The object, depicting a guard from the ancient city of Persepolis, was seized from the stand of Rupert Wace Ancient Art at TEFAF New York in October 2017.
The District Attorney of New York filed a claim on May 24, 2018 with the state’s Supreme Court calling for the return of the relief to Iran, on the grounds that it was looted from the country in the 1930s.
In a statement sent to ATG, London dealerships Rupert Wace and Sam Fogg, who had been selling the relief at TEFAF, said: “We are pleased to report that the Persian guard relief is being returned to Iran. The relief originally came from Persepolis. We have concluded that Iran has a strong moral claim to it.”
The relief, dating from around 500BC and the Achaemenid Empire, had been on display in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from 1951-2011.
Wace and Fogg purchased the relief from insurance company AXA ART in 2016, after it was stolen from the museum in 2011. Once recovered, the museum decided to keep the insurance money rather than have the object returned, at which point the relief was sold to the dealers.
“Diligent professional buyer”
Wace and Fogg said: “Prior to buying the relief… we conducted due diligence, full details of which have been filed with the New York court. We are satisfied that we went beyond what is expected of a diligent professional buyer of antiquities. When we acquired the relief, we had no reason to believe that it was unlawfully removed from Persepolis…
“Whilst we could have persevered in our efforts to show that as a matter of law, we have good title to the relief, we decided that in the public interest, the relief should return to Persepolis, a World Heritage site.”
The DA’s office in New York has been leading a crackdown on antiquities, which it says are linked to terrorist financing. It recently launched a counter-antiquities trafficking unit led by assistant district attorney Colonel Matthew Bogdanos.