HSI returns stolen sacred artifacts to Thailand in commemoration ceremony

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) returned two hand-carved sandstone lintels – structural components of 9th and 10th century religious shrines in northeast Thailand – in a formal commemoration ceremony held Tuesday at Crozier Fine Arts. The sacred lintels had been stolen and illegally exported from Thailand over 50 years ago.

The return of the lenses to Thailand marks the culmination of a three-year investigation by HSI Bangkok, HSI San Francisco, and subsequent prosecutions by the U.S. District Attorney for the Northern District of California, which resulted in the confiscation of the city of San Francisco de la Sacred Objects on display at the city’s Asian Art Museum.

“Today, with immense honor and respect, we reunite these cultural treasures with their rightful owners – the Kingdom and people of Thailand.” said Tatum King, special agent in charge of HSI San Francisco. “The theft and trafficking of another country’s priceless and irreplaceable national treasures is a global concern that requires close collaboration among nations. Through our international relationships, HSI is committed to investigating crimes involving the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property. “

In 2017, HSI received information from the Thai government of lintels stolen from two ancient Khmer-era shrines in the late 1950s or early 1960s – which had been on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco since its founding. . Careful investigation revealed suspicious activity related to the acquisition of ancient art and that the lintels were the property of the Kingdom of Thailand at the time they were removed from their ancient structures. Three years later, the U.S. government and the city of San Francisco entered into a settlement agreement in which the city conceded the confiscation of the artifacts and, once the Asian Art Museum’s disaccession process was completed, their repatriation to Thailand.

“I would like to thank the Thai Ambassador, the Thai Consuls General and our friends at the Royal Thai Consulate General in Los Angeles and the Department of Fine Arts of Thailand. They were all gracious and provided invaluable assistance throughout our work to return these artifacts to Thailand, ”said Acting US Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds. “Thai lintels are beautiful representations of Thai history and culture, and we are happy to have helped their return to their homeland.”

Despite increasingly aggressive law enforcement efforts to prevent the theft of cultural heritage and other antiquities, the illicit movement of these items across international borders continues to challenge global law enforcement efforts to reduce trafficking in these goods. Antiques trafficking is estimated to be a multi-billion dollar transnational criminal enterprise.

“I hope that the history of Thai lintels will help raise awareness to prevent the removal of historical, religious and cultural treasures from their original sites, in local communities,” said Manasvi Srisodapol, Thailand’s Ambassador to the United States. United.

HSI, through its 80 offices in 53 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations and is committed to pursuing a strategy of combating transnational organized crime linked to the illicit trafficking of cultural artefacts by targeting them. high priority organizations and strengthening international law. law enforcement partnerships.

Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 15,000 objects in more than 40 countries and institutions. In November 2014, HSI returned more than 500 artifacts to Thailand, including pottery, bronze ornaments and tools. As of April 2021, HSI New York worked with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to return more than a dozen artifacts to the Thai government, including a bronze standing Buddha, circa 14th century AD. Our era.

Members of the public who have information on the illicit distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of works of art, are asked to call the toll-free line at 1-866-347-2423 or complete the online advice form.

HSI is a branch of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the principal investigative arm of the United States Department of Homeland Security, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, particularly organizations criminals who exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and financial move. HSI’s workforce of more than 10,400 employees includes more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities across the United States and 80 overseas sites in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative police presence overseas and one of the largest international law enforcement footprints in the United States.

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