Smuggled artifacts returned to Panama

Ninety-nine pre-Columbian cultural artifacts seized by federal authorities in Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., have been returned to Panama.

The artifacts were made between A.D. 1 through 1500 by Native American Indian potters and are valued at about $100,000. The artifacts were likely looted from graves in Southwestern Panama.

"Sadly, the theft and trafficking of cultural artifacts is one of the oldest forms of organized cross-border crime," said Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. “While seizing, forfeiting and repatriating cultural artifacts like these is indeed reason for celebration, our long-term goal is to reduce the incentive for further destruction of ancient tombs and temples, where so many of these objects are dug up or chiseled off and pilfered."

The case began in 1998, when Panamanian investigators tipped off U.S. federal authorities that a Panamanian official was smuggling pre-Columbian artifacts out of Panama and into the United States out of shipping containers. Those items were returned to Panama.

Investigators also found that items were being sent to an American professor. The professor agreed to turn over 99 artifacts, authorities said.