U.S. returns Sargon’s head, other items from Mummy’s Curse, Lost Treasure investigations

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The head of King Sargon II, a limestone fragmentary head of Lamassu, the winged bull, was returned to Iraq along with other looted antiquities. Photo courtesy of ICE.

The head of King Sargon II, a limestone fragmentary head of Lamassu, the winged bull, was returned to Iraq along with other looted antiquities. Photo courtesy of ICE.

A limestone statue of the head of the former Assyrian King Sargon II is headed back to Iraq.

Sargon II (aka Akkadian Sarru-ukin) ruled from 722 to 705 B.C., and his likeness was put on statues of Lamassus (Lamassi?), legendary creatures with the bodies of winged bulls meant to be a symbol of protection. The face of one such statue was stolen in 2007 or 2008 and later smuggled into the United States. It was recovered in 2008 in New York after arriving as part of a shipment from a Dubai-based dealer, according to the New York Times.

Similar Lamassu statues can be seeing getting the jack hammer treatment from Islamic State soldiers in Nineveh.

Here’s the ICE rundown on the investigations:

WASHINGTON — More than 60 Iraqi cultural treasures illegally smuggled into the United States were returned to the Republic of Iraq Monday, following five separate investigations led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations.

The objects were seized at the culmination of investigations led by HSI offices in New York; Baltimore, Maryland; Austin, Texas; and New Haven, Connecticut. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s Office assisted in two of the investigations.

One of the most significant items returned to Iraq is the Head of Assyrian King Sargon II, a limestone fragmentary head of Lamassu, the winged bull, from the Palace of Sargon II.

As part of “Operation Lost Treasure,” HSI New York special agents received information on June 30, 2008, that an antiquities dealer based in Dubai was selling looted Iraqi antiquities to dealers around the world. The special agents seized the limestone statue on Aug. 13, 2008, after it was shipped to New York by a Dubai-based antiquities trading company owned by the antiques dealer.

This investigation identified a broad transnational criminal organization dealing in illicit cultural property. Some of the network’s shipments were directly linked to major museums, galleries and art houses in New York. The investigation has resulted in one arrest, multiple seizures of antiquities ranging from Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan, and the return of many of artifacts. A repatriation ceremony with Afghanistan was held two years ago and future repatriations are anticipated.

In April 2012, HSI New Haven special agents received information that individuals were smuggling and transporting stolen goods, specifically gold plated items from Saddam Hussein’s private airport and palace. The individual obtained a water urn, door knocker and soap dish from in or around one of Hussein’s palaces.

HSI Austin special agents viewed a Craigslist posting selling objects consisting of swords, daggers and an ax from various time frames and regions. In June 2012 special agents determined that a Luristan bronze ax from Early Sumeria (present day Iraq) was among the artifacts being sold. The seller had no importation documentation and the ax was among several other items that were subsequently abandoned by the individual.

Bronze weapons and other looted antiquities were returned to Iraq. Photo courtesy of ICE.

Bronze weapons and other looted antiquities were returned to Iraq. Photo courtesy of ICE.

In January 2014, HSI Baltimore received a tip reporting that a senior civilian employee working in Iraq in 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, withdrew an Iraqi window seal from an Iraq government building and brought it home.

Special agents met with the employee where he stated he was not aware that he required permission from the United States, Iraq or military authorities to export the item out of Iraq.

An investigation by HSI New York dubbed “The Mummy’s Curse” targeted an organization that smuggled cultural heritage objects into the U.S., sold them in antiquities markets and laundered the proceeds back to the source countries. As part of the investigation, 37 Iraqi bronze objects, 21 clay reliefs and 18 pieces of Iraqi glass were forfeited to the U.S. government to be returned to the people of Iraq. This investigation was unique in utilizing money laundering charges, which allowed investigators to seize bank accounts containing the proceeds from the sale of smuggled cultural property. This allowed ICE to identify a large transnational criminal organization, resulting in the issuance of four arrests warrants. So far two convictions have been secured and the agency is seeking an international fugitive involved in the case.


Looted stone seals returned to Iraq

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Photo courtesy FBI

In a private ceremony at the Embassy of Iraq in Washington, D.C., the FBI repatriated four cylinder seals to the Iraqi government in October.

The stone seals are believed to date to as early as 2300 B.C. In ancient times, when rolled across wax or soft clay that later hardened, the seals formed an imprint or “signature” that marked a piece of property and uniquely identified its owner.

This is not the first time the FBI has played a role in the repatriation of Iraqi antiquities. In 2005, the Bureau returned eight stone seals that were believed to have been stolen. In 2011, terracotta plaques and other artifacts seized during a 2006 investigation were returned to the government of Iraq. It was the looting of the Baghdad Museum in 2003, where many of these items once resided, that led to the formation of the FBI’s Art Crime Team in 2004.

