The US has agreed to return 77 antiquities to Yemen which had been stolen from the war-torn country, authorities confirmed yesterday.
The ancient artefacts will be “temporarily” housed at the Washington-based Smithsonian Institution, which is a group of museums and galleries.
The federal prosecutor in New York, Brion Pace, stated, in a statement yesterday, Tuesday, that the artifacts are “64 carved stone heads, 11 manuscript pages from the Qur’an, an inscribed bronze bowl and a funerary stele from the Ma’in or Ma’eeni tribal cultures in the highlands of northwestern Yemen, dating back to the first century BC.
AFP reported that the announcement was made jointly by the prosecutor’s office, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the Smithsonian Institution. It follows a campaign by New York state’s justice department dating back several years to restore antiquities looted from around the world and which have ended up in the state’s museums and galleries.
A press release issued by the Smithsonian Institute yesterday said the objects “will enter the custody of the National Museum of Asian Art Feb. 21 as part of a repatriation ceremony hosted by the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen Government in Washington, D.C.”
The 64 carved stone heads were confiscated in the US as part of a 2012 plea bargain from an antiquities smuggler, Mousa Khouli, also known as “Morris” Khouli, the district attorney’s statement said. The antiquities were imported into the US from Dubai using false documentation.
“It is through the diligent and dedicated work of our partners and friends in the U.S. government that 77 precious Yemeni artifacts have been recovered and returned to the people of Yemen. And for that we thank you,” Mohammed Al-Hadhrami, Yemen’s ambassador to the U.S., said at the ceremony.
Previous reports mentioned the smuggling of thousands of Yemeni artifacts, where the Al-hudhud Center for Archaeological Studies revealed in a report that more than 4,265 smuggled artifacts were sold in 16 auctions in 6 countries: America 5 auctions, Britain 4 auctions, France 3 auctions, and 2 auctions in Israeli entity and an auction for both Germany and the Netherlands.
The number of pieces sold and displayed during the period of war on Yemen reached 2,610 pieces.
US ranked first with 2,167 artifacts, then the Netherlands, and the Zionist entity in third place with approximately 450 artifacts.
In November last year it was reported that over 4,000 Yemeni historical artefacts have been looted and smuggled out of the country, with many being auctioned off and ending up in the US and other countries.
The Executive Director of the Al-hudhud Center for Archaeological Studies, Fahmi Al-Aghbari, indicated that the list issued by the center is a starting point for the official judicial authorities to prosecute antiquities thefts.