The evening of Dec. 21, 2017 seemed innocent enough — an ugly-sweater party in a child-friendly science museum. But an incident that took place that night at the Franklin Institute resulted in FBI charges, a $15,000 bail bond, and international outcry.
According to theWashington Post, the FBI arrested 24-year-old Michael Rohana last week on charges that he stole a thumb from one of the 2,000-year-old terracotta statues that guarded the tomb of China’s first-ever emperor, Qin Shi Huang.
In a court affidavit, the agency said that video footage shows Rohana sneaking into a blocked-off exhibit in the Philadelphia museum and taking a selfie with one of the sculptures before breaking off a piece of its left hand, the Post reports.
The alleged theft prompted outrage in China as the terracotta statues date back to 210 B.C. and are considered cherished historical artifacts. The Post cites a Chinese news story from the Beijing Youth Daily in which the director of the Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relic Exchange Center said he hopes the U.S. will “severely punish” the culprit who “undermined and robbed the human cultural heritage.”
The terracotta sculpture Rohana is accused of damaging is worth $4.5 million, the FBI said – the thumb alone is worth $5,000. The Franklin Institute describes the statue and its 8,000-plus companions as “one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in history.”
Ten of the statues had been transferred to the Franklin Institute on loan for a special exhibit, though they were not open to the public on the night of Rohana’s alleged crime. In a statement to the New York Times, the museum said that a security contractor did not adhere to “standard closing procedures,” but they have since “thoroughly reviewed our security protocol and procedures, and have taken appropriate action where needed.”
The museum did not even realize the thumb was missing until Jan. 8. But within a week from the discovery, the FBI had identified Rohana, who lives in Delaware. At his house, a special officer asked him “if he had anything he wanted to turn over to the FBI.” According to the agent’s affidavit, Rohana took him upstairs, where he pulled out the thumb from his desk drawer.
On Feb. 13, Rohana was freed by the FBI on a $15,000 personal recognizance bond.
The Beijing Youth Daily reports that plans have been drawn up to send a pair of experts to the U.S. to help repair the damaged statue.