US busts its first international smuggling ring

Nov 28, 2011

On July 13th, 2011, American federal prosecutors revealed that they were in the process of charging several antiquities dealers in New York, Michigan and Dubai in connection with an international smuggling ring trading in stolen Egyptian Antiquities with an estimated value of around $2.5 million.

In an indictment filed in early May, four men were charged with smuggling ancient artefacts between October 2008 and November 2009. It was the first bust of an alleged cultural-property smuggling network inside the US, according to officials. Customs agents stumbled over the collection while investigating a different artefact that had been put up for sale online, only to run into something of far greater significance and scale, finding statuettes, a 7th century sarcophagus and more than a thousand antique coins, among others.

To get their illicit cargo past border-control officials, the men had cut the wooden sarcophagus into several pieces, and hid other antiquities inside a container of furniture, using vague shipping labels like "antiques," "wood panels" and "wooden painted box," and false documentation.

The sarcophagus, according to Aidan Dodson, a specialist in Ancient Egyptian royal lineages from the University of Bristol, dates to the 26th dynasty (approximately 664 - 550 BC), the last ruling Egyptian dynasty before the Persian conquest of 550 BC. It bears the name Shesepamutayesher and the title “Lady of the House,” which means that she was most likely the “wife of a middle-ranking official or priest.”

"This is one of the largest and most significant cases of antiquities smuggling in recent memory. The success of the investigation shows the kind of results that are possible through international cooperation," said Dr. Zahi Hawaas, the then Egyptian Minister of Antiquities.

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