D.A. Bragg Returns 16th Century Decree to the People of Mexico

November 28, 2022

Pictured: “16th Century Decree”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., today announced the return of a 16th Century handwritten decree to the people of Mexico. The Decree, written by Hernán Cortés, was bound with other colonial records and stored at the Archivo General de la Nacion (AGN) and was documented numerous times by AGN employees who took microfiche copies of the book. Sometime between 2010 and 2017, the Decree was cut from its binding, stolen from the AGN, and smuggled into the United States. It was then consigned to a New York-based auction house prior to being intercepted and seized by our Office. The antiquities were returned during a repatriation ceremony that was attended by Jorge Islas Lopez, Consul General of Mexico in New York, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge, Thomas Acocella. 
“This case shows the lengths traffickers and looters will go to steal these priceless pieces of cultural and historical heritage,” said District Attorney Bragg. “We are proud to partner with our HSI law enforcement partners to return 17 objects to the people of Mexico in just the past two years alone and look forward to continuing this work together.”

“Today’s repatriation of this Cortés Manuscript is the result of extraordinary collaboration between Homeland Security Investigations, the New York County District Attorney’s Office, and the Government of Mexico. This manuscript—which dates back to the conquest of the Aztec Empire in present day Mexico—is a document with immense and historical significance that was stolen, trafficked to the United States and recently discovered by authorities after several other stolen documents surfaced at auction. We are proud to bring our investigative skills and customs authorities to bear on this case and to bring home this priceless piece of history,” said Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations in New York.

“The Government of Mexico is deeply grateful for the continuous efforts of the Antiquities Anti-traffic Force conformed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, its specialized unit, and the Department of Homeland Security Investigations. The return of this letter signed by Hernán Cortés contributes to a series of important historical document repatriations that the Consulate General of Mexico in New York has been able to conduct thanks to the joint efforts of these authorities. This letter, as well as all the documents that have been returned to Mexico in the past, constitute a crucial part of our country’s historical legacy,” said Consul General Islas.
The Decree is the 17th object stolen from the AGN that the Office has recovered. Earlier this year, this Office returned a colonial period “Reglamento” to the people of Mexico on April 8, 2022. Last year, this Office returned 15 documents connected to Cortes and his associates that had also been stolen from the AGN and smuggled into New York County.

In 2022, the office has returned 877 antiquities, valued at over $89 million to 15 countries. Since its founding, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit has returned nearly 2,300 antiquities, valued at over $200 million, to 22 countries.

The investigation was conducted by Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit; Assistant District Attorney James Edwards-Lebair; Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analysts Giuditta Giardini and Hilary Chassé; and Special Agent Megan Buckley of Homeland Security Investigations.

If you have information about stolen or trafficked antiquities, please contact 212-335-9323.