Today, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Department of State and the Smithsonian Institution participated in a milestone repatriation ceremony returning 77 pieces of stolen cultural property seized by U.S. law enforcement officials to the Republic of Yemen Government.
The antiquities included 64 relief carved stone heads, 11 Qur’an manuscript pages, a bronze inscribed bowl, and a Funerary Stele from Ma’în or Minaean tribal cultures in the highlands of North-West Yemen dating back to the 1st century BCE.
The 64 relief carved stone heads were forfeited to the United States in connection with an Eastern District of New York civil forfeiture action related to the April 2012 guilty plea of an antiquities smuggler, named Mousa Khouli, also known as “Morris Khouli.” As alleged in the government’s forfeiture complaint, the 64 relief carved stone heads were smuggled into the United States from the United Arab Emirates with correspondence and invoices that contained multiple inconsistencies and were seized from the home and gallery of Khouli. Other antiquities that were seized in this case were forfeited and subsequently repatriated to Egypt in April 2015.
“Our Office is proud that the work in our case is leading to these important cultural antiquities returning to their rightful home in Yemen,” stated United States Attorney Breon Peace.
“Homeland Security Investigations is honored to stand with our partners including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the Smithsonian Institution, and Ambassador Mohammed Al-Hadhrami to return these treasured antiquities to the people of Yemen,” said HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Steve K. Francis. “Looted cultural property, art, and antiquities are often assigned a dollar value in the marketplace; however, the historical and cultural significance of these artifacts extends beyond any monetary value. HSI is proud to have played a role in the recovery and return of this priceless cultural heritage back to the Yemeni people so they can enjoy it for generations to come.”
Ambassador Mohammed Al-Hadhrami: “On behalf of the Government of Yemen, I express my deep gratitude to the US Government, in particular to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York for all efforts exerted in the retrieval and return of these Yemeni artifacts. Ever since the Houthis’ coup in Yemen, our heritage and history have been under attack. The Embassy of Yemen will continue its close engagement with the U.S. Government in pursuit of the restitution of Yemen’s stolen cultural heritage and property. I also affirm my substantial appreciation to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art for agreeing to temporarily hold these antiquities until they are fully repatriated back to Yemen in the future.”
The return of these stolen antiquities marks a significant milestone in U.S.-Yemen relations, as the culmination of extensive U.S. investigative work to identify, locate, seize and confirm the status of this cultural property denotes historically the largest number of antiquities that have been returned by the U.S. government to Yemeni officials in nearly 20 years.
The Republic of Yemen Government and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art have entered into a two-year custodial agreement with the option to renew at the request of the Republic of Yemen Government. The Embassy will advise on access to, research on and conservation of the objects.
The government’s case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Claire S. Kedeshian of the Criminal Division, Asset Recovery Section.
MOUSA KHOULI, also known as “Morris Khouli”
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. CR 11-00340 (EDNY) (ERK)
United State of America v. Various Antiquities, Cultural Property and Assets held in the name of Windsor Antiques and/or Mousa Khouli, et. al. CV 11-2889 (ERK)