Showing posts with label illicit antiquities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label illicit antiquities. Show all posts

August 14, 2017

Artefacts seized at Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad


Destined for Japan, customs authorities at Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad have intercepted six antiquities believed to date from the 2nd to the 5th Century CE along with ten counterfeit objects.  According to their customs declaration the items were listed incorrectly as simply “decoration items.”  

Instead, according the the Directorate General of Archaeology and Museums in Islamabad, the consignment contained contraband artifacts that come from the kingdom of Gandhara, an ancient Vedic and later Buddhist civilization from the Peshawar valley, which stretches from northern Pakistan to the Kabul River in eastern Afghanistan.

The export of antiquities was banned in Pakistan under Section 24(2) of Section 35 of the Antiquities Act, 1975.   Under this law a “protected antiquity” belongs exclusively to the government and their unauthorized removal or destruction is an offence punishable with rigorous imprisonment of three years or a fine of Rs 200,000 or both.

July 18, 2017

Long-time antiquities dealer Hicham Aboutaam has sued the Wall Street Journal


Long-time antiquities dealer Hicham Aboutaam has sued the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal’s corporate parent Dow Jones and Company in New York County Supreme Court on Monday over an article titled “Prominent Art Family Entangled in ISIS Antiquities-Looting Investigations” which was published in the WSJ on May 31, 2017.  The Journal’s reporters Benoit Faucon and Georgi Kantchev shared a byline on the article but have not been named as defendants in the lawsuit.  

Faucon, a Senior Report for the Wall Street Journal, has long covered issues related to OPEC and the oil industries of Iran, Libya, Nigeria and Algeria. More recently he has been working on investigative reports involving illicit trafficking, money laundering or terrorism financing.  Kantchev is a London-based reporter primarily covering financial markets.

In the 30 page complaint Aboutaam demands unspecified damages on two claims of defamation.

Publication, ID, Defamation, Falsity and Fault

These are the five elements that a plaintiff must successfully demonstrate in most liable suits against the mass media.

In general, under New York State Law, to recover for libel (injury to one’s reputation from a written expression), Hicham Aboutaam will need to establish five elements outlined in Celle v. Filipino Reporter Enters. Inc., 209 F.3d 163, 176 (2d Cir. 2000). 

Those elements of a defamation claim are:

(1) a written defamatory statement of fact concerning the plaintiff;
(2) publication to a third party;
(3) fault (either negligence or actual malice depending on the status of the libeled party);
(4) falsity of the defamatory statement; and
(5) special damages or per se actionability (defamatory on its face).

As the result of First Amendment concerns, when a defendant is a media publisher or broadcaster, a private plaintiff must establish that the media defendant “acted in a grossly irresponsible manner without due consideration for the standards of information gathering and dissemination ordinarily followed by responsible parties”  (Chapadeau v Utica Observer-Dispatch, 38 NY2d 196, 199 [1975] with respect to a matter of public concern.

Plaintiffs must also prove that the alleged defamatory publication refers to them. This element of a libel lawsuit often is referred to as the “of and concerning” principle.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones
But names will never hurt me.”
    --19th Century English nursery rhyme

Suspect antiquities, traceable to ancient art sales through Hicham and Ali Aboutaam's companies have been written about with recurring frequency on the Association's blog.

It should be remembered that Hicham Aboutaam was arrested in 2003 for smuggling a looted ceremonial drinking vessel from Iran into the US, claiming that it had come from Syria.  Hicham pled guilty to the charges in 2004, paid a fine, and the vessel was returned to the Iranian authorities.  Hicham Aboutaam stated that his conviction stemmed from a "lapse in judgment."

In the past, the Egyptian authorities accused Ali Aboutaam of involvement with Tarek El-Suesy (al-Seweissi), who was arrested in 2003 under Egypt’s patrimony law for illegal export of antiquities. Ali Aboutaam was tried in absentia, pronounced guilty and was fined, and sentenced to 15 years in prison in the Egyptian court in April 2004.  To date, he has not served any of the Egyptian sentence. 

The Aboutaams voluntarily repatriated 251 Antiquities valued at $2.7 Million to the State of Italy in May 2009 tied to one of Italy's most notorious smuggling rings.

Perhaps the brothers might wish to consider which of the aforementioned elements, an article by the Wall Street Journal or engaging in suspect trading practices, has the greater potential for damaging their reputation.

By Lynda Albertson

July 6, 2017

Civil Complaint requires forfeiture of thousands of cuneiform tablets and clay bullae, but is that enough?

Cuneiform Tablet - Image Credit U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York
By: Lynda Albertson


At the heart of the investigation, were import irregularities related to ancient artifacts shipped to Hobby Lobby, Mardel, Inc. and Crafts, Etc! The firms Mardel, Inc. and Crafts, Etc! were affiliates of Hobby Lobby and both maintained their principal corporate offices adjacent to Hobby Lobby’s headquarters in Oklahoma City.  

The antiquities were shipped to Hobby Lobby and their associates by dealers in Israel and the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”), all of whom have been left unnamed in the civil complaint.  The objects were shipped without required customs entry documentation being filed with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and bore shipping labels that falsely and misleadingly described their contents and their value, in some cases as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample).” In truth, the mislabeled objects were ancient clay and stone artifacts that originate from the area of modern day Iraq, which had been smuggled into the United States after their contracted purchase in the Middle East. 

Hobby Lobby's growing Green Collection is purported to be the largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts worldwide and is estimated to be made up of more than 40,000 biblical-related antiquities, purchased and assembled by the Green family, who are founders of the national arts and crafts chain.  The bulk of this collection is intended to be displayed in their 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible, which is scheduled to open in Washington DC in November of 2017.

