Alvin Bragg announces return of 12 antiquities to Lebanon

September 9, 2023

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced on Wednesday that his office has returned 12 antiquities valued at $9 million to the people of Lebanon now that a criminal investigation into antiquities trafficker Georges Lotfi has concluded.

The antiquities were returned as part of a repatriation ceremony attended by Lebanon’s Consul General in New York, Ambassador Abir Taha Audi, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Thomas Acocella.

Lotfi is now the subject of an international arrest warrant, but has not yet been located to be arrested. He previously tipped authorities off to the location of stolen antiquities before being accused of his own thefts.

Bragg said in his announcement, "These pieces sat in apartments, storage units and museums when they should have been in Lebanon. As we have demonstrated time and time again, there is no trafficking scheme or network too complex for our Office. Stolen antiquities that come through Manhattan will be repatriated to their home country.”

A privilege

“Returning these stolen antiquities, some dating back nearly 2,000 years, is a privilege as it reunites the people of Lebanon with a piece of their rich heritage,” Special Agent in Charge for HSI New York Ivan J. Arvelo said. “HSI New York remains committed to collaborating with our partners at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in the investigation and repatriation of historical artifacts which have long been pillaged from their rightful homes.”

“This is Lebanon, the real Lebanon, the real face of Lebanon which we want the whole world to see: the Lebanon of art, beauty, culture, history, the Lebanon of peace and harmony between civilizations and cultures, the eternal Lebanon which will never die,” Audi said.

Nine of the antiquities were allegedly trafficked by Lotfi, with the remaining three having been stolen by other traffickers.

In recent years, investigators have recovered 28 stolen antiquities trafficked by Lotfi with a combined total value of $33 million.

The antiquities included marble statues of Castor and Pollux dating to the 4th century CE and a mosaic of the athlete Dionysis.

The team

Under Bragg's tenure, the Antiquities Tracking Unit has recovered almost 850 antiquities from 27 different countries valued at $190 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 Taylor Holland and Bradley Barbour; Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer; Investigative Analysts Daniel Healey and Mallory O’Donoghue; and Special Agent Robert Mancene of Homeland Security Investigations.

Lotfi specialized in the trafficking of mosaics, which can be quite intricate.

While the charges against him are only allegations, the fact that the antiquities were recovered gives legitimacy to them.

New York City is widely known to be a hub for antiquities and stolen art trafficking, despite all efforts to curb the thefts and return stolen items to their rightful owners.

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