October 7, 2015

It is time to act.

On September 28, 2015, at the United Nations, President Obama proposed to fight ISIS and other forms of “violent extremism” using a savant blend of targeted air strikes, ideas, jobs, and good governance. As if DAESH/ISIL cares one bit. 
It’s hard to imagine how one can square those well-intentioned thoughts with the devastation that is reshaping forever the map of the Middle East. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, and Jordan are but a few of the countries directly affected by the apocalyptic and sustained outbursts of violence unleashed upon them by militants from DAESH/ISIL. 
Nearly as important is the eradication of cultural icons, described by every figure of international politics as “belonging to humanity.” Sites that have survived thousands of years of military conflicts, droughts, and societal mischief are now being razed by gangsters posing as religious fighters wishing to establish a pure version of their faith. This is not the place to comment on the merits of their plan, rather the consequences of this plan being implemented by means of the tools of our digital age combined with ruthless, genocidal violence. DAESH/ISIL has been able to recruit followers from one hundred different countries who are willing to give their lives to their cause. This is no small feat.  
Luckily, President Obama is no Neville Chamberlain, the famously appeasing British Prime Minister who wished the best of luck to Hitler in September 1938. His proposal to co-exist with Germany’s Chancellor proved to be at the expense of Europe writ large; the purpose of the appeasement of Germany was to keep Britannia intact and not to shed a drop of British blood, in the hopes that Hitler would be reasonable with a neighbor willing to declare itself a benign ally. We know how that story ended.
Are we now facing the same predicament? While we take time to invest in ‘ideas, jobs and good governance,’ the entire Mediterranean region may be revamped by DAESH/ISIL and both its followers and those fleeing its clutches. 
Since there is no international political will to send hundreds of thousands of troops to the Mideast to combat DAESH/ISIL, what can be done in the short- and mid-term to stanch the consequences of the genocide? How can we safeguard the artifacts and sites that embody thousands of years of history in what we habitually call “the cradle of civilization” while protecting the lives of those who live and coexist with them within that “cradle”? 
World War II provides us with useful examples of responses and initiatives that were put into place to combat and defeat the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan—and their allies). If adapted to our current predicament, managed, staffed, and financed properly, these measures and initiatives could have a measurable deterring impact on the financial and intelligence networks of DAESH/ISIL, and stop the reaping of enormous sums that this horrific organization obtains in exchange for looted antiquities and precious objects. 
1/ Economic warfare and countervailing strategies aimed at choking the financial, and commercial capacities of DAESH/ ISIL. 
During WWII, the United States and the United Kingdom initiated or refined measures aimed at establishing or strengthening barriers to the Axis countries’ ability to trade and obtain cash and commodities needed to supply the Axis war machine:
a/ the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) in the U.S., as amended, prohibited all financial and commercial relations with anyone directly or indirectly associated with the Axis. Translated into terms relevant to 2015, the TWEA would likewise prohibit nationals from countries where the TWEA is enacted from entering into transactions with anyone directly or indirectly connected with DAESH/ISIL. Current measures in place must be strengthened to reflect the wartime intent of the TEA.  
b/ specific directives were passed in the U.S. (Treasury Directive 51072 in particular) which aimed to regulate the importation into the U.S. of any asset worth 5000 dollars or more (in 1940 dollars). The purpose was to regulate, if not prohibit, cultural and financial assets in order to prevent the recycling of loot in the US and its monetizing to the benefit of the Axis. Such directives can be enacted in the US, purposed to regulate and/or prohibit the importation of cultural objects from conflict areas. (The British government imposed similar restrictions and its Ministry of Economic Warfare (MEW), together with the Exchequer and other departments became the locus of financial and commercial intelligence collection on the Axis for the duration of WWII). 
With the help of Customs (today’s DHS), these objects would have to be accompanied with full documentation attesting to the objects’ geographic origins and the identity of the various owners in order to preempt the resale and/or display of these looted objects on US soil. 
c/ the publication of a Proclaimed List (US)  (or Statutory List in the UK) of individuals who have done or are doing business directly or indirectly with the Axis powers. This list was meant to act as a deterrent and as reference for anyone wishing to transact with individuals who might be linked with “violent extremism.” Create such a list of individuals, companies and officials connected directly or indirectly with DAESH/ISIL. 
2/ The implementation of trade and other barriers: 
During World War II, the British government oversaw the imposition and enforcement of a naval blockade in the Atlantic Ocean.aimed at deterring traffic between Europe and Africa on the one hand and the Americas on the other that the Allies deemed of benefit to the Axis powers. Blockade enforcers boarded ships and inspected their goods, commandeered those ships to vetting stations, confiscated and sequestered suspicious cargo, worked with shipping companies to ferret out suspicious individuals and interdict dubious shipments from leaving European shipping points through a navy certification (navicert) program.
Blockade-like measures could be adapted to today's more complex international environment along land, sea and air routes to preempt plundered assets from reaching international markets around the world. 
In that regard, as a more practical and enforceable measure, a 120-day renewable moratorium could be imposed on all transactions involving cultural, artistic and ritual objects with a direct provenance leading to the zones occupied by DAESH/ISIL, regardless of their “cultural significance” and if they have earned the coveted label of “national treasure.” (The new AAMD protocols on "safe harbor" for "conflict antiquities" reflect this extremely limited view of objects worth protecting).
Such a moratorium would prohibit all transactions outside of the conflict areas involving those objects, regardless of their purpose—trade or display. The moratorium could be established for a period of 120 days, and, if efficacious, could be renewed at will until no longer needed. 
3/ Tightening up due diligence and documentation rules for cultural and artistic objects: 
Cultural institutions, members of the art trade, individuals and/or corporate entities, have historically been lax when faced with the acquisition of rare and unique objects whose aesthetic and historical value might trump a defective provenance due to lack of documentation. Such laxity is rampant through the art world and, although some museums and auction houses have increased their vigilance, most are not operating at a level of diligence that meets the ethical smell test. 
In order to preempt the entry of looted antiquities into private and public collections, documentation accompanying these objects must be considered a precondition to their sale and/or display in areas outside of the zones occupied by DAESH/ISIL. This is a critical measurable way of preventing a contaminated object from entering a collection or a display case. 
4/ Military intervention to protect sites that we deem critical to humanity: 
In order to put an end to the devastation wrought by individuals and organizations bent on reshaping the planet and its societies to suit their own narrow vision of life, one has to become somewhat selfless and recognize that some issues are worth the ultimate sacrifice, because of their larger significance. 
Complacency and idle chatter are the enemy now. For every day that goes by where another international conference seats the “stakeholders” to debate endlessly about how to stop the onslaught, is another day of victories for DAESH/ISIL whose henchmen amuse themselves by destroying monuments, some as old as several millennia, that had stood unmolested since their creation. 
DAESH/ISIL do not believe in dialogue. They can only be defeated with force. And so must it be. Does the international community have what it takes to “take them on”? 
Let’s face facts: we cannot do away with extremism. It is here to stay, it has always been with us and will always be, as a virulent extension and manifestation of human nature. 
Social and economic inequities, political and religious intolerance and persecution, all manners of discrimination based on creed, belief, cultural and linguistic background, sexual and other orientations, constitute the petri dish from which groups like DAESH/ISIL sprout and spread. The eradication of DAESH-like movements can only happen through a radical overhaul of how we globally conduct business and how we treat one another. 
Until then, let’s consider the following as deterrent countermeasures to DAESH/ISIL-controlled trafficking in artistic, cultural and ritual objects extracted illegally from territories that this movement occupies and/or influences: 
-economic warfare,
-regulation of the antiquities trade,
-publication of lists of individuals and companies known to do business directly and indirectly with DAESH/ISIL agents and representatives, 
-beefing up import and export restrictions on poorly documented antiquities originating from zones held or influenced by DAESH/ISIL, 
-120-day renewable moratorium on all trade of antiquities from conflict zones,
-ground-based, naval, and air blockades to preempt traffic of looted assets from DAESH/ISIL zones of occupation, 
-strengthening of human and signal intelligence capacities, 
-military protection of cultural sites “dear to humanity,” 
-building broad coalitions around minimalist goals aimed at preempting the looting and plundering of lands under DAESH/ISIL occupation and containing the hydra towards a view to neutralize it and roll it back. 

