Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., announced today the return of 12 antiquities, collectively valued at more than $9 million, to the people of Lebanon.
Nine of the objects were recovered pursuant to an ongoing criminal investigation into Georges LOTFI, a prolific antiquities trafficker who is the subject of an international arrest warrant. The 12 items were returned during a repatriation ceremony attended by Lebanon’s Consul General in New York, Ambassador Abir Taha Audi, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Thomas Acocella.
“These pieces sat in apartments, storage units and museums when they should have been in Lebanon. As we have demonstrated time and time again, there is no trafficking scheme or network too complex for our Office. Stolen antiquities that come through Manhattan will be repatriated to their home country,” said District Attorney Bragg.
“Returning these stolen antiquities, some dating back nearly 2,000 years, is a privilege as it reunites the people of Lebanon with a piece of their rich heritage,” said Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge for HSI New York. “HSI New York remains committed to collaborating with our partners at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in the investigation and repatriation of historical artifacts which have long been pillaged from their rightful homes.”
“This is Lebanon, the real Lebanon, the real face of Lebanon which we want the whole world to see: the Lebanon of art, beauty, culture, history, the Lebanon of peace and harmony between civilizations and cultures, the eternal Lebanon which will never die,” said Ambassador Abir Taha Audi, Lebanon’s Consul General in New York.
According to documents filed in court, nine mosaics included in today’s ceremony are among dozens of Middle Eastern and North African antiquities that allegedly were trafficked into New York by Georges LOTFI, a Lebanese pharmacist turned antiquities trafficker. In August 2022, the D.A.’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit (“ATU”) obtained a warrant for LOTFI’s arrest on multiple charges of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property and applied for a Red Notice from the International Criminal Police Organization (“INTERPOL”), which was issued in June 2023. Since 2017, the ATU has recovered 28 antiquities collectively valued at over $33 million that had been trafficked by LOTFI.
Mosaic of the Athlete “Dionysis”
Other objects in today’s ceremony were allegedly trafficked into New York by the prominent smugglers Giovanni Franco Becchina, Robin Symes, and Jerome Eisenberg. In March of this year, the ATU seized 16 Symes-trafficked antiquities from a NYC storage facility, where Symes had hidden them in the 1990s and where they had moldered ever since. To date the ATU’s investigation into Symes has resulted in 14 seizures and recovered 56 antiquities collectively valued at nearly $26 million. In addition, the ATU has made 24 seizures of antiquities allegedly trafficked by Italian trafficker Giovanni Franco Becchina, recovering over 100 antiquities collectively valued at over $10 million. The ATU’s investigation into the New York-based dealer Jerome Eisenberg, who owned and operated the now shuttered Royal-Athena Galleries, has resulted in 20 seizures of 126 antiquities worth almost $3 million.
Image on top : “Castor and Pollux”
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