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Looted Gold Ingots From 1700s Shipwreck Returned To French Government

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Five gold ingots looted from the sunken wreck of a pre-Revolutionary vessel, smuggled into the United States and seized by federal agents in San Francisco were among a bounty of stolen artifacts returned to the French Government.

Homeland Security Investigations officials said among the items returned were a 3rd century gold coin, the five 18 century gold ingot taken from the ocean floor where they had remained for centuries and a human skull that was stolen from Paris' catacombs.

"We are very grateful to the United States for the action taken by its services to return these artifacts and emphasize the quality of cooperation between the French and American customs, police, and judicial services in the fight against trafficking in cultural property," said Phillippe Etienne, Ambassador of France to the United States.

Federal officials said agents seized the ingots in a January 2018 raid in San Francisco. The five gold bars, engraved with Chinese characters, were on the Prince de Conty, a ship belonging to the French East India Company, which ran aground in 1746 while returning from a voyage to China.

The ship's treasures lay buried for more than 200 years until the bars were looted and eventually found their way to an auction in San Francisco. The ingots are subject to legal proceedings initiated by an investigating judge in Brest and implemented by the French office for the fight against trafficking in cultural property.

The coin was seized in a 2013 raid at an auction house in Los Angeles. It had been looted from French territorial waters and subsequently smuggled out of France. The coin, believed to be part of the "Lava Treasure" collection, has been traced to a transport ship lost in French territorial waters more than 1,700 years ago in the Gulf of Lava off the coast of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea.

In June 2014, HSI officials initiated an investigation into the illegal importation of artifacts by a Houston-based antiquities dealer.

During the examination of a shipment by U.S. Fish and Wildlife inspectors, a human skull was identified and seized. Examination of the skull by an expert revealed characteristics consistent with the collection housed in the Catacombs in Paris. The inspectors contacted
special agents who determined that the importer had provided false information about the skull.

Over the years, HSI has returned many artifacts to the French government including a painting by Picasso, La Coiffeuse, stolen from the France's National Museum of Modern Art; a manuscript, stolen from the French Navy Archival Depository Fund, entitled Napoleon's Commission of Appointing Toussaint Louverture Captain of the French Part of Saint Domingue; and Blanchisseuses Souffrant Des Dents, a painting by Edgar Degas, stolen from the Musee Malraux in Le Havre, France.

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