(STL.News) – An indictment has been returned in federal court in Central Islip, New York charging Ashraf Omar Eldarir, a U.S. citizen, with smuggling Egyptian cultural property into the United States. Eldarir was previously arrested on a complaint in February 2020 after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) with three suitcases filled with undeclared Egyptian antiquities. Eldarir will be arraigned at a later date.
Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent-in-Charge, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and Troy Miller, Director of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, New York Field Office (CBP), announced the indictment.
As set forth in court filings, on January 22, 2020, Eldarir arrived at JFK from Egypt with three checked suitcases. Eldarir falsely declared to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that he was carrying goods valued at only 300 U.S. dollars. However, when CBP officers opened Eldarir’s suitcases they found 590 bubble and foam-wrapped Egyptian antiquities. When the protective wrapping was opened, loose sand and dirt spilled out, and some of the items smelled of wet earth, indicators that the artifacts had been recently excavated. Among the items recovered by law enforcement officers are gold amulets from a funerary set; a relief with the cartouche of a Ptolemaic king that was originally part of a royal building or temple; wooden tomb model figures with linen garments dating to approximately 1900 BCE; and two complete Roman period funerary stelae of the type found at Kom abu Bellou in Egypt. Eldarir did not produce any of the required documentation from Egypt authorizing the export of the artifacts. Eldarir was charged with one count of smuggling arising from this incident, and one count of smuggling involving an earlier trip in which he smuggled an ancient Egyptian polychrome relief.
“These cultural treasures traveled across centuries and millennia, only to end up unceremoniously stuffed in a dirt-caked suitcase at JFK,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue. “We commend our CBP and HSI partners for their excellent work and, with them, we stand ready to investigate and prosecute those who attempt to profit from the illegal smuggling of irreplaceable ancient artifacts.”
Eldarir’s alleged smuggling of 590 artifacts pillaged from Egypt is yet another example of an individual seeking to profit by stealing history from another nation,” stated HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Fitzhugh. “HSI New York continues to collaborate with our partners at CBP to stop the smuggling of illicit goods through the JFK airport and onto American soil.”
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is extremely proud to have played an important role in the seizing of these Egyptian antiquities as this would be smuggler attempted to enter the country with his illegally obtained artifacts,” stated CBP Director of Field Operations Miller. “CBP’s cooperation with HSI and the Eastern District of New York demonstrates the continuing resolve of law enforcement in the United States to address illegal trafficking in stolen artifacts.”
The charges in the indictment are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, Eldarir faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment on each count.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Section. Assistant United States Attorney Marietou Diouf is in charge of the prosecution. Cultural Property Coordinator Karin Orenstein of the Office’s Civil Division is handling forfeiture matters.