Stolen artifacts returned to Peru

Authorities returned to Peru more than $43,000 worth of stolen artifacts that were seized at a Houston airport last year

May 12, 2011 3:36:53 PM PDT
U.S. customs agents have returned to Peru more than $43,000 worth of artifacts they seized last year from a man trying to smuggle them into Houston.

In 2010, authorities from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection received a tip from federal agents in New York and Denver that a man arriving in Houston had possession of stolen artifacts. Acting on this lead, an officer stopped the passenger, searched him and discovered the artifacts.

Authorities confiscated stolen 18th century papyrus manuscripts and a book stolen from a Peruvian library. They also seized an Inca pottery vessel depicting a man with llama (A.D. 1400-1500); a pot with a feline on one side and standing feline (A.D. 300-360), handmade textile and two headbands, likely excavated from graves along the Pacific coast of Peru, made from locally grown cotton; and stone jaguar-human sculpture that's between 1,200 and 1,500 years old and is likely Chavín or Moche in origin.

The man, who had several previous records for possession of stolen papyrus manuscripts and an extensive travel history to and from Peru, died in May 2010.

Authorities got the sellers of the artifacts to forfeit the stolen items, but it wasn't until Thursday that the stolen artifacts were sent back to Peru.

"The antiquities we are returning today are more than mere objects. They are remarkable treasures of untold historical significance, which provide clues into the lives of our ancestors," said ICE Assistant Director for International Affairs Luis Alvarez. "Sadly, the theft and trafficking of cultural artifacts is one of the oldest forms of organized cross-border crime. ICE HSI will continue to investigate and seize national treasures of other countries that find their way to the Unites States under false pretenses."

"I would like to express my appreciation for this restitution, and the high level of cooperation that exists in this field between both countries," said Ambassador Luis Miguel Valdivieso Montano, Peru.

A 1997 Memorandum of Understanding between the United Stated and Peru allows the countries to work together to prevent the illicit trafficking of archaeological objects and enables them to place import restrictions on pre-Columbian archaeological artifacts and colonial ethnological materials from all areas of Peru.

"CBP is pleased to have partnered with ICE and the Peruvian Government to help return these priceless artifacts," said Ortiz. "It is important that we continue to work collaboratively with our foreign law enforcement partners to preserve cultural heritage. Thanks to the dedication of the men and women of CBP, these artifacts will be returned to its rightful owner, the people of Peru."

This is the second repatriation of items to Peru. In April 2010, ICE and CBP returned 12 pre-Columbian human skulls, circa A.D. 640-890.

However, more than 2,400 artifacts have been returned to 19 countries since 2007. The confiscations include paintings from France, Germany and Austria; an 18th century manuscript from Italy; and a bookmark belonging to Hitler as well as cultural artifacts from Iraq including Babylonian, Sumerian and neo-Assyrian items.

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