Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., announced the return of two ancient stone antiquities, a Mesopotamian limestone elephant and a Sumerian alabaster bull, to the people of Iraq. Collectively valued at $275,000, these artifacts were looted from the ancient city of Uruk, now known as Warka, one of the oldest civilizations in human history.
The figures were stolen from Iraq during the Gulf War and smuggled into New York in the late 1990s. The alabaster bull was seized from the private collection of Shelby White and the limestone elephant from a storage unit that belonged to the convicted trafficker Robin Symes, where it had been hidden since at least 1999. The items were returned during a repatriation ceremony attended by Thomas Acocella, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge of Homeland Security Investigations New York and Dhafer Abdulrazaq Jalil, Counselor at the Embassy of the Government of the Republic of Iraq in Washington D.C.
“Once again, we see historic and priceless antiquities hidden from the public and sitting in the possession of traffickers and looters. We will not allow New Yok City to be a safe harbor for stolen cultural artifacts,” said District Attorney Bragg.
“I’m grateful for the work by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for its efforts to repatriate these precious, historic antiquities to Iraq,” said Dr. Salwan Sinjari, Iraqi Chargé d’Affairs to the United States. “These pieces belong to Iraq—and belong in Iraq—and now they will help the Iraqi people better understand and appreciate our own history and culture with this connection to the past. This is another example of the longstanding cooperation, friendship, and partnership between Iraq and United States.”
“It is a great privilege and honor to return to the people of Iraq these two rare and ancient artifacts that reflect their nation’s rich history and heritage,” said HSI New York Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo. “Investigating the theft of cultural property, and illicit international trade of art and antiquities, is a unique part of our mission at Homeland Security Investigations, and every repatriation brings us closer to our goal to remove the incentive of those who pilfer a nation’s cultural history for profit.
The Sumerian bull was originally given as a religious offering to the goddess Inanna at her temple at Uruk. This statuette was probably left together with or in substitution for the living sacrificial animals that it represents. Although elephants were known to have existed in Mesopotamia and have appeared in excavations dating to the 4th millennium, they were rarely represented in art, making this limestone figure one of the very few examples to have survived to the modern day.
During District Attorney Bragg’s tenure, the ATU has recovered over 800 antiquities stolen from 24 countries and valued at nearly $160 million. Since its creation, the ATU has recovered nearly 4,500 antiquities stolen from 29 countries and valued at more than $375 million. Under District Attorney Bragg, the ATU has also repatriated more than 950 antiquities stolen from 19 countries and valued at more than $165 million. Since its creation, the ATU has returned more than 2,450 antiquities to 24 countries and valued at more than $230 million.
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