U.S. returns smuggled Egyptian artifacts

Egyptian government received items at Washington ceremony

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The United States returned Wednesday dozens of ancient artifacts that had been smuggled out of Egypt by an international criminal network, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said.

The items -- including a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus discovered in a Brooklyn garage in 2009 -- were handed back to the Egyptian government at a ceremony in Washington.

“To think that some of these treasured artifacts were recovered from garages, exposed to the elements, is unimaginable,” said ICE director Sarah Saldana in a statement.

The discovery of the nesting sarcophagus generated leads that resulted in the 2010 seizure of more smuggled Egyptian items, including a funerary boat model and hundreds of ancient coins, ICE said.

The items have been linked to a global crime network that is the subject of a five-year-old ICE effort known as Operation Mummy’s Curse.

So far, the effort has secured four indictments, two convictions, 19 search warrants and 16 seizures totaling approximately $3 million, ICE said.

“The ongoing investigation has identified a criminal network of smugglers, importers, money launderers, restorers and purchasers who used illegal methods to avoid detection as these items entered the United States,” ICE said.

“Items and funds were traced back to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Iraq and other nations.”

Since 2007, ICE has returned more than 80 items to Egypt in four repatriations -- and a total of more than 7,800 artifacts to 30-plus countries, from French paintings to Mongolian dinosaur fossils.