January 31, 2018

The Manhattan District Attorney's office has removed an ancient wall fresco fragment from the residence of Michael Steinhardt

Image Credit:  Manhattan District Attorney's Office, New York
The Manhattan District Attorney's office has confirmed that they have taken custody of a second object from the New York City residence of Michael Steinhardt located during their earlier January 24, 2018 warrant execution.

The seizure warrant for the removal of these both objects states that the described property constitutes evidence, and tends to demonstrate, that the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in First Degree – NY Penal Law 165.54 was committed, e.g. the possession of stolen or illicitly trafficked antiquities.

Those convicted of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in First Degree face a mandatory minimum sentence of one to three years and a maximum sentence of up to eight and one third to twenty five years in state prison.

The second object seized on January 24th is a Roman frescoed panel of a mythological scene, believed to date to the first century CE.  Depicted at the top of this article, the fresco fragment illustrates the infant Hercules on the left, strangling a snake which has been sent by Hera to bring about his death.  Jove, the god of the sky and thunder, and king of the gods in Ancient Roman mythology, is depicted in the centre of the panel in the form of an eagle alight on top of a globe.  To their right is Amphitryon.

According to the New York warrant, the fresco fragment, likely a wall painting, is believed to have been purchased by Steinhardt in 1996 for approximately $600,000 USD.

A person is found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner, and when the value of the value of the stolen property exceeds $1,000,000. 

If charges are filed against Steinhardt under the New York Penal Law 165.54  this offense would be classified as a “B” non violent felony. Probation and community service are not options.

A copy of the public domain record for the January 24, 2018 Search Warrant at Michael Steinhardt's apartment filed with New York County relating to this case can be found in the case review file on ARCA's website here. 

ICOM releases its newest Red List for the country of Yemen in New York today


For decades, ICOM – the International Council of Museums has continued its fight against illicit traffic in cultural goods with the publication of its Red Lists of endangered cultural assets.  These lists, which are extremely effective reference tools, illustrate endangered categories of archaeological objects and works of art from specific geographic regions that have a greater potential for being traded illegally.

Produced as a handy-sized, illustrated poster, each Red List help customs authorities, law enforcement agencies, auction houses, museums, dealers and other parties of the importance identify the general types of archaeological, ethnographic, religious and historic objects likely to be looted from cultural sites, stolen from museums and religious institutions, and subject to illicit trafficking.

To date ICOM has created 17 Red Lists for:

Afghanistan (2007), Africa (2000), Cambodia (2009), Central America and Mexico (2010), China (2010), Colombia (2010), the Dominican Republic (2013), Egypt (2011), Haiti (2010), Iraq (2003, updated in 2015), Latin America (2003), Libya (2015), Peru (2007), Syria (2013), West Africa (2016) and as of today, Yemen (2018). 

According to France Desmarais, the creator of the Yemen Red List, "Seven of these Red Lists were classified as "Emergency" Red Lists because they concern countries whose movable heritage had suddenly been placed at risk, either due to a natural disaster (as in the case of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010) or armed conflict (Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Mali and Yemen)."

The Lists are available in English, French, the language(s) of the source country, and as interest requires, languages in countries with a potential for being transit points for illicit trafficking. 

The Emergency Red List of Cultural Objects at Risk – Yemen will be officially presented at the Metropolitan Museum in New York today at 5:00 p.m. The event will take place in the presence of museum and heritage professionals, government and law enforcement representatives and members of the press. 

ICOM President Suay Aksoy and Director of Programmes and Partnerships France Desmarais, who developed the Yemen Red List, will officially represent the organisation on this occasion and will introduce the Red List to the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the United Nations H.E. Ambassador Khaled Hussein Alyemany as well as to other attendees. Daniel H. Weiss, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Metropolitan Museum will speak on behalf of the Met’s continued support of ICOM’s mission promote awareness on the categories of objects most at risk of being illicitly trafficked.

The Emergency Red List of Cultural Objects at Risk – Yemen is one of several Red Lists which have been produced and distributed by ICOM with the support of the United States Cultural Heritage Center.  On hand for the event representing the US Government will be Jennifer Zimdahl Galt, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Produced with the scientific contribution of international experts and museums from Yemen, the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany, ICOM's new Yemen Red List identifies categories of Yemeni objects which may be in high demand on the art and antiquities market and which are vulnerable to being looted, stolen or illegally exported, especially given the unrest caused by the ongoing conflict. 

Doing the Right Thing

If you are a collector ARCA strongly encourages you to pay close attention to the provenance and legal documentation of any objects you purchase from  Yemen,  paying special attention to the types of objects which appear on ICOM's Yemen Red List

January 29, 2018

Museum Theft: Route 66 Museum vandalized and the importance of CCTV Footage


After causing approximately $30,000 in damages at the Route 66 museum, local sheriff's deputies were able to take a suspect into custody, 25 year old, Roy Fonder, thanks to the use of surveillance CCTV video footage which allowed law enforcement to identify the vandal who entered the museum.  

During the burglary, which lasted a brief ten minutes, the suspect smashed glass cabinets, overturned and destroyed displays, and stole vintage historical items, as well as gift shop clothing. 


Booked into the West Valley Detention Center, also known as the San Bernardino County Jail in Rancho Cucamonga, the day after the break-in, Fonder was caught wearing a tell-tale Route 66 T-shirt when he was stopped by deputies for questioning.   His bail has been set at $200,000.

According to the museum's Facebook page, the mission of the Museum is to "preserve and increase both local and international interest in “The Mother Road” Route 66 and all aspects of history and heritage related to the road."

