March 24, 2017

Repatriation: Roman sarcophagus held at Swiss Freeport finally clears last hurdle for its return to Turkey

Image taken September 23, 2015
by the Office of the Attorney General of the Canton of Geneva - Image Credit: AFP
In December 2010, Swiss Federal Customs Administration authorities, acting under new customs legislation to combat trafficking in works of art, requested access to the inventory of Phoenix Ancient Art SA., a major supplier of museum-quality antiquities, which stores ancient works of art at the Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève, a freeport located in a sprawling grey industrial building on the corner of a busy junction in southwest Geneva. 

For more information about freeports as a tax free haven to store art, please see a few of ARCA's earlier blog posts here, here, and here

At the time of the audit, authorities inspected the holdings of both Phoenix Ancient Art and its warehouseman and freight forwarder, Inanna Art Services.  During this inspection, Swiss authorities discovered, but didn't physically seize, a 1-2 ton, 150-180 CE Roman sarcophagus which depicted the twelve labours of the ancient Greek war deity, Hercules. According to customs information on file for the antiquity, the sarcophagus was imported into Switzerland in the name of Phoenix Ancient Art, which often used Inanna Art Services to store its goods or to transport works of art to and from other countries. 

This extraordinary ancient funerary object, likely only one of four of this significant quality documented in the ancient art world, had little in the way of detailed provenance.  For a piece of its quality to have nothing tying it to a previously known ancient art collection; no notations of its discovery or find spot, and nothing notable in the way of published scholarly examination of its style and iconography, rang alarm bells in Switzerland. 

In a recent video, with Al Jazeera news, Ali Aboutaam claimed that the ancient funerary object had been purchased by his father and had been in their family for 25 years. While under their control, he indicated that the sarcophagus had always been stored at the Geneva freeport aside from when it was shipped to the UK for conservation treatment.   Ali Aboutam added that in 2010 the object was sold to the Gandur Foundation as a donation to the Musée d’Art ed d’Histoire in Geneva and according to Phoenix Ancient Art's attorney Bastien Geiger, Sleiman Aboutaam purchased the object in the early 90s.

Phoenix Ancient Art had proposed the sarcophagus to billionaire Swiss tycoon and commodities trader, Jean-Claude Gandur in the spring of 2010 for an estimated $1 - 4 million saying that the firm was acting on behalf of a third party whom they interestingly refused to disclose.  Gandur, who made a fortune during the 1990s buying oil concessions in Africa, has long been a powerful collector of ancient art, as well as a long term patron of the Musée d’Art et d’histoire in Geneva. 

In consideration of the donation, Marc-André Haldimann, head of the archaeology department of the Musée d’Art ed d’Histoire of Geneva and the director of the museum, Jean-Yves Marin, went to the freeport and inspected the sarcophagus to carry out an appraisal for consideration.  The pair however remained highly skeptical of the lack of established information on the ancient sarcophagus, which implied possible illicit origins.  

How could such a prestigious object emerge on the ancient art market having never been talked or written about previously?   

Wouldn't the archaeologist who discovered such a masterpiece have mentioned this spectacular find in his or her field notes?  

Wouldn't a scholar of some repute have compared it in an academic article with the other known artworks by the same signatory group of sculptures or other sarcophagi depicting Hercules?

The only documentation Phoenix Ancient Art produced which attested to the fundamental question of this exceptional object's past, were independently established statements attesting that the ancient work of art was part of the Aboutaam collection from 2002 onward and a certificate from Art Loss Register attesting the object had been checked against ALR's known stolen art database registry.  Ultimately the sale to the Gandur Foundation was cancelled, in no small part because of suspicions that the object had been smuggled out of its source country. 

In March 2011, the Specialized Body for the International Transfer of Cultural Property at the Swiss Federal Office of Culture (FOC) issued a statement that they believed the sarcophagus had originated from the general area of the famous marble quarries of Dokimion in Phrygia, the present day Antalya region of Turkey. The Dokimeian white marble sarcophagus was likely sculpted sometime during the the second century, when the area was under Roman rule. 

Based on the FOC's examination, Swiss authorities alerted their counterparts in Ankara, and Turkey in turn, issued a demand for the restitution of the rare antiquarian work by a letter rogatory of July 2011. Turkey also sent a request for mutual assistance to the Geneva court and an inquiry was formally opened in Switzerland to look into alleged violations of the Cultural Property Transfer Act (LTBC).  This act requires art market professionals keep a register for 30 years, in which the "origin of the cultural property" is to be documented. 

