US returns to Lebanon relics stolen during civil war
The ancient artefacts included a bull's head, which was recovered this summer from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it had been on loan.
Believed to be of Greek origin, the marble head dates to around 360 BC and has been valued at around $1.2 million.
The museum said it handed the head over to the Manhattan district attorney's office after a curator discovered that it may have been stolen during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.
The other relics - two marble torsos dating to the 4th and 6th century BC - were excavated in the 1970s from near Sidon, in southwestern Lebanon. The items were subsequently stolen during the war, US officials said.
The Manhattan district attorney, who attended the repatriation ceremony with Lebanon's consul general to New York, says his office has recovered several thousand trafficked antiquities since 2012, valued at more than $150 million.
|The art world must acknowledge that stolen antiquities are not simply collectible commercial property, but evidence of cultural crimes committed around the world|
In October, a couple in the United States dropped a federal lawsuit to prevent the Manhattan district attorney's office from returning an ancient marble bull's head looted from Lebanon during the country's civil war.
The sculpture, thought to be 2,300 years old, had been on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art until July when the museum handed it over to authorities after a curator raised concerns about how it was acquired.
Collectors Lynda and William Beierwaltes said they had bought the artefact in good faith for $1 million in 1996, but on Wednesday the couple's lawyer released a statement which withdrew their claim.
"After having been presented with incontrovertible evidence that the bull's head was stolen from Lebanon, the Beierwaltes believed it was in everyone's best interest to withdraw their claim to the bull's head and allow its repatriation to Lebanon," it read, according to the New York Times.
The bull's head was discovered in 1967 during a Lebanese state-sponsored excavation at the ancient Temple of Eshmu in Sidon, Lebanon.
The item was put in storage before being looted and stolen in 1981 during the Lebanese civil war.
US prosecutors are also pursuing the return to Lebanon of a second marble antiquity of a man carrying a calf, which was sold by the Beierwalteses to a New York collector, Michael H. Steinhardt, in 2015, the NYT reported.
The district attorney's office has obtained a warrant for its seizure.
"The art world must acknowledge that stolen antiquities are not simply collectible commercial property, but evidence of cultural crimes committed around the world", Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said on Wednesday.
"These important historical relics must be treated with caution and care, and galleries, auction houses, museums, and individual collectors must be willing to conduct proper due diligence to ensure that an item has not been unlawfully acquired."
In July, US company Hobby Lobby Stores - one of the largest privately owned arts-and-crafts retailer in the world - agreed to pay a $3 million federal fine and return ancient Iraqi artefacts which were smuggled from the Middle East after being intentionally mislabelled.
Iraq says 15,000 artefacts have been looted since the US-led invasion in 2003, including statues and treasure from the Akkadian era (2161-2371BC).