D.A. Bragg Returns 12 Antiquities to the Republic of Türkiye

March 22, 2023

Pictured: “Perge Theater Head”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., announced the return of 12 antiquities to the Republic of Türkiye valued at over $33 million. Nine of the objects were recovered pursuant to the recently concluded criminal investigation into antiquities possessed by Shelby White, which resulted in the seizure of 89 stolen antiquities, valued at $69 million and originating from 10 different countries. The other three repatriated objects were recovered pursuant to an ongoing investigation into antiquities that were pillaged from Perge and Bubon, two heavily looted archaeological sites. The items were returned during a repatriation ceremony with Türkiye’s Consul General Reyhan Özgür and Thomas Acocella, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge at Homeland Security Investigations, New York.

“Many of these pieces, which come from archaeological sites that have been the persistent target of looting, have been circulating across the globe for decades. Now, they are finally being returned to Türkiye, where they rightfully belong,” said District Attorney Bragg. 
“I welcome and appreciate the level of cooperation between two states in the field of fighting against the smuggling of cultural properties that we have achieved for the last few years. In particular, the positive results achieved through the healthy communication channels established between the Office of Manhattan District Attorney General, Homeland Security Investigations and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Türkiye are not only encouraging deeper cooperation between two states, but also inspiring for the global community combating cultural property smuggling,” said Consul General Reyhan Özgür.

“Today’s repatriation is the result of extraordinary collaboration between Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (DANY), and the Government of the Republic of Türkiye. These pieces, dating to as early as 5600 BCE, represent immense cultural and historical significance and today we return these illicitly trafficked antiquities to their rightful home,” said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo.  “The continued efforts of HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Group and DANY is a testament to the importance of preserving cultural history from around the world and ensuring antiquities find their way home.”

Among the pieces being returned today include:

  • A bronze statue of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus, dating back to 225 C.E. The statue was stolen in the late 1960s from Bubon, an archaeological site in Türkiye, by looters and was eventually smuggled into Switzerland by Robert Hecht. Coin dealer Charles Lipson eventually loaned the piece to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It landed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011, which it remained on display until it was seized by the Office in February.  With its partners in Türkiye, the ATU was able to find and interview one of the individuals who actually looted and smuggled this statue.
  • The Perge Theater Head, dating back to 290 C.E., was looted from Perge, an archaeological site in Türkiye. The piece first surfaced on the international art market at Sotheby’s in 2000. It then resurfaced at Christie’s in 2012, when it was purchased by a private collected who loaned it to the Met. It remained at the museum until it was seized by the Office in January.
  • The Sitting female figure from Çatalhöyük, which dates between 6000 and 5000 B.C.E. After it was smuggled out of Türkiye, it first appeared on the market in London at the Rabi Gallery, where it was purchased by Shelby White in 1985. It remained in his possession until it was seized by the Office in 2023.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, supervised the investigations, which were conducted by Assistant District Attorneys Taylor Holland and Bradley Barbour; Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analysts Daniel Healey and Hilary Chasse; and Special Agents Robert Mancene and Megan Buckley of Homeland Security Investigations. Investigative support was provided by Zeynep Boz (Head of the Combatting Illicit Trafficking Department), Burcu Özdemir, Nimet Bal, and Utku Yurtsever of the Combatting Illicit Trafficking Department at Türkiye’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Additional investigative support was provided by Elizabeth Marlowe, Associate Professor of Art & Art History at Colgate University. The District Attorney’s Office would like to thank Shelby White for her assistance and cooperation with our investigation.