NEW YORK -- The US has repatriated nine stolen 18th century paintings to the Republic of Peru, according to Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and George Venizelos, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”).
Miguel Cabrera was an 18th century Mexican painter. He is considered one of the most important painters of his time in New Spain, an area that included present-day Mexico and Central America. Cabrera painted for the Archbishop and for the Jesuit order, and therefore many of Cabrera’s works were religious in nature. Of the nine paintings that are being returned to Peru, “Resurrection of Lazarus” is perhaps the most recognized and the finest example of Cabrera’s talent.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “We are pleased to return these nine Miguel Cabrera paintings. They are part of Peru’s cultural heritage, but they were stolen from a church in Lima six years ago and smuggled out of Peru to be trafficked on the international art market. Our Office is committed to ensuring that stolen artwork, especially when it is an important part of a nation’s cultural heritage, does not find a safe haven for resale in the Southern District of New York or elsewhere in the U.S.”
FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos said: “The theft of priceless artifacts deprives people of their religious and cultural heritage and corrupts the legitimate markets for works of art. The FBI will continue to commit investigative resources and work with law enforcement agencies around the world to recover these works of art and bring to justice criminals who steal ￼these precious pieces. We are pleased to be able to return these paintings to the government of Peru.”
In 2008, nine paintings by Miguel Cabrera were reported as having been stolen from a church in Lima, Peru. Eight of the paintings were discovered to be at an auction house in Cedar Falls, Iowa. After the auction house was notified that the paintings were allegedly stolen, the paintings were turned over to the FBI.
The FBI conducted an investigation and confirmed that the eight paintings were among those that had been stolen from the church in Lima. The art dealer who had consigned the paintings to the auction house was told that the paintings were stolen, and he has signed a stipulation relinquishing any right, title and interest in the paintings so they may rightfully be returned to Peru. That stipulation was approved yesterday by U.S. District Judge Denise Cote.
The ninth missing painting by Miguel Cabrera, “Resurrection of Lazarus,” was discovered to be at an auction house in New York City. The FBI took possession of the painting in early 2014, after determining it was the stolen painting. The person who had consigned that painting to the auction house was notified that the painting had been stolen from Peru, and he also agreed to relinquish any right, title and interest in the painting so it may be repatriated to Peru. The stipulation signed by the consignor of “Resurrection of Lazarus” was also approved yesterday by Judge Cote.
Bharara praised the investigative work of the FBI and thanked the Peruvian Embassy and the Peruvian Consulate in New York for their assistance in coordinating the repatriation of the paintings.
Ambassador Harold Forsyth of the Republic of Peru said: “The close cooperation between Peru, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI continues to produce concrete results. These pieces belong to the cultural heritage of Peru and their recovery shows that our two countries continue in fighting together against this evil form of international crime, because it steals our identity and denies the world the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of our history.”
The case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit. Sharon Cohen Levin, Chief of the Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine I. Magdo are in charge of the matter.