"Welcome Home Ceremony", Remarks by Ambassador David H. Thorne
Rome, June 27, 2012
Good morning. It is my pleasure to welcome everyone to the United States Embassy Rome. Let me begin today with a special welcome to Professor Lorenzo Ornaghi – the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities and the commander of the Carabinieri’s Tutela Patrimonio Culturale Unit, Brigadier General Pasquale Muggeo. They are accompanied by members of their respective offices. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Mike Unzueta, our Homeland Security Investigations Attaché and the members of his staff for their excellent cooperation with our Italian colleagues.
Italy and the United States enjoy a very special relationship, nowhere more than on law enforcement issues. Italy is a dedicated, capable and active partner in our joint fight against global crime. From attacking narco-trafficking to halting money laundering, from combating cybercrime to dismantling organized crime, Italians and Americans are more than allies and friends: we are full partners in the fight against crime. Thank you for your invaluable help.
Today we celebrate a series of victories in another important area of our cooperation. Italy is blessed with a rich cultural legacy and many important cultural artifacts have, unfortunately, been illegally removed from the country. The collaboration between agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and investigators from the Carabinieri’s Tutela Patrimonio Culturale unit have borne fruit in returning some significant artifacts to their home in Italy.
The illicit trafficking of cultural property is a crime as ancient as the cultures that these objects represent. The plundering of historical and cultural artifacts is among the oldest forms of cross-border organized crime. INTERPOL estimates that the illicit trading in cultural property produces more than $8 billion dollars in profits each year – only the illicit narcotics and weapons trades generate more revenue.
The crime may be ancient, but the perpetrators are very modern. The use of the Internet has provided these criminals the ability to acquire, transport, advertise and sell valuable cultural property swiftly, easily and stealthily in an effort to thwart detection by law enforcement entities. However, the use of the Internet is a two-sided coin as law enforcement also uses this valuable tool in rooting out the perpetrators of these nefarious crimes. Cooperative efforts with Internet service providers have increased law enforcement’s ability to detect interdict and recover looted cultural property. The Internet can, and often does, aid in the ultimate arrest of those that would commit these crimes against heritage.
Another tool in this global fight are the Customs laws of the United States that allows agencies such as HSI and Customs and Border Protection the ability to seize, forfeit and ultimately return cultural property that is brought into the United States illegally. In fact, since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 2,500 objects to more than 23 countries and foreign citizens.
Historically, law enforcement agencies have cooperated through organizations such as INTERPOL and other international agreements. Furthermore, enhancements to modern day communications and the ability to electronically share data in “real time” have resulted in global law enforcement successes. Multilateral and bilateral cooperative relationships have grown stronger and more effective in recent years; and nowhere are those relationships stronger than in the cooperation that Italy and the United States enjoy.
The return of looted objects is the most visible result of these deep bonds and shared commitment between the law enforcement agencies of our countries. I know that each and every day investigators, from HSI and TPC, are working together in an effort to identify, dismantle and destroy these criminal organizations. Recently, TPC investigators accompanied our HSI agents to New York in pursuit of looted objects. I commend the law enforcement investigators from Italy and the United States for their remarkable tenacity and dedication to duty.
That tenacity has borne fruit here today, specifically we celebrate the return of two 2,000 year-old vessels and a Roman marble sculpture that were smuggled into Switzerland before being illegally imported into the United States. The sculpture had already been sold at auction for $26,000 dollars before it was seized by HSI agents. The beautiful Renaissance painting “Leda and the Swan” had also been illegally imported into the United States where it sold at auction for $1.5 million dollars. These unique musical sheets here today - were removed from ancient choir books from the Church of Saint Paul in Pistoia and the Monastery of Monte Oliveto Maggiore in Siena and were being offered for sale on the Internet.
We recognize that these are but a fraction of the cultural objects that are circulating on the illicit market today. However, every victory, every piece that is returned, every bit of cultural history that can be restored is a measure of progress. Today’s ceremony underscores the worldwide collaborative efforts and teamwork between the United States, Italy and all nations. And, every time a nation and its people are reunited with their history - is a joyous and memorable event to be recognized and celebrated.
I would now like to invite Minister Ornaghi to the podium.