The U.S. said it returned to the Iraqis china once belonging to the family of King Faisal II and dinner and salad plates belonging to Saddam Hussein that had been stolen and sold on EBay Inc.’s auction website.
The items, some of which bear the Iraqi seal, were given yesterday to Iraq’s mission to the United Nations, Jerika Richardson, a spokeswoman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, said today. There were 19 royal plates returned in all, she said.
Bharara’s office said the plates had been bought by Creative Time, an art group in Manhattan, and used as a display at Park Avenue Autumn, a Midtown restaurant.
Anne Pasternak, a spokeswoman for Creative Time, said the group purchased the plates for a performance project by artist Michael Rakowitz. The work involved serving Iraqi-themed meals on the plates at the restaurant for three months, she said.
“Not only was it a special menu for these items but the staff was trained to talk about the plates,” Pasternak said. “It wasn’t as if the people were sitting in the restaurant and saying ‘Whew, I’m eating off Saddam Hussein’s plates,’ but it was also giving a lesson and opportunity to talk about the personal and the political connotations.”
Pasternak said the 19 plates included Wedgewood china that was originally given as a gift to Faisal’s family by Queen Elizabeth. Faisal, the last king of Iraq, was killed in 1958. Saddam Hussein was executed in 2006.
“The plates were sold on EBay by U.S. soldiers who’d purchased them from Iraqi citizens who’d sold them at flea markets on U.S. military property,” Pasternak said. “They took the spoils of war and sold them at flea markets on U.S. military property. These soldiers felt that what they were doing was legal because it was being sanctioned by U.S. Army officials.”
After being told the plates were stolen, Creative Time agreed to voluntarily relinquish them to the U.S., she said.
A deputy U.S. marshal came to the art group’s Manhattan offices yesterday to collect the dinnerware, she said.
“We couldn’t be more delighted that the plates could be returned to the Iraqi government’s prime minister,” Pasternak said.
Alison Good, a spokeswoman for the restaurant, didn’t immediately return a voice-mail message seeking comment.