The small museum contains historic photographs and maps, automotive memorabilia, model cars and regional dioramas, including one which was heavily damaged commemorating Hulaville, a Government Recognized Folk Art Site in the Victor Valley area of the Mojave Desert.

The museum has launched a very modest $5,000 GoFundMe.com campaign to help them pay the insurance deductible and to cover the repairs not covered by their insurance policy.  

January 27, 2018

ARCA- HARP - Provenance Research Training Course in Italy

Exhibition in the library of the Collecting Point, summer 1947
© Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte
The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) and the US-based Holocaust Art Restitution Project, [Inc.] (HARP), a not-for-profit group based in Washington, DC, dedicated to the identification and restitution of looted artworks, have teamed up to offer a unique short course in Amelia, Italy, this summer. This thematic course “Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets” will address cultural plunder, undoubtedly one of the thorniest issues facing the art world today.

Course Dates: June 20- 26, 2018  

Open to applicants interested in the restitution/repatriation of looted cultural objects and their trafficking, this 5-day course will provide participants with exposure to the research and ethical considerations of modern-day art restitution. As an added bonus students accepted to the course are automatically registered to attend ARCA’s Amelia Conference, June 22-24, 2018 a weekend-long forum for intellectual and professional exchange which explores the indispensable role of research, detection, crime prevention and criminal justice responses in combating all forms of art crime and the illicit trafficking in cultural property. 

“Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets”  will be taught by Marc Masurovsky, the co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project and guest lecturers.  Mr Masurovsky is a historian, researcher, and advocate, specializing in the financial and economic underpinnings of the Holocaust and the Second World War. 

Born and raised in Paris, France, Mr. Masurovsky holds a B.A. in Communications and Critical Cultural Studies from Antioch College and an M.A. in Modern European History from American University in Washington, DC, for which his thesis was on “Operation Safehaven.” He worked at the Office of Special Investigations of the US Department of Justice researching Byelorussian war criminals, locating primary source documents, and interviewing war crimes suspects in North America and Western Europe. As a result of his early work on the transfers of looted assets from the Third Reich to the safety (safehaven) of neutral and Allied nations, Marc Masurovsky advised the Senate Banking Committee in the mid-1990s on the involvement of Swiss banks in the Holocaust, then lent his expertise to plaintiffs’ counsels suing Swiss banks on behalf of Holocaust survivors. 

Since 1997, Marc Masurovsky has focused his attention on the fate of objects of art looted by the Nazis and their Fascist allies. He has also played a major role in the January 1998 seizure of Egon Schiele’s “Portrait of Wally” and “Night City III” at the Museum of Modern Art of New York and was a director of research for the Clinton-era Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States (PCHA). 

Since 2004, Marc Masurovsky has overseen the creation, development and expansion of a fully-searchable, public online database of art objects looted in German-occupied France that transited through the Jeu de Paume in Paris from 1940 to 1944. Marc Masurovsky is co-author of Le Festin du Reich: le pillage de la France, 1940-1944 (2006), and is working on a book on cultural plunder during the Nazi era and its impact on the international art market. 

For more information on the course and how to apply, please see the announcement linked above.

January 25, 2018

Murder, extortion, usury, drug trafficking, plus the plunder of art. Do you know whose hands your art collection has passed through?


While a single, somewhat less than attractive not likely ancient artifact, recovered during a police raid in Italy, might not garner as much attention in the English media as say, an Etruscan vase seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it still deserves a closer look.

The bust, pictured above, deserves attention because if you dig a bit deeper than just reading a short headline of it being confiscated yesterday along with cocaine, a semiautomatic Beretta and a Colt revolver, you can begin to understand a sliver of the dynamics that sometimes come into play on the darker side of the illicit art market. A place where transactions can sometimes be furthered by violent criminals, in complete juxtaposition to the well-manicured, suit and tie wearing, art dealers who later launder illicit objects through some of the art market's finer art galleries.

This marble bust was seized in the insalubrious quarter of Ostia Nuova, twenty-five minutes west of Rome.  The marble head of a child was recovered during search and seizure warrants carried out late yesterday evening and early this morning in which ultimately thirty-one individuals were arrested on suspicion of affiliation with the Spada organized crime family.  Each of the persons taken into custody will answer to possible charges governing the crime of mafia-type criminal association as defined by Article 416 bis in the Italian Criminal Code.  One suspect remained at large at the time this article was written.

Over the years, the area surrounding Ostia has become fertile ground for criminal activities of all types and the scene of bloody clashes between rival factions of mafia clans and local right-wing criminal gangs. In the face of competing criminal organizations, Italy's Carabinieri and the country's Guardia di Finanza have seen the underworld influence in the region ebb and flow, as one organized crime group replaces another, with each competing group vying for its own coastal territory in order to control political, drug, gambling, prostitution, loan-sharking or social housing rackets.

Speaking about the area where the marble bust was seized, organized crime author Roberto Saviano, who lives his life under police escort due to mafia threats, once spoke about Ostia saying  "[it] has now become like Corleone, like Scampìa: the domain territory of the clans."  A place where the influence of three families: Fasciani, Triassi and Spada have been pervasive in reshaping the power-balances between various Italian criminal organisations.

Locals in the community, who have lost faith in politics and institutions, often simply close their eyes to the blatant presence of organized crime in Ostia, either out of fear of retribution, or sadly, because they simply feel indifference.

