Manhattan DA returns antiquities to Lebanon

 September 10, 2023

The district attorney of Manhattan has announced that he is returning 12 antiquities to the people of Lebanon. 

Bragg's office made the announcement in a press release that it published on Sept. 7, 2023.

"Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., announced today the return of 12 antiquities, collectively valued at more than $9 million, to the people of Lebanon," the press release states.

A ceremony was held in conjunction with the return of the items.

The 12 antiquities

According to the press release, nine of the antiquities are mosaics that are among the many antiquities "that allegedly were trafficked into New York by Georges Lotfi, a Lebanese pharmacist turned antiquities trafficker."

Per the press release:

 In August 2022, the D.A.’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit (“ATU”) obtained a warrant for LOTFI’s arrest on multiple charges of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property and applied for a Red Notice from the International Criminal Police Organization (“INTERPOL”), which was issued in June 2023.

The remainder of the antiquities that have been returned are said to have been "trafficked into New York by the prominent smugglers Giovanni Franco Becchina, Robin Symes, and Jerome Eisenberg."

The press release goes on to state the efforts that it has taken to recover antiquities that were allegedly trafficked by these individuals.

The 12 antiquities, however, are now back in the hands of the people of Lebanon. The press release states:

The 12 items were returned during 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.

"Returning these stolen antiquities . . . is a privilege"

Several of the officials involved in this matter have released statements about it, including Bragg.

Special Agent Ivan J. Arvelo said:

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. 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.

Bragg, for his part, said, "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," he added. "Stolen antiquities that come through Manhattan will be repatriated to their home country."

Bragg is the same district attorney who has indicted former President Donald Trump on charges related to Trump's alleged payment of so-called hush money to an adult film star. Legal experts have heavily criticized Bragg's indictment, arguing that it is extremely weak, from a legal perspective. Critics also highlight the fact that crime is out of control in New York City, under Bragg's tenure.

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