June 13, 2007 / 10:28 PM / 13 years ago

U.S. returns stolen pre-Columbian artifacts to Peru

MIAMI (Reuters) - The United States returned ancient pottery, gold jewelry, burial shrouds and hundreds of other stolen pre-Columbian artifacts to Peru on Wednesday after they were seized in a Florida smuggling investigation.

Among the 412 historic treasures were a clay vessel believed to be 3,500 years old and a statue thought to be 1,800 years old, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

The seizure, made during an investigation in south Florida two years ago, is believed to be one of the largest of pre-Columbian artifacts smuggled into the United States from Peru.

“These artifacts are not souvenirs,” Julie Myers, an assistant secretary for Homeland Security, said in a written statement. “The items being returned today are a thread of a nation rich in cultural heritage.”

A 66-year-old Italian national, Ugo Bagnato, was arrested and charged in connection with the seizure, U.S. officials said. He pleaded guilty to the sale and receipt of stolen goods and served 17 months in a federal prison.

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