Interpol has issued an international warrant for a Lebanese man suspected of trafficking stolen antiquities, weeks after he was questioned in Lebanon, judicial officials said Friday.
The Red Notice was unsealed 10 months after a criminal court in New York issued an arrest warrant for Georges Lotfi, 82, charging him with criminal possession of stolen property as well as possessing looted artifacts.
The officials did not give further details about the Interpol warrant, which is a non-binding request to law enforcement agencies worldwide that they locate and provisionally arrest a fugitive. The notice is not an arrest warrant and does not require Lebanon to arrest Lotfi.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the American judiciary sent the case related to Lotfi to Lebanon and asked authorities in the Mediterranean nation to follow up on him.
When Lotfi was summoned for questioning by Lebanese authorities earlier this year, the officials said he denied charges that he had stolen antiquities, saying instead he had bought them from archeologists and sold them to a museum in the U.S.
They said it later became clear that the 27 antiquities were stolen in 1981 from a warehouse in Lebanon. The Interpol Red Notice that was posted online said Lotfi is charged with criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree, second degree and third degree.
Lotfi currently lives in Lebanon, which is home to invaluable archaeological sites.
The officials said U.S. authorities said they would repatriate the antiquities to Lebanon on condition that Lebanese authorities put Lotfi under arrest.
The officials said that once Lebanon formally receives the Interpol warrant, authorities in the country should summon Lotfi for questioning and confiscate his passport.
Lotfi’s case is not the first of its kind. Smuggling and looting antiquities was not uncommon in Lebanon during the chaos of the 1975-90 civil war.
In 2018, Lebanon received a trio of ancient artifacts looted from the country during its civil war and recovered recently by New York authorities.
The treasures included a marble bull’s head dating to about 360 B.C. excavated at a Phoenician temple in south Lebanon decades ago. The other two were marble torsos from the 4th and 6th century B.C.