Friday, April 30, 2004

Smuggled artifacts worth $1M returned to Peruvian government

From Karla Crosswhite-Chigbue

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Forty-one artifacts estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 years old and worth more than $1 million, were returned to the Peruvian government Friday by the U.S. government.

In a brief ceremony at the Peruvian Embassy, Michael Garcia, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's assistant secretary for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, returned the pre-Columbian artifacts to Eduardo Ferrero, Peru's ambassador to the United States.

"These are cultural treasures," Garcia said, "and they really do not belong to any one person, they belong to a society, a culture, and they should be enjoyed by everyone. ICE's mission is to stop the illicit trade in these artifacts, to track down and return these items and make sure they go back to their rightful owners."

Customs agents recovered the artifacts, which had been taken from archaeological sites in Peru, through three investigations into antiquities smugglers and dealers in several U.S. states. In one case, a 74-year-old Virginia man was arrested in a sting operation after trying to sell Peruvian artifacts to undercover agents.

The artifacts come from the Inca, Mochica, Chimu and Chancay cultures. Among the items are a rare mother-of-pearl knife, pottery, copper pins, nose jewelry, gold and plaque ornaments and textile fragments.

"We do not have the slightest doubt that this event will be a message of discouragement for all those who try to loot the patrimony of our past, which is part of our national heritage and belongs to the universal culture," Ferrerro said.