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Feds seek forfeiture of ancient Roman statue that was headed to Kim Kardashian

The reality TV star did not purchase the piece, and "this is the first that she has learned of its existence," a representative for Kardashian said Wednesday.
Image: Kim Kardashian
Kim Kardashian at a panel in Pasadena, Calif., in January 2020 for the documentary "Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project." Mario Anzuoni / Reuters file

Kim Kardashian did not purchase an ancient Roman sculpture that federal authorities are trying to seize after it was imported to the U.S. five years ago, a representative for the reality TV star said Wednesday.

Italian officials think the sculpture, described as "Fragment of Myron's Samian Athena, Limestone, Roman, 1st – 2nd century A.D.," was originally looted from Italy, and they want it returned, according to a civil complaint for forfeiture filed in federal court in Los Angeles last week.

The case dates to 2016, when the antique statue arrived at the Port of Los Angeles and immediately caught the attention of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.

The broker provided a form to the CBP that listed the consignee, or buyer, and importer as "Kim Kardashian dba Noel Roberts Trust." The shipment, described as containing antiques, furniture and decorations, had 40 pieces in all valued at $745,882, the filing says.

Image: Italian statue
The statue consists of the lower half of a human figure.Justice Department

Documents in the case do not allege any wrongdoing by Kardashian.

Speaking on Kardashian's behalf, a representative told NBC News that "this is the first that she has learned of its existence."

"We believe it may have been purchased using her name without authorization and because it was never received, she was unaware of the transaction. We encourage an investigation and hope that it gets returned to the rightful owners," the representative said.

The U.S. and Italy have an agreement designed to end the trafficking of pillaged cultural property that requires documentation for imports.

When the shipment arrived, customs officials were concerned that it was "possibly protected cultural property from Italy," according to the filing.

As authorities investigated, they found contradictions between documents that indicated that the statue originated from Italy and an unsworn affidavit stating that the statue did not originate there, the court filing says.

A month later, they seized the statue after the broker did not prove sufficient documentation to American authorities, according to the court filing.

Italy's Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage told Homeland Security Investigations in 2016 it wants the statue returned, the document says.

The U.S. government said in the filing that an Italian archaeologist in 2018 concluded that the piece showed signs of having been in Italy during the Roman Empire, and there are no records of its being legally exported as required under a 1909 law.

"Based on the information and scientific aspects the archaeologist provided, the archaeologist opined that the defendant statue was looted, smuggled and illegally exported from Italy," it says.

The Italian archaeologist determined that the statue is of "classical Peplophoros style," which represents a copy of an original Greek sculpture, the filing says.

A representative for a Belgium art company, Axel Vervoordt, that bought the statue and sold it to what it described only as its American client, said it just learned about the forfeiture request.

"We have acquired this piece in good faith from a French gallery who had also acquired it in equally good faith from a German auction house," Anne-Sophie Dusselier said in an email Wednesday.

"The former collector was English, but precise traces seem to stop there. However, there is no evidence that this piece was illegally imported from Italy," she said.