It is time to act. 
by Marc Masurovsky and Ori Z. Soltes

October 2, 2015

Mystery Surrounding the Murder of Art Thief Sebastiano Magnanini

The Regent's Canal and entrance to the Islington Tunnel 
Murdered in North London, then bound and tied to a shopping cart in attempt to keep his copse submerged under water, Sebastiano Magnanini's badly decomposed body was discovered by a passerby near an Islington tunnel on the Regent’s Canal not far from King's Cross a little over a week ago. The area where the victim's body was recovered is popular among boaters, some of whom live in houseboats which dot the sides of the canal.  The footpath is also popular among walkers and cyclists looking to escape the capital’s busy streets.  

This is all authorities have released about the grisly demise of Venetian art thief once jailed for 18 months for his part in the 1993 theft of the 1732 painting The Education of the Virgin by Italian Rococo  artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo from the church of Santa Maria della Fava, also originally known as Santa Maria della Consolazione, in the sestiere of Castello in Venice, Italy.

Described by his friends and family as a free spirit, Magnanini, was a resident of the Cannaregio quarter in Venice but lived outside of Italy. He changed countries as the mood or work suited him.  In 2003 he moved to Plaistow, east London, then later to Thailand and Vietnam embracing a free-spirit hippy lifestyle and making ends meet by teaching English.  Later he moved to Cambodia where he worked briefly as a tour guide for an Italian company.  Then this summer he moved to the UK capital where he had begun working as a carpenter. 

Surveillance cameras in the area, used for the purpose of observing the zone show assailants attacking and then killing Magnanini.  Investigators with New Scotland Yard, who are handling the investigation do not believe that Magnanini's homicide is linked to organised crime, moreover his brother Matteo Magnanini also insisted his brother “Seba” was not involved in any criminal activity.  In an interview with The Evening Standard Matteo said 


Magnanini was sentenced in 1998 to 18 months in prison for his role as a bumbling one-time art thief in the theft of the Tiepolo artwork. Like many of Italy's churches, Santa Maria della Fava had no alarm or surveillance system and during the heist Magnanini simply hid inside the church until it closed for the evening, then cut the canvas painting from its altarpiece frame, and exited the church before heading to a nearby bar to smoke.   

The slightly damaged painting was recovered 3 months after the theft, rolled up and tied with a simple shoelace, hidden in a farmhouse near the city’s Marco Polo airport. 

Italian newspapers are speculating that Magnanini may have been the simple victim of a drug deal that went wrong.  Anyone with any information is asked to contact Detective Chief Inspector Rebecca Reeves via the incident room on 020 8721 4868,  alternatively, the police non-emergency line on 101 or, if the wish to remain anonymous, via the UK's Crimestoppers line at 0800 555 111.