In 2011 the trail of blood that bloodied Ostia escalated and newspapers recounted the story of the shocking daytime assassination of Francesco Antonini (Sorcanera), aged 45, and Giovanni Galleoni (Bafficchio), aged 42. Both men had been lieutenants affiliated with the Magliana gang and its also murdered boss, Paolo Frau.  Before being gunned down,  Antonini and Galleoni were incriminated in the managing of drug trafficking and laundering of illicit proceeds, activities conducted in the Ostia area in the shadow of close alliances with both Camorra and 'Ndrangheta, but in competition with the local Spada family.

In June 2017 Italian police made 21 arrests in connection to a drug trafficking ring tied to members of the Spada organization.  This network operated internationally bringing drugs into Italy through human mules and shipments arriving from Barcelona which fed the market in Ostia and Rome.  During these arrests, 700 kilos of hashish, marijuana and cocaine were seized, along with various caliber arms and ammunitions.

As law enforcement continued to step up its pressure on the clans, seven additional affiliates of the Spada organization were sentenced in October 2018 to a combined 56 years in jail for various offenses ranging from extortion to mafia association. Carmine Spada, the local family's boss, was sentenced to 10 years for extortion and mafia association.

Perhaps rattled by his brother's arrest, or with a sense of invincibility, Roberto Spada attacked RAI news journalist Daniel Piervincenzi on November 7, 2017 during an impromptu interview.  The assault was captured by news cameraman Edward Anselmi as the incident unfolded.  

Midway through his questioning regarding the city of Ostia and the Spada family's relationship with the neo-fascist populist group Casa Pound, Spada violently headbutted Piervincenzi breaking his nose and bloodying his face.  To his credit, Anselmi courageously continued filming and held tight to his camera while his journalistic partner was further battered by Spada with a truncheon as he tried to withdraw, while a second assailant violently tried to grab the cameraman's video camera as can be seen and heard in the graphic footage below. 


After the attack, journalist Piervincenzi spoke of the townspeople who had witnessed the assault as it unfolded but who remained silent due to a climate of fear, silence and intimidation.  One witness apparently even closed the blinds to his apartment to avoid having to acknowledge the act of aggression taking place outside his home.

Piervincenzi was so frightened by the incident that he and his cameraman drove all the way back to Rome instead of seeking immediate medical treatment for his broken nose at the nearby hospital in Ostia, saying: "We have been afraid. Staying there, at that time I was not sure. We were concerned that some member of the Spada family could reach us at the hospital and they could harm us and steal our camera with the video [footage] that we shot."  

Roberto Spada was arrested by police for the incident and charged with grievous bodily harm and domestic violence with the aggravating circumstance that he acted in a mafia environment. Both he and Carmine Spada have also just been implicated today as having direct involvement in the earlier murders of Antonini and Galleoni back in 2011.

But back to our looted or possibly stolen marble bust.

Yesterday's search and seizure took place in the sub quarter of Ostia Nuovo, where large public housing buildings alternate with crumbling infrastructure and drug-dealing street corners.  It is in this zone that law enforcement agents have made a concerted effort, to reduce the Spada family's influence, who have, until quite recently, controlled significant parts of the suburb's underworld economy.

In a series of raids by Carabinieri officers, which involved searches at multiple properties tied to, or controlled by, associates of the Spada family, law enforcement officers identified the 7.65 caliber semiautomatic pistol and a revolver in the basement of an Ostia Nuova condominium.  In addition to the two weapons, officers recovered doses of cocaine and a precision scale used for weighing narcotics hidden in a niche of the same building's elevator shaft.

The marble bust and a seperate marble inscription were found hidden under blankets inside a suspect's automobile. The owner of the car, is already on house arrest.

The marble head has now been sequestered while its authenticity is confirmed. The firearms will undergo ballistic comparison testing, to determine whether or not the weapons might be linked to past criminal actions.

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 24, 2018: New seizure at the residence of New York Collector Michael Steinhardt

A little more than two weeks ago, following a second set of seizures at the residence and office of Michael Steinhardt in New York City, ARCA wrote a blog post outlining other antiquities from the billionaire's private collection that have raised concerns with illicit trafficking researchers.  

One of those objects was this marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture from Sardinia. 

Image Credit: 
Manhattan district attorney's office
This idol was seized on January 24, 2018 during the execution of a new search warrant carried out by law enforcement authorities working with the Manhattan District Attorney and HSI.  The artifact was removed from Steinhardt's New York City residence.


Image Credit:  ARCA Screen Capture 
Tsirogiannis had matched the antiquity online via Christie's web version of its sale catalog to a photo contained in the confiscated archives of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.  Having made the ID, Tsirogiannis emailed his concerns to US Federal law enforcement and Italian law enforcement authorities working towards eventual repatriation should Italy file a claim.  Additionally he notified ARCA, in hopes of drawing further attention to potentially trafficked pieces that often resurface on the licit market but which omit passages through the hands of known dealers involved in the sale of illicit objects.

The sales catalog for the Christies auction is stored online here, although the photo of the idol has subsequently been removed from the object's accompanying Lot description.  Of note is the addition of a brief entry into the "Cataloguing & details" section of the listing, which states only that the object was withdrawn from the sale.

The artifact above matches perfectly with the image below which Tsirogiannis located in the dealer's archive.   In the art dealer's records the statuette appeared atop a turquoise background and broken in multiple pieces, prior to the object's subsequent restoration.

Image of the Sardinian idol
from the Medici
archive 
Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt in 1997, the Ozieri Culture idol, also known as the Turriga Mother Goddess figure, passed through Harmon Fine Arts and the Merrin Gallery, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of Leonard Norman Stern, the object had been displayed, but not photographed, in a 1990 "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27, 2014 when the contested object was pulled from the Christie's auction, it apparently was sent back to Steinhardt, where it was later re-identified as still being part of Steinhardt's collection when officers searched his New York City home on January 5, 2018 pursuant to an earlier search warrant.

