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Govermnent seek forfeiture of “One Ancient Mosaic”

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ancient mosaic depicting Hercules

 
LOS ANGELES – The United States in May filed an asset forfeiture complaint against an ancient mosaic depicting Hercules, believed to have been made in the 3rd or 4th Century, that likely was looted from war-torn Syria, allegedly illegally imported into the United States, and seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security Investigations at a Palmdale residence.

The mosaic, which is approximately 18 feet long and weighs approximately one ton, was seized by FBI and HSI special agents in March 2016 as part of an investigation into the smuggling of looted items believed to be from a foreign conflict area into the United States.

The complaint, which was filed in United States District court under the caption United States v. One Ancient Mosiac, alleges that a Palmdale man smuggled the antiquity into the United States with false and fraudulent documents with the intent to avoid import duties.

The complaint alleges that Mohamad Yassin Alcharihi further violated federal law by concealing the mosaic at his residence.

 After the mosaic was seized, an expert retained by the government concluded that that the artwork “was an authentic mosaic from the Byzantine Period depicting Roman mythology, and was consistent with the iconography of mosaics found in Syria, in particular in and around the city of Idlib, Syria.” The complaint alleges that the mosaic was imported into the United States with paperwork indicating that it was part of a shipment of vases and mosaics worth only about $2,200, but Alcharihi later admitted paying $12,000 for the items. Preliminary estimated values for the mosaic at issue in this case are much higher, according to the complaint..

The United States has adopted import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Syria, according to the complaint, which quotes a statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection stating: “[f]or decades, the United States has shared the international concern for the need to protect endangered cultural property. 

The appearance in the United States of stolen or illegally exported artifacts from other countries where there has been pillage has, on occasion, strained our foreign and cultural relations. This situation, combined with the concerns of museum, archaeological, and scholarly communities, was recognized by the President and Congress.

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Mosaic floor from Caligula’s ship returned to Italy

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  A collection of ancient Roman artifacts that included a mosaic from one of Caligula’s Lake Nemi pleasure ships was repatriated to Italy on Oct. 20, 2017, following a multiagency investigation, which included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations..

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

In September, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized a section of ancient mosaic flooring pursuant to a search warrant and an ongoing joint investigation into the trafficking of stolen antiquities. The marble flooring section, which dates back to 35 A.D., was originally part of an ornate ship commissioned by the Roman emperor Caligula at Lake Nemi. Following the emperor’s assassination, the ship sank and remained underwater for nearly 2,000 years, until it was excavated in the 1920s.

… The recovery was ordered by dictator Benito Mussolini, who had the lake drained …

In 1936, the Ships of Nemi Museum was completed to display the ships and the items excavated from them, including the sections of the inlaid mosaic marble floor. The Museum was later used as a bomb shelter during World War II and many of the original tiles were subsequently destroyed or damaged by fire, rendering the mosaic floor piece one of the only known, intact artifacts of its kind from the Ships of Nemi.

Earlier this year and as part of the same investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized a Paestan red-figure bell-krater, a wide, round wine vessel circa 360-350 B.C., from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as a Campanian red-figure fish-plate, circa 340-320 B.C., from a Christie’s auction.   

All the items were seized pursuant to judicially authorized warrants, but were thereafter forfeited willingly once the owners were presented with the evidence that each had been stolen from Italy.

No word on whether 2,000 years at the bottom of a lake and a World War II bombing cleaned all the Caligula-era party grime from the mosaic floor.

Also, ICE didn’t mention that the mosaic section had been found repurposed into a coffee table.

Syria Mosaic Thefts

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Have you seen this man? INTERPOL seeks help in tracking down mosaic pieces looted from tumultuous Syria.
INTERPOL is throwing it’s weight behind the search for missing mosaic pieces and warning of threats to cultural artifacts as unrest continues in Syria, which is currently the fifth season of its Arab Spring uprising.


“INTERPOL calls on the particular vigilance of its 190 member countries as to the risk of illicit trafficking in cultural goods from Syria and neighbouring countries,” officials with the international police agency said in a release this week (yes, they had the “U” in neighbouring).

“Roman ruins, archaeological sites, historic premises and places of worship are particularly vulnerable to destruction, damages, theft and looting during this period of turmoil,” the release continued.

INTERPOL’s general secretariat drew particular attention to mosaics stolen from the ruins of Afamya in the city of Hama, and said the agency will include information about stolen artworks and cultural goods in its database.