On January 5, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., announced the repatriation of an ivory cosmetic spoon dating back to approximately 800-700 BCE to the Palestinian Authority, marking the first time a cultural object has been returned to the Palestinian people from the United States. The object was seized pursuant to the Office’s multi-national criminal investigation into Michael Steinhardt, one of the world’s largest ancient art collectors, which seized 180 stolen antiquities valued at $70 million and imposed a first-of-its-kind lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities. The object was officially repatriated today by this Office in Bethlehem in the West Bank during a ceremony attended by the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), the U.S. State Department and Rula Maayah, Palestinian Authority, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities.
“We are proud to join our law enforcement and government partners in this moment. It is impossible to put a value on the cultural and historical significance of looted antiquities and I thank our talented team of attorneys and investigators who are continuing their incredible work of returning these objects to where they rightfully belong,” said District Attorney Bragg.
“Antiquities trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar business with looters and smugglers turning a profit at the expense of cultural heritage. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents are specially trained to track down trafficked antiquities with the safe return of these lost pieces being the ultimate goal of all of our investigations. We are honored to join our partners today in this historic repatriation of this artifact to the Palestinian Authority,” said Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge for HSI in New York.
The cosmetic spoon returned today was used to ladle incense onto fires as offerings to the gods or the dead and was found in El Kom. The Cosmetic Spoon first surfaced on the international art market on January 21, 2003, when Steinhardt purchased the Cosmetic Spoon from Gil Chaya, an Israeli antiquities dealer. In the last year alone, the Unit repatriated more than 1100 antiquities valued at almost $115 million to 15 countries.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, handled the investigation with Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer and Special Agent John Paul Labbat of Homeland Security Investigations. Additional support for the investigation was provided by the late Jill (Gilda) Mariani, Senior Investigative Counsel and Investigative Analyst Daniel Healey.