Stolen Antiquities Returned From NY to Egypt

Many items date back to 3,600 B.C. or earlier

Dozens of ancient artifacts stolen by a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot were returned to the Egyptian government on Wednesday during a ceremony in Manhattan.

Officials said the items, including several small urns on display at the ceremony, came from the Ma'adi archaeological site outside Cairo and date to 3,600 B.C. or earlier.

"When (the military officer) stole these items from Egypt, he robbed a nation of part of its history," said Peter J. Smith, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's New York office. "The repatriation of the Ma'adi artifacts reunites the people of Egypt with an important piece of their cultural heritage."

Also on hand were Egyptian Ambassador Hussein Mubarak and Attiya Radwan, head of the Central Department for Upper Egypt Monuments.

Edward George Johnson, a chief warrant officer from Fayetteville, N.C., was arrested in February in Alabama on charges of transportation of stolen property and wire fraud.

Johnson was deployed in Cairo in September 2002 when approximately 370 pre-dynastic artifacts were stolen from the Ma'adi Museum. In January 2003, he contacted an art dealer about buying some of the items.

The art dealer bought about 80 pieces for $20,000 after Johnson said his grandfather acquired the antiquities when he worked in Egypt in the 1930s and '40s, authorities said. Some of the items were later consigned to galleries in Manhattan, London, Zurich and Montreal, among other places.

The government said experts had determined the majority of the items he sold had been stolen from the museum. The pieces were originally excavated from the archaeological site in the 1920s and '30s.

Johnson pleaded guilty in July to possessing and selling stolen antiquities and was sentenced to 18 months probation.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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