Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
WILMINGTON, Del. —On Sunday, Oct. 20, CBS News’ 60 MINUTES will air a story highlighting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Wilmington, Delaware, investigation that resulted in the recovery and return of three stolen 15th century Columbus Letters, describing his discoveries in the Americas. As a result of an HSI investigation, the letters were determined to have been stolen from three separate libraries in Europe – the National Library of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain; the Riccardiana Library in Florence, Italy and the Vatican Library in Vatican City. The effort to locate, recover and return the letters involved a multi-year, joint investigation conducted by HSI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, and foreign law enforcement partners in Italy and Spain.
Since September 2011, HSI has been conducting an international cultural property investigation relating to several historically significant, printed letters authored by explorer Christopher Columbus during his return trip from the New World in 1493. The investigation revealed that several original editions of the Columbus Letter were stolen from several European libraries and replaced with forgeries without the knowledge of library officials or local law enforcement agencies. Since 2016, HSI special agents and prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware have partnered to return three precious letters documenting Columbus’ journey back to their rightful home. In May 2016, the repatriation of the Riccardiana Columbus Letter completed in Rome, Italy. In June 2018, the Catalonia Columbus Letter was repatriated in Washington, DC and the Vatican Columbus Letter was repatriated in Vatican City.
“Homeland Security Investigations is dedicated to investigating those seeking to pilfer history’s treasures and returning them to their rightful owners,” said Special Agent in Charge Marlon V. Miller of HSI Philadelphia. “These artifacts do not belong to any one person or one nation, but are meant to be shared with the global community. One of the most impactful ways to bridge our differences is through sharing our cultural heritage with each other.”
Last Reviewed/Updated: 10/18/2019
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