Agents seize ancient Roman sarcophagus lid in Queens

Agents seize ancient Roman sarcophagus lid in Queens

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An Immigration and Customs Enforcement HSI agent stand over an ancient Roman sarcophagus found in Long Island City. (DHS ICE photo) An Immigration and Customs Enforcement HSI agent stand over an ancient Roman sarcophagus found in Long Island City. (DHS ICE photo)
MYFOXNY.COM/AP -

Federal agents seized an ancient Roman sarcophagus lid from a storage facility in New York City on behalf of Italian officials who say it was looted from Italy decades ago, the AP reported. A marble statue of a reclining half-clad female is carved in the lid of the funeral box.

Agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations directorate tracked down the sarcophagus in Long Island City, Queens, on February 20, 2014. They said it had appeared in a public exhibition last week.

"The forfeiture of this sarcophagus lid brings us one step closer to returning this stolen treasure to its rightful owner, the Italian people," Special Agent in Charge James T. Hayes Jr. said in a statement. "HSI is committed to intercepting and recovering stolen cultural artifacts and repatriating them to their rightful owners."

Federal officials said in a court filing that the statue is believed to be one of the many items Italian art dealer Gianfranco Becchina, who ran a gallery in Switzerland, illegally obtained. He was convicted in 2011 of trafficking in plundered Roman artifacts. Among his records was a document that showed he bought the marble sarcophagus lid in Italy and shipped it to his gallery in 1981. But agents do not know how or when it came into the United States.

"Whether looted cultural property enters our ports today or decades ago, it is our responsibility to see that it is returned to its rightful owners, in this case, the Italian people," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement. "We will continue to use all legal tools available to us to seize, forfeit and repatriate stolen cultural property."

The Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the Italian Carabinieri Protection of Cultural Heritage Command helped with the investigation, according to ICE.

With the Associated Press

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