US returns to Libya precious smuggled statue

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) International Operations Division Chief Leo Lin returned a sixth century marble statue known as the “Head of a Veiled Woman,” during a repatriation ceremony at the Libyan Embassy in Tunisia on Thursday.

“As a federal law enforcement agency with a global reach, HSI is a leader in investigating crimes involving the illicit importation and distribution of cultural proper and art,” said Lin. “The theft and trafficking of another country’s priceless and irreplaceable national treasures is a global concern and this case shows that HSI is working every day to deny criminals the financial incentives that motivates their behavior.”

The return of the statue was the culmination of an 11-year investigation led by HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Unit, in conjunction with the US Department of State and US Customs and Border Protection.

In August 2008, HSI seized the Libyan marble statue during its shipment from the Dubai-based antiquities dealer to a collector in Queens, New York. The seized statue is the fragmented head of a veiled woman statue that is measured 13 inches tall by 10 inches wide.

US ICE said ongoing efforts in this investigation led to the identification of several key players in a transnational criminal organization, engaging in the illicit trafficking of cultural antiquities.

Thursday’s repatriation marks the first reparation ceremony between Libya and the United States.

Libyan’s Ambassador to the US, Wafa Bugaighis, said: “In today’s world, we face complex challenges where the looting of artifacts requires cooperation and understanding between nations. It is of vital importance to continue this relationship between Libya and the United States in order to preserve the cultural fabric of countries that are in danger of cultural racketeering.”

Bugaughis added that the statue originated in the ancient city of Cyrene, eastern Libya, and is part of the rich cultural heritage amongst the Libyan community.

In February 2018, Libya signed a historical memorandum of understanding with the United States to protect Libya’s cultural property from illegal smuggling.

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