By DAN MCCUE
MANHATTAN (CN) – The United States will return an ancient Assyrian head to Iraq, 10 years after it was stolen and smuggled out of the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Uncle Sam says in court.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office wants to return the relic, which is in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security.
The Customs Service investigated the sale of the Assyrian head by an antiquities dealer in Dubai to a collector in New York in 2008.
Law enforcement agents learned that the dealer, Hassan Fazeli, “advised the purchaser that the defendant property was from Iraq, but that Fazeli would list an incorrect country of origin on the United States Customs importation documents,” according to the federal complaint.
“Fazeli acknowledged to the purchaser that he often listed ‘Turkey’ as the country of origin on United States Customs importation documents because he had Turkish papers he could use.”
Prosecutors claim they know of at least two prior occasions when Fazeli tried such a ruse, in each case trying to smuggle Egyptian antiquities into the U.S.
Fazeli shipped the Assyrian head to the United States on July 30, 2008. In addition to allegedly falsely stating it was from Turkey, he listed its value as $6,500, though it has been appraised at $1.2 million, the United States.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman issued a seizure warrant for the shipment containing the antiquity Aug. 12, 2008. Customs agents seized the head the next day.
Assyrians are indigenous people of Iraq, being descendents of the ancient Mesopotamians. Widespread looting of antiquities in Iraq broke out shortly after U.S. troops entered Baghdad on April 8, 2003, with a focal point of the activity being Iraq’s National Museum.