Manhattan D.A.’s Office Returns 45 Antiquities to Pakistan


November 2, 2020

Repatriation Ceremony Follows 2015 Recovery of Nearly 100 Antiquities from Nayef Homsi, a Known Trafficker

                               

Pictured (from top to bottom): “Gandharan Frieze” featuring seven figures of Buddha beside a Bodhisattva Maitreya; “Gandharan Head Under Bodhi Tree” featuring Buddha below a bodhi, the tree of awakening; and “Panchika and Hariti Stele” featuring Panchika and his consort Hariti

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. today announced the return of 45 antiquities valued at approximately $250,000 to the people of Pakistan during a repatriation ceremony attended by Islamic Republic of Pakistan Consul General Ayesha Ali and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge Erik Rosenblatt. Video of the ceremony is available here. 

“Many people believe the looting and theft of antiquities are injustices that only occurred in the past, but these crimes of culture are still being committed all over the world every day,” said District Attorney Vance. “I strongly encourage all collectors and gallery owners to conduct due diligence and ensure all pieces they purchase were lawfully acquired. I am honored to return these 45 beautiful artifacts to the people of Pakistan and I thank my Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit as well as our partners at HSI New York for their commitment to protecting global cultural heritage by investigating and returning stolen relics to their countries of origin.”

“While the preservation of one’s culture is a commitment made by whole communities and has existed since the beginning of civilization, the high profit business of smuggling and trafficking antiquities has also been around for ages.  The HSI New York Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities team not only understands that centuries-old dilemma, but lives it through its work when conducting investigations and collaborating with the Manhattan DA’s office to return these artifacts to their rightful nations,” said Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent-in-Charge of HSI New York.  “HSI recognizes the importance of both international and local partnerships in locating pilfered antiquities and cultural property, and it is through these repatriations that new generations are able to experience a part of their nations story.”

In the spring of 2015, the D.A.’s Office and HSI New York executed multiple search warrants and seized close to 100 antiquities from Nayef Homsi, a known trafficker involved in the illegal looting, exportation, and sale of ancient art from Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and other nations. Forty-five of the seized pieces were returned to Pakistan in today’s ceremony and five were returned to India in August 2020. 

The repatriated items include a “Gandharan Frieze” featuring seven figures of Buddha beside a Bodhisattva Maitreya, a “Gandharan Box” of religious relics, a gray schist relief of Panchika and his consort Hariti “Panchika and Hariti Stele,” and a gray schist head of Buddha below a bodhi, the tree of awakening, “Gandharan Head Under Bodhi Tree,” all dating back to the 2nd Century C.E.

Manhattan D.A.’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit

The Manhattan D.A.’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit also recently repatriated multiple pieces to India and Lebanon:

  • On August 14, 2020, ten antiquities valued at more than $1 million were repatriated to the Republic of India. These included five pieces from Matreiya (Nayef Homsi’s Gallery); three from the Nancy Wiener Gallery; and two that had been put up for auction at Christie’s Auction House—with the auction house cooperating fully in the investigation as soon as they were notified. This ceremony included a carved marble statue, known as an Apsara, dating back to the 10th century, which was stolen and trafficked abroad in 2006 and featured in INTERPOL’s stolen art database.
  • On September 30, 2020, a life-size Roman Head was repatriated to the Lebanese Republic. The piece, dating to the 2nd century A. D., is valued at approximately $300,000, and was stolen from the Temple of Eshmun in Lebanon during the 1979 civil war. The D.A.’s Office seized the piece on June 19, 2020 from the Royal Athena Gallery in New York—with the gallery cooperating fully in this investigation.

To date, the D.A.’s first-of-its-kind Antiquities Trafficking Unit has recovered several thousand stolen antiquities collectively valued at more than $150 million.  Many hundreds of these priceless artifacts have been returned to their rightful owners and repatriated to their countries of origin. Many hundreds more are ready to be repatriated as soon as the relevant countries are able to receive them amid the pandemic. But more than a thousand must be held awaiting criminal proceedings against the traffickers. The items already returned include a gold coffin stolen from Egypt in the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011; three marble Lebanese statues; a Roman mosaic excavated from the Ships of Nemi; an Etruscan relic stolen from the site of a historic necropolis known as the “City of the Dead”; a marble sarcophagus fragment; a Buddhist sculpture stolen from an archaeological dig site; a pair of 12th century Indian statues; a collection of 8th Century B.C.E. bronze statues; and a set of ancient Greek coins, among others.

Assistant D.A. Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel and Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, handled the recovery of the artifact with Investigative Analysts Alyssa Thiel and Apsara Iyer, and Special Agents Brent Easter, John Paul Labbat, and Robert Mancene.

District Attorney Vance thanked HSI New York and the Consul General of Pakistan for their assistance with the matter.