In order for the sarcophagus to have been in good standing in Switzerland under the LTBC, the dealers would be obliged to prove that the acquired object was in an old collection outside the source country prior to 2005 or to demonstrate that the object was not stolen or exported illicitly after 2005.

In October 2013, the case made its way through Swiss court. The Geneva Chief Public Prosecution Office and the Chief Public Prosecutor of Antalya conducted a comprehensive joint study with the Swiss magistrate in charge of the case traveling to Antalya, Turkey where Turkish Public Prosecutor Osman Şanal provided access to witnesses.   

Testimonies were heard from Professor Haluk Abbasoğlu and Professor İnci Deleman who conducted excavations in the region where the sarcophagus was illegally excavated.   The Swiss prosecutor also met with an unnamed imprisoned smuggler serving time on a separate smuggling charge in Elmalı prison.  This smuggler allegedly confirmed that the artifact had been looted and smuggled out of Turkey. 

Based on the evidence gathered, on September 21, 2015 Swiss authorities ordered the repatriation of the sarcophagus. But international legal proceedings move at a snail’s pace and the return of this one object, approved by the Geneva Court of Justice on May 2, 2016, was slowed again, due to a challenge by the Swiss Federal Court. 




More on the dealers involved in this repatriation case.

Phoenix Ancient Art operates a gallery in New York city as well as in Geneva Switzerland.  Founded by Sleiman Aboutaam in 1968, the firm was incorporated in 1995.  The second-generation family business is now managed by Sleiman's sons, Hicham Aboutaam and Ali Aboutaam, who took over the firm's operation after Sleiman’s death in 1998.  The firm has been embroiled in a significant number of antiquities-related controversies. 

A sampling (not a complete listing) of other instances of concern involving this firm include:

A third-century CE South Arabian alabaster stele the brothers attempted to sell in May 2002 via Sotheby’s auction house in New York for approximately $20,000 to $30,000 in which they listed the provenance for the piece as having belonged to a private English collection. Sotheby's researchers conducting due diligence before the auction found published photographs of the stele indicating that this tablet, carved in low relief, with an image of the fertility goddess Dat-Hamin, had been stolen in July 1994 from the Aden Museum in Yemen's port city during the country's previous war.  This object was forfeited to the U.S. government in December 2003 and eventually returned to Yemen.  

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."

The Egyptian authorities have 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.

Advice on collecting ancient art

ARCA encourages its readers to remember that the only way to avoid looting is to pressure dealers and collectors to not participate directly or indirectly in looting through their sourcing and purchases.  Collectors of ancient art are only the most current stewards of objects with long and telling histories. The provenance, or ownership history of a piece of art is important and should detail strong proof that an object has come from a legitimately traded collection.  

Buying and trading in ancient works of art, without well documented collecting histories, simply for their beauty or for the purpose of rescuing them from countries in conflict, only encourages further looting and further laundering of smuggled illicit objects. 

ARCA strongly discourages collectors and museums from buying or accepting objects that cannot pass the 1970 test or which lack a legitimate export permit from the actual and correct country of the object's origin.

By: Lynda Albertson

March 19, 2017

One well documented theft = three separate seizures - Egypt's successes in curbing the sale of a stolen ancient objects

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
Four years after being stolen and then trafficked illegally out of Egypt, a painted wooden New Kingdom mummy mask has been returned to its country of origin this week, after turning up at a French antiquities auction in December 2016.

The mask is just one of 96 artifacts from the Pharaonic, Greek and Roman periods, discovered during foreign archaeological missions which were stolen in 2013, during a break-in of the Museum of Antiquities storage facilities at Elephantine. An archaeologically rich island, Elephantine is the largest island in the Aswan archipelago in Northern Nubia, Egypt. The island lies opposite central Aswan, just north of the First Cataract on the Nile.  


Given that the professionally excavated objects were formal discoveries by authorized archaeological missions, versus illicitly excavated, the stolen antiquities, were well documented.   This gave the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities the necessary evidentiary documentation to list the ancient objects as possibly in circulation with national and international law enforcement authorities.  

