Thursday, April 23, 2015

Operation Mummy's Curse

Source: ICE.
There are times when you wonder if there is a lack of imagination when it comes to naming operations but 'Mummy's Curse' is probably one of them.

Put that aside, ICE has announced that it is has returned "dozens" of Egyptian antiquities to Egypt as part of an "ongoing five-year investigation by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) targeting an international criminal network that illegally smuggled and imported more than 7,000 cultural items from around the world". The total value of the seizures so far is approximately $3 million.

This sarcophagus appears to be the one siezed in a garage in Brooklyn in 2009. It is reported (Kathleen Caulderwood, "US Returns $2.5M In Egyptian Antiquities As Experts Call For Tougher Punishment On Smugglers", International Business Times April 22, 2015):
The coffin had been emblazoned with the name Shesepamutayesher and the title “Lady of the House” sometime between 664 and 111 B.C. But when Special Agent Brenton Easter of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uncovered the artifact Sept. 8, 2009, after months of investigation, it had been slapped with a few false shipping labels.
So once again we are seeing that the "paper trail" of a significant object is being corrupted to allow the piece to enter the market.

Caulderwood reveals that the investigation is linked to Morris Khouli (and see my earlier discussion here).
Easter recovered the head and other objects from Khouli’s gallery, intercepted shipments in Newark, New Jersey, and eventually found the “Lady of the House” sarcophagus at Khouli’s home, in a crate all ready for shipment.
ICE issued a press release on these investigations back in 2011.

Caulderwood also makes the point that there is the potential for this investigation to be linked to material coming from Syria. And this is a point that I have made before with links to material allegedly from Palmyra.

The material is not just Egyptian in character. The press release states: "A related December 2010 shipment interception netted agents 638 ancient coins from different countries, 65 of which are being repatriated to Egypt today." Which countries? Who imported the coins? What did the paperwork say? And coins have already formed part of the discussion in the Khouli case.

This immediately raises the big question: who has acquired the 7000 plus objects mentioned in the release? Museums? Private collectors? Or are they still part of the stock in a range of dealers? And are some of these objects forming part of what some term "the licit market"?

And this stated case comes against a broad backdrop that appears to include an Egyptian coffin seized in Miami.

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