October 1, 2015

Christie's Withdraws Suspect Antiquities from Auction.

Christie's has withdrawn the suspect antiquities identified by Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, on September 29, 2015 that had previously been set for auction today at Christie’s in London.  

Each of the objects had been tied to former Basel-based art dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, who was accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe. 

For details on Dr. Tsirogiannis' assessment of these objects, please see ARCA's earlier report of his findings here. 

September 30, 2015

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi Makes First Appearance at the International Criminal Court in The Hague

Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi at his first appearance hearing
at the International Criminal Court in The Hague ©ICC-CPI
Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, the alleged Islamic radical charged with involvement in the 2012 destruction of historic mausoleums and a mosque in Timbuktu made his first appearance before the single Judge of Pre-Trial Chamber I, Cuno Tarfusser, of the International Criminal Court at the seat of the ICC in The Hague (The Netherlands).  This appearance comes after an arrest warrant was issued for his arrest and transfer to the ICC on Sept. 18, 2015. A copy of the arrest warrant, ICC-01/12-01/15 The Prosecutor v. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi can be read in French here.

Yesterday’s hearing was held in the presence of the Prosecutor and the Defence Duty Counsel, Mohamed Aouini. The Single Judge verified the identity of the suspect, Mr. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, and ensured that he was clearly informed of the charges brought against him and of his rights under the Rome Statute of the ICC to be communicated with in a language he fully understands.

Dressed in a suit and tie, Al Faqi Al Mahdi confirmed his identity and replied to Judge Cuno Tarfusser that he preferred to be spoken to in Arabic. In answering to the court, the suspect stated he was ethnic Tuareg, born approximately 40 years ago in Agoune, 100 km west of Timbuktu.   He indicated that he was a "graduate of the teachers' institute in Timbuktu and and a civil servant in education in the Malian government beginning 2011.

At this point in the hearing process, Al Faqi Al Mahdi was not required to enter a plea.  He he made no comment on the current charges against him. 

Mr. Al Faqi Al Mahdi’s trial marks a watershed moment in heritage crime prosecution as it represents the first case of its kind to be brought before the ICC concerning the destruction of buildings dedicated to religion and historical monuments.  Until recently the court, has focused its cases on attacks against individuals.  

Judge Tarfusser has set a date for the confirmation of charges hearing in respect to Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi for 18 January 2016.

The full proceedings of the hearing can be viewed below. 

Highlights from “Conflict Antiquities: Forging a Public/Private Response to Save Iraq and Syria's Endangered Cultural Heritage”

In an awareness raising initiative to highlight the ongoing upheaval and destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, the Metropolitan Museum and the US State Department jointly held an event yesterday titled, “Conflict Antiquities: Forging a Public/Private Response to Save Iraq and Syria's Endangered Cultural Heritage” in New York City.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted one example of a looted and not destroyed antiquity that is known to have passed through the hands of ISIS operatives.  The object, a 9th century B.C.E: ivory plaque, decorated with a procession of Assyrian officials and foreign tributaries was excavated at the ancient Assyrian capital of Nimrud by a team from the British Museum in 1989.  The plaque was recovered by U.S. special operations forces during a tactical raid that killed a key ISIS commander, identified by his nom de guerre Abu Sayyaf, last May in al-Omar in eastern Syria.

This ancient object is known to have been looted from the Mosul Museum (Iraq) and underscores what many following illicit antiquities trafficking have already concluded, that the Islamic State not only destroys objects it find religiously offensive or useful for its public propaganda but also has been known to plunder antiquities for some level of financial gain or as war booty when opportunity knocks. 

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Keller added that "newly declassified evidence" seized when American Delta Force commandos took out Abu Sayyaf and twelve other Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters included receipts collecting taxes from looters as well as written edicts that threatened punishment for those caught looting antiquities without formal Islamic State permission. 

While some of this information appears to be newly declassified, conflict antiquities archaeologist Dr. Sam Hardy released a lengthy analysis of the heritage hoard seized during the Abu Sayyaf raid when details of the cache were released by the State Department in July 2015.  That analysis has been available for two months and can be reviewed here.  

Robert A. Hartung, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Diplomatic Affairs announced a new initiative within their "Rewards for Justice" program,  an incentive established by the 1984 Act to Combat International Terrorism, Public Law 98-533.   The program is administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and announced yesterday that they are set to 

Hartuung emphasized that the Rewards for Justice incentive is not a buyback program, but reward for help in identifying and catching smugglers linked to ISIS.  At present this reward appears to be restricted solely to the Islamic State and does not appear to be not available for information leading to the disruption of the sale of illicit antiquities by other armed groups or other non political traffickers profiting from the absence of controls during the ongoing war.

Another panel discussion highlighted the work of the US government-sponsored organisation currently tasked with ground-based observations of cultural heritage incidents in Syria and Iraq. Michael Danti, from the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), who’s group has just been allocated a second tranche of federal funding totalling $900,000 in an extension to their previous $600,000 one-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State spoke on his organization's work continues to document the current condition of cultural heritage sites in Syria and portions of Iraq.   While useful in its own right, ASOR's federally-funded initiative often draws upon the research and analysis of other conflict antiquities researchers, some of whom consistently work below the funding radar, within this sector of expertise on a voluntary basis and without the benefit of funding from governmental or academic bodies. 