As is often the case with illicit antiquities smuggled around the globe, the intercepted packages, destined eventually to join the museum's collection, had their shipping labels intentionally mislabeled, stating the country of origin as imports from Turkey and Israel, not Iraq.  The shippers also used multiple shipping addresses for objects destined for a single recipient.  This too is a technique used by smugglers of all types, not just illicit antiquities, as it is a means of avoiding scrutiny by customs authorities. 

In the DOJ press release Bridget M. Rohde, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Karin Orenstein, Assistant United States Attorney, of counsel, announced that Hobby Lobby Stores has agreed to pay a $3 million federal fine and forfeit thousands of ancient Iraqi artifacts believed to have been smuggled in 15 shipments, 5 of which were stopped by the CBP on their way to the Greens.   

Hobby Lobby had executed an agreement to purchase the objects, despite their likely illicit origins, in 2010 for $1.6 million.  They paid for the antiquities via wire payments to seven personal bank accounts held in the names of five individuals.  This despite noticeable suspicious irregularities in the objects purported provenance and no direct contact with the objects' "owner.  The civil complaint also outlines conversations related to the purchase and import which indicate intentional changes to invoices and shipment to disguise the objects' value, and in some cases to change to purported seller. 

As DOJ documents state Title 19, United States Code, Section 1595a(c)(1)(A) provides that “merchandise which is introduced or attempted to be introduced into the United States contrary to law . . . shall be seized and forfeited if it . . . is stolen, smuggled, or clandestinely imported or introduced.”

Legal measures specific to Iraq also make it a violation of U.S. law to import any cultural objects removed from Iraq since August 1990, unless exported with the permission of Iraqi authorities.  Illegally importing objects that meet this criteria are subject to criminal penalties and fines.

Equally important Under Article 3 of Iraq’s Antiquities Law No. 59 of 1936 (as amended in 1974 and 1975), all antiquities found in Iraq, whether movable or
immovable, on or under the ground, are considered property of the state. Under Article 16 of Antiquities Law No. 59, private persons generally cannot possess antiquities. Article 26 of the same antiquities law prohibits the export of Iraqi antiquities and defines “antiquities” as movable possessions which were made, produced, sculpted, written or drawn by man and which are at least 200 years old.  Southern Mesopotamian objects definitely fall into this category as any collections management expert in Near East antiquity would be aware of.


Is a $3 million fine and the forfeiture of 450 ancient cuneiform tablets and 3,000 ancient clay bullae enough?

As a result of this investigation, Hobby Lobby has agreed to adopt internal policies and procedures governing its importation and purchase of cultural property, provide appropriate training to its personnel, hire qualified outside customs counsel and customs brokers, and submit quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property acquisitions for the next eighteen months.


So much for remorse. 

NB: No one has faced criminal prosecution (read: jail time) for their actions. 

May 19, 2017

Look into my eyes, but also into my collection history.

Collecting ancient art can be an extension of a personal passion, a status symbol or a piece of cultural currency but it also serves as a defacto calling card for the current-day purchaser's own collecting ethics.

As this new video, produced by the UNESCO Beirut Office in the framework of the Emergency Safeguarding of the Syrian Cultural Heritage project, underscores, conscientious and ethical antiquities collectors can and should demand that their source dealer or auction house provide a full and complete provenance record before making a purchase. 


UNESCO reminds collectors to keep an eye out for these red flags:

- Is there dirt on the object? 
- Does the object seem like a broken fragment of what could be a larger artifact? 
- Is there a reference number painted on the base of the object that could indicate it was looted from a museum? 
- Does the object's price seem too good to be true?

and finally...
- Can the seller provide you with the object’s provenance paperwork?

Likewise, ARCA reminds its readership that an object's reported collection history as reported by a dealer or auction house should not always be taken as complete or accurate.  Collection histories can, and often are, faked.

As this blog has reported frequently, many consignors and auction houses omit passages that sometimes reflect irregularities in acquisition or fail to advise would-be purchasers that an antiquity they wish to purchase has passed through the hands of a tainted individual or art dealer already known to have a reputation for illicit trafficking in the antiquities art market. 

The art market’s appetite for antiquities, and the profits to be had from this appetite, will always be a motivation for others to loot them.

It is ultimately up to the collector to demand ethical selling practices from the dealers or collectors they purchase antiquities from.  Prospective buyers should demand to see import and export licenses for the object they are considering and they should require the seller/consignor/auction house make those documents available.

The prudent purchaser should vet the trophy works that they purchase for their collections, cross checking all of the accompanying documentation.  Is there an export license? Does that document look authentic? Has the license been falsified?  Has the country of origin been falsified? Does the country of export match with the country of the object's origin?  Does the object have a find spot?   How far back does the chain of ownership go? and are there any other red flags like "property of an anonymous collector"?

Collectors should not discount the unacceptable buying and selling habits of those profiting from the ancient art market and they should especially be careful when purchasing antiquities from regions of conflict.

Just as property investors thoroughly vet the status and ownership of a property they are interested in, before entering into a business transaction, so should art collectors remember that it is their responsibility to conduct adequate due diligence on the artworks they purchase. 

May 11, 2017

Working canines: Can customs dogs be trained to sniff out smuggled antiquities?

Image Credit and litter of working canine puppies
from parents Zzisa (TSA) X Ffisher
at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Customs dogs have long been trained to sniff out narcotics, firearms or explosives hidden in strange places or wrapped in layers of plastic.  Some have even been trained to sniff out large amounts of undeclared cash. 

In Australia, labradors, selected for their steady temperament, motivation, adaptability to challenging environments, and non-threatening appearance, are purpose-bred by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection at their Customs National Breeding and Development Centre.  At the age of two, these eager juvenile pups begin sniffer training with a handler.  


