Inspection and interdiction of illicit cultural property are actively pursued by the Customs and Border Protection (CPB) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which are key units of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Investigating and prosecuting violations of law involving cultural property are vigorously pursued in the U.S. by the Department of Justice.
A March 2006 ICE press release illustrates the range of cultural property cases that occur as well as the resources that the federal government devotes to enforcement.
Even before hostilities began in Iraq in March 2003, for example, U.S. Central Command asked ICE to send a team of agents to the Middle East to investigate companies that may have supplied Iraq with weaponry in violation of UN sanctions.
After the 2003 invasion, these same ICE agents in the Middle East and their counterparts in the U.S. played a critical role in the recovery of artifacts looted from the Iraq National Museum — including the May, 2006 recovery of the statue of King Entemena of Lagash (circa 2400 BC), which was located with the cooperation of an antiquities dealer who had previously entered a plea of guilty for presenting a false invoice while importing an artifact into the U.S. that reportedly had been looted from Iran. That scenario is described in Case Study 3 below.
The following three case studies illustrate the types of investigations and prosecutions conducted by ICE, CPB and the Department of Justice involving cultural property.
Cick to read the ICE Cultural
Heritage Investigations Fact
Sheet, March 6, 2006
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Case Study 1
United States of America v Frederick Schultz
178 F Supp 2d 445, 446; 2002 US Dist LEXIS 15 (SDNY 2002).
Complaint: violation of Title 18 USC 2315
(National Stolen Property Act)
Resolution: defendant entered a plea of not guilty, was
convicted at trial
Penalty: 33 months in prison, fine of $50,000
In 1997, a British art restorer named Jonathan Tokeley-Perry was convicted by a British court of smuggling numerous antiquities from Egypt, by disguising them as cheap reproductions to fool customs and later selling the artifacts for millions of dollars.
Evidence at that trial included (among other items) the smuggling and eventual transfer to a head of Amenhotep III to New York dealer Frederick Schultz, who purchased the artifact for $900,000 and attempted to resell it in the U.S. for $2.1 million. To disguise the head's illicit origin, Schultz and Tokeley-Perry allegedly created a false provenance ("The Thomas Alcock Collection") that made the object appear to have left Egypt before the enactment of its 1983 antiquities law, which forbids any such export without a valid export permit.
In July 2001, Schultz was indicted by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York on one count of conspiring to receive, possess and sell stolen property between 1990 and 1996 in violation of the United States’ National Stolen Property Act (Title 18 USC 2315).
The indictment specified that unauthorized excavation and removal of antiquities from Egypt in violation of its 1983 Antiquities law constitutes theft; Egypt is the rightful owner; hence the National Stolen Property Act applies.
The theory of the U.S. government’s charge against Schultz was based on a case decided in the late 1970s, United States v. McClain, which established the principle that foreign laws that vest ownership of undiscovered antiquities in the national government create ownership that can be recognized by U.S. courts. Schultz entered a plea of not guilty.
Trial by jury began January 28, 2002. Schultz was convicted at trial on February 12, 2002 and was sentenced on June 11, 2002 to a term of 33 months in prison, a fine of $50,000, and ordered to return a relief still in his possession to the Egyptian government.
On July 23, 2003, the Schultz conviction was affirmed on appeal.
United States v. Frederick
This stone fragment of Amenhoptep
III (1391-1353 BC), smuggled from Egypt by Tokeley-Perry and later offered for sale by Schultz became evidence in the federal trial.
Analysis of United States v.
Frederick Schultz by Susan B. Brunning, in Media & Arts Law Review, vol. 7, 2002)
Analysis of United States
v. Frederick Schultz, by
Patty Gerstenblith, in
Culture without Context,
issue 10, Spring, 2002.
Analysis of United States
v. Frederick Schultz by
Kelly Elizabeth Yasaitis, in
International Journal of
Cultural Property, 2003.