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 24, 2018

Conference: Save the Date and Call for Presenters - the 2018 Amelia Conference

Conference Date:  
June 22-24, 2018
Abstract Submittal Deadline:  
March 30, 2018
Location: Amelia, Italy

In celebration of its 10th anniversary, ARCA will host its annual summer interdisciplinary art crime conference the weekend of June 22nd through June 24th this summer. 

Known as the Amelia Conference, the Association's weekend-long event aims to facilitate a critical appraisal of art crimes and the protection of art and cultural heritage and brings together researchers and academics, police, and individuals from many of the allied professions that interact with the art market, coming together to discuss issues of common concern. 

The Amelia Conference is held annually in the historic city of Amelia, in the heart of Italy's Umbria region where ARCA also plays host to its Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection and a joint ARCA-HARP Provenance Training course, “Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets.”

ARCA welcomes speaking proposals from individuals in relevant fields, including law, criminal justice, security, art history, conservation, archaeology, or museum security and risk management on the topical sessions listed here. We invite individuals interested in presenting to submit their topic of choice along with a presentation title, a concise 400-word abstract, a brief professional biography and a recent CV to the conference organizers at:

italy.conference [at] artcrimeresearch.org

Accepted presenters will be asked to limit their presentations to 15-20 minutes, and will be grouped together in thematically-organized panels in order to allow time for brief questions from the audience and fellow panelists.  

Registration

For more details on this event please watch the conference information page on the ARCA website where you can register and where a list of accepted speakers will be posted by April 07, 2018

We hope to see many of you in Amelia in June!

January 20, 2018

Only a few clicks away - The adventuresome travels of a deposed King's bedroom

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture  - 20 January 2018
Luxist October 12, 2010 edition
Not all contested works of art are fenced in whispered corners or stealthily traded in darkweb alleyways alongside drugs, stolen data and child exploitation content. Some are sold out in the open; as if waiting for law enforcement, or anyone else for that matter, to take notice or object.  

Some contested objects are found hiding in plain sight, in places where the public might least expect them: on internet social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr and Youtube.

To give an example, let's take a look at the story of the missing antique bedroom suite once owned by Fārūq ibn Fuʾād, who served as the penultimate king of Egypt and the Sudan until he was overthrown in 1952.

The king's 7-piece mercury-gilded mahogany bedroom ensemble was created by 19th century Parisian ébéniste, Antoine Krieger and inspired by Napoleon's household furnishings at the Parisian palace Malmaison.  This ostentatious furniture was said to have been installed in the royal guest lodge located within the Giza Zoo on the Western bank of the Nile, directly across from Downtown Cairo, in proximity to the Giza pyramids.  According to recent Egyptian newspaper articles, the furnishings were used by the king and visiting dignitaries while staying as guests at the zoo property during his reign. 

Cairo's 126-year-old Giza Zoo, built on the grounds of the summer residence of the Royal Family, was built during the rule of the Viceroy “Khedive Ismail” sometime between 1863 and 1879.  One of the world's foremost zoological gardens, the zoo was once an elegant reminder of days gone past.  In the present it has long since fallen from grace.  

Ravaged by time and neglect, photographs of the Giza Zoo in recent years show the dirtied grounds in disrepair. Animal rights activists cry foul that the animals are neglected by tenders and exploited by zoo visitors taking selfies. At best, it can be said that the animals in the zoo are being cared for by under-qualified keepers and in situations that lack proper security measures.

As if to prove that the Giza Zoo's site security is not up to snuff, the disappearance of the king's set of exquisitely crafted furniture from the royal residence went unreported until a visit to the zoo by Egypt's Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Ayman Abu Hadid on September 1, 2013.  During his visit, the minister recognized that the historic set had been replaced with a much cheaper bedroom suite apparently purchased from Egypt's oldest department store.  

But the theft of Fārūq ibn Fuʾād's missing furniture is not straightforward and if a theft did occur, it did not happen in 2013. 

Background Research

On October 13, 2010 M.S. Rau Antiques, a rare and important antiques and fine art gallery in New Orleans managed by third-generation owner Bill Rau, posted a photo of the king's bedroom on the company's Facebook timeline, happily announcing that his firm (and the king's furniture) had been covered on Luxist.com in connection with their sale of the bedroom suite. The asking price given? $985,000.

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
M.S. Rau Antiques also listed the furniture openly on the company's website.  That page however has now been taken down. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018

That same day, perhaps picking up on the online media, Art Fix Daily also published an article indicating that the furniture was being sold by M.S. Rau Antiques. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
A further check of social media shows that M.S. Rau Antiques also posted the king's bedroom suite on Pinterest. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
And the furniture was blogged about on Blogger on a page called Brands&Luxury.

The king's furniture was again posted publicly on Flickr on March 9, 2013 by a user purportedly in Cairo, Egypt. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
But even with all this digital visibility, the furniture didn't sell.

Fast forward to 2015.  

The furniture turns up again on another public Facebook post by a user named Beachhouse Jim on July 29, 2015. The photo, which includes a woman wearing shorts, seems to indicate that the furniture was still being offered for sale in the United States at M.S. Rau Antiques. 


Fast forward to 2016. 

M.S. Rau Antiques even published a video on Youtube highlighting the sale of the bedroom collection on October 13, 2016. That video can be viewed below, as it too has been removed from Youtube. 


The fact that the furniture was for sale through M.S. Rau Antiques is even cited in the footnotes mentioned on Wikipedia's Farouk of Egypt page, but the page also implies, citing a Sun-Herald (Sydney, NSW) article published on Sunday, 31 Jan. 1954, that in December 1952, a contract was signed placing the cataloguing, classifying and disposal of a substantial portion of the king's treasures in Sotheby's hands.