Wolfgang Weber, ‎Head of Global Regulatory Policy at eBay, spoke about the due diligence of the web-based auction powerhouse that handles 800 million online auctions a year.  Sales of illicit objects online are a known and ongoing problem where illicit antiquities are concerned and attempts to prevent such illegal activity via large auction sites such as eBay are a work in progress.  Judging from their ability to monitor other areas of illicit activity, many believe that eBay's efforts in policing their online marketplace have largely been ineffective or fallen short of desirable outcomes. 

Weber's presence on the panel underscores that the internet is being harnessed to provide valuable tools for traffickers, who exploit weaknesses in online marketplaces, making the illicit trafficking of cultural property faster, easier and ever more difficult for authorities to fight.

During his presentation Weber stated that his team's task is to identify illegal items & remove them from the online marketplace but he added that eBay does not have the capacity to check individual items, only their sales conduit.  This means that the auction site's contribution to stopping illegal sales is limited to preventing sellers from listing items of concern or in some cases removing listings before a sale can be made.  

eBay relies heavily on key word searches and external reports by individuals who inform the company when an object has been identified which is of dubious origin or legality.  Private citizens and researchers connected to small NGOs are hampered from stopping the online trafficking of items as they can only flag up what’s known to be illegal or looks that way to eBay. Those monitoring the online auction site cannot procure hard evidence by buying the actual contraband as they would then be in violation of national and international laws and treaties themselves. 

Lev Kubiak, ICE Assistant Director for International Operations spoke on US Immigration and Customs Enforcements roll in cultural property, art and antiquities investigations highlighting their 
"Operation Mummy’s Curse,” a five-year investigation carried out by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that targeting an international criminal network that illegally smuggled and imported more than 7,000 cultural items from around the world and resulted in at least two convictions. 

Sharon Cott, Senior Vice President, Secretary & General Counsel at the Metropolitan Museum, spoke in support of AAMD member museums who apply ethical principles to safeguard against purchasing blood antiquities and to the roll of museums should play as safe havens for objects during times of unrest. 

Dr. Markus Hilgert, a professor of ancient Near-Eastern studies and Director of the Vorderasiatisches Museum im Pergamonmuseum - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin spoke about his newly funded trans-disciplinary research project on the illicit trade, ILLICID, with partners in customs and law enforcement, the German Federal Foreign Office, Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media, German Commission for UNESCO and ICOM. The ILLICID project is financed via the German Federal Ministry for Education.

Hilgert stressed the need to identify and develop criminological methods for in-depth analysis of illicit trafficking, stressing the need for more information on object types, turnover, networks, and various modus operandi.  He further underscored the need to adequately assess the various dimensions of money laundering and terrorist financing that may be being derived from heritage trafficking.  In conclusion he emphasized that trafficking is the number one threat to the world's cultural patrimony - more than destruction. 

ARCA would like to thank all those who were present in the room and who live-tweeted the conference and took detailed notes allowing those of us in Europe to listen in, even if it was way past our bedtimes.

A list of those folks who lent a hand are:

There was a lot of ground covered and more still that needs to be covered.

by Lynda Albertson

September 29, 2015

While the West Seeks Tighter Curbs on the Trade in Antiquities Looted by ISIS, Italian Suspect Antiquities Continue to Appear at Major Auction Houses

Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, has identified another grouping of suspect antiquities set for auction October 1, 2015 at Christie’s in London.  Each of the objects appears to have ties to former Basel-based art dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, who was accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe. Becchina was convicted of antiquities trafficking in 2011.

Since 2007, Dr. Tsirogiannis has actively identified illicit antiquities depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying the relevant government authorities when matches are discovered.  An expert on the illicit antiquities trade, Dr. Tsirogiannis teaches ARCA's illicit antiquities course.  He also serves as Research Assistant to the Trafficking Culture Project at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research located at the University of Glasgow.

Despite having apparently “clean” collection histories, each of the antiquities listed below (Lots 6, 8 and 16) — or strikingly similar ones — appear in photographic evidence confiscated by the Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during their investigation into the network of traffickers affiliated with Gianfranco Becchina.

The three antiquities on offer at the upcoming sale at Christie’s are said to come from Professor Heissmeyer’s antiquities collection; A fourth antiquity (lot 93) was temporarily confiscated by the Swiss authorities in 2008 from the Japanese illicit antiquities dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi and has now been put back into circulation within the antiquities market. 

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol, the Carabinieri Art Squad and Scotland Yard’s Art & Antiques Unit with the evidence for these new identifications.  

In detail, the suspect antiquities are:
Left - The oinochoe depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same oinochoe on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015

The oinochoe’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Germany, acquired prior to 1990.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from the above in 2005 (inv. no. 32).
Beazley Archive no. 9024860.

The same oenochoe seems to be depicted in a Polaroid image from the Becchina archive. In the archival photo the vase is covered with encrustations, lying on what appears to be a plastic tray, while a handwritten note, also in the archives, states that this antiquity was sent for restoration, among other antiquities, on 1 December 1989 to Sandro Cimicchi, Gianfranco Becchina’s usual restorer.

Left - The cup depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - The same cup on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The cup’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Switzerland, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1995 (inv. no. 17).
Beazley Archive no. 9024849.

In the Becchina archive, what appears to be the same cup is depicted in a Polaroid image, upside down and partially covered with encrustations, among three other cups. The similarities can be identified from the position of the panthers painted on the lower portion of the cup's body. A handwritten note states that the cups were bought by the middleman Raffaele Monticelli on 4 March 1993. Another handwritten note on the Polaroid states: ‘V/ Hae CH’ [sold to Hae Swiss Francs]. In 2002 Monticelli was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for conspiracy related to the trafficking of antiquities. (Isman 2011b: 50; Watson and Todeschini 2007: 292) and as recently as today had 22 million euros worth of his real estate assets confiscated by the state for his alleged involvement as an international antiquities trafficker.    

