Stolen Shipwrecked Gold Returned to France

Five gold bars from a 1746 shipwreck are back in the hands of the French government, after U.S. federal agents successfully tracked down the treasure through an investigation that took decades.

Courtesy of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement

The ingots sank with the Prince de Conty, a ship belonging to the French East India Company that  ran aground off the coast of France while returning from China. Divers discovered the wreckage in the mid-1970s and looted the ship, including the ingots which are engraved with Chinese characters. While the French government brought criminal charges against several of the divers, not until recently were the ingots tracked down. 

In 2018 a Tampa couple tried to sell the five ingots through an online auction company in Santa Rosa, California. The French notified U.S. Homeland Security, which is in charge of finding stolen antiquities, and its agents seized the gold. 

The five bars had been featured on the PBS television program “Antiques Roadshow” back in 1999, when they were falsely presented as having been found off the coast of Africa, according to the Homeland Security agent in charge of the case. The U.S. and France at the time were unaware the ingots had been stolen from the French shipwreck.  

During a formal ceremony at the French Embassy in March the U.S. formally returned the stolen gold bars.

“These objects tell the history of France, its commerce, and its people,” said Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Executive Associate Director Steve Francis. “HSI is proud to have played a role in ensuring these artifacts continue to be part of France’s history for future generations to enjoy.”

The five ingots were returned along with a gold coin that had been looted from French territorial waters, as well as a human skull that had been stolen from the Catacombs Museum in Paris.