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FBI crack unit returns artifact stolen from Kenya

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The US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has returned a recently recovered piece of rare art, which was stolen from a Kenyan artist in 2013.

The artifact was recovered by the FBI’s Art Crime Team following investigations in the US. It was handed over to outgoing US ambassador Robert Godec at a ceremony Wednesday morning.

 The Art Crime Team, which was formed in 2005 to investigate thefts of art and cultural artifacts across the globe, is a rapid deployment unit composed of 16 special agents, each responsible for addressing art and cultural property crime cases in an assigned geographic region.

It coordinated through the FBI’s Art Theft Program, located at FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC.


Art Crime Team agents receive specialised training in art and cultural property investigations and assist in art related investigations worldwide in cooperation with foreign law enforcement officials and FBI legal attaché offices.

US ambassador Robert Godec receives the recovered artifact at a ceremony in Nairobi.

The US Department of Justice provides special trial attorneys to the Art Crime Team for prosecutive support.

Since its inception, the Art Crime Team has recovered more than 14,850 items valued at over Ksh 16.5 billion ($165 million).

The return of the Kenyan artifact comes a day after the FBI announced a painting by Marc Chagall stolen 30 years ago from a New York couple’s apartment had been recovered.

The 1911 painting, “Othello and Desdemona,” was stolen in 1988 along with other works of art — by Renoir, Picasso and Hopper — from the Manhattan home of Ernest and Rose Heller.

The oil painting, which shows Othello gazing at a sleeping Desdemona, was recovered last year after a man in the eastern US state of Maryland contacted the FBI.

“The gallery owner was “suspicious about the lack of paperwork supporting the painting’s authenticity and provenance,” the FBI said.

The Maryland man obtained the painting in the late 1980s or early 1990s from the man who stole it from the Heller’s apartment, the FBI said.

“It was an inside job,” said special agent Marc Hess of the FBI’s Art Crime Team. “A person who had regular access to the building was stealing from apartments while the tenants were away.”

“(The Hellers) went on vacation back in 1988,” Hess said. “They returned, and this work of art — along with several others — was missing.”

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 The FBI said the Maryland man kept the painting stashed in a makeshift box in his attic for years.

It said no charges would be filed against him or the man who stole the painting because the statute of limitations has expired.

The FBI said the Hellers, who bought the painting in the 1920s, have both died and their estate plans to put the art work up for auction.

– Additional reporting by AFP.

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