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Manhattan DA Moves To Return Looted Persian Masterpiece

May 25, 2018

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is continuing its groundbreaking work to investigate and prosecute cultural racketeering in New York City. Yesterday, May 24, District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. petitioned the Supreme Court of the State of New York to turn over an ancient looted masterpiece to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The antiquity, known as the “Persian Guard Relief” in legal filings, was stolen from the World Heritage Site of Persepolis in 1935. Despite efforts by Tehran to find and recover the relief, it disappeared into the global black market, and was then laundered onto the “legal” art market, only to be stolen from a major Canadian museum, then miraculously recovered, and finally put up for sale at a leading New York art fair. It likely would have vanished again into a private collection, were it not for the efforts of Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, who seized the piece in October 2017 after he and his team learned of its illicit origins.

In yesterday’s filing, which reads like a detective novel, Vance and Bogdanos present new evidence in the dispute, painting a fascinating picture of the relief’s history over the last 70 years. The motion is worth reading in full as a case study in cultural racketeering. It demonstrates how the art world’s “conspiracy of silence” puts the entire industry at risk of selling stolen property — but also facilitating looting, trafficking, and money laundering.

In an effort to fight back against the illicit antiquities trade’s hold on New York City, in early 2018, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office established a specialized unit focused exclusively on investigating and prosecuting cases of cultural racketeering. The Antiquities Coalition has created a timeline illustrating its ongoing successes. We encourage you to explore this interactive resource here and learn more about their important work.