Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., announced the return of two antiquities collectively valued at $1.26 million to the people of Libya. The pieces, “Marble Face of a Ptolemaic Queen” and “Female Bust,” were looted from the ancient city of Cyrene and smuggled by convicted British art trafficker Robin Symes, who served as the front man for multiple smuggling networks selling looted antiquities to high-end European and American buyers.
Symes acquired the two Libyan antiquities for his personal collection and had them stowed away in a New York storage unit for over two decades. The return comes just as archaeologists in Libya recently discovered what appears to be the torso of the Female Bust still in its original tomb at the ancient city.
The items were returned during a repatriation ceremony attended by the Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of Libya Khaled Daief, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Thomas Acocella.
“It is shameful that these beautiful pieces were stored away for decades by a convicted trafficker. Cyrene has faced significant looting, but thanks to the work of our Antiquities Trafficking Unit and partners at Homeland Security, we have now returned several pieces from this ancient city back to the people of Libya. We continue to have ongoing investigations into stolen Libyan artifacts and look forward to more repatriation ceremonies in the future,” said District Attorney Bragg.
Libyan Chargé d’Affaires Khaled Daief said, “After a thorough investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, we are grateful for the opportunity to repatriate these cultural artefacts. We would like to express our highest appreciation and gratitude for the efforts undertaken by the New York District Attorney and his staff, the Department of Homeland Security, and everyone that worked to ensure that these invaluable Libyan artefacts return to their homeland in Libya.”
“HSI New York is honored to stand with our partners at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to return these treasured antiquities to the people of Libya,” said HSI New York Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo. “Greed led to the pilfering of these two precious artifacts from the ancient city of Cyrene to be trafficked around the world. I am proud of the continued efforts of HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Investigations Group to return stolen cultural history to their rightful owners.”
The Libyan antiquities first surfaced on the international art market in following rampant looting at ancient city of Cyrene during the late 1980s and 1990s. The Female Bust would have been part of an important funerary relief that decorated the necropolis, or ancient cemetery, of Cyrene. During recent excavations, researchers believe they recently discovered the bottom half of the looted Female Bust still intact in a tomb at the archaeological site.
Since 2022, the Office has repatriated five antiquities to Libya, collectively valued at nearly $3 million.
During District Attorney Bragg’s tenure, the ATU has recovered nearly 850 antiquities stolen from 27 countries and valued at over $165 million. Since its creation, the ATU has recovered over 4,500 antiquities stolen from 30 countries and valued at nearly $390 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 2,475 antiquities to 24 countries, collectively valued at more than $235 million.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, supervised the investigation, which was conducted by Assistant District Attorney Christine DiDomenico; Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analysts Giuditta Giardini and Hilary Chassé; and Special Agents John Paul Labbat and Robert Fromkin of Homeland Security Investigations.
Images : Marble face of a Ptolemaic Queen and a female bust
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