One Well Documented Theft = Numerous Separate Seizures

Monitoring the antiquities market closely, Egypt has succeeded in stopping the sale of several stolen objects from this single theft over the last few years. In this most recent incident, once the mummy mask had been spotted, Shabaan Abdel Gawad, the general supervisor of the Antiquities Repatriation Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, was able to request that the mask's auction be halted, demanding the object's return through formal channels via the Egyptian embassy in Paris.

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation
Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
Earlier, on January 29, 2017, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced that a deputy from the British Museum had handed over a 16.5 centimeter tall, carved wooden Ushabti statue with gold inscriptions.  This ancient object, stolen during the same break-in, had been relinquished by a British citizen. The funerary object had been excavated by Spanish archaeologists at the site of the Qubbet al-Hawa Necropolis in Aswan, and dates to ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom period (circa 1990 BCE – 1775 BCE). 

Ushabti statues, sometimes called simply "Shabtis" by dealers in the antiquities trade, are very popular with ancient art collectors. These small wooden and stone figurines were once placed in Egyptian tombs, intended to function as the servants of the deceased during their afterlife.

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation
Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
On June 14, 2015 a 2,300 year old Ancient Egyptian ivory statuette was identified up for sale at the Aton Gallery of Egyptian Art in Oberhausen, Germany. Stolen during the same 2013 robbery, this 11.5 cm tall, statuette of a man carrying a gazelle over his shoulders, was unearthed in 2008 by a Swiss archaeological mission that had been carrying out excavations at the Khnum Temple at Elephantine.  Once identified at the auction house, the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry reported the auction to INTERPOL.

The statuette is believed to date back to Egypt's Late Period, from 664-332 BCE which ended with the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great and the establishment of the Ptolemaic Dynasty.

According to a screenshot grabbed by ARCA on June 14, 2015 (and since removed from the dealer's website), the web page depicted the object's upcoming auction and included a reserve price of $5050.  At the time of the auction, Aton Gallery had listed the provenance for the ivory figurine as being part of a German private collection, formed in the 60s and 70s, before being part of an earlier American Collection formed in the 1930s.  Misleading provenance, in this case either by the auction house or the consignor, underscores how easy stolen and looted antiquities can be made to appear part of older more established collections, when in fact they are not. 
ARCA Screenshot capture: June 14, 2015
Piece by priceless piece, Egypt is taking collectors and dealers to task.  And while 93 of the 96 stolen items are still out there, three recoveries are better than none.  

France Desmarais of ICOM’s International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods has stated 

"Stolen items are not necessarily lost forever because many can be recovered and will inevitably resurface at some point in time, whether in the art market or while crossing borders."

But Egypt’s police force and governmental heritage authorities can only do so much in their protection of the country’s thousands of archaeological sites, museums and historical objects.  This vulnerability is something looters are all too aware of. 

Playing on the limited resources of source countries, especially those suffering from political turmoil, looters, middlemen and traffickers can wait years before floating highly valued pieces onto the licit art market.   In the interim, those dealing in black market sales sustain themselves financially on the proceeds derived from a small but steady trickle of smaller finds, often dribbled out to lesser known dealers and galleries. As the art market is adapting to online sales, some items are not being sold through brick and mortar shops any longer, instead, objects are passing through simple one on one, online or social media transactions. 

But while objects from well documented thefts like the one on the Elephantine storeroom eventually do resurface, the process of identify-seizure-forfeiture, on an object by object basis is a painfully slow, and only moderately successful, road to repatriation.  

To staunch the flow of high demand antiquities for vulnerable source countries collectors must begin to hold themselves more accountable.  Knowing what we know today, collectors should curb their consumerist tendencies of wanting what they want when purchasing ancient art without documentation of legal export. More often than not, antiquities without sound paperwork have a higher probability of having been stolen or looted. 

It's time for collectors to take themselves to task, taking stock in the origins of their past purchases and voluntarily relinquishing items bought in the past without concern for legality, when they have have contributed to the theft and looting of historic sites around the globe.

Doing the Right Thing

If you are a collector and you suspect an antiquity you have purchased may have been looted or stolen, here are some things you can do.


If your object is on one of these lists, consult with your local museum's curatorial staff. 

Lastly, Interpol, National Law Enforcement, UNESCO, ICOM and organizations like ARCA maintain contacts with experts familiar with looted and stolen art.   If you have doubts about a purchase and don't know who to contact or need help with the ancient remains in a specific country, please write to us here

By:  Lynda Albertson

Lecture: Criminals without Borders - The many profiles of the (il)licit antiquities trade.



