A 2,000-year-old terra-cotta warrior valued at $4.5 million and considered a “priceless part of China’s cultural heritage” is missing a thumb, but surveillance video helped lead the FBI to both the thumb and a suspect in the theft.
Michael Rohana of Delaware was arrested last week in the December theft.
Officials say Rohana went to Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute on December 21 for an ugly sweater party hosted by the museum.
During the evening, Rohana and a few of his friends entered the closed off terra-cotta warrior exhibit, and after his friends left, Rohana took a selfie with one of the statues, according to surveillance footage and court documents. He then put his hand on the left hand of one of the warriors and snapped something off, the documents said.
Rohana pocketed the warrior’s thumb and took it home with him to Delaware that evening, officials said.
A museum worker discovered the missing thumb on January 8, and the FBI Art Crime Unit began investigating.
One of the people who went to the museum with Rohana told law enforcement officials that on the ride back to Delaware, Rohana was bragging about sneaking into the exhibit and having a thumb from one of the warriors.
When FBI agent Jacob Archer went to interview Rohana and asked if he had anything “that he wanted to turn over to the FBI,” Rohana handed over the thumb, which was in the desk in his bedroom.
Rohana has been charged with theft of an object of cultural heritage from a museum, concealment of an object of cultural heritage stolen from a museum, and interstate transportation of stolen goods.
He was released on bail on February 13. Rohana did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Chinese officials were displeased with the thumb theft.
“We call on the United States to severely punish those who have done [this],” Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relic Exchange Center’s director told the Beijing Daily, a Chinese newspaper.
The center plans to send two experts to the United States to repair the thumb, according to China’s state newspaper Xinhau. Over the past 40 years, the center has organized about 260 exhibits around the world featuring the warriors, and there has never been a situation like this, an official told Xinhau.
The warrior statues date back to 209 B.C., when the Qin Dynasty ruled China. The life-size statues were constructed to guard the tomb of their master, China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. They were discovered by a Chinese farmer in 1974, according to the Franklin Institute’s exhibit page.