United States Returns Stolen Antique Books to the National Library of Sweden

(clears throat) Uh, good morning everyone. My name is Preet
Bharara and I’m the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Uh, today we are once again
bringing priceless artifacts back to the country to which they belong.
Uh, today unlike other days, we are returning to the
National Library of Sweden, 2 antique books; Description of Louisiana by Louis
Hennepin, and uh, The Valley of the Mississippi, illustrated by Henry
Louis. Now to the untrained eye, the significance of these 2 books may not be
obvious, but they are extremely rare examples of books documenting the initial
European exploration of North America. These books, which once
belonged to the collections of Swedish royalty, offered readers of centuries ago some of
the first glimpses of the extraordinary American landscape
and people. The Hennepin book documents the author’s
exploration of the upper Mississippi river in 1680. The book is known for its map, which has the first ever printed record of Louisiana and
for the first description of Niagara Falls and the Saint Anthony Falls.
And if you look to my right, you’ll see uh, a reproduction of the map in
(stutters) uh, – on the easel in the center. The Louis book
contains hand colored lithographs and texts from the author’s explanation of the
Mississippi River between years 1846 and 1849. Very few copies of the book have survived, which makes its return today all
the more special and also on the 1st and the 3rd easels, you’ll see
some reproductions of those hand colored lithographs. Uh, before I go any further, let me
take a step back and give you a little background in the case, some of
which you may be familiar with. The National
Library of Sweden is an agency of the Swedish – uh, state. and has a collection of royal books that date
back to the 1500s. For hundreds of years, the Library’s collection
of books, maps and manuscripts was treasured by the Kings and Queens of Sweden. Today the Library is a place for researchers and
scholars, particularly in the humanities and
social sciences. As explained by Jerker Ryden, the Senior Legal Advisor who is here with us today,
the Library contains “the memory of the nation.” As Mr. Ryden described it in a New York Times
article last year, the theft that brings us here today “created black holes and money can’t compensate when you have black
holes.” And so I’m proud that this office has been at the
forefront of filling those black holes for many nation’s
cultural histories. In 2004, as you may know, the Library
dsiscovered that som 56 rare or one of a kind books had been
stolen from its collection. After one of its employees –
Anders Burius – confessed to the thefts, after stealing the books, Burius
consigned or sold them to Ketterer Kunst – an auction house in Germany –
in 1998. Uh, Stephan Lowentheil, the owner of the 19th
century shop rare book in Baltimore Maryland, purchased the Hennepin
book and the Louis book at a Ketterer auction. When Mr. Lowentheil
purchased the books, he had no knowledge of their theft from the Library and
through diligent investigation efforts of Swedish authorities and the FBI, it
was discovered that Ketterer had sold 2 books to Mr. Lowentheil. When he was contacted
by the FBI about their theft, he voluntarily reobtained the
books and agreed to return them to the Library. So he really did go
above and beyond the call of duty. Some might think that he deserves a medal. Our hope is that the continuing investigation will lead us to
other books so that more and more black holes can be filled. We also hope that Mr.
Lowenththeil’s actions in returning these stolen books will prompt others to return
antique books in their possession that were stolen from the Library because there are still a
lot out there that are missing. I would like to thank those who made this
recovery possible. First, I want to thank the
FBI, represented by our friend George Venizelos, the Assistant
Director in Charge of the New York Field Office Also Bill Chen, uh, in the Criminal Division is
here. And the case agent, John Ianuzzi. Uh, this office in conjunction with the FBI, has assisted with
the recovery and return of several pieces of stolen artwork. Uh, as you may know, today’s
return of these 2 antique books to the National Library of Sweden marks just the latest success
uh, in our ongoing work to recover and return stolen art in antiquity to
their rightful owners wherever they are in the world. We look forward
to continuing our partnership with the FBI and working together in the future to expand this
very important program. I also want to thank the folks, of
course, from my own office Sharon Cohen Levin, the Chief of the Asset
Forfeiture Unit and Assistant U.S. Attorney’s Christine Magdo and Sarah Paul. Uh, now let me
call to the podium, George Venizelos of the FBI. (George) Thank you Preet. By the way, nice tie.
(laughing) Nice tie, right? (laughing) Played it up once in a while, right? Good
afternoon. And, uh, I have a brief statement I’m gonna read on the case. The um, National Library of Sweden was established more
than 350 years ago. It contains over 2 million items. Its collections
of books pictures, manuscripts, newspapers, and other
materials, including a significant part of Sweden’s cultural heritage.
(Aside: coughing) Many of the Library’s items are invaluable.
