Ten ancient coins looted from Greece are to find their way back home after they were returned to Greek diplomatic authorities by the Department of Homeland Security in a ceremony at the Greek consulate in San Francisco.
Five of the ancient coins tracked down had originally travelled to the opposite shore of the Atlantic via an internet company based in Munich. The recipient was a professional photographer based in San Francisco who later voluntarily handed over another five ancient coins he had obtained from the same company at an earlier date.
The failure to mention the origin of the coins but also their low price had intrigued Homeland Security Investigations Agent David Keller, who tried to track down exactly what they were and where they came from. His investigation showed that neither the sender nor the recipient were able to produce the necessary documents to make the transaction legal.
The San Francisco Customs and Border Protection Laboratory then sent the evidence collected to Athens, where it was examined by a department for antiquities law enforcement officer, Orfeas Sotiriou, in Attica. Based on his analysis, the coins had been minted on various Aegean islands and dated to about 600 B.C.
The coins were then returned on the basis of an agreement signed by Greece and the US in 2011 concerning cultural goods and fighting antiquities smuggling.
Among those at the ceremony for their retun was the Greek Ambassador in Washington Charis Lalakos, who carried out his first official visit to San Francisco and met with the California Governor Gavin Newsom and other local officials.
Ice Homeland Security Investigations returned looted Greek artifacts to rightful owner
San Francisco – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Deputy Special Agent in Charge Jerry Templet repatriated 10 Greek coins to the Government of Greece, Tuesday, during a reception at the San Francisco Greek Consulate.
“Homeland Security Investigations is the ‘investigative arm’ for the Department of Homeland Security, and we work closely with our international law enforcement partners to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural artifacts.”
The 10 coins were allegedly smuggled out of various Aegean islands such as the Island of Samos. The island of Samos is not covered by modern structures and has a lot of open, unprotected fields. These unexcavated archaeological sites are subject to the illegal use of metal detectors by collectors who remove artifacts, such as coins, for unlawful sale and profit.
“Today, we have [present some of] our good friends from Homeland Security Investigations of San Francisco, who closely worked with their counterparts in Athens for the last two year, to make possible the patriation of 10 Ancient Greek coins,” said San Francisco Consul General of Greece in San Francisco, Antonios Sgouropoulos.
Sgouropoulos hosted this reception to welcome Haris Lalacos, the Ambassador of Greece to the United States, during his first official visit to the Bay Area.
In late August 2016, HSI detained a FedEx package with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the FedEx facility in Memphis, TN. The shipment originated from a Munich-based, online coin dealer with previous violations for selling suspicious antiquities. This shipment contained five coins.
“HSI Special Agent David Keller of San Francisco and Hellenic Police Sgt. Orfeas Sotiriou of Athens, Greece, collaborated these past two plus years to intercept and authenticate these artifacts,” Templet said. “Their hard work resulted in this repatriation. I am happy to be a part of such a great event.”
According Sotiriou’s analysis of data collected by the Customs and Border Protection Laboratory in San Francisco, the coins were determined to be authentic Ancient Greek artifacts.
In September 2016, Keller interviewed the buyer of the intercepted package. During this interview, the buyer informed Keller that he made a purchase from the same seller a few months earlier for five other coins. Subsequently, the previously purchased coins were also evaluated and found to be Greek artifacts.
“The seller never provided any documentation showing the coins were acquired and sold legally,” Keller said. “The buyer cooperated with our investigation and ultimately surrendered all 10 coins to HSI to be forfeited and repatriated to the Government of Greece.”
Also an archeologist in Athens, Sotiriou reported that all 10 coins are estimated to be dated as early as 600 BCE and were minted in various locations throughout the Aegean Islands.
According to Greek Cultural Heritage Law, artifacts in the ground within Greece are the property of the Government of Greece and are not allowed to be removed for reasons other than Archaeological study. The lack of provenance documents and the low price of the coins were facts that supported the assessment that the coins were smuggled out of Greece.
In July 2011, The U.S. and Greece entered in to a Bilateral Agreement or Memorandum of Understanding with Greece to restrict the importation of carious cultural property from the Upper Paleolithic Period (approximately 2,000 B.C) through the 15th century A.D. This treaty, along with the U.S. “Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act” and Customs Laws, are the authorities used by Special Agent Keller to conduct this and other similar investigations.
On May 10, 2019, the Office of International Trade-Regulations & Rulings issued a decision to transfer the forfeited coins to HSI for the purpose of repatriation to the Government of Greece.