Three antiquities repatriated to Yemen

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Alabaster ram with inscribed base. Dating to the 5th century BC [Credit: Manhattan DA]
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Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., announced on April 28 the return of three antiquities valued at $725,000 to the people of Yemen. The objects were recovered pursuant to the recently concluded criminal investigation into antiquities purchased by Shelby White, a private collector based in Manhattan. Over the course of this investigation, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU) seized 89 antiquities collectively valued at nearly $69 million and originating from 10 different countries. This is the first repatriation ceremony the Office has had with the Government of Yemen. Due to the on-going civil war, these three pieces will be temporarily displayed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. until Yemeni authorities can safely bring them back to their country. The repatriation ceremony was attended by Yemeni Ambassador to the United States Mohammed Al-Hadhrami and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Assistant Special Agent in Charge, James Deboer.

“This repatriation underscores how art and culture can serve as powerful symbols of hope” said District Attorney Bragg. “Our investigation into the collector Shelby White has allowed dozens of antiquities that were ripped from their countries of origin to finally return home. These are just three of nearly 1,000 antiquities we have repatriated over the past 16 months, thanks to the talent of our investigators and prosecutors, along with our outstanding partners at HSI.”

“On behalf of the Government of Yemen, I express my deep gratitude to the Office of the District Attorney of New York County, in particular to the Antiquities Trafficking Unit as well as to Homeland Security Investigations of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for the collective efforts exerted in the retrieval and return of these priceless Yemeni artifacts. The Embassy of Yemen will continue in its close engagement with US Government authorities at both the State and Federal levels in pursuit of the restitution of Yemen’s stolen cultural property,” said Yemen’s Ambassador to the United States Mohammed Al-Hadhrami.

Alabaster ram with inscribed base. Dating to the 5th century BC [Credit: Manhattan DA]

“HSI New York is proud to stand with our partners at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to return these treasured antiquities to the Republic of Yemen Government,” said HSI New York Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo.“It is an honor to return these three stolen fragments of history, dating back more than 2,000 years, to their rightful home. I am proud of the continued efforts of HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Investigations Group and their tireless efforts to preserve cultural history from around the world.”

The pieces being repatriated today are:

-Alabaster ram with inscribed base. Dating to the 5th century B.C.E., the alabaster ram is a funerary object that originated in the Hayd bin Aqeel necropolis in Shabwa, Yemen. It was looted from the necropolis in 1994 during the outbreak of the Yemeni Civil War, and first appeared on the market at the Mansour Gallery, London, where it was purchased by Shelby White. The alabaster ram was seized from Shelby White’s Manhattan apartment by the ATU in January 2023.

-Alabaster female figure. Dating to the 2nd century B.C.E., the alabaster female figure is a funerary marker depicting a female deity. In late June 1993, Shelby White purchased the female figure directly from Robin Symes, who was convicted of antiquities trafficking by the High Court in London in 2005. The alabaster female figure was seized from Shelby White’s Manhattan apartment by the ATU in January 2023.

-Silver vessel with inscription. Dating to 200-300 C.E., the silver vessel is covered in elaborate relief decorations, including an inscription that made it possible to pinpoint the object’s origin in ancient Shabwa—the same heavily looted site as the alabaster ram. The silver vessel first appeared on the market in 2005, when it was sold at a Christie’s New York auction to Shelby White. It was seized from Shelby White’s Manhattan apartment by the ATU in February 2023.

During District Attorney Bragg’s tenure, the ATU has recovered more than 800 antiquities stolen from 24 countries and valued at more than $155 million. Since its creation, the ATU has recovered nearly 4,500 antiquities stolen from 29 countries and valued at more than $375 million.
Under District Attorney Bragg, the ATU has also repatriated more than 950 antiquities stolen from 18 countries and valued at more than $160 million. Since its creation, the ATU has returned more than 2,450 antiquities to 24 countries and valued at more than $230 million.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, supervised the investigation, which was conducted by Assistant District Attorney Taylor Holland; Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analyst Daniel Healey; and Special Agent Robert Mancene of Homeland Security Investigations. The District Attorney’s Office would like to thank Shelby White for her assistance and cooperation with our investigation.

Source: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office [April 29, 2023]