BEIRUT — As part of the Culture Ministry's “mission and role in combating illegal trafficking in archaeological artifacts,” Lebanese archaeological pieces that were stolen from Lebanon during the Civil War are being returned to Lebanon from New York, the Culture Ministry said in a statement relayed by the state-run National News Agency on Thursday.
According to the statement, the archaeological pieces were expected to be handed over to the Culture Ministry in Lebanon on Thursday.
“The Culture Ministry - General Directorate of Antiquities, on April 8, 2020, confirmed the existence of an archaeological piece with the number E1787, which is a marble head from a young Roman. It was originally found during the excavations of ‘World Dunan’ in 1971 in the Temple of Ashmun in Saida,” the statement said.
“The caretaker Culture Minister Mohammad Mortada instructed the General Directorate of Antiquities to take swift action and necessary measures to return this piece to Lebanon,” the statement explained.
“Accordingly, the Culture Ministry contacted the relevant authorities in the United States to take the necessary steps in this regard, until the piece was located in the possession of Royal Athena Galleries in New York,” the statement continued.
“Information was also received by the Culture Ministry in Lebanon indicating the presence of 22 mosaic pieces in New York in the possession of an individual named Georges Lotfi. These pieces were stolen or illegally transported from Syria and Lebanon to the United States. Investigations were ordered to determine the source of these pieces. Upon careful examination of the matter, and following intensive efforts by the Culture Ministry through the General Directorate of Antiquities, it was confirmed that nine of these pieces originated from Lebanon and were seized by an antiquities dealer,” the statement said.
In March 2023, the relevant authorities in the United States confirmed the discovery of two additional pieces also originating from Lebanon.
The Lebanese Consul General in New York, through the Lebanese Foreign Affairs Ministry, oversaw the formalities of receiving and returning the antiquities. These artifacts will be shipped to Lebanon free of charge by the CMA CGM company.
On June 5, Interpol issued a red notice for Lebanese antiquities collector Lotfi, 82. A retired pharmacist, Lotfi is originally from Tripoli. He has previously collaborated with US justice as an informant on several high-profile antiquity seizure cases.
Lotfi’s name has been added to the list of Lebanese nationals (now nine) that Interpol has requested to provisionally arrest pending extradition.
The notice comes after a criminal court in New York issued an arrest warrant against Lotfi after charging him with the possession of looted antiquities on March 8, 2022. The US warrant is only applicable on American soil.