US seeks forfeiture of illegally imported Syrian mosaic
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The U.S. government has filed an asset forfeiture complaint involving an ancient mosaic believed to have been looted from war-torn Syria and illegally imported into the United States, where authorities say it was seized from a California man.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles said Friday the 1-ton (0.9 metric ton) mosaic depicting Hercules is believed to have been created in the 3rd or 4th century and is consistent with mosaics found in Syria, particularly around the city of Idlib.
According to the complaint, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, the government wants ownership transferred to the United States “for disposition according to law.”
“It is possible the mosaic could be repatriated to Syria,” U.S. attorney spokesman Thom Mrozek said in an email. For the time being it is in the custody of the FBI.
It measures 18 feet (5.5 meters) long, and 8 feet (2.5 meters) high.
The complaint says federal agents seized it from the Palmdale home of Mohamad Yassin Alcharihi on March 19, 2016, as part of an investigation into art that authorities believed may have been looted from Syria.
Alcharihi has not been charged with a crime, and Mrozek said the investigation is continuing.
Alcharihi’s home phone number has been disconnected and he could not be reached for comment Friday.
The complaint alleges the mosaic was imported into the United States in 2015 with paperwork indicating it was part of a shipment of vases and mosaics worth only about $2,000.
Authorities say Alcharihi later told them he paid about $12,000 for it but gave Customs officials the lower figure to reduce the import duty he’d have to pay.
The government says it has obtained preliminary estimates by antiquities experts that put its value somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000.