The government has repatriated an 18th Century Chinese incense burner to Harvard University after it was swiped more than three decades ago and then turned up at a Hong Kong auction house.

Here are the details:

HSI returns $1.5 million work of art to Harvard nearly 35 years after theft

BOSTON — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations returned Tuesday an 18th century Qing Dynasty Jade Censer to the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard University more than 30 years after the artifact was stolen.

Returned was a Qing dynasty jadeite incense container, also called a censer. The censer stands approximately six inches high and seven inches wide. The censer dates back to the last imperial dynasty that ruled China.

The widow of Ernest B. Dane, a businessman who graduated from Harvard College in 1892, originally gifted the censer to the Fogg Museum, one of three museums that now constitute the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge. In 1979, the Fogg Museum opened a small exhibition featuring a selection of jades that the Danes donated, including the censer.

On Nov. 26, 1979, Harvard discovered the censer missing from its display. The museum contacted law enforcement authorities and notices regarding the theft of the censer were posted in the Art Theft Archive’s newsletter, the Art Dealers Association of America, Inc. newsletter, Interpol’s database and the International Foundation for Art Research’s stolen item database. Despite these efforts, the censer remained missing for nearly 35 years.

In 2009, Sotheby’s auction house in Hong Kong prepared to offer a jade censer for sale in its fall Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art auction. The censer had been hand-delivered to Sotheby’s Hong Kong offices by a private seller. Prior to the auction, Sotheby’s ran a search in the Art Loss Register, which matched the jade censer being offered for auction with the censer stolen from Harvard. The Art Loss Register then notified HSI of Sotheby’s query regarding the censer.

HSI special agents notified Sotheby’s concerning the origins of the censer and that the censer was listed as stolen in Interpol’s Stolen Art Works Database. HSI special agents requested that the auction house withdraw the censer from its auction and Sotheby’s complied. The individual who delivered the censer to Sotheby’s never provided any documentation regarding the work of art’s provenance or ownership.

On July 10, 2012, the United States filed a civil forfeiture complaint against the censer, alleging that the censer constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to a stolen good. On Aug. 7, 2013, the court entered a final judgment, finding that the censer is property of the United States. Subsequently, Sept. 25, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice granted Harvard University’s request for return of the censer based on recommendations by HSI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The HSI investigation is still ongoing.

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