This alleged sale information is also repeated by news site Al Arabiya, which stated that the Free Officer-led government auctioned off most of the deposed king's possessions in 1954.

How did a King's ransom worth of furniture find its way to a 100-year-old antique dealer operating in New Orleans' French Quarter?

Some Egyptian news sources are stating that Farouk's bedroom set disappeared after the wife of one of the ministers, who later stayed at the ex-royal residence, disliked the bedroom and ordered it to be changed and sometime thereafter the pieces disappeared.  Given the Giza Zoo's more recent precarious state, one can almost imagine how easy it would be for a set of antique furniture, estimated to be worth almost $1 million, to be carted off without someone noticing, but if that story is true or not remains a mystery.  

If the Sotheby's sale of the king's property did take place in the 1950s, as written about in the Australian newspaper, then perhaps Sotheby's may have records to show if the bedroom suite on sale by M.S. Rau Antiques was part of the collection of kingly objects sold.   

The fact that M.S. Rau Antiques has not responded to the now-brewing public outrage to provide evidence of the chain of ownership of the room until it has reached New Orleans and has taken down the sale, leaves the question of how the firm acquired the furnishings in the first place, and from whom, open for further investigation. 

It does seem curious though that despite this material being a Google/Social Media search away, the fact that the furniture appears to have been with M.S. Rau from at least 2010 has not come out in the major news reports so far. 

By:  Lynda Albertson 

Hobby Lobby turns over more artifacts to federal prosecutors in New York

Image Credit:  US Dept of Justice
According to documents released by the US Federal authorities, officials affiliated with Hobby Lobby, the American craft-supply mega-chain, have relinquished another 245 ancient cylinder seals (in some articles it has been misquoted that the forfeiture included cuneiform tablets), originating from ancient Mesopotamia, to a storage facility within the Eastern District of New York on Wednesday, January 17, 2018. 

According to the letter signed by United States Attorney Richard Donoghue and Assistant U.S. Attorney Karin Orenstein, the forfeited items, from the zone of modern day Iraq 

“constitute merchandise that was introduced or attempted to be introduced into the United States contrary to law, and are therefore subject to seizure and forfeiture to the United States, in accordance with 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c)(1)(A),”

This new forfeiture was done by way of an earlier settlement and decree of forfeiture between the the United States of America and Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., dating to June 29, 2017 related to "The United States of America v. Approximately Four Hundred Fifty (450) Ancient Cuneiform Tablets; and Approximately Three Thousand (3,000) Ancient-Clay Bullae"

As noted in documents related to that civil forfeiture agreement, Hobby Lobby president, and evangelical benefactor, Steve Green, through his designated buyers, began building a substantial private collection of antiquities in anticipation of the opening the the Green-sponsored $800 million, eight-story Museum of the Bible,  which later opened this past November.

According to the Museum of the Bible website, the Green's purchased their first biblical object in November 2009.   Since that time, their private collection has grown to an accelerated rate to an estimated 40,000 objects which includes Dead Sea Scroll fragments, biblical papyri, rare biblical texts and manuscripts, cuneiform tablets, Torah scrolls, and rare printed Bibles.  

On one of the Green's authorised purchasing trips in July 2010 to the UAE, in which Green himself attended, Hobby Lobby negotiated the purchase of
"5,548 distinct artifacts: 1,500 cuneiform tablets, 500 cuneiform bricks, 3,000 clay bullae, 35 clay envelope seals, 13 extra-large cuneiform tablets and 500 stone cylinder seals." [page eight]
paying $1.6 million despite the lack of accompanying legitimate paperwork and the likely plundered origin of the artifacts.  The procured antiquities were then shipped to the purchaser in multiple shipments via Federal Express to Oklahoma City to various different destination addresses affiliated with Hobby Lobby and its subsidiaries.  

Five of these shipments, however, were intercepted in transit between January 3rd and January 5th 2011 and were found to have been falsely labeled as "Ceramic Tiles" or "Tiles (Sample)" [pages 13-14] misidentifying the contents of the packages so that the  artifacts instead appeared to be simply arts and crafts items.

As the importation of cultural property into the United States in violation of a foreign country’s patrimony law (in this case Iraq) violates the National Stolen Property Act, codified at Title 18, United States Code, Section 2314, et seq. the objects were seized by federal authorities and an investigation was initiated. 

As an outcome of that US Federal investigation, Hobby Lobby agreed to hand over 5,548 smuggled artifacts in July 2017 and the firm was heavily criticized by both academics and the general public for supporting the illicit trade through its unethical purchase of antiquities.



The June 2017 stipulation of settlement between Hobby Lobby and the United States stated that:
"in the event that any of the Artifacts not included in the Defendants in rem were to “come into [Hobby Lobby’s] physical custody or control, whether inside or outside of the United States, [then] Hobby Lobby will immediately notify the Office and arrange for such Artifacts to be delivered to a place to be designated by the [United States] at Hobby Lobby’s sole expense." [page eight]
Where are the remaining 1709 objects Hobby Lobby has agreed to hand over? 

In 2017, according to documentation filed with the US Federal Courts in July 2017, Hobby Lobby relinquished 3,594 clay bullae, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets and other Near Eastern artifacts out of a total of over 5,500 documented in the same purchase. This weeks additional 2018 forfeiture of 245 cylinder seals brings the total number of artefacts relinquished to date by Hobby Lobby to only 3,839 objects.  

