapsed in an earthquake/fire in antiquity) would most likely not produce such a nicely-portableised 'art' piece ready for display. This has quite clearly been hacked off by the people supplying the dealers with saleable fragments.

Note that James McAndrew, former senior special agent with the United States Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, eagerly quoted as an 'authority' by the dealers and their lobbyists denies anything like this ever entered the US.
During and after the two Gulf wars between the US and Iraq [...] the only items seized at US ports were a few small parcels of cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets and foundation cones, all easily transportable and of relatively low value [...] We never recovered larger hoards of trafficked material 
Well, apart from small things like the hardly-pocket-size lamassu head. What else came in and for one reason or another was not seized at the border in 2008?

On the other hand, this looks very suspicious, they've had this stuff in their stores, some of it, for six years, they've still (they say) not made all the arrests connected with it (what have they been doing all this time?)  and now, and only now (or maybe precisely now) they decide to relinquish it as they say; "to the Republic of Iraq!!". I do not think it requires any stretch of the imagination to envisage the response from "certain quarters" and right on cue, a few hours later "State Department to Repatriate Artifacts to War Zone" hysterically scream the lunatics (although they shot yet another unarmed black guy there a few days ago, as far as the rest of us know, Washington DC - where the embassy is - is not yet a "war zone"). It is not unduly cynical to see this attention-grabbing move, using material seized more than half a decade ago, as a cover-up for them NOT announcing the seizure at the US borders of increasing numbers (as they get better at spotting them) of ISIL-looted objects which allegedly should be flowing onto the US market right now. When are HSI going to announce the seizures? In five years time ("we are not going to name any names while we are still trying to work out what is going on")? Come on guys, get serious. Show us some real stuff, show us some real action being taken at the US borders. Show us what you can do. Or is there an objective reason why you are not able to come up with anything better than this? [Update:
Nicely squared-up backside of portableised Sargon (screengrab)]

Tom Mashberg, 'Assyrian Artifacts to Be Returned to Iraq' New York Times March 15, 2015.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.