For those interested interested in the realm of illicit trafficking who will be in Rome, Italy April 21, 2017 Lynda Albertson, ARCA's Chief Executive Officer will be giving a talk on "Criminals without Borders."

This one hour lecture, at 6:00 pm at John Cabot University will provide a brief overview of the profile of actors in the illicit art trade, giving examples of how those in the trade avoid detection and prosecution.

This presentation will discuss the motives of trafficking in art and antiquities, highlighting cases from source and conflict countries emphasizing that the trade thrives on commercial opportunity i.e., a means of dealing in high value commodities that are often poorly protected, difficult to identify and easy to transport across national boundaries.

Her presentation will examine specific case examples and will underscoring response mechanisms that work to proactively counter the illegal trade.

The discussion will highlight

--the interchangeable participants in the illicit antiquities trade
--varying motives/opportunities
--how connections through single interactions can form loosely based networks


Lynda Albertson is the CEO of ARCA — The Association for Research into Crimes against Art, a nongovernmental organisation which works to promote research in the fields of art crime and cultural heritage protection. The Association seeks to identify emerging and under-examined trends related to the study of art crime and to develop strategies to advocate for the responsible stewardship of our collective artistic and archaeological heritage. 

Ms. Albertson, through her role at ARCA seeks to influence policy makers, public opinion and other key stakeholders so that public policies are developed and based on apolitical evidence, and which addresses art crime prevention and the identification of art crimes in heritage preservation initiatives.

In furtherance of that, Ms. Albertson provides technical, scientific and regional expertise to national and international organizations such as UNESCO, CULTNET, ICOM, in furtherance of ARCA's heritage preservation mission.   For the past five years, Lynda has focused part of her work on fighting the pillage of ancient sites and trafficking of artifacts, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, conducting research on the illicit trade in antiquities in MENA countries. 

Ms. Albertson also oversees ARCA's inter NGO - Governmental engagement and capacity building in MENA countries in recognition of UN Security Council Resolution 2199, which among other provisions, bans all trade in looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria and encourages steps to ensure such items are returned to their homelands. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM (CET)
Guarini Campus
Via della Lungara, 233

March 18, 2017

Exhibition - The Past Sold, April 3 - May 13, 2017


Beginning April 3, 2017 and running through May 13, 2017, the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, located on the campus of the University of Chicago, will host an exhibition on movable heritage.  The exhibition will highlight the importance of archaeological context, emphasizing that the movement of objects can be either positive; when removal is properly documented using approved methodology, or negative; such as when sites are plundered or destroyed.  It is that latter which renders them useless to archaeologists and historians seeking to understand and reconstruct the past from the remains of ancient cultures.

The exhibition's title The Past Sold, developed out of the Past for Sale research project undertaken at the Neubauer Collegium.  This initiative brought together experts in the field of heritage looting who shared issues of common concern regarding what is known about the looting of cultural heritage sites by both opportunistic and more systematically organised looters. 

The exhibit is designed to stimulate dialogue on the complexity of this important issue and encourages visitors to engage in the ethical debate of acquiring cultural heritage objects from around the globe.

Asking the important question "Where does the art you enjoy in any given exhibit come from?"  

The exhibit reminds us that sometimes whole sites are destroyed in the hunt for the best "marketable" objects and that individual objects on the less than transparent art market,  are often difficult to trace to the country of origin, never mind to the original site.  

The curators hope the exhibition will foster new conversations about the collection of pilfered objects of questionable origin. 

For information please see the exhibition webpage here. 

Exhibition Dates:
April 3 - May 13, 2017

Location
Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society
Exhibition takes place on the 1st floor gallery 
5701 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, Illinois


Hours
11am-5pm, Monday-Friday

Contact
773-795-2329 (Front desk)
collegium@uchicago.edu

March 16, 2017

Repatriation: Attic Red-Figure Nolan Amphora by the Harrow Painter

Image Credit: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
Left - Min. Plen. Francesco Genuardi, Consul General of Italy in New York
Right -  Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.
On February 25, 2017 ARCA announced a second antiquities seizure at Royal-Athena Galleries, a well known New York City-based gallery operated by Jerome Eisenberg, following object identifications made by forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis.  The item seized was an Attic Red-Figure Nolan amphora painted by the Harrow Painter, a vase painter known to have decorated column craters, oinochoai, and neck amphorae from approximately 480 until 460 B.C.E. 