The United States TSA’s Puppy Program, started in 1999 was modeled after the Australian Customs Service National Breeding Program and selects dogs with the abilities and temperaments suited to customs authorities needs.  Many of these working canines are earmarked for explosives detection canine teams, trained and certified by the TSA for the purposes of transportation-related security.  

Detector dogs are routinely tasked to search air and sea cargo, aircraft, cargo containers, luggage, mail, parcels, structures, vehicles, vessels, and most importantly, people.  But what if multi-response detector dogs, already being trained to sniff out multiple substances, could be trained to also detect smuggled antiquities which might be hidden in those same crates, packages, and cargo containers?

That's what the folks at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the Penn Museum, of the University of Pennsylvania, partnering with the nonprofit Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research want to know.  To that end they have started a GoFundMe crowdsourcing campaign called the K-9 Artifact Finders Project to help explore ways to combat this top-priority problem.


You can also read more about the K-9 Artifact Finders working canine project by consulting the project webpage at the Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research website.

February 21, 2017

Police Seizure: 250 artifacts recovered by police near Rome


250+ archaeological finds, some dating as far back as the late Republican period were recovered by the Finanzieri del Comando Provinciale di Roma as part of the "Lanuvium" initiative which was coordinated by the Public Prosecutor of Velletri, in the province of Lazio, near Rome.

Focusing on two women, who reportedly had established an elegant private museum in their upscale home, a variety of objects, many of them epigraphic remains such as brick stamps and marble inscriptions.  The pieces are believed to have come from illicit excavations in and around the Lanuvio archaeological site, a sanctuary dedicated to the worship of "Juno Sospita". 

The Soprintendenza ai Beni Archeologici del Lazio are presently involved in the full documentation of the objects seized. by law enforcement authorities. Unfortunately, artifacts ripped from their context by looters often lose much of their meaning. 

Illicit excavations not only destroy a site’s stratigraphic layers that help define an archaeological site’s chronology alongside unmoveable architectural elements. They also remove ancient objects from the context which gives the object its own cultural meaning.  

As a result of the seizure, three persons are now under investigation and will likely be charged with unlawful possession of archaeological material belonging to the country of Italy. 


October 8, 2016

UNESCO issues report on Freeports


The Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) promotes practical tools and communication to raise public awareness about trafficking in and return of stolen objects.

With its work closely tied to the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, the Committee met at UNESCO's Headquarters in Paris, on September 29-30, 2016 to discus the need for better prevention, increased cooperation and awareness raising of illicit trafficking in cultural property.

As an outcome of that meeting, UNESCO issued a document which highlights the phenomenon of free ports and their implications on the illicit art market. A copy of their report, it its entirety, can be referenced directly on the UNESCO website here:

Freeport concerns are a subject that ARCA has blogged about with regularity as has Professor David Gill on the blog Looting Matters as they have long been havens for high value artwork in general and illicit art work in particular.  More recently Free ports have been springing up around the world with increasing regularity as more investors begin to store and trade physical assets at locations which provide taxation incentives.

With their state of the art security, enormous potential for tax savings and less than transparent ownership record keeping which varies from country to country and freeport to freeport, these massive storage facilities may well continue to be a convenient and secure weigh station for traffickers to park hot goods until the world gets distracted elsewhere.  










September 19, 2016

Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA addressing concerns about the trade in stolen antiquities

Google Earth View of Ports Franc
As Geneva officials at the Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA attempt to address previously raised concerns about the risks surrounding the trade in stolen antiquities, both in terms of money-laundering and as a potential support for arms traffickers or terrorist groups, tighter controls have been implemented today on shipments which affect everyone in the art shipping industry that handle the shipment of antiquities to this free port. 

Originally set to be implemented this past summer, the new rule requires that anyone wanting to store ancient artefacts at the sprawling facility will have to undergo checks by an independent firm of specialists hired by the über-warehouse.  This group is tasked with investigating the validity of requests and the precise origins of any antiquities before the object is approved for transport to the complex for subsequent storage.  

The new check applies to all objects classified under HS Code 9705.   HS classifications are based on standardised international codes used in shipment data as a means of classifying specific types of goods.  Goods listed under this code are deemed to be "works of art, collectors' pieces and antiques, collections and collectors' pieces of zoological, botanical, mineralogical, anatomical, historical, archaeological, palaeontological, ethnographic or numismatic interest."

According to the Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA website, the first step of this procedure will be a documentation check made by KPMG, one of the Big Four global consultancy firms, (along with Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and PricewaterhouseCoopers) more famous for their financial audit, tax and advisory services. What this powerhouse finance firm's experience is as auditors of artwork provenance is not clear.  There is no mention of art services on the KPMG website. 

But moving along to what the shippers need to submit. 

To complete the new due diligence check, potential customers who wish to use the facility will be required to ship, a minimum of ten days prior to the intended shipment date, "all documents in your possession (invoices, lists, certificates, export licenses, passports, etc.) as well as a good quality photograph" for inspection.  The Ports Francs website doesn't specify what the photo should be of:  the object to be stored or a passport photo of the shipper.  

The Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA website further states that "an Artloss register certificate is a big asset." 

While the Geneva freeport may see a certificate from an art loss database such as London-based Art Loss Register or Art Claim (another art loss database maintained by Art Recovery International) as the owner having done their individual due diligence these types of certificates are only helpful in cases where known objects are stolen from known collections.  Such paper assurances offer no proof that the proposed antiquity is of licit origin and are ineffective in diminishing the illicit trade in archaeological remains.   