The seals returned on Oct. 25 are small enough to fit in a person’s palm. The Bureau’s International Operations Division and Criminal Investigative Division delivered the seals to Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily.


Photo courtesy FBI

Saddam’s sword

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Saddam Hussein is getting his sword back, thanks to immigration and customs officials. Since Saddam isn’t around any more, it goes to the people running Iraq these days. The U.S. government snagged it last year when it showed up at a New Hampshire auction house. Authorites ruled that it couldn’t be considered a war trophy because it wasn’t a ” modern battlefield weapon.”

The official ICE account is below:

ICE returns Saddam Hussein ceremonial sword to Republic of Iraq

WASHINGTON – A ceremonial sword, looted in 2003 from Saddam Hussein’s personal office in Baghdad, was returned to the Republic of Iraq Monday by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The sword, which had been smuggled into the United States by U.S. military personnel, was repatriated at a private ceremony held at Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily’s residence in Washington.

The sword is a 43-inch embellished blade and sheath with gold inlaid Arabic writing along the edge of the blade that declares it to be a gift to Saddam Hussein. It was sold in October 2011 to the Amoskeag Auction Company in Manchester, N.H., and advertised in their Jan. 7, 2012, auction catalogue as having been removed from Hussein’s personal office in the Iraqi military command complex in Baghdad by the U.S. Army 126th Military History Detachment after the regime fell in 2003. The catalog also said that the consignor was attached to the unit as a combat historian, that the sword was not claimed by the U.S. government and that the consignor was granted permission to keep the sword as a souvenir.

In January 2012, HSI special agents in Manchester learned that it was being auctioned and initiated an investigation.

Although the sword was sold at auction for $15,000 by AAC Jan. 7, 2012, the sale had not been consummated by an exchange of money and the object had not yet been shipped to the purchaser by AAC. On Jan. 9, 2012, HSI special agents seized the sword as a possible Iraqi cultural artifact.

HSI special agents coordinated with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Defense regarding the validity of the sword’s importation into the United States and the regulations surrounding the importation of war trophies from Iraq. It was determined that this ornate ceremonial sword cannot be considered a modern battlefield weapon and is therefore not eligible to be exported as a war trophy.

Additionally, the import of this historic sword was prohibited by DOD’s Office of Foreign Assets Control pursuant to an executive order which prohibits trade or transfer of Iraqi cultural property.

On April 30, 2012, the sword was administratively forfeited. In 2008, 2010 and 2011, ICE repatriated to the government of Iraq a collection of cultural objects including Saddam Hussein-era paintings, AK-47 rifles, ancient tablets, clay statues, ancient gold earrings, coins, a Western Asiatic necklace and terra cotta cones, all illegally imported into the United States from Iraq.

Through HSI’s cultural property and antiquities investigations, a team of HSI special agents recovered Iraqi treasures, and investigated the looting of the Iraq National Museum following the fall of the Hussein regime. The team volunteered to lead this mission, and scoured Baghdad in search of more than 17,000 items that chronicled the region’s 7,000 years of civilization. HSI special agents electronically scanned the museum’s inventory lists and manifests to determine which items were missing, and quickly determined that most of the museum’s artifacts had been hidden. Eventually, they were able to recover many of the items that were looted by cultivating sources. Agents were also able to send information about looted artifacts to other countries to help recover them if they crossed their borders.

Stolen art: Games of Ur

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For this week’s stolen art report, we are featuring board games from Ur, in what is now Iraq. The National Stolen Art File has some neat photos of a missing game board plate inlaid with shell depicting ritual scenes and animals and another shell inlay piece that looks like a d6 (six-sided dice, or all non-gamers).

Aside from the pictures and the stats, there is no other information about the stolen games. Our best guess is they were swiped in 2003 when the Iraq’s national museum was ransacked during the war, but stolen Iraqi artifacts have been known to go back further. In fact, in 2001, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seized 300 Cuneiform clay tablets headed for a New Jersey gallery and determined they were from Iraq and not Dubai, as stated on their customs documents. They tablets at the U.S. Customs House at the World Trade Center complex and, after the Sept. 11 attacks, recovered from the ruins, according to ICE officials. The tablets were returned to Iraq in 2008.

Included in the 2008 repatriation was a copper Sumerian foundation peg figurine (traditionally buried under temples to establish the patronage of the ruler who built it) from the Third Century BC that had been stolen from the Iraqi museum during the first Gulf War and auctioned off in New York.

As for the missing games, here’s what we know:

Vital Stats

Board Game Description: Stolen Category: Board Games Maker: Ur, Iraq Materials: shell Additional Information: game board game; animals. Plate inlaid with shell depicting ritual scenes

Dice Game Description: Stolen Category: Board Games Maker: Ur, Iraq Materials: shell Additional Information: game board game; dice

For more information and to report recovered objects in the NSAF, contact:

National Stolen Art File Art Theft Program, Room 3247 Federal Bureau of Investigation 935 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, DC 20535