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Government seizes 1,800-year-old looted statue of goddess Persephone worth £1.5million and vows to return it to Libya

PUBLISHED: 1 September 2015

An ancient Greek statue worth £1.5million was ‘unlawfully excavated’ from a world heritage site in Libya and brought to the UK, a judge has ruled.

The ‘exceptionally rare’ four-foot statue of the goddess Persephone will be returned to its ‘rightful owner’ the state of Libya following the ruling.

The statue was seized by Customs in December 2013, after it was discovered stashed in a warehouse in Heathrow, and has been stored in the British Museum pending the outcome of the trial.

Jordanian Riad al Qassas attempted to import the statue – which is believed to be from the third or fourth century BC – by claiming it had been in his family since 1977.

He further claimed that the statue originated in Turkey, dated to only the 17th century, and was worth an estimated $110,000 (£72,000).

District Judge John Zani told the Westminster Magistrates Court today: ‘I condemn the statue as forfeit to the Crown and I reject any representation made that it would be disproportionate to do so.’

He ruled that the true owner of the statue is the state of Libya and the HMRC said it would take all steps necessary to have it returned to the country.

Experts told the court that they believed the ancient artefact had been looted from a Unesco world heritage site in the ancient city of Cyrene in Libya.

The ruling that al Qassas had no claim to the statue was made despite the fact he was not at the hearing, and was not represented by lawyers to contest the ownership of the statue.

No reason was given for his absence but he is believed to be in Jordan.

Following the hearing, Anthony Swarbrick, assistant director of the fraud investigation service at HMRC, said: ‘This statue is of significant historic and cultural importance. It was unlawfully excavated in Libya and smuggled to the UK.

‘Today’s successful court hearing means the statue has been forfeited to the Crown and we are taking steps to further protect and ultimately return it to its rightful owners.’