Undocumented, looted antiquities without collection histories will never appear in art loss databases.  This has been underscored over and over again. Undocumented, looted antiquities appear most often at border crossings and all to frequently launder their way up and into the art market, popping up with embarrassing regularity in museum and private collections despite sometimes having accumulated probable paperwork that on first glance tacitly legitimises them along the way.

When suspicious, rather than relying on certificates, KPMG would be better served consulting with the WCO,  academics researching in the field of illicit antiquities and the International Council of Museums (ICOM).   ICOM's “Red Lists” offer detailed descriptions of objects the auditors should be suspicious of coming from countries that may currently be or have been at risk of looting. Trusting that an object is "clean" merely because it has a stack of papers tied to it will not deter trafficking.


In 2013 Connaissances des Arts, estimated that the Ports Francs free port held around 1.2 million artworks. Its huge warehouses offers 150,000 square meters (1.6 million square feet) of storage space.  In more visual terms, that's the equivalent of 22 soccer pitches.  

While the amendment to the Swiss Customs Act, approved by the Swiss parliament on Jan. 1, 2016, and this new ruling give new power to administrators, customs authorities and contractors to monitor and control the entry and exit of goods from its tax-advantaged art-and-collectible storage facility, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Four major free ports in Switzerland dominate the market in storing high value goods. Five free ports worldwide have bet their marketshare specialising in the storage of priceless art works. The oldest is Ports Francs in the La Praille neighborhood in Geneva, Switzerland which was founded in 1850.  The others include the ultra chic Singapore Freeport which opened in 2010, the Monaco Freeport by S.E.G.E.M., in Fontvieille, just minutes away from the lucrative casinos of Monte-Carlo.

Le Freeport in Luxembourg opened its doors just two years ago, benefiting in part from the overflow of taxable goods once destined for Ports Francs in Geneva.  In the Far East the Beijing Freeport of Culture located adjacent to Beijing Capital Airport, and the much anticipated Shanghai Le Freeport West Bund, which is lated to open in 2017, both will allow the art market to store a substantial amount of art in mainland China.

In 2013, the European Fine Art Fair annual report, known in the field as the TEFAF Art Market Report cited an estimate which estimated that approximately $100 billion of art is stored in tax friendly free port facilities.  To be effective in deterring trafficking through these facilities, any inspections undertaken in free ports should be harmonised in all facilities across the globe. 

By: Lynda Albertson

July 26, 2016

Illicit Antiquities Trafficking an Ongoing, Organized Enterprise in Italy

This week, in the town of Teano, 30 kilometres northwest of Caserta on the road to Rome from Naples, the Carabinieri formally placed under investigation four individuals under suspicion of having committed a series of thefts “of historical interest” and then selling their stash onward via the illegal market.  In layman's English, the men were arrested for trafficking illicit antiquities and laundering them on via middlemen on to wealthy buyers.   The archaeological areas of Teano-Calvi have long been massacred for decades by tomb raiders without scruples.


One of those arrested was Emilio Autieri, a 65 year old registered nurse with Italy's Local Health Authority Service (Azienda Sanitaria Locale, ASL) which proves that even with a decent state pension, individuals can be coaxed into a world of illicit crime where money flows freely and behind closed doors.   He and 22 year old Antonia Pane have been placed under house arrest pending further investigation.   Massimo Aversano, 43 and 19 year old Domenico De Biasio have been released on their own recognizance with reporting conditions and restrictions to not leave the territorial area.

The investigation began in January 2016 following a not-publicized theft from the Archaeological Museum of Teano.  The case serves as a good example into the minds of criminals who receive, possess, conceal, store, barter, and sell, not just antiquity, but any goods, wares, or merchandise where there is a willing buyer willing to look the other way.

Following months of observation and chasing leads on various burglaries at private residences and shops, the Teano carabinieri conducted a series of wire taps and reviewed CCTV footage related to various burglaries.  This in turn lead them to execute search warrants which uncovered what appears to be a well structured group of organized criminals who moved objects via fences working in the archaeological sector who had a supply of buyers willing to turn a blind eye to the illicit origin of the pieces they purchased. 

During the July sting operation, authorities recovered and sequestered more than 200 historical objects; antiquities which initial examination appears to date from from as early as the 9th and 8th Century BCE to as late as the 1st and 2nd century CE. Law enforcement has estimated the value of the seizure to have a combined value of €500,000.00 on the illicit market. 

The objects  brought into police custody include various sculptures in terracotta, ivory carvings, marble architectural elements, terracotta amphorae, as well as Bucchero pottery, common in pre-Roman Italy.  The team also had a stash of votive statues, and various metal and stone objects, buckles, brooches and earrings.  Interestingly, authorities also seized stolen objects not of an archaeological nature.  This shows that the ring of thieves and fences, did not restrict their dealings to stolen goods solely from antiquity. 

video

Earlier, in March of this year, a well-respected surgeon, Domenico Bova from nearby Sessa Aurunca and Gerardo Mastrostefano, an attorney from the same town as this weeks arrests, were investigated for their own related involvement to this offence and receiving stolen archaeological goods after 33 ancient finds were confiscated from their individual residences. Along with them an unnamed fence was reportedly involved as the ring's middleman.  The investigation into these prior individuals coupled with this week's formal charging of four others seem to lend credibility that the zone continues to have weaknesses that in the past have made it well adapted to the trafficking of culture.

In January 2014 an ex capo and former Camorrista of the Casalesi clan turned justice informant, Carmine Schiavone, stated that the Camorra had infiltrated the cities of Teano, Vairano, Caianello and other areas in Alto Caserta.   Schiavone, prior to his death was a former member of the Casalesi clan from Casal di Principe in the province of Caserta between Naples and Salerno and a cousin of former Camorra superboss Francesco Schiavone.  Heavily entrenched in the clan's business, he could be considered a person well informed as to the illicit activities in the region.