A week earlier, Tsirogiannis had informed both ARCA and the Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, Matthew Bogdanos, that he had matched the ancient object to three images from the archive of disgraced Italian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina, convicted in 2011 for his role in the illegal antiquities trade. The dealer's accumulation of business records, seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002, consists of some 140 binders containing more than 13,000 documents related to antiquities, bought and sold, which at one point or another are known to have passed through Becchina's network of illicit suppliers. 


Presented with irrefutable evidence of the object's illicit past, the neck amphora, valued at $250,000, was quickly forfeited by the New York dealer. 

Today, in New York City, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. formally handed over the amphora to the Italian authorities during a repatriation ceremony attended by Minister Plenipotentiary Francesco Genuardi, the Consul General of Italy in New York, and the Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) New York, Debra Parker.

According to the New York County District Attorney website, the Neck Amphora will be exhibited at the Consulate General of Italy in New York for a few months in celebration of its return before ultimately going back to Italy.  Once home, the object will be placed on permanent display in one of Italy's museums which are part of the regional Polo Museale del Lazio,’ a grouping of museums in the territory near Rome, some of which are in the immediate vicinity of where the object was likely looted. 

The DA's website also mentioned that the amphora will be displayed in Italy with "a special mention of the decisive contribution of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for its repatriation."

Here is hoping there is also room on the museum's brass ID plate for the name "Tsirogiannis." It was through this diligent researcher's identification, and the earlier work of Maurizio Pelligrini from Rome's Villa Giulia, which ultimately tied this Neck Amphora to the specific group of identified traffickers, middlemen and dealers who had working relationships with Becchina.   It is his analysis of the dealer's archival records, which proved to be the critical component of the evidentiary material which ultimately paved the way for the New York DA's office through the request of attorney Matthew Bogdanos, to request that this object be seized.  This request for seizure in turn leading to the eventual "voluntary" forfeiture of the amphora.  

As a general rule, antiquities dealers do not voluntarily give up ancient works of art worth six figures unless they have to.   They do so, only when the evidence presented makes a compelling legal case which persuades them that it would probably be in their best interest to do so. 

By: Lynda Albertson

March 15, 2017

Fighting Art Trafficking and Art Crime in Bosnia: the work of CPKU


By: Helen Walasek

The importance of South East Europe as a major route for the illicit trafficking of looted and stolen art and antiquities, as well as a source region itself is recognised by international art crime researchers and professionals. However, the activities of the Tuzla-based Center Against Trafficking in Works of Art (Centar Protiv Krijumčarenja Umjetninama – CPKU), the only organisation in Bosnia-Herzegovina dedicated to documenting and fighting art crime, is not as well-known as it should be. 

CPKU is also playing a role in focusing attention on one of the great unanswered questions of the 1992–1995 Bosnian War: that of the enormous amount of cultural property looted during the conflict. This has never been adequately addressed, either with regard to the detailed documentation of missing objects, or investigation of the movement, destination and whereabouts of looted cultural property. Nor (so far as the author is aware) have any formal claims for restitution of looted cultural property been made by governmental or institutional authorities. 

Since the centre was established in December 2014, CPKU has worked to establish a national system of coordination and cooperation on art crime between national and international agencies and owners of cultural property (both public and private). Yet despite being the only state-wide organisation working in the field, the centre is often told by international bodies that as an NGO it does not have the authority to deal with these issues. However, as CPKU’s founder-director Dženan Jusufović has pointed out, official bodies which should be dealing with such issues, simply aren’t. Nevertheless, CPKU is having a significant impact in creating a greater awareness of the issue in official bodies and continues to forge a growing number of links with law enforcement and judicial agencies in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In October 2015 CPKU convened its first major event, a roundtable conference on the illicit traffic in art in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which brought together over 40 representatives from key stakeholders engaged in the fight against organised crime and war crimes, including international, national and entity agencies and law enforcement bodies, as well as from cultural institutions such as museums and galleries, alongside private collectors and NGOs.

