Peruvian stone axes, paintings seized in 2014 returned to their home

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Sixteen cultural items consisting of paintings, historical documents and stone axes returned to their homes. The items were redeemed by the Peruvian government from American officials Friday.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) returned the items to representatives of Peru at a ceremony in Los Angeles.

“These objects and the heritage they carry with them took an opaque journey into the United States and now have a clear path of return to Peru through proper diplomatic channels,” Kristi K. Johnson, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said in a statement.

The objects include historical documents, a 17th-century painting stolen from a Peruvian church in 1992 and a painting stolen from a different church in 2002 that was hand-carried into the United States by an art dealer, sold to an art gallerist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and later sold in 2016 to a buyer in California, the statement said.

The “Virgin of Guadalupe” painting was stolen from the Santiago Apostle Church, also known as “Saint James Apostle,” in Ollantaytambo, Peru, with six other paintings. The FBI returned 16 cultural items to representatives of the Peruvian government, from its pre-Columbian era through its Spanish Colonial Period and into the 20th Century.

These artifacts were voluntarily surrendered to the FBI, the statement said.

Jose Luis Chavez Gonzales, Consul General, Peruvian Consulate in Los Angeles, admires recovered Peruvian paintings following investigations by the FBI's Art Crime Team at the FBI headquarters,
Jose Luis Chavez Gonzales, Consul General, Peruvian Consulate in Los Angeles, admires recovered Peruvian paintings following investigations by the FBI’s Art Crime Team at the FBI headquarters, “The Virgin of Guadalupe” painting (L), Los Angeles, U.S, April 22, 2022. (AP Photo)

“In these instances, the people who bought these objects did the right thing. Once they realized they were stolen, they agreed to forfeit them,” said Liz Rivas, a special agent with the FBI’s art crimes team.

For example, the person who had the historical documents said they were purchased as souvenirs in Peru and they were reselling them online to make money during the coronavirus pandemic, Rivas said. She said the person didn’t know they were stolen, and in this case, the documents didn’t meet the minimum value for a criminal case.

The last four objects were stone axes seized in Indianapolis in 2014 from the collection of amateur archaeologist Donald Miller. Thousands of artifacts were taken from Miller’s home and returned to dozens of countries spanning from China to Papua New Guinea.

Authorities encourage art and artifact buyers to review the FBI’s stolen art file before purchasing to find out if the items were reported as stolen.


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