US man charged for attempted antiquity smuggling from Syria

The 2,000-year-old mosaic fragment came from Syria, and he had reportedly claimed to be importing items into the US worth just over $2,000.

 A mosaic panel is pictured in Al-Rastan city, Syria October 12, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/FIRAS MAKDESI)
A mosaic panel is pictured in Al-Rastan city, Syria October 12, 2022.

A Los Angeles man was convicted on Wednesday for illegally importing antiquities from Syria into the US. The smuggled piece in question was an ancient mosaic depicting Hercules, the Roman demigod, and is believed to be 2,000 years old, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) reported.

Mohammed Yassin Alcharihi, 56 years old and from Palmdale, California, had allegedly illegally imported a mosaic dating back to the Roman Empire. The item came from Syria, and he had apparently claimed to be importing items just over $2,000, although his items were worth far more than that. The prices of the items were hundreds of thousands of dollars, leading him to be convicted for falsely classifying goods.

He could serve up to two years in prison for his charge of entry of falsely classified goods.

Antiquity smuggling near and far

This case, with evidence dating back to 2015, enacted a resolution that condemned Islamic State and similar groups on the destruction of Syria's ancient cultural heritage. The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Art Crimes unit in Los Angeles. 

Across the world, in Italy, sixteen people were arrested and more than 3,500 artifacts were recovered as Italian police broke up what they called a ruthless network of archaeological looters and international traffickers in ancient Greek and Roman relics.

Those arrested face charges including criminal conspiracy, illegal digging, theft, trading in stolen goods, and illegal export of goods, the art squad of the Carabinieri police said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Another five suspects evaded arrest but were ordered to report to police, while dozens more were placed under investigation following a number of raids carried out across the country.

Reuters contributed to this report.