U.S.-Morocco Seminar Strengthens Alliance Against Illicit Cultural Property Trafficking

Rabat, Morocco – October 5, 2023 – The U.S.-Morocco Law Enforcement Seminar for Countering the Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property concluded successfully at the prestigious Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, running from October 3rd to 5th.  

The event brought together approximately 70 American and Moroccan law enforcement professionals and cultural property experts, all with a shared goal of advancing the collaborative efforts between the United States and Morocco in combatting the illicit trafficking in cultural property and associated security threats.  

In a significant gesture during the closing ceremony, U.S. Ambassador Puneet Talwar handed over three fossils to the Government of Morocco, represented by Minister of Youth, Culture, and Communications Mohamed Mehdi Bensaid, and representatives from the Ministry of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development. These fossils were seized by American law enforcement agents in the United States. 

This seminar is a result of the strategic partnership between the Ministry of Culture and the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, in alignment with the U.S.-Morocco Cultural Property Agreement inked in 2021. The seminar featured the participation of ten American experts from five U.S. government agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Homeland Security Investigations, the Department of Justice, Customs and Border Protection, and the State Department, along with sixty Moroccan officials from 11 different ministries and law enforcement bodies. Over the course of the seminar, both American and Moroccan experts presented insights into their respective legal frameworks and law enforcement strategies, illuminating their efforts to combat the illicit trafficking in cultural property. Furthermore, targeted case studies were explored, sparking discussions on novel avenues for collaboration. 

Ambassador Puneet Talwar emphasized the significance of the seminar, stating, “This seminar is an important milestone in our partnership as it lays out areas for collaboration between cultural institutions and law enforcement to protect Morocco’s cultural patrimony from looters and traffickers.” Ambassador Talwar also reiterated the United States’ commitment to the restoration of cultural property that had been illegally transported to the United States. In this spirit, he officially returned three seized fossils: a Mosasaurus skull, a Basilosaurid jaw, and a Cetacean whale vertebra. 

Minister Mohamed Mehdi Bensaid stressed the significance of these fossil remains, stating, “Today, our American friends are delivering to us three precious elements of Moroccan paleontological heritage, the fossil remains of three different species, some dating back over 250 million years.” 

He also unveiled future plans, saying, “As per the initial schedule, a second workshop is planned for the coming year. Our aim is to open it to neighboring countries, sharing the success of this cooperation between our two nations and extending its benefits to the entire African continent, beginning with Sahel countries. Morocco and the United States aspire to deepen this bilateral cultural partnership by expanding it within a favorable transregional framework.” 

On her part, Ms. Farah Bouqartacha, General Secretary of the Ministry of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development, stated: “The new National Sustainable Development Strategy, articulated around the transformation towards sustainability and translated into Strategic Objectives and targets by 2026-2030-2035, has elected the preservation and valorization of cultural heritage as one of the main axes. This vision aligns perfectly with the efforts of the Ministry of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development to protect Morocco’s geological heritage, in line with our essential goals of its conservation, prudent management, and promotion on both a national and international scale.”