US govt uncovers Dayak skeleton smuggling case

New York (ANTARA News) - The US government was recently able to uncover a smuggling case involving five 18th century carved human skeletons believed to belong to a Dayak tribe in Kalimantan.

The US government handed over the skulls to Indonesia at a ceremony at the Indonesian consulate general in New York on Monday (May 16). The US was represented by Mona B Forman, a special agent of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), and Indonesia by Zaherman Muabezzi, the acting consul general in new York.

The ancient relics smuggling attempt was foiled after US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers` curiosity was aroused by a package at the Newark postal office, New Jersey, in August 2010.

The suspicious package had been sent from Bali, Indonesia, as written on the sender`s address along with notes that mentioned the objects inside the package were worth less than five US dollars.

After a thorough independent investigation, the HSI agents estimated the specially carved skulls were valued at around 3,000-4,000 US dollars each and with total values of up to 20,000 US dollars.

Forman said the return of the ancient relics to their country of origin was one of the US government`s efforts to respect heritage items that belong to Indonesia.

"The return of this unique and decorative form of art dear to Indonesian people serves as a reminder that items of historical and cultural significance carry a value greater than what can be measured in dollars and cents." Forman said.

Forman said that an investigation was being conducted to identify the party that had sent the relics to the US.

After the handover ceremony, the relics were directly sent to Jakarta, Indonesia on Monday (May 16) by the Consul of Protocol and Consular Affairs Consulate General, Abraham F.I. Lebelauw, on a of Singapore Airlines flight scheduled to arrive in Jakatta on Wednesday (May 18).

According to plans, after the relics had arrived in Indonesia the Foreign Affairs Ministry will then hand them to the Tourism and Culture Ministry on Thursday (May 19) before they are eventually returned to the Dayak tribe.

The relics returning was the first ceremony conducted on Indonesian heritage smuggling attempts by the ICE HSI in New York.

ICE is a US government agency that often plays a major role in various criminal investigations related to the importation and distribution of illegal cultural heritage goods, as well as illegal trade in art objects, especially art items reported lost or stolen.

Since 2007, ICE had repatriated more than 2,100 cultural heritage, art objects and antiques to more than 15 countries.

Through its 70 attache offices in 40 countries, ICE International affairs office to enter into agreements with foreign governments to carry out joint investigations uncovering cultural heritage smuggling and trafficking cases.

In the US, illegal trafficking in cultural heritage items, art objects and antiques is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 20 years, also a fine and the possibility of paying compensation for the return of the goods.(*)