Treasured pieces of a country’s heritage have value far beyond their market value. Some things are not
for sale. or shouldn’t be. Beginning in 1995, Anders Burius exploited his position as a trusted employee of the Library to steal
dozens of rare books. Using an alias, he sold the books through a German auction house. Through fear and discovery, Burius confessed to
the thefts and committed suicide. More than a dozen of the stolen books were sold to U.S. buyers. Burius cannot be prosecuted, but beyond arresting and prosecuting
criminals, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have a
role in serving the interest of justice. We are pleased to be returning 2 of the stolen
books to the National Library of Sweden. The books were tracked to Stephan Lowentheil here who purchased the books 15 years ago without
knowledge of the thefts and he has agreed to return them. The Louis Hennepin book alone is a remarkable treasure. Published 330 years ago, it chronicles Hennepin’s discoveries on an exploratory mission in the new world from Quebec through the Great
Lakes to the upper Mississippi River. It’s a book about
America before it was America, but it belongs to Sweden. We hope to continue the effort to locate the
remaining stolen rare books. I want to welcome Mr. Herdenberg and our guest from Sweden I want to thank our partners in this effort, U.S.
Attorney’s Preet Bharara Chief Sharon Levin and Assistant U.S. Attorney’s Christine Magdo and Sarah Paul. And finally, congratulations to
to FBI Special Agent John Ianuzzi for his work in getting part of
Sweden’s cultural heritage returned to Sweden. Thank you. (Preet) Thank you George. I like your tie also.
(chuckle) Um, some things are rare, like the books that are
being returned to Sweden and some things like
ties, are not so rare (laughing). Um, I wanna finally
call to the podium, uh, Gunilla Herdenberg, the CEO of the National
Library of Sweden. (Gunilla) Good afternoon everybody. To U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Assistant
Director George Venizelos, Forfeiture Chief Sharon Levin and to your many
colleagues, that have been involved in this matter, on behalf
of the kingdom of Sweden and National Library community, I
extend my most profound gratitude for your combined efforts. This is not only a matter of the safe return of
the lost books to Sweden, to the rightful place amongst the
collections housed at our National Library, it is a matter of making that content available to the general
public and to the research community. Das illustrirte Mississippithal is a wonderful extensively detailed work by Henry
Louis once owned by the Swedish King Charles the 15th. Description de la Louisiane, by Louis Hennepin is unique in that it contains the first printed
map of Louisiana. and was published not long after Sweden had their
own colonial adventure that – as it happened, ended
in failure. The Swed(en)s fore- however founded the colony of
new Sweden in what would lead to become the present day city
of Wilmington, Delaware. Too many passed their ability of official institutions and
the role they play as protectors of cultural heritage, I would now like
to make a return on my own and give back the (inaudible) atlas
that was returned to Stockholm only last year. This was another volume stolen from our collections by the same
thief. It is not the atlas itself as an object, but a digitized edition that we feel emphasized the
importance of providing access to our holdings and in sharing our treasures. So, please Mr. Bharara… I have here 3 copies of the atlas. So, this is for you. (Preet) Thank
you so much. (Gunilla) Thank you very much. (Preet) Thank you. (Gunilla) And so, our sincerest thanks to you, to the American
citizens and to American officials for aiding us in our
endeavor to provide access to cultural heritage. Our shared history, as it
were. I also want to thank Herick Feinstein for helping
us with legal matters. And so, I would like to thank Mr. Stephan
Lowentheil especially. Your generosity to the National
Library to citizens of Sweden and to the international
community has been tremendous. As the National Library of Sweden (laughing) (to Stephan) It’s going to be better!
(laughing) As the National Librarian of Sweden, I have a particular entitlement to honour those individuals who undertake extraordinary efforts to serve the
National Library, and that’s exactly what you have done. Therefore,
I have the pleasure of presenting to you today a medal
of honour with an inscription in Latin (and now it’s
getting worse) (chuckle) (laughing) It says in Latin, (speaking in Latin) which means roughly translated to English, “Generosity fosters cultural heritage.” And here it is (Hands medal to Stephan).
(Stephan) That is really nice. Thank you. (Gunilla) Thank you very much.
(clapping) (Stephan) That’s real nice. Thank you. (Gunilla) My many many thanks to all of you involved in this matter. (Preet) Thank you very much. (to Stephan) I knew you
deserved a medal! (laughing) Uh, I don’t know if you (stutters)
have questions or you just wanna uh, take a look at what’s up on the easels, but if
you have any, we’re happy to answer them as we can. (Aside) How did this end up in the Southern
District? (laughing) (Preet) I thought everything ends up in the Southern
District! (laughing) (Aside) He’s in Maryland, correct? (Preet) Yeah. Do you wanna remind us Sharon how
this ended up in the Southern District? ……….part of a larger investigation. (Aside)
(chuckle) Okay!? Thanks everybody! (laughing)

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