Left - The lekythos depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, United Kingdom, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1992 (inv. no. 23).
Beazley Archive no. 21590.

An object that appears to be the same lekythos is depicted in two professional images from the Becchina archive. A handwritten note states: ‘E Nov 78’.
Left - The lekythos depicted during its confiscation
in a photograph taken by the Italian authorities
 during the raid at Horiuchi’s warehouse in Geneva in 2008.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015

The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Anonymous sale; Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, 14 November 1986, lot 213.
Formerly private collection, Japan, acquired privately in 1997.

This lekythos was found and confiscated during the raid of the Swiss and Italian authorities at the warehouse of the Japanese dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi in the Geneva Freeport in 2008. The Italian authorities could not prove the illicit origin of this particular lekythos and
although Horiuchi did not supply any documentation to prove the licit origin of the lekythos, the vase was returned to Horiuchi. 

In total the Italian authorities confiscated 337 antiquities from Horiuchi depicted in the Becchina, Medici and Symes-Michaelides confiscated archives. Horiuchi's name also comes up in a 2014 repatriation case involving another Becchina linked antiquity, a 1,800-year-old sarcophagus lid depicting a sleeping Ariadne.  

It should also be noted that this same lekythos also appeared at one time on offer at ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery, owned by the Aboutaam brothers, one of whom was convicted in Egypt for antiquities smuggling and the other of whom pleaded guilty to the falsification of at least one customs document. 

In relationship to that listing  the lekythos appeared as ‘SOLD’ on the ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery website. In the October sale listing Christie’s fails to state the name of the consigner, although they do so in the case of the other three lots (Professor Heissmeyer).

In the three first cases, Christie’s ‘due diligence’ seems to have stopped short of tracing the collecting history back one step further, which would have opened the window on the Becchina transactions.  In the fourth case (lot 93), Christie’s record lists the 1986 and 1997 transaction dates in the lekythos’ collecting history, but completely avoids mentioning the authorities’ raid of Horiuchi’s warehouse in Switzerland or the subsequent passage or ownership of the vase by the convicted Aboutaam brothers, through their ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery in New York and Geneva.

In total, these are just four objects in a string of tainted auctions with fairly good documentation proving their likelihood that these objects were looted.  If the art market cannot hold itself to task on objects where there is a known and extensive photographic record of illicit activity how will the art market perform its due diligence on antiquities coming from conflict countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen where no confiscated smuggler dossiers exist?

Due diligence of looted antiquities, be they Italian or conflict-based, has to be meaningful and not merely plausible, in the furtherance of a sale's commission.  Partially-documented histories in an object's collection background, do not necessarily always point to fresh looting or illegal export but when the objects background looks murky, as is the case with these objects, the art market needs to step up its game and voluntarily refuse to participate in the laundering.

UPDATE - October 01, 2015 Christie's has withdrawn the suspect antiquities prior to the auction scheduled today in London.  

Lynda Albertson

September 28, 2015

Everything You Always Wanted to Know about a Nazi Gold Train But were Afraid to Ask...

For more than a month now ARCA has been fielding requests for interviews on what we think of the mysterious World War II era Nazi gold train.  Rather than try to regurgitate a synopsis of the reporting of 100 plus news agencies, we have decided we would just keep a running tally of what has been reported so far. 

This listing will be in chronological order from most recent to ancient past so please bookmark this page if you want to follow along.

September 28, 2015 12:00 GMT+2 Twenty Polish sappers in Wałbrzych begin checking the area designated as the potential resting grounds for the train. The soldiers will do safety checks of the earth to ensure there are no mines or other unexploded ordnances from World War II.

September 25, 2015 14:00 GMT+2
One of the area where Nazi gold train is to be hidden in Poland has been cleared of bushes and trees by Polish Military forces.

September 23, 2015 07:00 GMT+2  Trainspotters Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper may face charges and up to 30 days in jail and/or fines for having not obtained permissions to use Ground Penetrating Radar.  “It is all about is to teach a lesson to their followers. We do not want to have a wave of treasure hunters ignore the rules - explains Barbara Nowak-Obelinda, quoted in Gazeta Wyborcza.

September 21, 2015 15:30 GMT+2  Finally a little somber reasoning is being interjected into the train frenzy discourse.  Tomasz Siemoniak, Deputy Prime Minister of Poland and current Minister of National Defence has said that the discovery of new tunnels is not a sensation from the time of Pharaoh, but should be remembered for the death of thousands of people subjected to slave labor to have built it.

Siemoniak also underscored that the Polish military is not interested in finding treasure, but rather protecting human beings from threats.  Speaking to the Polish media he reminded the public that each day, World War II “souvenirs” are found, in the form of unexploded ordinances, which military sappers are then left to dispose of. 

September 19, 2015 21:00 GMT+1 News broke that the ladies have entered the gold rush. Saturday hobby historian Christel Focken (54) threw her own explorer hat into the ring with her male Nazi train hunter counterparts, staking her own claim to any finders fees should the Polish train turn out to be more than the wishful thinking of adventurers.  The Berliner, who according to offers on her website, offers guided visits to former Nazi tunnels and buildings built in the Owl Mountains has informed Polish authorities in Wałbrzych of four blocked up tunnels.

