An Edmonton man charged with possessing an ancient artifact that was stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2011 says he didn’t realize how old or valuable it was.

Simon Metke says he paid “a friend of a friend” $1,400 for the item while on a visit to Montreal.  

Metke claims he didn’t know the item was a Persian bas-relief from the fifth century B.C. worth $1.2 million, that was stolen from the museum in September 2011.

recovered artifact montreal museum fine arts

This recovered artifact — a fragment from a fifth century BC Persian bas-relief — was found in an Edmonton home after it was stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. (Quebec Provincial Police)

“Bought it thinking that it was some kind of replica or Mesopotamian souvenir,” Metke said Thursday.  

“I knew that it wasn’t something really cheap-looking, but didn’t realize the reality of what it was.”

Metke, 33, was charged late last month after officers from the Sûreté du Québec and the RCMP executed a search warrant on his Edmonton condominium on Jan. 22.

Police announced the recovery of the artifact and the charges laid against Metke and his girlfriend on Thursday.

Metke says he only learned the value of the piece when police told him the night he was arrested.

“I’m really glad that I was able to to protect this thing and look after it and it sort of feels like it may have come to me to be protected so that it didn’t get destroyed or lost,” he said.

A Roman marble statue of a head, also taken from the museum that day, has not been recovered.

Metke is charged with possessing stolen property over $5,000, possessing a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking and possessing the proceeds of crime.

His 26-year-old girlfriend is charged with possessing the proceeds of crime and possessing a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.