Bulgarian Repatriation “Like an Action Film” Says Cultural Minister

Posted on June 22, 2011


It is well-known that many illegally traded antiquities are sent through the international mail, especially via private carriers.  The chances of discovery are nearly nil.  But they aren’t quite zero.

In 2007, the Canada Border Services Agency caught two batches of cultural property being imported from Bulgaria into Canada by mail.  The Agency detained the imports and contacted the Canadian Heritage Department, which called in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.   Following the investigation, the importer formally abandoned the items, and a Canadian court ordered their repatriation to Bulgaria.

Recently, Canada repatriated the items, which included thousands of cultural objects illegally exported from Bulgaria.  The antiquities, valued at approximately US$1 million, include 21,000 coins, pieces of jewelry and other rare objects from Hellenistic, Roman, Macedonian, Byzantine, Bulgarian and Ottoman cultures.  This repatriation marks the largest ever seizure and return of illegally imported cultural objects in Canada.  The collection, which covers over 2600 years of Bulgarian history, first came to the attention of Canadian authorities four years ago.

The objects were returned via “diplomatic mail,” which apparently entails moving the items by hand in black suitcases.  “Like an action film,” described Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashido.

For more information, go here and here.

Thank you to Rachel Payne for her assistance with this post.