Washington, DC – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton presented 21 historical documents to the Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak of the Russian Federation to the United States, in a ceremony at the Russian Embassy in the nation’s capital. The documents, many of them signed by czars and czarinas, emperors and empresses, ranged from the 18th to the 20th century and were reported stolen from national archives in Moscow and St. Petersburg between 1994 and 2002.
ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) opened four investigations on five websites after receiving leads from the RosOkhranKultura, the Russian Government agency responsible for the protection of cultural heritage property. Documents were identified for sale or loan from Websites in Amherst, N.H., New Haven, Conn., Upland, Calif., Atlanta and New York City. Prices ranged from $300 to $15,000 per document.
“It is a great privilege and honor, on behalf of the United States, to return to the people of Russia a collection of historical documents that reflect their nation’s history and rich heritage,” said ICE Director Morton. “These are precisely the types of treasures that ICE’s Cultural Property Art and Antiquities unit was established to identify, investigate and return to their rightful owners. ICE HSI continues to investigate many more from this stolen cache that are suspected of having been smuggled into our country.”
Ambassador Kislyak said at the repatriation ceremony, “I would like to express my deep and sincere gratitude to the U.S. authorities and professionals of the Department of Homeland Security and personally to Mr. John Morton, Director of Immigration Customs Enforcement who accomplished great job to return these historic treasures to the people of Russia. We value your contribution to the strengthening of cooperation between Russia and the United States.”
ICE HSI was able to identify dozens of the documents that the Russian Government suspected of being in the United States. Most of the documents repatriated at the ceremony were forfeited by the sellers or owners when they learned that they had been obtained illegally. The investigation continues into dozens of other documents missing and suspected of having been smuggled into the United States and sold since the theft from the Russian archives.
Among the documents returned at the ceremony were:
• A decree by Anna Ioannovna (1733)
• Three decrees by Elizabeth Petrovna (1737)
• A decree by Empress Catherine II (1764)
• A decree by Catherine the Great (1792)
• A decree and presentation by Alexander I (1825)
• An ordinance and two decrees by Nicholas I (1832)
• Two decrees by Alexander II ( 1867 and 1892)
• A report marked “Top Secret” discussing, in part, the reconstruction of airfields, by Vasily Blyukher (1932)
• Imperial award/order (1893) and a decree (1892) by Alexander III
• An award (1902) and a decree (1914) by Nicholas II
• An order (1940), a personnel list (1940) and an appointment (1949) by Georgi Zhukov
As the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE plays a leading role in investigating crimes involving the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property. ICE’s Cultural Property Art and Antiquities unit and Office of International Affairs works jointly to identify, investigate and eventually return art and cultural items to their countries of origin or rightful owners.
ICE uses investigative authority to seize cultural property items if they were illegally imported into the United States. It also investigates the illegal trafficking of artwork, especially works that have been reported lost or stolen. ICE’s Office of International Affairs, through its 67 attaché offices worldwide, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible.
Working with experts in the field of cultural heritage, art and archeology, ICE authenticates the items, determines their true ownership and returns them to their countries of origin. Those involved in the illicit trafficking of cultural property, art and antiquities can face prison terms of up to 20 years, fines and possible restitution to purchasers of the items.
ICE thanks the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for their assistance in facilitating the return of the stolen documents to Russia.
For more photos of the embassy event and the documents returned to Russia, go to the media gallery at www.ICE.gov.
Written by Border Scope
Saturday, 04 December 2010