Is this summer's heritage crime case localized to one small group of organized bandits or part of something more sinister?







April 20, 2016

Highlights from the US Hearing Entitled “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS”

On April 19, 2016 the US House Financial Services Committee Task Force on Terrorism Financing held a one panel, two hour and fifteen minute long hearing entitled “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS” in the Rayburn House Office Building.

A 16 page introductory memorandum and witness biography can be found on the US House of Representatives Financial Services website here. 

During this hearing, testimony was given by: (in alphabetical, not speaking order)

• Dr. Amr Al-Azm, PhD, Associate Professor, Shawnee State University
• Mr. Robert M. Edsel, Chairman of the Board, Monuments Men Foundation
• Mr. Yaya J. Fanusie, Director of Analysis, Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance,
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
• Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, PhD, Distinguished Professor, DePaul University College of
Law
• Mr. Lawrence Shindell, Chairman, ARIS Title Insurance Corporation

A video recording of the entire hearing can be viewed below.



During the hearing witnesses described the unabated and systematic process of cultural heritage destruction in Iraq and Syria and antiquities looting in the region which has grown steadily given the regions' instability.  

Secretary of U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, Patty Gerstenblith, speaking in a personal capacity and for the Blue Shield organisation she represents, testified before the Financial Services Committee’s Task Force saying, in part

“Unfortunately the looting of archaeological sites is big business, often carried out on an organised industrialised scale and in response to market demand.  And many of these sites are unknown before they are looted.  

As cultural objects move from source, transit and destination countries different legal systems create obstacles to interdiction of objects and prosecution of crimes and they allow the laundering of title to these artefacts.  

The United States is the single largest market for art in the world, with forty-three percent of market share.  Because of the availability of the charitable tax deduction, the ability to import works of art and artefacts without payment of tariffs and because of artistic preference, the United States is the largest ultimate market for antiquities, particularly those from the Mediterranean and the Middle East."

A transcript of Dr. Gerstenblith's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

Key imagery from Dr. Amr Al-Azm's testimony can be viewed here.

A transcript of Mr. Robert Edsel's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

A transcript of Mr. Yaya Fanusie's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

A transcript of Dr. Lawrence Shindell's testimony can be read in its entirety here.


While key takeaways from this hearing conversations are distilled here ARCA strongly encourages its blog readership to take the time to listen to the entire hearing and examine the legal instruments evidence Dr. Gerstenblith underscores as being necessary.  

She reminds us that looting of archaeological sites imposes incalculable costs on society by destroying the original contexts of archaeological artifacts thereby impairing our ability to reconstruct and understand the historical record.  Her testimony reminds us that looters loot because they are motivated by profit and that the looting and illicit trafficking phenomenon we are seeing in Iraq, Syria and Libya are responses to the basic economic principle of supply and demand.   

The statements of all of the speakers remind us that while the market in antiquities has existed for centuries, its role in facilitating criminal enterprise on the scale that we are seeing in the Middle East is a terrifying one.  

Maamoun Abdelkarim of Syria’s DGAM inspecting the condition of delivered
artefacts transported from various parts of Syria to Damascus on Sept. 21, 2015.

Antiquities collectors must be educated to understand that the purchase of objects emerging on the open market without legitimate collection histories (i.e. provenance) are the likely product of conflict-based looting of archaeological sites, and contribute significantly to the destruction of the world's cultural heritage.  Buyers need to be made to realise that their buying power and their, until now, unharnessed demand for archaeological material, absent transparent ethical acquisition documentation, incentivises those facing economic hardship to participate in, or tacitly condone,  the looting that we are observing in countries of conflict.  

If collectors in market nations such as the United States and London refuse to buy undocumented artifacts, then the incentives for looting historic sites, which by proxy funds criminal enterprise and terrorism, diminish. 

Armed conflicts have long been called the “perfect storm” within which large-scale looting can take place, but not without collectors willing to look the other way. 

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO


April 11, 2016

Suspect Auction Items in Christie's Upcoming Antiquities Auction in New York

On March 30, 2016 in Paris, France UNESCO held a large multidisciplinary symposium examining the movement of cultural property in 2016.  As listed on the UNESCO website this event was facilitated to

bring together for the first time market stakeholders, including representatives of auction houses and online platforms, museum representatives, cultural heritage experts, specialized intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations as well as Member States, to take stock on the situation of the illicit trade in cultural heritage and identify areas to improve synergies and strengthen international cooperation to successfully overcome this worldwide issue.

Present were a long list of heritage trafficking experts, members of national delegations and law enforcement divisions concerned about illicit trafficking as well as professionals representing the licit antiquities art market. 

Catherine Chadelat, the president of the Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (CVV), the regulatory authority for voluntary sales operators of chattels by public auction in France, stressed the importance of cooperation and communication between those working for the art market and allied professionals dealing with illicit trafficking issues.  During her opening address, she stated that the CVV  "strongly encourages market actors to not only comply with applicable regulations but to go further and take on a personal ethical responsibility."

Cecilia Fletcher, Senior Director, Compliance and Business Integrity Counsel for Sotheby’s European operations underscored her auction house's ethical standards and due diligence obligations to conduct its business with the highest level of integrity and transparency.  She expressed Sotheby's willingness to work closely with law enforcement agencies and ministries of culture to resolve issues when suspect antiquities come up for auction.  Martin Wilson, co-head of legal for Christie’s International, echoed his colleague, Ms. Fletcher's, words underscoring Christie's own efforts in ensure due diligence where antiquities are concerned.