When asked if she believes trainspotters Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper’s hopeful claim that the train might contain the long lost Amber Room of the Russian Czars which was looted from a Russian palace by Nazi troops in 1941.  Ms. Focken laughed.

September 18, 2015  19:00 GMT+2  Treasure Hunters Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper hold a joint press conference with prospector, explorer Tadeusz Słowikowski in Struga near Wałbrzych. They presented another ground-penetrating radar image but not of the acclaimed World War II Nazi train. During the press conference the trio also highlighted a new image of a potential location of the train, this one in a much more industrialised area close to Wałbrzych in south-west Poland near the Czech border.

September 16, 2015 12:20 GMT+2 Polish local authorities and National authorities not seeing eye to eye on who should be involved in the investigation.  Members of the delegation of the Polish Army Museum, along with Adam Sikorski, the author of a TV program and Robert Kmieć, an expert in GPRmwere not given access to the alleged hiding place of the train despite bringing with them their own sophisticated and noninvasive GPR equipment. The MALÅ X3M™ system is one of the most compact GPR system commercially available on the market and used still costs an eye-popping sum usually reserved for professionals.   The fact that the geologists from the museum brought their own equipment corresponds with their skepticism of the GPR images presented by Piotr Koper and genealogist Andreas Richter using the KS ANALYSIS GPR KS700.  Unfortunately, they were not permitted to put their own unit to the test.

September 13, 2015 15:57 GMT+2 Heritage humor on Twitter sardonically changes the hashtag from  #ZłotyPociąg to #SchroedingersTrain.
September 13, 2015 15:35 GMT+2 As Poland's "gold train" frenzy gains momentum city officials, explorers and treasure hunters turn their attention towards a 262 meter crossover railway tunnel in Unisław Silesia built in the mid 1800s. Authorities inspecting the area found an unauthorised hole punched and continue to remind those with gold rush fever that the pursuit of treasures and solving of mysteries can be dangerous and without proper authorisation, it is also illegal.

September 13, 2015 11:11 GMT+2 Military reconnaissance continues.  Polish Armed forces bring in chemical weapons personnel as a precaution.   Areas surrounding the potential train site are to be cleared of trees and shrubs.

September 11, 2015 15:00 GMT+2 Polish explorer, Mirosław Krzysztof Szpakowski and the Włodarz Depozyty III Rzeszy upload a Youtube documentary in Polish reporting on the gold train's developments.  The video has been viewed more than 31,000 times.

September 11, 2015 15:29 GMT+2 - In almost Paul Bunyon-like ever growing tall tale, Polish  TV TVN24 and Wałbrzych regional authorities hold a press conference with a third Polish explorer, Mirosław Krzysztof Szpakowski. Szpakowski believes his research shows that the Nazis built an enormous underground bunker to protect thousands of people in the area. The explorer bases his statement on research he has been gathering for decades elaborating that this research includes witness statements, old documents and an examination of the area by ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and.....dowsers.

Oh, and there might be three trains, instead of just one.

Szpakowski is the president of Poland's Riese Association. The name Riese stems from the Nazi code name for a construction project carried out using forced labourers and prisoners from concentration camps constructed between 1943 and 1945.  These underground structures and tunnels located in the Owl Mountains and Książ Castle in Lower Silesia.  Some of these tunnels have long been explored and documented, others have not as they are blocked with debris.

The Riese association's website says the association supports tourism and the protection of monuments, historical areas, building tunnels and land that form the complex Riese, in the macro-region Municipality of Nowa Ruda. Their website has been active since 2003.

September 10, 2015 19:24 GMT+2 - A image leaked to Polish newspaper Gazeta Wroclawska, which purports to be a radar image of the Nazi gold train appears to show a train with cannons. Academics also question this second image's authenticity. Curator Michal Mackiewicz of the Polish Army Museum says that he was approached by persons with this image in June 2014.  The image was apparently presented in relationship to three persons, not named, but who are not Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter. 

September 09, 2015 23:00 GMT+2 Images of the location where the Gold Train is supposed to be have been posted on Twitter by social media user @Exen.

September 09, 2015 14:25 GMT+2  - According to police in Świebodzice a 39 year old treasure hunter has died after falling several meters off the top of a listed mausoleum which houses members of the wealthy von Kramst family while looking for Nazi treasure.  His two companions have been charged with desecrating a grave.  The tomb is located approximately 5 km from the vicinity of the zone where the Nazi train is reported to be located.

September 09, 2015 13:14 GMT+2 - A World War II-era railway tunnel with a multi-level complex of underground corridors is located near the village of Walim, 19 km (12 miles) from Wałbrzych,  by the same to treasure hunters, Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper. 

Richter and Koper used a 1926 railway map, linked here, that led them to the tunnel near to the former railway station in Walim.

September 06, 2015 - Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter have been expelled from their local history society, the Lower Silesian Study Group.  The South-west Poland study group study the area’s wartime past and archaeology.  Until the expulsion Koper acted as the group’s vice president. Richter writes a blog post calling for a motion of censure against the board of the historical society.  Petre Koper, Andreas Richter’s son Christian and Paul Dill, Peter Koper’s son all withdraw from the group in solidarity.

September 05, 2015 14:59 GMT+1  Edward Zbierański grants an interview to Polish news agency TNV24.  He says that when he was 14 years old he lived and worked on a farm located just outside the railway line.  During the war he recalls his sister telling him that she had heard a German woman said that prisoner of war had pushed part or all of a train into a tunnel and were never seen again. He also said that there were rumours that the train cars where booby-trapped with toxic gas. 