Equally important, when will the Museum of the Bible answer scholars who have been posing questions for several years about the provenance and authenticity of additional key objects which remain part of, or are on display at the newly opened Museum of the Bible.  

One of these, a Galations coptic papyrus fragment, was once on sale in 2012 via a dubious seller on eBay before being spotted at the Green’s Vatican exhibit Verbum Domini II in 2014.  Until now, despite numerous requests from University of Manchester scholar Roberta Mazza dating as far back as 2014,  the Museum of the Bible has declined all requests to clarify how and from whom this trafficked fragment and ca. 1,000 papyrus fragments and the other Egyptian objects in the collection were acquired.

By:  Lynda Albertson

For more on the collection practices of the Green family and its former associates please see these previous ARCA articles. 


January 15, 2018

IDs from the archives in the Michael Steinhardt and Phoenix Ancient Art seizures

Image Credits:
Left - Symes Archive, Middle - New York DA, Right - Symes Archiv,

Earlier today ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis of matches that he has made from the confiscated archives of Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides which are related to the recent antiquities seizures made by the state of New York law enforcement authorities earlier this month.

Identifications made from these archives, confiscated by the Italian authorities (with the cooperation of the French and Swiss) and Greek police and judicial authorities, have already facilitated numerous repatriations of antiquities which have passed through the hands of traffickers whose networks are known to have plundered objects from Italy and Greece.

Of the 16 artifacts reported as seized by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office from the home and office of retired hedge-fund billionaire Michael Steinhardt and Phoenix Ancient Art, an ancient art gallery co-owned by Hicham Aboutaam in New York City, Tsirogiannis has tied 9 objects conclusively to photos in all three archives.  Several others objects might be a match, but the DA's publically released photos have been taken from differing angels or opposite sides of the objects so they remain to be confirmed.

The object at the top of this article, a Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies, seized from Michael Steinhardt's property,  matches 5 images from the archive of British former antiquities dealer Robin Symes, all of which depict the vessel from various sides.


The Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl;
the Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion;
the Corinthian Bull’s Head;
the Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head;
and the Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African;
--were each purchased by Steinhardt in either 2009 or 2011.

These 5 objects along with the Rhodian Seated Monkey seized at Phoenix Ancient Art each match photographs found in the archive of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

The Apulian Rhyton for libations in the form of a Head of an African listed in the warrant appears in a photocopied photo in the archive of antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina.

It should be noted that in the joined composite image of the archive photos above, each of the six antiquities have been photographed by someone using the same light-colored hessian (burlap) material as a neutral background.  This could indicate that the antiquities where photographed by a singular individual once the objects arrived under Medici's control. Alternatively, it could mean that the ancient objects have been photographed by a singular individual who then shopped the objects, directly or indirectly, through illicit channels to Medici, who in turn, kept the photographs in his archive as part of his inventory recordkeeping.

As demonstrated by this case, each of these dealer's inventory photos provide valuable insight into the illicit trade in antiquities and which when combined, includes thousands of ancient objects from all over the world.  Many of these objects, those without documented collection histories, likely passed through the hands of smugglers, middlemen, and antiquities dealers who "laundered” the illicit objects onto the licit market.

It would be interesting to know, from the antiquities buyer's perspective, how many private investors of ancient art, having knowingly or unknowingly purchased illicit antiquities in the past, later decide to facilitate a second round of laundering themselves, by culling the object from their collection and reselling the hot object on to another collector.  By intentionally failing to disclose the name of a known tainted dealer, these antiquities collectors avoid having to take any responsibility for the fact that they too have now become players in the game.

While staying mum further facilitates the laundering of illicit antiquities, this option may be seen as far easier to collectors who have invested large sums into their collections than admitting they purchased something, unwisely or intentionally, with a less than pristine provenance pedigree.  To admit to having bought something that potentially could be looted might bring about the loss of value to the asset.  Furthermore by confirming that the antiquity has an illicit background as verified in archives like those of these traffickers, would then render the object worthless on the licit art market.  Worse still, it is likely that their antiquity would then be subject to seizure and repatriation.

By: Lynda Albertson

January 13, 2018

INTERPOL's Most Wanted stolen works of art lists

Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit

Every June and December, INTERPOL, the International Criminal Police Organization publishes a poster which highlights key works of art that the law enforcement organization designates as important stolen works of art taken in incidences which have been reported during the previous six months. 

Distributed via all INTERPOL NCBs (National Central Bureaus) biannually to law enforcement agencies worldwide and available to the interested public on the INTERPOL website, their ID tool raises awareness of specific works of art to be watching for.  


Since the publication of INTERPOL's first stolen works of art poster in June 1972, the organization has brought attention to 534 stolen objects; 51 of these  objects have been recovered. 

In addition to the biannual posters, INTERPOL sometimes publishes highlight posters designed to draw attention to serious multi-object thefts of substation value that occur at single locations.  

Recent examples of these include: 


Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit


Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit


Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit


Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit
While Ukrainian border guards recovered 17 of the stolen Old Master paintings worth $18.3 million from the Italian museum, other historical objects in Iraq and Syria are still missing. 

January 12, 2018

$10 million reward offered by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum extended indefinitely.


The empty frames still hang on the walls of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  A reminder of the March 18, 1990 theft, where, in 81 minutes, thieves posing as police officers tied up two security guards and made off with 13 works of art. 

The artworks have not been recovered, despite the healthy reward of $10 million dollars originally set to expire at midnight December 31, 2017.

