Home Washington Press Releases 2011 FBI Recovers and Returns 2,000-Year-Old Artifacts to Iraqi Embassy

FBI Recovers and Returns 2,000-Year-Old Artifacts to Iraqi Embassy
Iraq Contract Corruption Initiative Uncovers Old Babylonian Period Items

FBI Washington July 07, 2011
  • Public Information Office (202) 278-3519

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Eight cultural antiquities seized in a 2006 FBI International Contract Corruption Task Force (ICCTF) investigation were returned to the government of Iraq today. The antiquities, from Old Babylonian period to the Neo-Assyrian or Neo-Babylon periods, were presented during a joint repatriation ceremony attended by Samir Shakir Mahmood Sumaida’ie, Iraqi Ambassador to the United States; Ronald T. Hosko, Special Agent in Charge of the Criminal Division at the FBI’s Washington Field Office; and Kumar Kibble, Deputy Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“These artifacts are truly invaluable and the FBI is pleased to be able to return them to their rightful owner,” said Special Agent in Charge Hosko. “The FBI is committed to identifying and preventing corruption and contract fraud no matter where it takes place. The FBI’s International Contract Corruption Task Force focuses on government contracting activity overseas, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait. Working abroad does not entitle anyone to remove historic artifacts and treat them as mementos for illegal sale.”

In March of 2006, through a public corruption investigation, the FBI Washington Field Office recovered artifacts during an investigation of former Department of Defense (DoD) contractors who, between January and December 2004, participated in a bribery and fraud scheme that involved contracts in the reconstruction of Iraq. The items were unlawfully collected, purchased and smuggled into the U.S. by former DoD contractors, two of which were sentenced to prison terms in connection for their roles in the conspiracy to commit a scheme to defraud the Coalition Provisional Authority - South Central Region (CPA-SC) in al-Hillah, Iraq. The individual who received the artifacts from one of the former DoD contractors forfeited them to the FBI.

In April 2011 the Department of Justice requested the artifact’s authentication in preparation for their return to the government of Iraq. The artifacts include two pottery dishes, four vases, an oil lamp, three small statues, and seven terracotta relief plaques that range in date from Old Babylonian period (2000 to 1600—B.C.) to Neo-Assyrian or Neo-Babylon periods (1000 to 550 B.C.), 2,500 to 4,000 years old. The plaques were made with clay and pressed into a mold which was then fired in an oven. It is unclear how, exactly, these plaques were used. Many experts believe the plaques were thought to provide magical protection against evil or sickness. The plaques are small enough to be carried in the hand (for personal devotion), but could also have been displayed in temples or buried in foundations of buildings. The terracotta relief plaques and one of the small statues are pictured here:

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Cult scene: part of larger scene that originally included a bearded, armed man or god wearing a turban, standing in a shrine or chariot surrounded by sickle shaped weapons. Ishtar: Mesopotamian goddess of love/sex and war. Shown here wearing armor and a quiver with arrows

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Lion: divine or protective figure

Boxers: likely part of a larger scene that included musicians

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Nude female: likely promoted fertility

Nude female with baby: likely promoted fertility

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Dog: divine or magically protective figure

Drinking scene: woman bending over to sip beer through a straw. Beer in ancient Mesopotamia was unfiltered and necessitated drinking from a straw to avoid solids remaining from the fermentation process.

The ICCTF is a joint law enforcement agency task force that seeks to detect, investigate, and dismantle corruption and contract fraud resulting from U.S. overseas contingency operations worldwide, including in Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The FBI’s art crime team provided assistance in the return of artifacts for this investigation. Art crime team agents receive specialized training in art and cultural property investigations and assist in art-related investigations worldwide in cooperation with foreign law enforcement officials and FBI legal attaché offices. Since its inception, the art crime team has recovered more than 2,600 items valued at over $142 million.