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San Juan, Puerto Rico – Twenty-three pre-Columbian Taino cultural artifacts illegally imported to the United States were returned to the Dominican Republic Dec. 6, during a repatriation ceremony spearheaded by Ambassador James W. Brewster. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), working jointly with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in San Juan, conducted the investigation that led to the seizure and subsequent of the cultural pieces.

The 23 pre-Columbian artifacts were presented at the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture in Dominican Republic during an activity chaired by the United States ambassador, the Minister of Culture Pedro Vergés and the HSI Special Agent in Charge in Charge in Puerto Rico, Ricardo Mayoral.

“The Tainan pieces we have here are testament to the rich heritage of this nation and its indigenous roots,” said Ambassador Brewster. “The repatriation of these artifacts guarantees that Dominicans will be able to observe and learn from the traditions of their ancestors.”

“Today, after several years since its seizure in Puerto Rico in 2008 and 2010, we are returning to its rightful owner, the Dominican Republic, 23 pre-Columbian pieces that were transported to Puerto Rico through the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport and private mail services from the Dominican Republic,” said Ricardo Mayoral, special agent in charge of HSI San Juan.

Among the repatriated pieces are a vessel dating from 1200 to 1450, petaloid axes, a chisel, a petaloid wedge and a cone beater, among others.

HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property, as well as the illegal trafficking of artwork, specializing in recovering works that have been reported lost or stolen. HSI’s International Operations, through its 69attaché offices in 47 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations.

HSI’s specially trained investigators assigned to both, domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. They also train investigators from other nations and agencies to investigate crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace. Those involved in the illicit trafficking of cultural property, art and antiquities can face prison terms of up to 20 years, fines and possible restitution to purchasers of the items.

Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 8,000 items to more than 30 countries.

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