The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has announced the return of two statues, collectively valued at $1.26m, to their rightful home in Libya. The artefacts, Marble Face of a Ptolemaic Queen and Female Bust, were stolen from the ancient city of Cyrene, located near modern-day Shahhat, and smuggled out by notorious British art trafficker Robin Symes, whose storied role as a liaison for antiquities smuggling networks across the world spans multiple decades and jurisdictions. Symes had acquired the two sculptures for his personal collection, hiding them in a New York storage unit for more than 20 years.
During recent excavations in Libya, archaeologists discovered what they believe to be the torso originally belonging to Female Bust in a tomb in Cyrene. The bust was an important funerary relief designed to decorate the necropolis of Cyrene.
“It is shameful that these beautiful pieces were stored away for decades by a convicted trafficker,” said District Attorney Alvin Bragg in a statement. “Cyrene has faced significant looting, but thanks to the work of our Antiquities Trafficking Unit and partners at Homeland Security, we have now returned several pieces from this ancient city back to the people of Libya. We continue to have ongoing investigations into stolen Libyan artifacts and look forward to more repatriation ceremonies in the future.”
The Manhattan DA’s office has repatriated five antiquities to Libya, valued at nearly $3m, since 2022. During Bragg’s tenure, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit has returned more than 2,475 pieces to 24 countries, valued collectively at more than $235m.
The 84-year-old Symes is responsible for countless sales of looted artefacts to private collectors and institutions worldwide. While his professional downfall began in the 2000s with asset conflicts with the family of his late partner, Christo Michaelides, it was the 2016 raid of his storage unit at Geneva Freeport in Switzerland that introduced the public at large to his massive trove of 17,000 looted Roman and Etruscan antiquities. Earlier this summer, 750 artefacts, more than half of which hailed from the Neolithic or Byzantine eras, were repatriated to Italy following a lengthy legal battle with Symes.