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Case Study 2
United States of America v Joseph Braude
[USDOJ, Eastern District of NY, magistrate number 1:03-cr-01009-ARR]
Complaint: violation of Title 18 USC 545 (Smuggling)
and Title 18 USC 1001 (False Statements)
Resolution: defendant entered a plea of not guilty prior
to trial; entered a plea of guilty at trial
Penalty: six months home detention, two years probation,
special assessment of $300
Summary. While in Baghdad in early June 2003, Joseph Braude, author of the book "The New Iraq," purchased three Mesopotamian cylinder seals, made of marble and alabaster, dating from the 3rd millennium BC. Price for the three artifacts: $200. On June 11, 2003 Braude entered the U.S. by way of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The three cylinder seals were in his possession, yet Braude did not volunteer that fact to customs inspectors and did not list them on his customs declaration form. Braude told inspectors that he had travelled to English and Kuwait, but not to Iraq. The cylinder seals, which were adorned with human and animal figures, were marked on the bottom with a serial number and the letters "IM". Customs staff seized the cylinder seals and federal prosecutors subsequently accused Braude of smuggling the items, which he neither declared on his Customs form nor volunteered to Customs agents.
The criminal complaint, dated August 6, 2003, charged Braude with violation of Title 18 USC 545, for knowingly importing the three Mesopotamian cylinder seals, and violation of Title 18 USC 1001, for knowingly making false statements to a customs official.
Braude entered a plea of not guilty, went to trial, but on August 3, 2004 withdrew his plea entered a plea of guilty before the trial had concluded. On November 22, 2004, Braude was sentenced to six months home detention, two years probation and a special assessment of $300.
Press coverage of the Joseph
Braude Case (Boston Globe,
August 10, 2003)
United States v. Joseph
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||Case Study 3
Plea Agreement between Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY and Hicham Aboutaam
In March of 1999, a prominent US collector visited a gallery in Geneva co-owned by Hicham Aboutaam, who offered a silver ceremonial drinking vessel in the shape of a griffin, described as being pre-Achaemenid (c. 700 BC) from a site called Kalmakareh Cave (looted between 1989 and 1992 from what is known in the antiquities trade as the Western Cave Treasure). The collector expressed interest in the piece and reportedly agreed to purchase it if the dealer could deliver the object to the United States and secure three professional opinions attesting to the Silver Griffin's authenticity.
On February 9, 2000, Hicham Aboutaam hand-carried the Silver Griffin through U.S. Customs at Newark International Airport and described the piece as being of Syrian origin on the customs declaration form. Aboutaam subsequently obtained three expert opinions attesting to the Silver Griffin's authenticity; at least one of these opinions expressed the belief that the Silver Griffin is probably part of the Western Cave Treasure. Aboutaam sold the Silver Griffin to the collector in June 2002 for $950,000.
In December 2003, the Silver Griffin was seized from the collector. Hicham Aboutaam was arrested and entered a plea of guilty on June 14, 2004 to one count of presenting a commercial invoice to a Customs Officer which falsely represented that the Silver Griffin came from Syria. While the charge carried a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, Aboutaam paid a reduced fine and served no prison term.
Eighteen months later, Hicham Aboutaam reportedly assisted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the recovery of the headless statue of King Entemena of Lagash, which at the time was one of the most valuable and important artifacts stolen from the Iraq National Museum.
Disclaimer: The information on this page and associated pages in this training resource is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client, advocate-client or any other professional relationship. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon any of this information without seeking professional counsel.
Click to read the U.S.
Department of Justice press
release concerning the
Hicham Aboutaam guilty plea,
June 23, 2004.
This Silver Griffin (pre-Achaemenid,
circa 700 B.C.), was seized by ICE
and is now in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security pursuant to a federal seizure
warrant issued in December 2003.
The dealer who imported this
object entered a plea of guilty
for a customs violation (failing to
accurately declare the country of
in June 2004. Click image
Eighteen months after his guilty
plea, the defendant in the Silver
Griffin case cooperate with ICE to
recover one of the most valuable
and revered objects stolen from
the Iraq Museum, the statue of
Entemena, King of Lagash.
Click image to enlarge.