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.


U.S. seeks looted Syrian artifacts

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Gold ring with carved gemstone. This ring is believed to be from the Hellenistic/Roman period, dating approximately from 330 BC to 400 AD, and to have come from Deir Ezzor, Syria, which is near where the raid against Abu Sayyaf occurred. Finger not included. Photo courtesy of Abu Sayyaf’s raided archives.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was on the lookout for four artifacts it believes were looted from for Syria and sold to benefit war chests belonging to ISIS (also known as ISIL and De’esh).

The forfeiture complaint spells out how authorities traced the items thanks to the records of Abu Sayyaf, the late ISIS antiquities minister who was in charge of taxing and permitting looters who were taking advantage of chaos in the war-torn country to dig up ancient artifacts for profit.

The complaint goes on to describe how one of Sayyaf’s underlings even kidnapped the 16-year-old son of one of the antiquities merchants at gunpoint. This came following a dispute over tariffs on relics and gold that had been dug out of the ground with pick axes. In the end, Sayyaf was ordered to apologize to the boy’s family, and the underling was directed to go to shari’al law and military course.


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.