September 05, 2015 - Richter and Koper give credit to retired miner Tadeusz Slowikowski, from whom they first learned of the Nazi train's possible existence. They also say the fury over their claim surrounding the trains discovery was not of their doing, rather the leaking of documents submitted to Polish authorities that found their way into the press. Both claim they have backers to fund the extraction and recovery of the train and the exploration of nearby territories while protecting the nearby environment and want to build a museum to bring tourism to the area. Richter and Koper post a statement to their website reiterating what was read over the polish news service. 

Screen grab of graphic taken with a
GPR KS-700 reportedly showing train and nearby terrain.
September 04, 2015 09:00 GMT+2 - Builder Piotr Koper from Walbrzych, Poland, and genealogist Andreas Richter from Germany, revealed their identities for the first time reading a statement on Polish news service TVP.INFO where they declared “As the finders of a second world war armoured train, we, Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper, declare that we have legally informed state authorities about the find and have precisely indicated the location in the presence of Wałbrzych authorities and the police.” 

After reading their statement, the men released an image purportedly taken with ground-penetrating radar that seemed to show the armoured Nazi train, not in a tunnel, as previously thought, but buried under ground.  The authenticity of the image is greatly debated. 

September 03, 2015, 18:26 GMT+1 - Retired miner Tadeusz Slowikowski, 84, believed to be the main living source of the nazi train legend admits to knowing the two "engineers" who have purportedly found the train but will not release their names. Mr. Slowikowsk says that the two had visited his home to review prewar German maps of the area, current photographs and a model that he built which indicates the spot where he personally believes the train disappeared.  

September 02, 2015 11:03 GMT+2 - Minister of Defence Tomasz Siemoniak says Polish military reconnaissance team will help Nazi train search near Wałbrzych.

September 01, 2015 12:00 GMT+2 Koper and Richter write their first two posts on their website page.  The first is titled "GPS Survey of Tunnel During the Second World War." Post shows a floating image supposedly taken from a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) test performed using KS ANALYSIS Ground Penetrating Radar KS700 device.  Company website for device says it is commonly used by archaeologists and metal detectors.   Second post states that it is an image of a fifty meter shaft where the Nazi train is located.

September 01, 2015 - Train fever escalates.  Treasure hunters, some equipped with metal detectors, and curious locals have swarmed into the wooded hills and Owl Mountains . Governor Tomasz Smolarz deploys police to block entry points into the woods along a four kilometer-long track of rail so that treasure seekers do not attempt to walk along the still active train tracks where they could be injured.  

August 31, 2015 - World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer calls for any Holocaust-related valuables found to be returned to their rightful owners, or their heirs. “To the extent that any items now being discovered in Poland may have been stolen from Jews before they were sent to death.....It is essential that every measure is taken to return the property to its rightful owners or to their heirs.” 

August 30, 2015 - The train is said to be located in an underground tunnel constructed by the Nazis along a 4km stretch of track on the Wroclaw-Wałbrzych line. However, its exact location is still being kept hiddenwhile being investigated through a careful operation conducted by the Army, Police and Fire Brigade.

August 28, 2015 13:50 GMT+  - Piotr Koper from Walbrzych, Poland, and genealogist Andreas Richter from Germany open their "company" website.  

August 28, 2015 15:00 GMT+2  - Deputy Culture Minister of Poland, Piotr Zuchowski says images appeared to definitively show a train equipped with gun turrets. He also states that the two treasure hunters received information about the train’s location in a deathbed confession from a man who reportedly helped hide the train some 70 years ago and wanted to pass on his knowledge before he died.  Deputy Culture Minister Piotr Zuchowski warns of the danger to civilians and amateur cave spelunkers and treasure seekers of entering the disused World War II tunnels around Wałbrzych. Authorities say it will take weeks for the area to be secured and the suspected location explored.

Wałbrzych's deputy mayor, Zygmunt Nowaczyk relays that the train's is located within the his city’s administrative zone but that the location was not being disclosed. Authorities in Poland's cultural ministry continue to state that the site may pose a risk to "foragers" and urges World War II and Train buffs to stear clear of the area as they risk harming themselves.

August 24, 2015 Authorities in the southwestern district of Wałbrzych, where the 495-foot-long train is said to have been found, reportedly hold an emergency meeting and warn treasure hunters that the train is 'probably mined'.

August 21, 2015 - Artnet news speculates that if the contents of the train do prove to include Holocaust art returning the valuables to their rightful owners and heirs will likely be as contentious as the ownership debates surrounding the Cornelius Gurlitt's art hoard, or the dispute over Adele Block-Bauer's, Gustav Klimt collection. 

August 20, 2015 19:42 GMT+2 - Marika Tokarska, an official at the Wałbrzych district council says the two treasure hunters claim they have found a 490-foot (150-meter) train seventy meters below ground which they believe may contain Nazi treasure that could be worth "well over a million dollars.” The pair still won't reveal the train's location without a guarantee of a percentage of the finds. Despite warnings from academics that they may be dealing with a hoax or dangerous chemicals, fortune hunters from Europe begin flocking to Poland.  With stars in their eyes, some begin speculating if the train could contain the 8th wonder of the world, the long-lost Czarist Amber Room from the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg or if the finds might reconnect Jewish heirs with stolen art never recovered after the war. 

August 19, 2015 15:56 GMT+2 - Reuters breaks the news of the possible Nazi train claim for the first time in English. Interviewing local authorities in Poland’s southwestern district of Wałbrzych, the world learns that city officials had been contacted by a law firm representing two individuals, one Polish, and one German, who claim to have located a German train and who are also seeking 10 percent of the value of any findings.  Under current Polish law, any valuables found from that era would be state property.

