NEW YORK — Three thimble-size artifacts looted from a Baghdad museum and sold on the black market for $200 to a scholar-turned-smuggler were returned Tuesday to the Iraqi government.
Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael Garcia turned over the Mesopotamian stone seals to Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Samir Shakir Mahmoud Sumaidy, at a news conference in Manhattan.
The relics, used to seal correspondence, date to between 2340 and 2180 BC, the ambassador said. "They are completely priceless," he said. "They are part of our history."
Nearly 15,000 items were stolen from the Iraq Museum after the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003, Sumaidy said. Roughly half have been found.
An agent at Kennedy airport in New York spotted the three small artifacts in June 2003 during a routine search of a suitcase belonging to a scholar who had arrived from London.
Joseph Braude had not declared the seals, which are marked "IM" on the bottom, for Iraq Museum.
He eventually admitted buying the pieces for $200 during a visit to Baghdad, authorities said. He also acknowledged knowing that they probably had been stolen from the museum.
Last year, Braude pleaded guilty to federal charges of smuggling and making false statements and was sentenced to two years' probation.