Vincent Geerling, chairman of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) told the audience, as he had previously in Berlin in 2014, that many art dealers and sellers have good knowledge of where their stock originates from, but acknowledged that consignors haven't always kept good paperwork to prove it.  Asking for a show of hands from the audience, Greeling asked if any of the UNESCO invitees had ever inherited an antique from a relative that came without its original collecting documentation.

When discussing collection histories as they relate to the current situation in the Middle East, Geerling added, complete with an accompanying powerpoint slide, that "during the past two years, IADAA has checked with every member to ask if anything from the troubled areas had been offered and they reported back not a single dodgy Syrian or Iraqi object had been offered to any of our members"  While this is encouraging, IADAA only accounts for 34 art market dealers so his sampling is restricted to a limited number of high profile dealers. 

Throughout the day these and other art market's panelists contended that their respective organisations are doing their best, and that no-one, as yet, has seen illicit material coming through their firms or associations as a result of the current conflicts in the Middle East.  Absent from their presentations were what procedures, if any, the art market leaders had in place to notify law enforcement authorities should they be approached by a dealer or collector with a suspect antiquity originating from any source country. This despite the fact that unprovenanced, looted, illicitly trafficked antiquities regularly turn up in legitimate auctions, having passed through the hands of well known suspect dealers and galleries.


Despite that, Christos Tsirogiannis and others working with Italy's state prosecutors routinely identify objects looted from Italy decades ago,  matching the pieces through law enforcement archive photos and documentation held by the Italian authorities in relation to cases involving known tombaroli and corrupt dealers.

Three of these identified suspect pieces are currently scheduled to go on the auction block tomorrow through Christie's New York City division.

The suspect objects in the April 12, 2016 auction are: 



Listed Collection History (Provenance)
Private Collection, U.S.
An American Private Collector; Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 17 December 1998, lot 182.
with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, acquired from the above.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 2000.

Pre-Lot Text
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN COLLECTION'

From all the previous owners, only the Royal Athena Galleries has been publicly listed in the lot's details.  Royal Athena Galleries has previously acquired stolen antiquities from the Corinth Museum in Greece and antiquities stolen from Italian excavation warehouses.  These details and the fact that these earlier objects, identified as stolen, were later repatriated to Greece and Italy should have triggered some sort of increased diligence as to this current mosaic's journey from discovery to the art market. 

In the Gianfranco Becchina archive Tsirogiannis identified a matching image of the mosaic via a leaflet created by Ariadne Galleries in New York.  The photocopied document presents the front window of the antiquities gallery, through which the same mosaic can be seen displayed on a wall. 

If Christie's has a commitment to transparency and due diligence in its antiquities auctions, as indicated in the UNESCO symposium, then why is it that they omitted the Ariadne Galleries connection in the offered lot's 'provenance' section?  

And why, if Royal Athena and Ariadne Galleries both have already been identified by Tsirogiannis in the past as having had tainted stock that at one time or another had passed through Becchina's network, weren't these two galleries a red flag to perhaps conduct a closer examination of the offered mosaic's origins?  

Tsirogiannis believes that this mosaic is likely from a country in northern Africa or the Near East. Christie's themselves mentions in their lot notes that there is a similar mosaic from Tunisia with the same subject in the permanent collection of the Bardo Museum.



Listed Collection History (Provenance)
Antiquities, Sotheby's, London, 10 December 1987, lot 243.
with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 1988.

Pre-Lot Text
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF CHARLES BRICKBAUER, BALTIMORE

Royal Athena Galleries in New York are again mentioned in this lot's details. From the research of Watson and Todeschini, Tsirogiannis reminds us that Giacomo Medici was consigning and laundering illicit antiquities via Sotheby's auctions in London during the 1980s. Tsirogiannis has identified the same hydria in a print photograph from the Medici photo archive.  Curiously though, the dealer Medici is also excluded from the 'provenance' section of this lot's details.    


Listed Collection History (Provenance)
Private Collection, New York, Boston & Texas, acquired prior to 1995; thence by descent to the current owner.

Pre-Lot Text
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY'

Tsirogiannis has identified the same Roman janiform marble head from two images in the archive of the dealer Gianfranco Becchina.  Becchina, like Giacomo Medici, has not been included in the lot's 'provenance' section for tomorrow's auction.

Given that this is not the first suspect Roman janiform head smuggled out of Italy into the United States via Switzerland and identified from images in the Becchina archive, one would think that the auction house would consider this object in need of closer consideration before accepting it for consignment.

Which brings me back to UNESCO's meeting statement again and a lot of unanswered questions.

To bring together for the first time market stakeholders, including representatives of auction houses and online platforms, museum representatives, cultural heritage experts, specialized intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations as well as Member States, to take stock on the situation of the illicit trade in cultural heritage and identify areas to improve synergies and strengthen international cooperation to successfully overcome this worldwide issue.

Did Christie's contact/cooperate with the Carabinieri TPC on any of these objects in order to improve synergies and strengthen international cooperation?

What is Christie's criteria for accepting or rejecting an antiquity for consignment and do they have a policy in place for notifying authorities when illicit material is suspected?

And what is the auction house's operational policy and criteria for green-lighting an antiquity for auction when said object has previously passed through known dealer/gallery sources already identified as having handled illicit antiquities in the past?

and

Where is the cooperation and communication Catherine Chadelat spoke of between illicit antiquities researchers and the art market?

Where is the commitment to transparency mentioned by Cecilia Fletcher when only a partial listing of the collection history of an object is mentioned?

Who are the academic experts working with Christie’s that Martin Wilson mentioned in January? What recommendation do these researchers have for ensuring that illegally excavated objects,  i.e. those without a "findable" trace in any art crime database, are truly clean and not simply laundered through several buyers in a ruse to create a plausible collection history.

