The Manhattan district attorney announced Friday that three ancient sculptures are being returned to their rightful owners in Lebanon as he forms a new antiquities trafficking unit that will track stolen artifacts from around the world.
At a news conference in his office, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. stood by the treasures once owned by private collectors and valued at more than $5 million.
They were stolen from a temple during the Lebanese civil war that started in 1975 and lasted 15 years, and confiscated in New York in the past few months.
A marble torso from about the 4th century B.C., sold by an antiquities dealer, was seized in November. Another marble torso from the 6th century B.C. was recovered in October. And a bull's head from about 360 B.C. was recovered from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on loan from a collector.
They're the latest looted artifacts to be returned from New York, considered the U.S. hub of antiquity sales that are fueled by the city's concentration of wealth.
Matthew Bogdanos, who leads the DA's new antiquities trafficking unit, said ancient works found in war-torn lands easily end up in the hands of dealers who are "less than scrupulous" in determining their origin.
Lebanese Consul-General Majdi Ramadan said the Manhattan prosecutor's efforts "will mark the end of a long trail of theft and illicit trading."
Vance said that since 2012, his office has recovered several thousand trafficked antiquities collectively valued at more than $150 million. Members of the new anti-trafficking unit will work with foreign governments as well as investigators from the Department of Homeland Security.