Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. today announced the return of the Gold Coffin of Nedjemankh to the people of Egypt during a repatriation ceremony attended by Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Hassan Shoukry and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh.
“Coming as we do from all over the world, New Yorkers place a strong value on cultural heritage, and our office takes pride in our work to vigorously protect it,” said District Attorney Vance. “Returning stolen cultural treasures to their countries of origin is at the core of our mission to stop the trafficking of stolen antiquities. I am honored to repatriate this extraordinary artifact back to the people of Egypt, and I thank my office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit as well as our partners at HSI New York for their diligence in this investigation.”
“The high profit business of smuggling and trafficking antiquities has been around for centuries,” said Special Agent-in-Charge for HSI New York Peter C. Fitzhugh. “But it is the responsibility of a buyer to confirm the proper provenance of a piece of art or antiquity. The tremendous collaboration between HSI New York and the Manhattan DA in building art cases has allowed us to strengthen relationships within the art world, both domestic and global; develop investigations to track the illicit movement of stolen art and locate its final destination; and, return the priceless cultural property to its rightful homeland for its citizens to enjoy.”
In February 2019, the D.A.’s Office executed a search warrant and seized the Gold Coffin of Nedjemankh from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on display, as part of an ongoing joint investigation with law enforcement partners in Egypt, Germany, and France. The extraordinary coffin, crafted in Egypt between approximately 150 and 50 B.C.E., once held the remains of high-ranking priest Nedjemankh. It was stolen from the Minya region of Egypt in the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution in October 2011. It was then smuggled out of Egypt and transported through the United Arab Emirates to Germany, where it was restored, and to France, where it was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in July 2017.
Once presented with evidence of the theft, the Metropolitan Museum of Art fully cooperated with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Today’s repatriation ceremony represents the return of the artifact to Egypt, where it will be on public display. It has an estimated value of €3.5 million, or approximately $4 million.
Manhattan D.A.’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit
To date, the D.A.’s first-of-its-kind Antiquities Trafficking Unit has recovered several thousand stolen antiquities collectively valued at more than $150 million, many of which have been returned to their rightful owners and repatriated to their countries of origin. These items include three marble Lebanese statues; a Roman mosaic excavated from the Ships of Nemi; an Etruscan relic stolen from the site of a historic necropolis known as the “City of the Dead”; a marble sarcophagus fragment; a Buddhist sculpture stolen from an archaeological dig site; a pair of 12th century Indian statues; a collection of 8th Century B.C.E. bronze statues; and a set of ancient Greek coins, among others.
Assistant D.A. Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel and Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, handled the recovery of the artifact with Investigative Analysts Kathleen Walsh and Apsara Iyer, and Special Agents Brent Easter and Robert Mancene.
District Attorney Vance thanked HSI New York and the Consulate General of the Arab Republic of Egypt in New York for their assistance with the matter.