Wednesday 22 April 2015

Repatriation of ‘Operation Mummy’s Curse’ (sic) Artefacts

“Operation Mummy’s Curse” is said by the press release to be "an ongoing five-year investigation by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) targeting an international criminal network that illegally smuggled and imported more than 7,000 cultural items from around the world" (note the "ongoing" - I wonder if it really is). Anyway, some of the illicit artefacts seized from dealers and collectors are going back:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) repatriated dozens of illegally smuggled ancient artifacts to the government of Egypt, including a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, at a ceremony Wednesday at the National Geographic Society in Washington. [...] “Preserving mankind’s cultural heritage is an increasingly difficult challenge in today’s society. To think that some of these treasured artifacts were recovered from garages, exposed to the elements, is unimaginable,” said ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña. “It is an honor for ICE to investigate these kinds of cases and to assist other countries in preserving their heritage.”
But US dealers and collectors, the people who contribute to the difficulties of preserving the heritage by their business methods, don't see it like that. Going back were a sarcophagus ("recovered from a garage in Brooklyn, New York" on Sept. 8, 2009), some smuggled goods seized in Sept 2010 at  Detroit Metropolitan Airport (a funerary boat model and figurines etc). Coins were also involved, in December 2010 a shipment of 638 ancient coins was stopped, "65 of which are being repatriated to Egypt today". Other antiquities returned include two Middle Kingdom wooden boat models and a series of finely carved limestone reliefs from an Egyptian temple.
“[...] The ongoing investigation has identified a criminal network of smugglers, importers, money launderers, restorers and purchasers who used illegal methods to avoid detection as these items entered the United States. Items and funds were traced back to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Iraq and other nations.[...] To date, Operation Mummy’s Curse has secured four indictments, two convictions, 19 search warrants and 16 seizures totaling approximately $3 million. The agency is also seeking an international fugitive involved in the case.
Now, those 638 coins that were destined for sale, do you reckon they'd have gone on the dealers' website with the description "just arrived from the source countries", or would they have been put up for sale without any information whatsoever about where they come from, or would they be marketed as "from a New York collection" ("New York collection put together in the 1960s and 1970s")? Which do you reckon is the most likely judging from the way coins are marketed today? In other words, shipments like this (the seized ones being, we may SAFEly assume are just the tip of the ICEberg) call into question the collective honesty of the dugup coin industry. Both the dealers indicted in Operation Mummy Curse are sill trading. Where does the material in their stock come from today, and why could they not exploit these sources before they were caught?

ICE press release "ICE returns ancient artifacts to Egypt at National Geographic Society" 22nd April 2015.

Vignette: Zombie antiquities dealer

1 comment:

David Gill said...

The interesting thing about this press release is the absence of a mention of the dealer's name / dealers' names.

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