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Some of the 29 priceless artifacts returned by the Manhattan DA's office to Greece. (Photo by Eleni Sakellis)
NEW YORK – In a moving repatriation ceremony at the Consulate General of Greece in New York, 29 looted Greek antiquities were returned to the people of Greece on March 21 in the presence of Greek Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni, Consul General Konstantinos Konstantinou, Special Agent in Charge at Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Ivan J. Arvelo, and Assistant District Attorney of Manhattan and Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU) Matthew Bogdanos.
Consul General Konstantinou gave the welcoming remarks at the event and thanked all those present who participated in the effort to return the antiquities which he noted may be worth millions of dollars, but “are priceless to the Greek people.”
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., announced the return of the 29 looted antiquities in a news release, pointing out that among the pieces, collectively valued at over $20 million, is the extraordinarily rare Eid Mar Coin, which commemorates the murder of Julius Caesar.
“I am proud that under my administration this office has now repatriated 950 antiquities to 17 countries,” said District Attorney Bragg in the news release. “I thank our outstanding team of analysts, investigators and attorneys, along with our law enforcement partners, for their excellent work finding and returning these historical marvels.”
Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni said: “On behalf of the Hellenic Government, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to congratulate and thank the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and in particular Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos and his associates for their contribution in investigating and eventually repatriating 29 ancient Hellenic antiquities. The close relationship and cooperation that has been built over the last years between Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Hellenic Republic, guarantees that many more successes will follow.”
“Antiquities trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar business with looters and smugglers turning a profit at the expense of cultural heritage, and Greece – long acknowledged as the cradle of Western Civilization – is especially susceptible to this type of criminal enterprise,” said Special Agent in Charge for HSI in New York Ivan J. Arvelo. “These treasured artifacts date from as far back as 5000 BCE and were a valued part of life in the ancient world. We are honored to join our partners today in the repatriation of this priceless cultural heritage to the people of Greece.”
ADA Bogdanos spoke with The National Herald at the repatriation ceremony noting that it was “an honor to be here on behalf of the District Attorney to return to the Greek homeland 29 extraordinary cultural treasures, testaments to our shared, living cultural heritage.”
It is day’s like today that enable us to continue to do the work we do with our partners here at Homeland Security Investigations and abroad in Greece,” Bogdanos said, adding that “as a proud Greek-American it is always a little more special for me to return priceless antiquities to Greece. I feel strongly about every country but obviously maybe just a little bit more strongly for Greece.”
When asked what is next for him and his team, he said: “Next is the next challenge that’s out there, because even as we speak, as we stand here right now, there are antiquities being looted somewhere in the world and we at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office here in New York take this seriously. We treasure and value our cultural heritage and the cultural heritage of all nations, but we want to make sure that the cultural heritage of nations that is here, is here legally.”
When asked if the 29 antiquities being returned were from one collection, Bogdanos told TNH that they were not and were actually from three different investigations.
Key pieces of the 29 returned include the Bronze Calyx Krater, the Eid Mar Coin, and the Neolithic Family Group. The Bronze Calyx Krater dates to 350 BC and once held the bones of a deceased individual in a chamber tomb. It was looted and smuggled into Switzerland, where it was cleaned and restored by Fritz and Harry Bürki, the Zurich-based restorers and business partners of Robert Hecht. Hecht then arranged to smuggle the piece into New York, where it was sold to Leon Levy and Shelby White. It was seized by the Office in January of this year.
The Eid Mar Coin, minted in 42 BC, commemorates the murder of Julius Caesar. Eid Mar Coins were minted to pay Brutus’ troops after he fled Greece following Caesar’s assassination. Gold Eid Mar coins are extremely rare, and this is only one of three known coins of its type. The coin first surfaced on the international art market in 2016, where it was offered for sale in Munich with no provenance. It was then smuggled into London, where it was sold to a U.S.-based buyer. It was seized by the Office in February of this year during a joint investigation with multiple foreign law enforcement agencies.
The Neolithic Family Group dates to 5000-3500 BC and is valued at $3 million. This group of objects compromises five human and animal figures carved from marble, and was looted from the island of Euboea by a Greek trafficker who smuggled the pieces into Switzerland. In 1982, dealer-trafficker Nicolas Koutoulakis sold the group to New York-based collectors Leon Levy and Shelby White. White loaned the group to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2000, where they remained on display until March of this year, when it was seized by the Office.
During DA Bragg’s tenure, the ATU has recovered more than 750 antiquities stolen from 26 countries and valued at more than $130 million. Since its creation, the ATU has recovered nearly 4,500 antiquities stolen from 28 countries and valued at more than $360 million.
Under District Attorney Bragg, the ATU has also repatriated more than 950 antiquities stolen from 17 countries and valued at more than $160 million. Since its creation, the ATU has returned almost 2,500 antiquities to 23 countries and valued at more than $238 million.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, supervised the investigations, which were conducted by Assistant District Attorneys Yuval Simchi-Levi and Taylor Holland; Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analysts Daniel Healey, Alyssa Thiel, and Hilary Chassé; and Special Agents Robert Mancene, John Paul Labbat, and Brenton Easter of Homeland Security Investigations (DHS-HSI) New York. Investigative support was provided by Elena Vlachogianni, Head of the Department of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Goods of Greece’s Ministry of Culture, and Special Agents James C. Abell and Aaron Klein of DHS-HSI Baltimore. Additional investigative support was provided by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis for one of the objects in the March 21 ceremony.
In his remarks, Bogdanos noted that Minister Mendoni has put together an extraordinary team, mentioning by name Elena Vlachogianni and Vasiliki Papageorgiou, who were present at the ceremony.
The District Attorney’s Office also thanked Royal-Athena Galleries and Shelby White for their assistance and cooperation with their investigations.
Among those present were American School of Classical Studies at Athens Executive Director George T. Orfanakos and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Alexander E. Zagoreos, who spoke with TNH at the event. Zagoreos noted that “this is a wonderful occasion for Greece and it’s wonderful that the American School of Classical Studies is here to share it with everybody.”
Also present at the event were Consul of Greece in New York Dimitris Papageorgiou, Consulate Cultural Attache and Public Relations Officer Evelyn Kanellea, artist George Petrides, Overseers of the Gennadius Library Eleni Milonas and Kathryn B. Yatrakis, and TNH Advisor to the Publishers Antonis H. Diamataris.
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