United States Attorney

Southern District of New York


For Immediate Release
April 26, 1999
Contact: U.S. Attorney's Office Marvin Smilon, Herbert Hadad
Public Information Office
(212) 637-2600
Jane A. Levine
Assistant U.S. Attorney
(212) 637-1063

Press Release

MARY JO WHITE, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, will today return to the Republic of Turkey a priceless medieval carved wood panel that was originally installed in the historic Great Mosque located in Divrigi, Turkey, and was stolen from the Turkish Republic sometime in or after 1995.

The wood panel was recovered through a forfeiture proceeding commenced by the United States Attorneys Office for the Southern District of New York, brought pursuant to the Cultural Property Implementation Act ("CPIA"), the law implementing the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The Government's complaint alleged that the wood panel is an article of "cultural property" within the definition of the CPIA and the UNESCO Convention because of its historical, religious and cultural significance. The panel was stolen from the depository of Turkey's General Directorate of Foundations, was unlawfully removed from Turkey and ultimately transported into the United States. A final judgment authorizing the forfeiture and return of the wood panel was issued by United States District Court Judge DENISE L. COTE on October 14, 1998, directing that the panel be forfeited and returned to Turkey.

Among those present at today's repatriation ceremony at the United States Attorney's Office in Manhattan to accept this precious cultural artifact on behalf of the Republic of Turkey will be: the Turkish Minister of Culture, Istemihan Talay; Chief of Turkey's Department of Religious Affairs, Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz; the Director of the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ilhan Temizsoy; and the Turkish Consul in New York, Muzaffer Ozyldiz. Also participating in the ceremony will be: Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Criminal Division, New York Field Office, FBI, James Sheehan, and Special Agent in Charge of the United States Customs Service, New York, John C. Varrone.

The wood panel dates back to sometime between the 11th and 13th centuries and was created for the Sultan's prayer gallery at the historic Great Mosque in Divrigi, located in the eastern Anatolina region of Turkey. The Great Mosque is designated by UNESCO on its World Heritage List as one of the world's most significant cultural landmarks. The pice is of inestimable monetary value.

The panel was recovered in April 1998, when a London art dealer, Oliver Hoare, shipped it to New York for display at an art fair in Manhattan. It was determined that the wood panel at the art show was the same treasure that had been stolen from Turkey at some point in or after 1995. Hoare, who initially filed a claim to the wood panel in the forfeiture proceeding, subsequently voluntarily consented to the return of the panel to the Republic of Turkey.

The initial seizure of the panel was accomplished in connection with an investigation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") working in conjunction with the United States Attorney's Office. The panel was then transferred to the custody of the United States Customs Service, which was involved in the forfeiture investigation and proceedings brought under the Cultural Property Implementation Act.

Ms. WHITE praised the investigative efforts of the FBI and the United States Customs Service.

Assistant United States Attorney JANE A. LEVINE is in charge of the forfeiture proceeding.

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