The following are the thirteen stolen works of art which are still missing:

Landscape with an Obelisk by Govert Teuniszoon Flinck (1638)

Cortege aux Environs de Florence by Hilaire German Edgar Degas (c. 1857–1860)

La Sortie de Pesage by Hilaire German Edgar Degas (date unknown)

Program for an Artistic Soirée 1 by Hilaire German Edgar Degas (1884)

Program for an Artistic Soirée 2 by Hilaire German Edgar Degas (1884)

Three Mounted Jockeys by Hilaire German Edgar Degas (c. 1885–1888)

Chez Tortoni by Édouard Manet (c. 1878–1880)

A Lady and Gentleman in Black by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1633)

Self-Portrait by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (c. 1634)

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn  (1633)

The Concert by Johannes Vermeer (c. 1664–1666)

A bronze eagle finial (c. 1813–1814)

An ancient Chinese gu (c. 1200–1100 BCE)
This week, Steve Kidder, President of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum board of trustees, announced that the board has approved an indefinite extension  to the $10 million dollar reward for information leading to the recovery of all 13 works in good condition.



For details on the theft please see the history given at the museum located here.

Anyone with information about the stolen artworks or the investigation should contact the Gardner Museum's Director of Security, Anthony Amore directly at +1.617.278.5114  or write to the museum at:

theft [insert at sign] gardnermuseum.org

Confidentiality and anonymity is guaranteed.  







January 10, 2018

2018 Scholarship: ARCA has 4 conflict country scholarships for its 11 course program in Italy


ARCA has four conflict country scholarships for 2018.  These scholarships cover tuition for the 2018 postgraduate art crime and cultural heritage protection program.

ARCA builds capacity in conflict zone source countries 

In response to scholarly concerns of heritage destruction and looting throughout Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art developed its Minerva Scholarship program so that heritage personnel from these conflict countries could receive specialized training in combatting art crime in furtherance of cultural heritage protection. In place since 2015, these scholarships are geared towards postgraduate level individuals with a background in, or current position within the museum or archaeological field, cultural heritage institutions or universities, who are living and working within their home country.

The Minerva scholarship has been created to equip scholars with the knowledge and tools needed to build the capacity of their home institutions and to advance the education of future generations. Scholarships are awarded through an open, merit-based competition and subject to available funding in 2018. Accepted candidates must be able to speak, write and study in English at a university level proficiency.

Awardees of the Minerva are granted a full tuition waiver to ARCA’s ten-week,  eleven course, intensive professional development postgraduate program in Amelia, Italy for the Summer of 2018

For more details about this scholarship and to request a prospectus and application materials, please click here (you will find our email address at the bottom of the page) and write to us in English for further information. In your email please include a 200-word statement giving us your country of origin, where you currently work and reside, and explaining briefly how the program will benefit you as you move forward within your chosen career.


January 9, 2018

List of 6 (additional) objects and warrant details on objects seized from Phoenix Ancient Art by New York State District Attorney's Office

Copy of search warrant executed at Phoenix Ancient Art in New York can be viewed here.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos also initiated seizures at Phoenix Ancient Art, New York, in connection with an investigation into the purchase of illicitly trafficked antiquities.

The second-generation family business Phoenix Ancient Art has galleries in New York and Geneva. The business was founded by Sleiman Aboutaam in 1968 and is now operated by his sons, Hicham and Ali Aboutaam.  The Aboutaam name comes up frequently on ARCA's blog. 

The search warrants executed at 47 East 66th street resulted in the seizure of the following objects:


A) Rhodian Seated Monkey with missing arms (the “Seated Monkey”)
Period: dating to 580-550 BCE
Measurement: 5.25 inches tall
Valued at: $150,000


B) Attic Female Head Flask (the Female Head Flask”)
Period: dating to 500-490 BCE
Measurement: 5.5 inches tall by 2 inches wide.
Valued at: $80,000


C) Ionian figural vessel representing a Siren (the”Siren Vessel”)
Period: dating to 500-525 BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.
Valued at: $35,000


D) Teano Ware figural representing a Dove (the “Dove”).
Period: dating to 330-300 BCE
Measurement: 4.5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide.
Valued at: $25,000


E) Corinthian figural representing a Ram (the “Ram”) painted with black dots.
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 2 1/8 inches tall by 3 1/8 inches wide
Valued at: $20,000


F) Corinthian figural representing a Sea-Serpent with a human torso and head of a man (the “Sea-Serpent”) painted with black dots.
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 4.5 inches tall by 1.75 inches wide
Valued at: $140,000

In addition to the antiquities, as with the seizures which were executed at Michael Steinhardt's residence and office, the DA's seizure warrant called for the seizure of:

any and all documentation or other evidence related to the appraisal, consignment, sale, possession, transportation, shipping, provenance, importation, exportation, restoration, marketing, or insurance of the listed antiquities, including but not limited to appraisals, insurance policies, agreements, leases, contracts, emails, letters, invoices, receipts, documents, handwritten notes, internal memoranda, photographs, recordings, financial records, address books, date books, calendars, and personal papers;

found in the premises and that constitutes evidence, and tends to demonstrate that the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree was committed.

List of 10 objects and warrant details on objects seized from Manhattan billionaire Michael Steinhardt's home and offices by New York State District Attorney's Office

Copy of search warrant executed at the office of Michael Steinhardt can be viewed here.

Copy of search warrant executed at the New York apartment of Michael Steinhardt can be viewed here.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, in the early morning 6:00 am chill of New York, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos initiated seizures at the office and New York City residence of Michael Steinhardt in connection with an investigation into the purchase of illicitly trafficked antiquities. 

After a series of high-profile raids involving antiquities dealers and ancient art collections owned by private collectors, some of which have been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Manhattan District Attorney's office has shown their resolve in concentrating on deterring the trade in illegal antiquities.  

