Seized Assyrian Head Named in Forfeiture Complaint – Smuggling Allegations Raised

Federal prosecutors say there is probable cause to forfeit an Assyrian head from Iraq, allegedly smuggled into the United States in 2008. The government filed a verified complaint for forfeiture on July 18, 2013, but a federal district court magistrate in New York authorized the seizure of the head five years ago. No explanation is given in the prosecution’s current complaint about the time delay.

The government’s claim for forfeiture is based on arguments that the head is stolen Iraqi cultural property, that it was unlawfully imported in violation of U.S. law, and that it was imported on the basis of false statements regarding its country of origin and its value.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Cohen Levin, asset forfeiture unit chief in the southern district of New York, describes the government’s investigation in court papers filed in United States v. One Iraqi Assyrian Head (13-CV-5015). She writes:

“In or about 2008 law enforcement agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Homeland Security Investigations, Department of Homeland Security (“ICE”) commenced an investigation of an antiquities dealer in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, named Hassan Fazeli (“Fazeli”), who was suspected to be smuggling antiquities into the United States.
“During the course of the investigation, in or about 2008, law enforcement agents learned that Fazeli engaged in a transaction to sell the Defendant Property to a purchaser in New York.
ICE agents further learned that Fazeli had 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. 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.
“Pursuant to records maintained by the United States Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Fazeli has, on at least two prior occasions, incorrectly listed “Turkey” as the country of origin for shipments of Egyptian antiquities.
“On or about July 30, 2008, Fazeli exported the Defendant Property from the United Arab Emirates to the United States (the “Shipment”).
“The United States Customs importation documents, submitted by Fazeli and accompanying the Shipment (the “Importation Documents”), incorrectly lists the country of origin for the Defendant Property as Turkey.
“The Importation Documents also incorrectly list the value of the Defendant Property as $6,500. The Defendant Property has been appraised at $1,200,000.
“On or about August 12, 2008, United States Magistrate Judge Henry B. Pitman, Southern District of New York, issued a seizure warrant finding that probable cause existed to seize and forfeit the Shipment, which contained the Defendant Property.
“On or about August 13, 2008, ICE agents seized the Shipment which contained the Defendant Property. The Defendant Property is currently in the possession of Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security.”
The forfeiture case is a civil in rem action against the cultural object and not a court action against any person. A check of both federal and New York state judicial dockets reveals no pending criminal case against Fazeli.

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