A set of 2,000-year-old sarcophagi and other Egyptian antiquities were smuggled into the United States by a black-market artifacts ring and recovered by U.S. law enforcement agents, officials said on Thursday.
Charges unsealed in Brooklyn federal court in New York accused four men of conspiring to smuggle the Egyptian artifacts in what one U.S. official described as a groundbreaking case against trafficking in cultural property.
The men charged -- Mousa Khouli, Salem Alshdaifat, Joseph Lewis and Ayman Ramadan -- were accused of evading customs officers by misrepresenting the nature of their cargo during border inspections. They also were charged with plotting to launder money.
New York Times (Kate Taylor)
Federal authorities announced on Wednesday that they had broken up an international ring that had been smuggling Egyptian antiquities into the United States. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations department said it was the first time that a cultural property smuggling network had been dismantled in the United States.
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The charges filed in United States District Court in Brooklyn accuse three antiquities dealers and a collector of conspiring to smuggle an Egyptian sarcophagus and other items, and of laundering money. All of the suspects have been arrested except for a Jordanian dealer who operates out of Dubai.
Brenton Easter, a federal agent who led the investigation, which began in 2008, said the items seized had a market value of $2.5 million.
CNN (Karin Khalid)
Alleged leaders of an international smuggling ring accused of stealing millions of dollars in antiquities from Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries are now facing federal charges in the United States, authorities said Thursday as they detailed some of the items seized by investigators.
"It is the first time an alleged cultural property network has been dismantled within the United States," James Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Homeland Security investigators in New York told CNN.
According to a federal indictment, the Department of Justice charged four men with conspiring to smuggle artifacts and launder money.
The United States Attorney's Office
An indictment was unsealed yesterday in federal court in Brooklyn charging Mousa Khouli, also known as “Morris Khouli,” Salem Alshdaifat, Joseph A. Lewis, II, and Ayman Ramadan, with conspiring to smuggle Egyptian antiquities into the United States and conspiring to launder money in furtherance of smuggling.1 The arraignments of Khouli and Lewis are scheduled today before United States Magistrate Judge Andrew L. Carter, at the U.S. Courthouse, 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York. Alshdaifat’s arraignment took place yesterday before United States Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen, at the U.S. Courthouse, 231 W. Lafayette Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan. Ramadan, a Jordanian citizen residing in the United Arab Emirates, is a fugitive. The case has been assigned to United States District Judge Edward R. Korman.
The indictment was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), New York.
As alleged in the indictment, from October 2008 through November 2009, Lewis purchased a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, a nesting set of three Egyptian sarcophagi, a set of Egyptian funerary boats and Egyptian limestone figures from Khouli, who earlier acquired those items from Alshdaifat and Ramadan. Each of these antiquities was exported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and smuggled into the United States using a variety of illegal methods intended to avoid detection and scrutiny by U.S. Customs & Border Protection (“Customs”). Specifically, the defendants allegedly made false declarations to Customs concerning the country of origin and value of the antiquities, and provided misleading descriptions of the contents on shipping labels and customs paperwork, such as “antiques,” “wood panels” and “wooden painted box.”