Growing out of the conference were calls for the creation of a national database of missing works of art and other cultural property, for training in art crime for law enforcement officers, prosecutors and the judiciary, and for the formation of specialised art crimes units. Parallel with this, the holders of cultural goods (whether public or private) were urged to assist in the fight against the illicit traffic in cultural property by regularly updating their documentation of objects (including making good quality photographic documentation). 

Since then CPKU has produced guidelines for documenting works of art and reporting thefts, as well as providing detailed instructions on the best ways of photographing objects for documentation purposes (both downloadable from the CPKU website). Last year it published the first manual (also downloadable ) on the illicit art trade in Bosnia-Herzegovina which incorporates information on the legal international and national legal framework, how art is trafficked across the country and the region, and suggested preventive measures, as well as reproducing the sample documentation instructions.

A public awareness-raising event/performance, Giants of Art (Velikani Likovne Umjetnosti), was held in partnership with the National Gallery of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Association of Artists of Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Sarajevo-based gallery in April 2016 to alert the wider public to the issue of missing works of art – some of which had no photographic documentation.

All these initiatives have been supported by CPKU’s principal partner, the French Embassy in Sarajevo. The embassy was also instrumental in bringing Corinne Chartrelle, Deputy Head of France’s L'Office Central de Lutte Contre le Trafic de Biens Culturels (OCBC), to speak at a recent CPKU seminar on the illicit art market at the headquarters of the Centre for Judicial and Prosecutorial Training of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (CEST).

By May 2017 CPKU hopes to release a database of artworks missing or stolen from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Dženan Jusufović has noted that only thirteen cases of stolen artwork from Bosnia are registered on Interpol’s database of stolen art, despite that thousands of items of cultural property disappeared during or in the aftermath of the 1992–1995 war.

In addition to ongoing support from the French Embassy, CPKU also has partnerships or cooperation with national and international bodies and institutions, including ICOM Observatory, Interpol, UNESCO, ICOM Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Centre for Judicial and Prosecutorial Training of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (CEST), the British Council, the National Gallery of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Historical Museum of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Association of Artists of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Faculty of Law at University of Tuzla, the NGO Akcija, and other museums, galleries, heritage institutions and legal-judicial bodies. 

For further information contact:
Centar Protiv Krijumčarenja Umjetninama (CPKU)
Atelje Ismet Mujezinović
Klosterska 19
75000 Tuzla 
Bosnia-Herzegovina

Email: cpkubih [at] gmail [dot] com
Phone: +387 61 185 733
Website: www.cpku.org
Facebook: Centar-protiv-krijumčarenja-umjetninama

March 9, 2017

Exhibition: When a school transforms itself into a museum: Preserving Italian heritage: recovered artefacts on display from 9 March to 30 April 2017 at the Rome International School



Following the success of the “Pop Icons” exhibition, the Rome International School in collaboration with MiBACT and the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale will host a new cultural event in Rome, Italy highlighting the work of the Italian art crime military squad.

Starting today, and running through April 30th, the Rome International School will host 75 archaeological items, recovered from illegal excavations and thefts 
recovered by this special branch of the Carabinieri.

On hand for today's press conference was Commander of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, General Fabrizio Parrulli, the Director General of LUISS Guido Carli University (the parent school to the RIS), and Giovanni Lo Storto, Director General, MiBACT.

If you ever wanted irrefutable proof that a large, well trained police force can have an impact on art crimes, this exhibition, both visually and emotionally, hands you unrefutable evidence on a plate. 

Want to whet your appetite to what you will see on display?  

Here are a few of the artworks which stand out:

An attic red-figure pelike depicting Hercules in the garden of the Hesperides, and on the reverse side, a scene from the Iliupersis, also known as the sacking of Troy. This IV century BCE ceramic storage jar, similar to an amphora, was illegally excavated from somewhere in Puglia/Sicilia/Sardegna/Calabria.  It was recovered during "Operation Teseo" a multinational police operation which recovered 5,361 antiquities confiscated in Basel, Switzerland.

A 340-320 BCE crater with a representation of Helios on his sun chariot pulled by horses.  This vase was seized during a raid against an antiquities dealer in 2009. 

An illegally excavated III-I century BCE sarcophagus with a full-length portrait of a man reclining on a kline from clandestine excavation conducted in Southern Etruria dear Tuscania.  One of the largest objects in this exhibition, the sarcophagus was recovered from an art storage warehouse in Switzerland in 2016 as part of Operation Antiche Dimore, a law enforcement seizure of 45 shipping crates belonging to Robin Symes which contained ancient works of art worth an estimated € 9 million that the disgraced dealer intended for the English market, Japanese and American antiquities markets.  

