D.A. Bragg Returns Green Coffin from The Houston Museum of Natural Sciences to the People of Egypt

September 28, 2022

Pictured: “Green Coffin”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., today announced the return of the “Green Coffin,” valued at over $1 million, to the people of Egypt. The Green Coffin was looted from an archaeological site in Egypt and trafficked by the Dib-Simonian network, who smuggled the piece through Germany into the United States in 2008. It was sold to a private collector and eventually loaned to the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, where it remained on view until this Office’s seizure. The Dib-Simonian network was also responsible for trafficking the Gold Coffin, which the District Attorney’s Office returned to Egypt in 2019; the Stele of Pa-di-Sena, which the District Attorney’s Office returned to Egypt in 2020; and most recently five pieces seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art that were returned to Egypt in September. The information about the Dib-Simonian network developed and shared with law-enforcement agencies by this Office has led to the indictment or arrest of nine individuals in France, including the former-Louvre Director Jean-Luc Martinez, and four individuals in Germany. The Green Coffin was officially returned at a repatriation ceremony held at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences with Egypt’s Consul General in Houston Hosam Alkaweesh.

“This stunning coffin was trafficked by a well-organized network that has looted countless antiquities from the region,” said District Attorney Bragg. “We are pleased that this object will be returned to Egypt, where it rightfully belongs.” 

“The repatriation of this priceless artifact reflects the strength of the strategic partnership between Egypt and the U.S. and it came on time as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between both countries. On the cultural level, specifically the protection and preservation of cultural heritage, cooperation between both friendly countries led to the repatriation of so many artifacts including the Green Coffin. Allow me to extend our gratitude and appreciation to all distinguished members of the antiquities trafficking unit, especially to its chief colonel Matthew Bogdanos and Homeland Security Investigations for their relentless efforts to reach this moment,” said Consul General in Houston Hosam Alkaweesh.

“This oversized Green Egyptian Coffin Lid, which was once the wooden outer layer of the sarcophagus of the priest Ankhenmaat, is an ancient relic of Egyptian history dating back to Late Dynastic period.  While the coffin lid has long ignited the imaginations of those who view it due to its striking green visage and extraordinary size at almost ten feet long, it is these same qualities which led to its illegal exportation from Egypt as part of a massive, multinational network of antiquities smugglers.  HSI special agents and industry experts have worked for years to identify and recover items looted from Egypt and we are proud to join our partners today in Houston to formally return this unique piece of Egypt’s history to its rightful home,” said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Acting Special Agent in Charge Ricky J. Patel.

The Green Coffin is more than 9.5 feet tall and belongs to the ancient Egyptian priest Ankhenmaat. It was looted from Abusir al-Malaq in Northern Egypt and then surfaced in the possession of Simon Simonian in Switzerland. It was trafficked to the United States in 2008 and then sold to a private collector, who loaned the piece to the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University until 2013, when it was loaned to Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.

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 and Investigative Analysts Alyssa Thiel, Daniel Healey, and Hilary Chasse; Special Agent Robert Mancene of Homeland Security Investigations. Investigative support was provided by Shaaban Abdel Gawad of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities, Stephane Blumel of France’s Office for Combating Trafficking in Cultural Property (OCBC), and Silvelie Karfeld and Nicole Pogantke of Germany’s Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) Kunst und Kulturgutkriminalität. We also thank the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences for their cooperation with this investigation.