A funerary vessel obtained by Homeland Security was returned to the people of Peru.
Peruvian Consul Gen. Eduardo Barandiaran, right, thanks Homeland Security investigators for recovering and returning artifacts to his country. Photos by Tom Barry
By Tom Barry
Like something out of a pulp novel, the investigative arm of U.S. Homeland Security, which has 70 international offices in 50 countries, has recovered and returned priceless artifacts to their rightful origin, the nation of Peru.
Recently, Homeland Security Investigations invited the media to an unassuming office in Greenwood Village, where officials from the Peruvian Consulate in Denver gathered to accept pilfered antiques in a formal ceremony.
“The Utah case started in 2011, and [the artifacts] are just now being repatriated,” said John Eisert, acting special agent in charge of HSI in Colorado.
The investigative arm had coordinated its activities with federal customs agents and international law enforcement agencies. The exploration was initiated after a satellite office in Tel Aviv, Israel, reported that a U.S. citizen had been arrested while attempting to smuggle antiquities out of the country.
“Swift action was exercised to seize the objects and return them to their rightful legal owner,” said Peruvian Consul Gen. Eduardo Barandiaran. “The Peruvian government and its people … feel particularly satisfied with the success achieved in the recovery of these ceramic [pieces].”
Eisert added, “We need to remember the purpose [artifacts] serve in preserving the history for the world and generations to come. It’s a great pleasure and honor on behalf of the United States to return to the people these treasures that reflect your nation’s rich history.”
It is difficult to pinpoint when and where grave robbers stole the diverse items. Looters receive a large profit in the open market from illegal commerce, Barandiaran said.
“Special agents interviewed the individual at his home in Utah, which resulted in the seizure of objects purchased in Peru and Costa Rica and smuggled into the country,” said HSI spokesman Andrew Muñoz. “Part of the collection included pre-Columbian pottery from Peru. Now that these items are no longer in the marketplace. They are effectively priceless. They will never be sold again.”
“This rises to the to the level of Indiana Jones, but not quite Indiana Jones,” an unidentified active HSI agent added when asked if any gun shots were exchanged in the recovery of the loot, prompting laughter.
No weapons were used.
The items showcased included The Chancay (pronounced CHAN –kigh) statue dating from approximately 1200 to 1450 A.D. It originated from the Chancay, a pre-Columbian archeological civilization that developed on the central coast of Peru.
A third item, a Lambayeque-style Black “Strap and Spout” Vessel from 800-1300 A.D., had been purchased in Knoxville, Tenn., during an undercover operation.
Special agents utilized protective gloves.
In a separate undercover investigation Tennessee HSI agents found additional objects. One of the pre-Columbian pottery antiquities had been purchased from a garage sale for $800. Other suspects in New England were attempting to unload some antiquities on eBay.
A Chancay statue dating to 1200-1450 A.D was returned to the people of Peru.
In connecting the dots, HIS found the suspects had a business partner in Peru that had purchased the artifacts from farmers who looted graves.
“The Peruvian Ministry of Culture verified that 20 of the items seized were in fact genuine and cultural property of Peru,” said Muñoz.
He said cultural crimes are borderless and that HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve illegally importing and distributing cultural property.
The special ceremony in Greenwood Village coincided with others in San Antonio, Texas and Boston.
Homeland Security recovered a Lambayeque-style “Strap and Spout” vessel dating500-1300 A.D.
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