August 19, 2015 09:25 GMT+2 - During an interview with Wałbrzych District Head Jacek Cichura, a public official, Polish Radio Wroclaw breaks the news to Polish listeners in its morning audience that a letter of demands has been received at the District Office in Wałbrzych on August 13th informing authorities that individuals have information on a purported armoured Nazi train still loaded with its original cargo. There is no precise indication of the location released during the broadcast.

August 12, 2015 14:01: GMT+2 - In an eery premonition, British newspaper The Daily Mail presents an article titled “Abandoned guns, forgotten munitions carts and peeling paint: Inside the eerie military shelters in Poland where children were forced to dig tunnels to help the Nazi military machine”  No mention is made of a lost Nazi Train or the frenzy that is about to erupt a few days later.

May 2015 - Unauthorised drilling and georadar testing in May leaves six large holes in the ground somewhere near Walim, a village about 12 miles west of Wałbrzych.

Image Credit Reuters -Tadeusz Slowikowski, retired miner 
Date Undetermined-  A second "Nazi Train source, Tadeusz Slowikowski, is cited as a retired miner from Wałbrzych, who said that just after the close of the Second World War a German living in the area had informed him that there was a train hidden near the 13th century Książ Castle.  He has been following up on leads regarding the mystery train's existence for half a century.

Date Undetermined - The train legend can be traced to at least two different Polish sources. The first was reported to be a deceased businessman known only as Mr. Posibirski, who said he saw a document locating the train near Piechowice, a town in Jelenia Góra County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, located in south-western Poland, 104 km from Warsaw.

Date Undetermined - It is believed that a Nazi train, “went missing” in 1945 as the Red Army closed in during the final days of World War II. Said train was purportedly filled with a variety of contents, possibly gold bullion, originating from the Lower Silesian capital of Breslau (now Wroclaw) then eastern Germany, now Poland.

By Lynda Albertson

New Zealand Hosts its First Art Crime Symposium

The inaugural Art Crime Symposium, held at City Gallery in Wellington on 19 September 2015, brought together leading academics and researchers for an innovative and ground-breaking one-day symposium, covering many aspects of art crime, both in New Zealand and beyond.  Organised by the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, this one-day event was the first of its kind in New Zealand. The founding trustees of the newly formed trust are Judge Arthur Tompkins, Penelope Jackson, Ngarino Ellis and Louisa Gommans. 

The organisers of the event were inspired after attending the annual conference held by the Association for Research into Crime against Art (ARCA) in Amelia, Italy, to recreate something similar much closer to home.  The Trust’s secretary, Louisa Gommans, says “We thought it likely that people in New Zealand would be interested in the topic of art crime, but we have been absolutely blown away by the number of people who attended and their enthusiasm for the subject!”  The auditorium at City Gallery was nearly at full capacity, with over 70 people in attendance, and the range of backgrounds and professions of those who attended captures the multi-disciplinary background of those interested in art crime.  

The Symposium began with a cocktail function in the foyer of City Gallery on Friday 18 September, which was a great opportunity for attendees and speakers to mix and mingle.  The Symposium commenced at 10 am on Saturday 19 September with a welcome from the Hon. Chris Finlayson Q.C., Attorney General.  This welcome focussed particularly on the Motunui Panels, recently returned home to New Zealand and soon to be unveiled at Puke Ariki Museum and Library in New Plymouth.   

Then followed a fascinating line up of lectures throughout the day.  Many who had registered for the Symposium thought New Zealand probably did not have an art crime problem, but were soon put straight on that score:

Penelope Jackson, an Art Historian with a special interest in NZ art crime, gave an overview of the art crime scene in New Zealand;
Garth Galloway, Partner at Chapman Tripp, discussed immunity from seizure legislation and the fact that New Zealand has not implemented any such legislation to date;
Catherine Gardner, Manager of Case Management for New Zealand Police, talked about the difficulties of recording crimes relating to art and some of the interesting cases the Police have dealt with;
Ngarino Ellis, Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Auckland, illustrated art crime in a Maori context, particularly in post-colonial times;
Roger Blackley, Associate Professor in the School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victoria University, gave a captivating example of connoisseurship in action while discussing two apparently similar paintings, only one of which is thought to be an authentic work by Gottfried Lindauer;
Judge Arthur Tompkins, a Judge in the District Court, delved into the saga surrounding Cornelius Gurlitt and the challenges of dealing with Nazi-looted art works;
Louisa Gommans, a Lawyer with a special interest in art law, discussed the repatriation of Maori and Moriori ancestral remains home to New Zealand.

The Symposium concluded with a highly topical panel discussion, chaired by Kim Hill, featuring Geoffrey Batchen (a teacher, writer and curator, focusing on the history of photography), Jim Barr (art commentator) and Sarah Farrar (Senior Curator of Art at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand).  The panel considered the issue of selfies in galleries, including the merits – or not – of allowing visitors to take photographs for personal use while viewing art works.  While the panel did not reach a consensus about whether or not selfie-taking was good or bad thing, it did conclude that people are unlikely to stop taking selfies anytime soon. 

The organisers hope to make the Symposium an annual event, and have already confirmed Saturday 15 October 2016 at City Gallery, Wellington for next year’s event.  

For more information please contact the secretary of the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, Louisa Gommans, at louisa.gommans@gmail.com or follow “New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust: The Symposium” on Facebook.