A fresco slab looted from a tomb in historic Casertano depicting an armed warrior on horseback along with two heavily armed hoplite (foot-soldiers). The work was recovered from the storage area of an antiquities dealer in Como, Italy in May 2015. 


A specific installation dedicated to ancient armour, which includes ancient suits of armour and weapons that originate from different parts of Italy, between the 5th and 6th centuries BCE. 

The exhibition builds a bridge between the culture of the past, the culture of the future and the culture of legality.  The last ultimately protects the rights of all of us to enjoy the knowledge and beauty that we have inherited from centuries long past. 

The art crime exhibition will be open to the public for free Monday to Friday, between 8:30 am and 6:00 pm and during the weekends from 10:00 am until 8:00pm

For more information about the event please visit the RIS website. 

March 5, 2017

India arrests Udit Jian, business associate and accomplice to accused American businessman Vijay Nanda


One month after India's Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) arrested American businessman Vijay Nanda at his residence in the Girgaum Chowpaty area of Mumbai and charged him with with smuggling historic artifacts to the United States, Europe and Hong Kong, Indian authorities have arrested his business associate and accompliceUdit Jain. 

Not his first brush with the law, Jain was also taken into custody by Chennai authorities in October 2016 for forging Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) certificates for the octogenarian smuggler, Govindaraj Dheenadhayalan (alternatively spelled "Deenadhayalan"). Dheenadhayalan was arrested in June 2016. 

In addition to serving as a middleman for Dheenadhayalan and Nanda, Jain is believed to have been procuring artifacts, stolen from temples, for Nanda and others, many of which were then exported to the Far East. 








February 25, 2017

Auction Alert and Antiquities Seizure: Second seizure at Royal-Athena Galleries, New York


On February 17, 2017 forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis alerted Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos in Manhattan that he had identified another antiquity, likely of illicit origin, apparently being laundered via the US art market.  The object in question had been listed for sale via Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery which is operated by Jerome Eisenberg.   Royal-Athena Galleries is the same New York gallery which relinquished an illicitly trafficked sarcophagus fragment to the country of Greece a few weeks ago. 


Attic Red-Figure Nolan Amphora
By the Harrow Painter
Ex C.H. collection, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Exhibited: Yale University Art Museum, 2003-2015.
Price: P.O.R.  (Price on Request)

As per Tsirogiannis, this same vase appears in three images from the Gianfranco Becchina archive pictured below.


The Becchina Archive is an accumulation of records seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during raids conducted on Becchina’s gallery, Palladion Antique Kunst, as well as two storage facilities inside the Basel Freeport, and another elsewhere in Switzerland.  This archive consists of some 140 binders which contain more than 13,000 documents related to the antiquities dealer's business.  

Becchina's records include shipping manifests, dealer notes, invoices, pricing documents, and thousands of photographic images.  Many of the images are not slick art gallery salesroom photos, but rather, crude point and shoot polaroids taken by looters and middlemen depicting recently looted antiquities. Some of these polaroids show objects immediately after their looting and show objects which often still bear soil and salt encrustations. 

In 2011 Becchina was convicted in Italy for his role in the illegal antiquities trade. While he later appealed this conviction, antiquities like this vase, traced to this network of antiquities traffickers, continue to surface years after their original looting.  Objects like this one, have resurfaced in private collections, museums and some of the world's most well know and ostentatious galleries and auction houses specializing in ancient art so it is important for collectors to remain on alert to the history of the objects they consider for purchase. 

When discussing his identifications with ARCA Tsirogiannis andicated that the photograph below, of a handwritten note by Gianfranco Becchina himself, documents that the Italian dealer had knowledge of the looted Neck Amphora's existence at least as far back as 28 February 1994.  Documents in the archive which represent the dealer's own meticulous record-keeping, shows that Becchina acquired the vase on the 15th of March 1994 and paid for the object on the 11th of April of that same year.


It is important to note that this red-figure attic vase is one of the most important styles of figural Greek vase painting.  In the Italian dealer's records, the object appears in photographs together with another object, an amphora.  This second object has been redacted from the image presented for the purposes of this blog post as the object is still in circulation.  Both antiquities seem to have come from a single Italian looter or middleman trafficker identified only as 'Robertino'. Given this information, it is plausible that the second identified piece of Attic pottery was looted at or near the same period of time, and may likely come from the same Etruscan tomb. 

