Home Interior Design California man on trial for allegedly importing ancient Roman mosaic stolen from Syria

California man on trial for allegedly importing ancient Roman mosaic stolen from Syria

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A man is on trial in California and accused of illegally importing an ancient Roman mosaic looted from Syria during the country’s civil war. The Justice Department has accused the collector, Mohamad Yassin Alcharihi, 56, of claiming on import forms that the artwork, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, was only worth 587 dollars, but his defense attorney now insists the ancient artwork is a fake.

Alcharihi bought the mosaic from Turkey in 2015, as part of a larger shipment of dozens of vases and two mosaics that he said were worth $2,200. He later admitted to paying $12,000 for the land.

Evidence against Alcharihi includes a text message with a photo of the mosaic sent by a Syrian associate in early 2015 which included a photo of the mosaic. He also admitted in court documents before being charged in July 2020 to spend $40,000 to restore what he described as a ‘Turkish mosaic’ – but claimed to have imported it ‘like trash’, as reported Courthouse News.

The mosaic that has since caused legal problems for Alcharihi is 18 feet wide and eight feet high and weighs 2,000 pounds. It depicts scenes from the myth of Hercules. The FBI raided Alcharihi’s home in Palmdale, California in 2016, seizing the piece, which a government expert identified as a 2,000-year-old Byzantine-period mosaic that is stylistically consistent with other pieces. other ancient works from the region around Idlib, Syria.

But while the expert will testify at trial about the authenticity of the work, including the advanced age of the materials and their origins in the eastern Mediterranean, Alcharihi’s attorney, Federal Public Defender Ashley Mahmoudian, disputed the authenticity of the mosaic during opening arguments last week, and blamed falsifications on the import form on an inexperienced customs broker who made multiple errors.

“Mr. Alcharihi is not an art expert. He did not see the mosaic before he came to the United States,” she said, saying her client was just a man looking for art. a promising business. “The mosaic is a fake.”

Last week, the defense presented testimony from New York art dealer and antiquities expert Randall Hixenbaugh. He questioned some of the mosaic’s iconography, in particular the depiction of a woman in trousers, which he told the court was odd because “it is a symbol of male barbarism to wear trousers” . Courthouse News reported.

Hixenbaugh did not outright say the artwork was fake, but estimated it was only worth $30,000, less than Alcharihi had spent on the restorations. While Hixenbaugh did not examine the mosaic in person, the government won a motion in January to post it as evidence during the trial, rather than asking the jury to rely solely on the photographs of the monumental work.

The fourth day of the trial, which is overseen by Judge George H. Wu, takes place today in the Central District Court of California.

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