SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - U.S. officials returned two stolen, colonial-era paintings to the government of Peru on Wednesday in a repatriation ceremony at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
The paintings from the late 18th century were stolen from the altarpiece of a church in Peru in 2001 and sold years later by a Texas auction house to a private collector. They are images of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Anthony Abbott and valued at about $10,000 apiece.
"The cultural treasures returned today do not belong in the hands of a private collector," said Special Agent in Charge Janice Ayala of Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio. "They belong to the people of Peru who can appreciate their cultural heritage."
Harold Forsyth, the ambassador of Peru to the United States, said the recovery of the artwork was a "moral triumph" for his country.
Ayala said the man who bought the stolen paintings would not be charged but was out the money he paid for them. The agency was tipped off about the stolen paintings in 2009 and it took several years for them to be able to return the art works to the Peruvian government.
Homeland Security Investigations has the authority under federal law to seize artworks illegally brought into the United States, especially those that have been reported lost or stolen.
Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney