Houston, Texas - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents last month seized a 16th century tapestry stolen from Spain, under the National Stolen Property Act.
The tapestry was seized in November from a local business under an HSI initiative called "Hidden Relic." This initiative is designed to investigate, recover and repatriate stolen cultural property.
"HSI understands the cultural and historical significance of protecting a country's treasures," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "Our special agents are at the forefront of the effort to identify and return these important items to their lawful owners in the same way we would want our global partners to return America's artifacts in the event they were ever stolen."
The government of Spain requested assistance to seize the property, indicating that the tapestry was stolen in December 1979 from the cathedral in Roda de Isabena, Spain.
The tapestry depicts the Virgin Mary and Saint Vincent of Saragossa. It was produced in the 16th century and was part of the cathedral's collection that was declared a national monument by royal decree in 1924.
In January 2010, the tapestry was displayed for sale at the Brussels Antiques and Fine Arts Fair in Brussels, Belgium. It subsequently sold at auction for $369,000 to a business in Houston, Texas. The Spanish Civil Guard's Heritage Protection Group learned of the sale. After investigating, it obtained a court order, and under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty requested assistance in recovering the stolen property.
HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illegal importation and distribution of cultural property, including the illicit trafficking of cultural property, especially objects that have been reported lost or stolen.
HSI's Office of International Affairs, through its 73 attaché offices in 47 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible. HSI's specially trained investigators, assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. They also provide cultural property investigative training to law enforcement partners for crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.
Since 2007, more than 6,600 artifacts have been returned to 24 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria; 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru; and cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.