It is Dr. Tsirogiannis' opinion that the two object photo ties the vase definitively to the country of Italy and that therefore, the vase should be repatriated to the Italian authorities.  

Other examples of illicit material which have passed through this New York dealer's art and antiquities firm include:



Eight antiquities stolen from museums and archaeological sites worth US$ 510,000.

And most recently, on February 10, 2017, a sarcophagus fragment depicting a battle between Greeks and Trojans looted from Greece and relinquished to the Greek Authorities.

Speaking with Dr. Tsirogiannis about this most recent identification he stated "As in the recent case of the sarcophagus fragment that has been repatriated to Greece, so in this case the identification and the evidence are sending back to Italy a valuable Greek vase. This result was achieved with the cooperation of assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos in New York who handled the seizure and the archaeologist of the Villa Giulia museum in Rome Mr. Maurizio Pellegrini who provided crucial information about the identity of the looter involved."

Given the fact that it often takes sound identifications, such as those conducted by researchers actively working on the Becchina dossier, forfeiture by art market dealers should not be misconstrued as spontaneous acts of good well. In many of such cases, the antiquities are relinquished either to avoid lengthy litigation or as a gesture by the suspect holder of the object to remove themselves from any negative publicity caused by having their name associated with having handled or purchased trafficked art.

By Lynda Albertson

February 21, 2017

Auction Alert: Timeline Auctions. February 21, 2017, London, UK

On February 20, 2017 ARCA contacted Christos Tsirogiannis about a possible ancient object of concern in an upcoming Timeline auction scheduled to start the following day in London, UK at 10:00am GMT.

TimeLine Auctions holds regular auction sales of antiquities from around the world.  Bidding can be done in person, or electronically through their own or associated websites. The firm is a prominent middle-range British dealer in portable antiquities.

Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has collaborated with ARCA to draw attention to and identify antiquities of potentially illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries auction houses, and private collections that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.

Dr. Tsirogiannis in turn consulted TimeLine Auction's current online sale catalog and reviewed the objects for possible matches.  Contacting us shortly thereafter, he informed us that he had matched not one, but three antiquities traceable to known traffickers of illicit antiquities.

Each of the three ancient objects match conclusively with photos that are found in the confiscated Robin Symes archive (lot 49 and lot 79) and the confiscated Giacomo Medici archive (lot 183).

The items Dr. Tsirogiannis identified as being of possible concern are: 

A Scythian Rhyton with Animal Head: Lot 0049

Left: Screen Capture of Timeline Auction Photo 02/21/17
Right: Photo from Robin Symes Archive
NB This photo has been reversed horizontally for matching purposes. 

The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 
"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

This antiquity has unfortunately been sold for £3,100 including buyer's premium. 

Scythian Moose Inset with Cabochons: Lot 0079


Left: Screen Capture of Timeline Auction Photo 02/21/17
Right: Photo from Robin Symes Archive 

Top: Screen Capture
TimelineAuction 02/21/17
Middle and Bottom:
Photos from
Giacomo Medici Archive
The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 
"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

This antiquity has also unfortunately been sold for £2,790 including buyer's premium.

Roman Head of a Youth: Lot 0183

The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 

"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency with which potentially illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as those seen in these identifications, collectors will be encouraged to do their own due diligence, before acquiring objects for their collections.  In this way new buyers will not be duped into the laundering of objects in support the illicit antiquities trade.

While it is likely too late to save the new owners of Lot 0049 and Lot 0079 the headache of having just purchased potentially laundered illicit antiquities, ARCA hopes that Timeline will willingly withdraw the third object, to allow more time for due diligence, now that these identifications have been made.  In this way, the auction firm can avoid passing along another tainted antiquity to an unsuspecting collector.

It also would be nice, if in turn, Timeline shared the consignor/s contact information with the authorities, or encouraged the current owner to contact the authorities so that they could determine if any other suspicious items had been purchased in the past, which may have passed through Symes and Medici's hands.

As always, Tsirogiannis has sent the documentation of his informed suspicions on to law enforcement authorities at INTERPOL.

By Lynda Albertson