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US: Man sentenced for smuggling Byzantine-era mosaics from Syria

US: Man sentenced for smuggling Byzantine-era mosaics from Syria

A California man has been convicted of illegally importing into the United States an ancient floor mosaic believed to have been made in Syria some two thousand years ago and valued at nearly half a million dollars.

According to a press release from the United States Attorney’s Office, 56-year-old Mohamed Yassin Alsarihi was convicted on June 21 of one count of entering articles with a false classification.

Alsarihi made a “misclassification” of the “value and quality” of the massive mosaic, federal prosecutors said in the statement. The ancient artwork arrived at the Port of Long Beach in August 2015 as part of a shipment from Turkey.

The mosaic, believed to be from the Byzantine era of the Roman Empire, depicts a mythological scene: Hercules rescues Prometheus, chained to a rock by the other gods for stealing fire.

Louvai Peshara / AFPRoman-era mosaic discovered in western Syria, June 22, 2023

Alsarihi paid about $12,000 for the antique, compared to an appraiser of $450,000, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. When he brought the artwork to the United States, he lied when he said he was importing less than $600 worth of ceramic tiles from Turkey, prosecutors say.

According to the report, the mosaic weighs 900 kg and is about 4.5 meters long and 2.4 meters high. The piece was hidden behind vases in a shipping container and then trucked to Alsarihi’s home after clearing customs.

It has been stored at a depot in Los Angeles since it was seized from Alsarihi’s garage in 2016. The United States Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on future plans for the artwork.

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Alsarihi is expected to be sentenced next month. He faces a maximum jail term of two years.