In closing, Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol, the Carabinieri, and the American authorities of his identifications. Here's hoping that the continued spotlight, however painful, will serve as a reminder that despite the presentations in Paris and the lack of suspect Syrian and Iraqi antiquities showing up in top-tier auctions, we still have a long way to go before the licit art market is cleaned up.

By:  Lynda Albertson



August 21, 2015

Two Syrians Detained in Istanbul’s Esenyurt District for Smuggling Ottoman-era “Sikke” Coins

By Lynda Albertson

Antiquities trafficking from source countries to collector markets requires a global network of routes and facilitation by domestic and international criminal groups and, or middle men. Although the various trajectories are always evolving, there are certain well-established trafficking routes regularly used for the purpose of transporting illicit goods, be they drugs, precursor chemicals, illicit arms, humans or portable antiquities.

Some trafficking routes are chosen out of geographic necessity, while others are selected when smugglers associate an alternate route with a lower risk of discovery, higher profit margin or simply because logistics, such as fuel supplies, transport or available couriers, make one transport route or trafficker more appealing than another. 

Turkey has long been a viable trade corridor for heroin as well as other illegal merchandise.  As a stop along what is known as the Balkan Route the country's strategic geographical location has helped to develop it into a major staging area and transportation conduit used by drug traffickers smuggling heroin destined for European markets, with the largest percentage flowing into Germany and the Netherlands. 
April 27, 2015 Heroin Seizure 


But does Turkey serve as a trade route for illicit antiquities?

This week Turkish authorities announced that police had detained two Syrian antiquities smugglers also in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district and confiscated 500 historic "sikke" dating back to the Tanzimat period (1839–1876) of the Ottoman Empire.  Along with the coins police seized ammunition, a firearm, and a substantial amount of cash in three separate currencies:
August 2015 Coin Hoard Seizure

€119,000 (Euros)
₺134,500 (Turkish lira)
$4,250 (US Dollars)

Is the antiquities trade always tied to the illicit drug trade? 

Certainly not.  However one could conclude that underworld figures willing to ply their trade with one black market item (heroin) might be convinced to transport/fence other lucrative goods (coins) available on the illicit market if and when opportunity knocks and they are presented with objects for which there are likely to be buyers.  

Is the antiquities trade tied to one specific district? 

Again certainly not.  Nor should any parallel be drawn by any of our readers connecting these two isolated events in one distinct of Istanbul.

The lack of solid statistical reporting in the field of heritage-related crimes and the clandestine nature of illicit trafficking in general make drawing conclusions as to how often one type of illicit trafficking overlaps with another impossible to ascertain.  What is important however is that we actively recognize that fluid network structures, rather than more formal hierarchies, coupled with porous borders and geographical proximity to destabilized source countries located in the vicinity of established trafficking corridors where transnational criminal networks are already active could be leveraged as a means to traffic movable heritage.   It should also be understood that the average participant may not be a career criminal, but a regular citizen attempting to exploit an opportunity to supplement their income as a single link in a complex chain. 









July 12, 2015

Ryan Casey on "Analyzing Criminality in the Market for Ancient Near Eastern Art" in the Spring 2015 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.

Ryan Casey looks at "Analyzing Criminality in the Market for Ancient Near Eastern Art" in the Spring 2015 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by Noah Charney (with Marc Balcells and Christos Tsirogiannis) and published by ARCA:
Similar to other criminally deviant transnational markets, the trade of Near Eastern artifacts involves powerful participants exerting influence over regulative and law enforcement systems in order to manipulate and exploit the market to their advantage. The emphasis in this paper is on the perceptual factors attributed to the power of these offenders and how that can be further manipulated to excuse and perpetuate criminal activity. By exploring criminological theories concerned with crimes of the powerful, neutralization techniques, and sociology theories based on the idea of philanthropic power crimes, we gain a clearer understanding of this criminal scheme. Through case studies specifically involving Near Eastern art, it becomes apparent that perceptual power sustains the illusion of social distinction and boundaries between those in the trade and academic field of Near Eastern art and those not involved, and also how these boundaries encourage a false sense of legitimacy and acceptance of deviant behavior.
Ryan Casey is an alumni of ARCA’s Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection program from the Class of 2014. After acquiring a B.A. in International Criminal Justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, she enrolled in ARCA’s certification program to gain a better understanding of the transnational market for cultural property. She will be continuing her studies at the University of Glasgow as a student of the MSc program in Transnational Crime, Justice, and Security for the 2015-16 school year.

Here's a link to ARCA's website about access to The Journal of Art Crime

June 8, 2014

ARCA's 2014 Writer in Residence: Forensic Archaeologist Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis writing about the Symes-Michaelides archive

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis
Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis will be ARCA's 2014 Writer in Residence in Amelia, Italy from June 27th through August 9, 2014.

Each year, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art honors distinguished and emerging writers, specializing in art crime and cultural heritage preservation, by inviting them to spend a portion of their summer with us working on a book or manuscript project. Designed to promote critical and reflective writing, the Amelia Writer in Residence Program reflects ARCA’s belief that the basis for any critical and comprehensive writing involves the opportunity for contemplation, research, collaboration and support.

Christos Tsirogiannis, a Greek forensic archaeologist, studied archaeology and history of art in the University of Athens. He worked for the Greek Ministry of Culture from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. He voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad on a daily basis (August 2004 – December 2008). He was a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. Since 2007, Tsirogiannis has been identifying antiquities in museums, galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying public prosecutor Dr. Paolo Giorgio Ferri and the Greek authorities. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive.

