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Ancient Artifacts Returned to the Dominican Republic

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic— A collection of 67 artifacts illegally imported into the United States were returned to the Dominican Republic during a joint repatriation ceremony in Santo Domingo. The repatriation of these artifacts is the result of a series of seizures and several investigations conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

ICE HSI Assistant Director for International Affairs Luis Alvarez, Dominican Republic Minister of Culture Jose Rafael Lantigua and U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Raul H. Yzaguirre participated in the repatriation.

“The antiquities we are returning today are treasures that provide clues into the lives of our ancestors,” said Alvarez. “Pilfering and trading in a country’s ethnic and cultural heritage treasures are major transgressions that will not be tolerated. ICE HSI will continue to work in close coordination with our domestic and international partners to investigate and seize national treasures of other countries that find their way into the United States under false pretenses.”

“We are very committed to the ability to fight against the plundering of cultural heritage and the illicit trafficking of cultural property and that, one way or another, they are [this is a way of] stealing from peoples their historic past,” said Yzaguirre. “The artifacts that we see here today are a testimony to the rich cultural heritage of this land. Some of these pieces, as the experts have said, are two thousand years old.”

In May 2008, 66 artifacts were seized in three locations pursuant to an investigation that began in Jacksonville, Fla. In the first case, CBP officers in Orlando, Fla., seized 11 boxes arriving from the Dominican Republic manifested as “stone figurines” destined for an individual in Jacksonville.

In the second case, ICE HSI agents in Jacksonville identified and seized a shipment consigned to the same individual receiving artifacts in Jacksonville. A curator from the University of Florida determined the artifacts seized in Orlando and Jacksonville date from the periods of Chicoid A.D. 1200 to 1500; Archaic or later 2000 B.C. to A.D. 1200; or Ostionoid A.D. 1000 to 1500.

In the third case, a relative of the importer of the artifacts in the first two cases was encountered and detained by CBP officers at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico as he returned from the Dominican Republic. He was carrying pre-Columbian artifacts.

CBP seized the artifacts, which were then sent for authentication by the Puerto Rico Institute of Culture. Two of the artifacts in this seizure date from the 19th or 20th Century, three from the 19th Century and two from the Taino culture, A.D. 1200 to 1500.

The individual encountered was the subject of an INTERPOL arrest warrant theft of protected antiquities in Mexico. He was arrested and turned over to the custody of the U.S.Marshals Service.

The second investigation took place in February 2011, when a CBP officer in Memphis, Tenn., selected a shipping container said to contain a “House Ornament Made of Stone.” After CBP inspected the artifact, it was held for investigation by HSI. Experts from Vanderbilt Universityand the University of Pennsylvania determined the artifact to be an owl-headed pestle, from the Taino culture, A.D. 700 to 1500.

ICE HSI plays a leading role in investigating crimes involving the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property. ICE HSI uses its investigative authority to seize cultural property items if they were illegally imported into the United States. It also investigates the illegal trafficking of artwork, especially works that have been reported lost or stolen. The ICE HSI Office of International Affairs, through its 70 attaché offices in 47 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, whenever possible.

ICE HSI’s specially trained investigators and foreign attachés partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities as well as to train investigators from other nations and agencies on how to find and authenticate cultural property, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.

Since 2007, ICE HSI has repatriated more than 2,500 items to more than 21 countries including 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.