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Priceless Egyptian antiquities seized at Laredo, TX, border crossing

Seized sarcopohagus

Two Egyptian sarcophagi, which U.S. border authorities said were priceless historical artifacts, were seized from a shipment crossing from Mexico into Laredo, TX, in early July.

The unusual seizure was made by officers and import specialists from the Import Specialist Enforcement Team (ISET) at U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Laredo port of entry, said CBP on July 31. ISET worked in close coordination with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to seize the “two priceless Egyptian sarcophagi-type artifacts,” it said. 

CBP said agents determined the two sarcophagi, one adorned with a wooden mask with glass eyes and the other with a standing lady of painted stucco over linen, were protected antiquities and the rightful property of Egypt.

Laredo ISET, according to CBP, was on the look-out for stolen Egyptian antiquities having “been recently made aware” some items could be headed to the U.S. A CBP officer at World Trade Bridge in Laredo selected a shipment manifested as Egyptian sculptures for an enforcement examination, said the agency. In the course of that examination, CBP officers discovered that the shipment included possible Egyptian antiquities and contacted ISET. Laredo ISET contacted Laredo HSI for further investigation, said CBP. In turn, Laredo HSI contacted the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities and determined the two sarcophagi were Egyptian property under international antiquities law.

The artifacts didn’t have proper export documentation from the Egyptian government, which is required to transport the artifacts out of their country of origin, said CBP. Working in coordination with HSI and with Office of Assistant Chief Counsel, CBP on July 9 determined that the artifacts would be seized due to a lack of export documentation to substantiate legal exportation of the artifacts from Egypt.

“This seizure reflects good collaborative work between CBP officers, import specialists and HSI to ensure enforcement of U.S. law and international conventions protecting cultural property,” said Jose Uribe, CBP Assistant Port Director, Laredo Port of Entry. “These artifacts are the priceless cultural patrimony of Egypt. CBP and HSI will continue to move forward with the forfeiture process to provide for, if no valid petitions are granted, an eventual return of these artifacts to Egypt.”

"These are precisely the types of treasures that ICE's Cultural Property Art and Antiquities unit was established to identify, investigate and return to their rightful owners. We are very pleased to have rescued the two priceless Egyptian artifacts and look forward to returning them to the Egyptian government,” said Jerry Robinette, special agent in charge of HSI in San Antonio.