Dr. Tsirogiannis explained his work, Unravelling the hidden market of illicit antiquities: The Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides network and its international implications:
This study is the first academic approach to an immense and incriminating body of material: the confiscated photographic archive of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides, the top antiquities dealers in the world until 1999. I show how this archive interacts with the archives previously confiscated from the dealers Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. Forensic research by Italian and Greek police authorities on those archives first proved that - from at least 1972 until 2006 - the antiquities market was based largely on looted and smuggled objects, controlled by an international network of looters, middlemen, dealers, auction houses, conservators, academics, museums and private collectors. During the last seven years, this situation has worsened, despite the convictions of Symes, Medici, Becchina and multiple repatriations of their looted and smuggled antiquities from North American museums, collectors and dealers to Italy. My PhD tackled this most recent period. 
The project of demonstrating the involvement of reputable institutions, companies and individuals in the illicit antiquities trade, as well as the corruption of the art market, is by its nature interdisciplinary; its results are important for the fields of archaeology, art history, criminology, politics and law. I brought to the PhD a unique combination of an academic background in archaeology and extensive work experience in the field. Following my undergraduate degree, I was employed for several years by the Greek ministry of Culture as an archaeologist before receiving an invitation to work on the exposure of the international illicit antiquities network with the Greek Police Art Squad. My specific interest in Symes-Michaelides comes from the fact that I participated in the police raid on their home on Schinousa, from where the archive was seized, and I was later the sole investigator of the contents, working as forensic archaeologist at the Greek Ministry of Justice. 
The PhD began with a historical review, and then surveyed the main members of the international illicit antiquities network (ch. 1). I systematically catalogued the contents of the Symes-Michaelides archive (ch. 2) and then outlined, with examples, the ways in which Symes traded with Medici and Becchina (ch. 3). The central chapter documents ways in which academics from reputable institutions were involved in ‘laundering’ this illicit material, via publications then used by museums and auction houses (ch. 4). In the last main chapter, I presented and analyzed a series of hitherto undiscovered cases of illicit antiquities in the antiquities market, mainly in auction houses since 2007. My conclusion drew out the wider picture (implications) from the network’s activities and suggested solutions towards different attitudes in antiquities trading, as well as fighting the antiquities trafficking. 
The project I would be concerned with as Writer-in-Residence this summer, therefore, is the transformation of the completed PhD into a book. As well as editing the text, I need to update the story of some individual case studies, and my description of the ways in which protagonists are selling artifacts. The PhD was about 77,000 words, plus three appendices of transcripts etc. and bibliography; I expect that the book would be c.100,000 words all told. I am currently putting together a book proposal to send to publishers in the next month; I hope that by July I would have a sense of what the publisher requires by way of editing and expansion. 
The ARCA Writer-in-Residence also offers me a rare opportunity to check the publications of auction houses, galleries, museums and private collections kept in libraries in Rome. These publications have proved valuable to forensic archaeologists Maurizio Pellegrini and Daniela Rizzo in the identification of dozens of antiquities from the same archives (Medici, Becchina, Symes) for the Italian state during the period 1995-2008. No library in Europe has a complete series of auction house -- and gallery -- publications, but I expect to add to my own catalogue from a systematic check in Rome, due to the recent successful repatriation claims of the Italian state.
 Dr. Tsirogiannis will also teach "Unravelling the Hidden Market of Illicit Antiquities: Lessons from Greece and Italy".

June 5, 2014

Sofia Cecchi Interviews Ricardo J. Elia in the Spring 2014 issue of ARCA's Journal of Art Crime

Ricardo J. Elia is Associate Professor of Archaeology at Boston University. He has published extensively about archaeological ethics, law and heritage management, policy and the antiquities market. As the author of some of the most influential works in the history of illicit antiquities research, he generously answered our questions on this topic.

Sofia Cecchi is an archaeologist specializing in cultural heritage management and museology. Originally from Italy and Chile, she studied at Columbia University (BA) and the University of Cambridge (MPhil), where she analyzed the relationship between museums and the illicit antiquities market. Sofia currently works as a researcher for a global heritage consultancy that plans and develops projects across the cultural sector. Her other interests have taken her all over the world, from archaeological fieldwork in Latin America to exhibition development at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Here's the beginning of the interview as published in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime:
Sofia Cecchi: What was the initial spark that made you want to study the ethics of collecting and the trade in illicit antiquities? 
Professor Elia: While a grad student digging at Stobi (then Yugoslavia, now the Republic of Macedonia) in the late 1970s, my mentor, James R. Wiseman, showed me how looters were destroying archaeological sites in the search for marketable antiquities. Prof. Wiseman also created an innovative section of the new Journal of Field Archaeology, called “The Antiquities Market,” which featured articles about the topic. I also learned a lot from the writings of Oscar White Muscarella, who among other things destroyed the myth of the "reputable dealer" in the antiquities market. 
Sofia Cecchi: “Collectors are the real looters.” More than twenty years have passed since you made this memorable statement. Have any positive changes occurred in the past decade? 
Professor Elia: There is definitely more public awareness than ever about the problem of looting and the fact that collectors, both private and institutional, are driving the market by creating the demand for antiquities. Looters, of course, are the ones doing the looting, but they are operating in a supply-and-demand economic system that starts with the creation of demand for cultural objects. So collectors, whether they are private individuals or museums are, indeed, the real looters and in the last two decades there has been a huge growth in public awareness of this fact. This comes from several sources: increased media attention; more aggressive legal actions by source countries; and a depressing spate of armed conflicts in the world that have resulted in both destruction looting of archaeological sites.
You may finish reading this interview by subscribing to the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime or ordering it at Amazon.com