US museum returns looted artefacts to Thailand

US museum returns looted artefacts to Thailand

In this November 2014 photo, Ban Chiang artefacts are displayed at the Bangkok National Museum as Patrick Murphy, the US chargé d’affaires to Thailand, officially hands over the items to Thailand yesterday. They were among more than 500 artefacts smuggled to the US decades ago. Another batch of looted Ban Chiang artefacts from a US museum have were returned this month. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
In this November 2014 photo, Ban Chiang artefacts are displayed at the Bangkok National Museum as Patrick Murphy, the US chargé d’affaires to Thailand, officially hands over the items to Thailand yesterday. They were among more than 500 artefacts smuggled to the US decades ago. Another batch of looted Ban Chiang artefacts from a US museum have were returned this month. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

A US museum has returned to Thailand 83 ancient artefacts following an American government investigation found it had received looted cultural treasures.

Culture Minister Vira Rojpojchanarat said he had been informed by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, via the Fine Arts Department, that the artefacts from Mingei International Museum in San Diego, California had arrived at the National Museum's warehouse in Pathum Thani province.

Examining the returned items, the Fine Arts Department found they were prehistoric objects from archaeological sites in the Northeast, mostly Ban Chiang -- a Unesco World Heritage Site -- dated between 1,500 and 5,000 years old.

They include pottery, bronze bracelets, bronze axes, shell earrings, beads and rings.

Mr Vira said he had instructed the department to hold an exhibition of these priceless ancient objects for the public.

The museum was told by the US Attorney General in March last year to return the artefacts found in a high-profile 2008 federal investigation into allegations the museum had received looted cultural treasures. They had been in the museum's vaults for the last seven years.

Reuters reported last year that the Mingei had denied wrongdoing in accepting the artefacts, but has since tightened its vetting procedures for donations since the federal investigation. No charges were filed against the museum or any staff members.

After a five-year investigation that featured an undercover operative, federal prosecutors alleged that looted artefacts were sold to clients who then donated them to museums at overstated appraisals to secure higher tax breaks.

In 2014, hundreds of pieces of Ban Chiang tools, beads, pottery and bronze items at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, were returned to Thailand under a non-prosecution agreement between the museum and the US attorney.


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