Manhattan District Attorney Returns Two Antiquities Worth $1.26 M to Libya

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced Friday it had returned two antiquities worth $1.26 million to Libya that had previoulsy been smuggled and held by the British art dealer Robin Symes.

According to a press release, Marble Face of a Ptolemaic Queen and Female Bust were looted from the ancient city of Cyrene and acquired by Symes for his personal collection. They were stored in a storage unit in New York for more than 20 years.

Female Bust would have been part of an important funerary relief that decorated Cyrene’s ancient cemetery, known as a necropolis. Recently, archaeologists in Libya believe they have found what appears to be the torso of Female Bust still intact in its original tomb.

“Rampant looting” at the ancient city of Cyrene during the late 1980s and 1990s led to the two Libyan antiquities first appearing on the international art market.

“It is shameful that these beautiful pieces were stored away for decades by a convicted trafficker,” District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement. “Cyrene has faced significant looting, but thanks to the work of our Antiquities Trafficking Unit and partners at Homeland Security, we have now returned several pieces from this ancient city back to the people of Libya. We continue to have ongoing investigations into stolen Libyan artifacts and look forward to more repatriation ceremonies in the future.”

This is the fourth repatriation involving looted antiquities connected to Symes from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in the last five months.

In February, the DA’s office returned a marble head of the emperor Hadrian dating back to 200 CE. It had been smuggled out of Italy and laundered by Symes with false-provenance information before it was sold in New York in 1992.

In April, an alabaster female figure dating to 2nd century BCE was repatriated to Yemen. Symes had sold it to Metropolitan Museum of Art trustee Shelby White, who was investigated by the DA’s office for the large number of looted items in her personal collection.

In May, the DA’s office repatriated a Mesopotamian limestone elephant to Iraq. It had been hidden in a storage unit “since at least 1999” that belonged to Symes.

In addition to those investigations, Greece also announced in May that its Ministry of Culture would recover 351 looted items that were previously in the possession of Symes’ liquidated company after a 17-year legal battle. The Italian Ministry of Culture held a press conference in June to display 750 items it had also recovered from Symes‘ liquidated company, estimated to be worth $12.9 million.





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