Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Chicago, alongside distinguished representatives from Greece and the National Hellenic Museum, conducted a repatriation ceremony on June 16 to return to Greece the largest number of stolen ancient coins seized by U.S. law enforcement officials in recent HSI history. The artifacts included 51 ancient Greek coins that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) intercepted via four separate examinations of merchandise entering the United States.
“Trafficking in antiquities is a multibillion-dollar criminal enterprise, but when traffickers steal these antiquities from a country, they’re robbing from the cultural heritage of a nation – solely for their potential to generate profit,” said HSI Chicago Special Agent in Charge R. Sean Fitzgerald. “HSI possesses the unique skills and determination necessary to disrupt this concerning practice. At HSI Chicago, we have a dedicated unit with agents specially trained to track down lost and stolen pieces, ultimately contributing to approximately 20,000 artifacts that HSI has recovered and returned to over 40 countries since 2007.”
As a result of the original shippers’ and consignees’ inability or unwillingness to provide proper documentation of ownership, CBP seized the coins and turned them over to HSI.
The distinguished guests present at the repatriation included the Ambassador of Greece to the United States Alexandra Papadopoulou, Consul General Emmanuel Koubarakis, and Consul Georgia Tasiopoulou.
“This is a successful example of how when we join forces, we can make miracles,” said Papadopoulou. “As these coins get back to Greece where they belong, I’m sure it will make an exciting, powerful display as part of our culture, as part of our shared identity, and as part of our close relationship with the United States.”
This return of these ancient coins was made possible by the investigative efforts of HSI Chicago, HSI’s Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities (CPAA) program, and law enforcement partners at CBP.
One of the primary goals of the CPAA program is to protect and preserve the world’s cultural heritage and knowledge of past civilizations. CPAA conducts training and outreach, supports cultural property investigations, and enhances international relations by working with foreign governments and citizens to return their nation’s looted cultural heritage and stolen artwork.
“It is often extremely difficult to put a specific monetary value on an ancient historical coin,” said Fitzgerald. “That notwithstanding, as tokens of the world’s oldest democracy, Greece’s cultural property — in HSI’s view — is considered priceless.”
Since 2007, HSI investigations have led to the repatriation of over 20,000 objects to more than 40 countries and institutions. The repatriated objects have included paintings, sarcophagi, statues, coins and illuminated manuscripts.
In fiscal year 2022, HSI’s CPAA program repatriated cultural property to more than 15 countries, including France, India, Iraq, Italy, and Mali. Among the repatriated items were cuneiform tablets, religious artifacts and architectural drawings stolen from Jewish communities during the Holocaust.