Sun. Jun 16th, 2024

By Ojukwu Emmanuel Chiadikaobi

 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has launched a comprehensive investigation into the theft and sale of valuable artifacts from the prestigious British Museum to buyers in the United States. This development comes after the British Museum revealed last year that a significant number of ancient treasures, including gems and jewelry, had gone missing from its collections.

Among the stolen items are notable pieces such as a 2nd Century head of Hercules crafted from volcanic glass, adding to the challenge of cataloging and identifying the missing artifacts. While efforts have been made to recover the stolen items, with 626 artifacts successfully retrieved and over 100 located but not yet recovered, the scale of the theft remains staggering, with an estimated 1,500 items believed to have been stolen or gone missing.

Collaborating with US law enforcement agencies, particularly the FBI, has proven fruitful, resulting in the recovery of 268 stolen artifacts sold to a collector in Washington DC. Additionally, a separate investigation is underway regarding a collector from New Orleans who allegedly traded stolen museum items on eBay, although he claims not to have possession of the items during FBI interrogation.

Shockingly, the British Museum has accused its former Senior Curator of Ancient Greek Collections, Dr. Peter Higgs, of masterminding the thefts. Court documents reveal damning allegations against Higgs, including stealing, damaging, melting down, and selling ancient artifacts on eBay over the span of at least a decade. It’s estimated that Higgs pocketed around £100,000 from the illicit sales and engaged with at least 45 buyers on eBay.

Despite his dismissal from the museum, Higgs staunchly denies all allegations and is actively defending himself against civil claims. Investigators have uncovered that Higgs operated under the pseudonym “sultan1966” on eBay and conducted transactions under the name “Paul Higgins.”

The scope of the operation extends beyond the borders of the United Kingdom, with artifacts traced to buyers in Hamburg, Paris, Hong Kong, and other global locations by Danish antique dealer Dr. Ittai Gradel, who first alerted authorities to the thefts.

As the FBI continues its investigation and works to recover the stolen artifacts, no arrests have been made thus far. However, the case has sent shockwaves through the art world, highlighting the vulnerability of cultural heritage to exploitation and theft.

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