FBI Investigating Sale of Items Stolen from the British Museum and Sold to US Collectors
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By The Smartencyclopedia Staff Writer with Agencies

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is actively investigating the theft and sale of hundreds of items stolen from the British Museum, many of which have made their way into the hands of US collectors. Among these items is an amethyst gem depicting a cupid, which was sold on eBay.

Last year, the British Museum revealed that approximately 1,500 ancient gems, jewelry, and other artifacts had either been stolen, damaged or were missing from their collection. These items had not been cataloged, and the museum is currently working to determine their ownership. The museum became aware of the missing items about a year before making the news public.

To date, 626 items have been returned to the British Museum, with an additional 100 recovered. The FBI has played a crucial role in this effort, assisting with the return of 268 items sold to a collector in Washington, DC. However, many items remain unaccounted for.

The FBI has not commented on the ongoing investigation. According to reports, the FBI contacted individuals who had purchased items from eBay. These buyers indicated they had been approached by a seller named “Paul Higgins,” using the username “sultan1966.”

Peter Higgs, a former curator at the British Museum, stands accused of damaging, melting down, stealing, and selling ancient artifacts. Higgs has denied these allegations but has admitted that the eBay account in question belonged to him, according to court documents.

It is alleged that Higgs earned around £100,000 ($127,000) from selling objects for a decade, primarily through eBay to approximately 45 buyers. One notable item sold was an amethyst gem depicting a cupid.

While Higgs has not been charged with a crime, some of the stolen items have been reinstated in the museum’s display. The British Museum has initiated a civil case against the former curator.

Dr. Ittai Gradel, a Danish antiquities dealer who alerted the British Museum to the missing items in 2021, criticized the institution for its slow response. According to Dr. Gradel, the museum took months to respond to his concerns, initially dismissing them as baseless.

“Initially the British Museum didn’t say anything. I waited for months and I wrote back to get an answer several times but it took, I think, five months before they finally replied that everything was fine. Nothing was missing,” Dr. Gradel told BBC Breakfast.

Dr. Gradel purchased some items without knowledge of their origins, including an obsidian gem depicting a 2nd-century head of Hercules, believed to be worth thousands of pounds. He bought the item in a private deal for £300 ($383), after being told it had been inherited from the seller’s grandmother.

Some of the items Dr. Gradel acquired ended up on display in the Deutsches Edelsteinmuseum in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. He also managed to trace some missing artifacts to locations in Hong Kong, Hamburg, Cologne, and Paris.

In the wake of these revelations, the British Museum has apologized to Dr. Gradel, and both the director and deputy director have resigned from their positions. The investigation continues as authorities work to recover the remaining stolen items and bring those responsible to justice.

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