According to the TEFAF Art Market Report 2017, compiled each year by Dublin-based research and consulting firm Arts Economics, the U.S. represents 29.5% percent of the world’s art market.   Classical antiquities, such as those seized in this month's raids, represent a smaller portion of that figure.

Their Manhattan DA's work, and the collaboration of multiple, mostly unpaid advising research scholars, has resulted in significant repatriations to countries where predation is a problem, including most recently a 4th century B.C.E marble torso, a 6th century BC statue of a Calf Bearer and a Marble head of a bull stolen during the 1970s from Lebanon during the that country's Civil War.

In total since 2012, the Manhattan DA's office has recovered several thousand trafficked antiquities collectively valued at more than $150 million.

The search warrants executed at Michael Steinhardt's home and office resulted in the seizure of the following objects:


A) Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos (the “White-Ground Lekythos”), used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies.  Vessel attributed to the Triglyph Painter and depicts funerary related iconography featuring a woman and a youth.  
Period: approximately 420 BCE.  
Measurement: 18 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.  
Purchased for $380,000 in 2006. 


B) Apulian Rhyton for libations (the “Apulian African Head Flask”) in the shape of the head of an African.  
Period: dating to the 4th century BCE 
Measurement: 7.5 inches tall by 3 inches at base.  
Purchased for $130,000 in 2009. 


C) Italo - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned upwards (the “Italo-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE 
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 5.5 inches long by 2.5 wide. 
Purchased for $25,000 in 2011. 


D) Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head (the “Ionian Ram’s Head”).
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE 
Measurement: 2.5 inches tall by 4.7 wide. 
Purchased for $70,000 in 2009. 


E) Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African (the “Attic African Head Aryballos”).
Period: dating to the 5th century BCE 
Measurement: 4 inches tall.
Purchased for $150,000 on or about December 17, 2009.


F) Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion (the “Corinthian Lion Vessel”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to 600-550 BCE
Measurement: 3.5 wide. 
Purchased for $25,000 on or about November 9, 2011.


G) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl (the “Proto-Corinthian Owl”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.2 wide. 
Purchased for $120,000 on or about October 14, 2009.


H) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned backwards (the “Proto-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.7 wide. 
Purchased for $130,000 on or about October 14, 2009.


I) Corinthian Bull’s Head (the “Corinthian Bull’s Head”). 
Period: dating to 580 BCE
Measurement: 2.2 inches tall by 2.8 wide. 
Purchased for $60,000 on or about October 14, 2009.


j) Bronze Handles (the “Bronze Handles”). 
Period: unknown
Measurement: 6.3 inches tall by 9.4 wide. 
Purchased for $40,000 in 1996.

In addition to the antiquities the DA's seizure warrant called for the seizure of:

any and all computers, as defined by Penal Law  § 156.00(1) or electronic storage devises capable of storing any of the above described property as well as their components and accessories, including, but not limited to, cords, monitors, keyboards, software, programs, disks, zip drives, flash drives, thumb drives, and/or hard drives;

any and all books, manuals, guides, or other documents containing Information about the operation and ownership of a computer, cellular telephone, camera, video recorder, video game console or other electronic storage device present in the target location, including, but not limited to, computer cellular telephone and software user manual;

any and all documentation or other evidence related to the appraisal, consignment, sale, possession, transportation, shipping, provenance, importation, exportation, restoration, marketing, or insurance of the listed antiquities, including but not limited to appraisals, insurance policies, agreements, leases, contracts, emails, letters, invoices, receipts, documents, handwritten notes, internal memoranda, photographs, recordings, financial records, address books, date books, calendars, personal papers, video footage, and stored electronic communications or data, whether recorded in physical documents are stored digitally as information and images contained in computer disks, DC or DVD ROMs, USB drives and hard drives that may be found at the target premises;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which tend to establish Michael Steinhardt’s intent to commit the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree per which tend to establish his state of mind prior to and during the commission of said crime;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which tend to establish (directly or indirectly) Michael Steinhardt’s knowledge that Steinhardt has committed the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree namely the possession of stolen or illicitly trafficked antiquities;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which tend to establish that Michael Steinhardt is a person in the business of buying, selling, or otherwise dealing in property, specifically art and antiquities;

any and all documentation or non-privileged communications indicative of or pertaining to inquiries made by Michael Steinhardt, or the lack thereof, that the persons are entities from whom he obtained any art or antiquities had the legal right to possess said items;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which contain any references to he purchase, and/or sale, and/or possession of looted, stolen, or illegally trafficked antiquities;

any and all documentation tending to identify, and/or connect Michael Steinhardt with accomplices, co-conspirators, possible accomplices and/or witnesses to the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree;

The aforementioned white collar crimes or theft offenses mentioned in the New York search warrant are described below: 

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in First Degree – NY Panel Law 165.54

A person is found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner, and when the value of the value of the stolen property exceeds $1,000,000.

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in Second Degree – NY Penal Law 165.52

A person is found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner, and when the value of the value of the stolen property exceeds $50,000.

There are four legal presumptions associated with New York Penal Law 165.55, the following is the most likely relevant one in this case:


  1. A person who knowingly possesses stolen property is presumed to possess it with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner thereof. This presumption is often referred to as recent exclusive possession.” There has been a tremendous body of case law addressing this presumption which argues for the position that if an accused has had the exclusive possession of stolen property after a theft crime has been perpetrated and there is evidence or circumstances which show an inability to explain where the property came from, a negative inference may in fact be drawn. That inference being that there is a strong likelihood that the accused knew that the property he or she possessed was stolen.
By:  Lynda Albertson