Sculpture for sale in New York illegally obtained from Iran?

A 1933 photograph of an excavation of the ruins of Persepolis in Iran.
A 1933 photograph of an excavation of the ruins of Persepolis in Iran. PHOTO: ORIENTAL INSTITUTE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

NEW YORK (NYTimes) - The European Fine Art Fair at the Park Avenue Armoury is an elegant event during which wealthy collectors check out highlights, from ancient sculptures to works by early 20th-century masters.

But over the weekend, two prosecutors and three police officers seized an ancient limestone bas-relief of a Persian soldier with shield and spear, which once adorned a building in Persepolis in Iran.

The bas-relief is the latest in a string of antiquities the Manhattan district attorney's office has seized from art dealers and museums in New York City as part of a concerted effort in recent years to recover ancient works.

Those seizures have been led by the assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos who played an important role in recovering antiquities stolen in Iraq during the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Experts on artefacts from Persepolis said the bas-relief was first excavated in 1933 by a team of archaeologists from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. It appears in photographs of the site taken as late as 1936. The Persian government passed a law in 1930 making it illegal to transport such antiquities out of the country.

An Iranian cultural official, Mr Ebrahim Shaqaqi, told the Tehran Times the bas-relief "had been stolen from Persepolis decades ago prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution".

"Legal follow-ups are under way to first prove that the relic belongs to Iran and finally repatriate it," added Mr Shaqaqi.