Remarks as Prepared for Mexico Repatriation Ceremony
Good afternoon. My name is Nitin Savur. I am Chief Assistant District Attorney for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. District Attorney Vance regrets being unable to join you today but sends his warmest regards and thanks you for inviting our Office to participate in this momentous event, as you continue to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mexican Independence.
I want to say a special thank you and hello to Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Marcelo Ebrard; the Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations, Juan Ramón de la Fuente; Mexico’s Chief Officer for North America, Robert Velasco; and Mexican Consul General, Jorge Islas López.
I’m pleased to be speaking along with Stephen Lee, Acting Deputy Special Agent for our law enforcement partners, Homeland Security Investigations in New York. And in attendance today from my office, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel, U.S. Marine Colonel, and antiquities expert. Thank you, Matthew, for representing our office at this event.
Today, one week after Mexico’s Independence Day, we’re honored to return 15 pieces associated with the infamous Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés to the people of Mexico, including a royal decree signed by the Queen of Spain in 1529 authorizing Cortés’ return to the colonies.
This collection of priceless 16th Century manuscripts – including letters, royal decrees, and other legal documents – was stolen from Mexico’s National Archive and later appeared at numerous galleries and auction houses in the same year. Thanks to the joint investigation efforts of our Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Mexican authorities, these landmark cultural heritage items, which showcase the evolution of the Spanish state in Latin America and the roots of Mexican national identity, are heading home where they will be studied and treasured for generations to come.
I also want to thank New York-based Swann Gallery and Bonhams Auction House, the unwitting recipients of the stolen manuscripts, for their assistance in this investigation.
The art world must acknowledge that stolen artifacts are not just collectible property, but evidence of cultural crimes committed around the world. These relics must be treated with caution and care, and collectors must be willing to conduct due diligence to ensure that an item has not been unlawfully acquired.
My Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit is committed to returning stolen relics to their countries of origin for the benefit of all who seek to study, view, and appreciate them.
But there are still many more long-lost and stolen relics out there, and I encourage individuals to help us identify and recover them by reporting items of questionable origin to our Office and our partners in law enforcement.
As always, I’d like to thank our federal partners at Homeland Security Investigations for their continued strong support and assistance.
It is now my honor to present these artifacts to the people of Mexico through their honorable representative, Secretary Ebrard.