July 17, 2018

Quotes given by ancient art dealer William Veres outlining Balkan trafficking methods.

Image Credit:  Screenshot from documentary “The Hunt for Transylvanian Gold.”  
In 2008, following a ten-year investigation coordinated by Prosecutor General Augustin Lazăr of Romania, a number of individuals were charged in connection with illegal excavations carried out in the dense forests of the Orăştie Mountains in the vicinity of the Sarmizegetusa Regia fortress, one of six heritage sites which make up the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Dacian Fortresses of the Orăştie, dating to the mid-first century BCE.  To date twenty-eight individuals have been named in connection with this multinational investigation which has resulted in antiquities recoveries from New York, Zurich, Paris, Munich, and Hunedoara – Romania. 

Some of the persons identified in this complex investigation include Ioan Bodea, Radu Horia Camil, Iulian Ceia, Călin Corhan, Ciprian Hidişan, Daniel Jurca, Ilic Ljubisa, Ilie Luncan, Viorica Luncan, Daniel Moc,  David Magda, Ion Nedelcu, Miu Nedelcu, Adrian and Florin Nistor, Ovidiu Olah, Remus Pop, and Mihai Zerkula, each of whom were associated in some way with a criminal enterprise that has been identified as being involved in unauthorized excavations conducted in the Dacian citadels in the Orăştie Mountains, located in the counties of Hunedoara and Alba, in Romania.


In 2017 details of this looting case, which began in the capital of the Dacians civilization in the central mountains of Romania, were detailed in a fifty-minute documentary called “The Hunt for Transylvanian Gold.”  

Of the 24 gold spirals, stolen between 1998 and 2001, only 13 have been recovered.  They are now on display at the Muzeul Național de Istorie a României.  Six of the bracelets are believed to have passed through the hands of one antiquities collector, Ilic Ljubisa, believed to have been the organizer of a group of traffickers known as the "Serbian cartel" which operated out of Zurich.  Ljubisa bought three pairs of the gold spirals and is believed to have been involved in their transport to Belgrade.

To understand how Romania's golden artifacts made their way out of Romania via Serbia and onto the antiquities market, the documentary makers, Boston-based Kogainon Films, interviewed many people, including Hungarian born and London-based antiquities dealer William Veres.  Veres is now the subject of his own multinational police investigation of antiquities trafficking originating in Italy. 

In the documentary, Veres is filmed making several interesting, if not quite incriminating, statements regarding the methodologies used by the antiquities handlers caught up in the Dacian gold looting case.  

Veres comments on the city of Belgrade in Serbia and its role in the illicit trade of cultural heritage

“Belgrade, as you know, is *inaudible* the biggest capital maybe in the whole world for stolen art. So...the....let's call it the Serbian mafia, it would be a number of individuals who, would, amongst other things, deal with ancient objects and would have clients in the west.

Veres comments on the differences between art dealers in Western Europe and art dealers in the Balkans

“I've known these people as dealers, and as I say, you can look at this in a...in another context, as I say, if, the laws in countries like Serbia and Romania were different, these people wouldn't be much different from myself. But the point is that, this activity you can carry on legally in somewhere like Germany, France, even Italy, let's say, and in other countries, you can't carry it on because of the nature of cultural.... the laws of cultural property.

While drawing out a hypothetical illicit trafficking route, Veres comments on how plundered art moves from Romania to Serbia

“In the case of these spirals, once you have, once they are here in Belgrade, then of course they go to ahh Vienna, ummm Munich, maybe Zurich, and Geneva. These are the, I would say, the first stops, and from here then, to America. So it is a personal trade, run by professionals, who know what they are doing very, very well. The bus drivers they know where to hide things. So you give them a small package, you know, five hundred euros and I'm sure ahhh this can be transported to Belgrade, to Vienna overnight.  It's very efficient, like DHL.

Efficient like DHL.  Words worth remembering. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 8, 2018

On the trail of looted antiquities, Carabinieri arrest another individual in Sicily.


Image Credit: Carabinieri 
An ancient amphora and 25 terracotta fragments of ancient statues, some believed to date as far back as the III millennium BCE (the Early to Middle Bronze Age), these are the plundered archaeological finds seized during a 04 July 2018 raid on the home of Gianni Francesco Scimemi in his home in Salemi, a village located in the Belice Valley within the interior of Western Sicily.

Led by the Carabinieri Comando Compagnia Mazara del Vallo under the authority of  commander, Lieutenant Maurizio Giaramita, Italian authorities also found the man to be in the possession of a handgun in which the factory-marked serial number had been completely abraded. 

The area around Salemi is rich in archaeological material.  Excavation and study of the historic remains in this region have provided crucial evidence regarding the ancient Elymian town of Halikyai. The Elymi occupied various hilltops of western Sicilduring the Archaic (c. 700 – 480 BCE), Early Classical (480 – 400 BCE), Late Classical (400 – 323 BCE), and Hellenistic (323 – 30 BCE) periods. 

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus once wrote that the indigenous Sicilians who inhabited this zone were fiercely culturally independent despite their interaction with the Greeks and Phoenicians.  But the origins of these pieces are unknown as they have been excavated without any care for the archaeological context. 

For the moment Scimemi remains "free", confined to house arrest pending the completion of this investigation. 




July 6, 2018

More details on Operation Demetra

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TPC
As has been noted to be the case in the past, Sicilian trafficking cases sometimes have organized crime origins and that appears to also be the case with this week's announced Operation Demetra, named after the Greek divinity much venerated in Sicily.   As new individuals are identified with this investigation, it is interesting to see how some of them are connected to one another, to incidences of trafficking in the past and how they fit into the puzzle of this multinational investigation. 

Gaetano Patermo
Begun as an anti-mafia investigation, initiated by the Nissena Prosecutor for the territory of Riesi, Operation Demetra grew to international proportions when the Carabinieri began reinvestigating the activities of Gaetano Patermo (A.K.A "Tano"). 

Gaetano Patermo
In 2007 Patermo was named along with other individuals,  including Angelo Chiantia and Simone Di Simone, in a 35-person investigation involving illegal excavations, theft, reproduction, falsification, exportation, sale and receipt, even in foreign territory, of archaeological assets belonging to the public domain.

Although acquitted for these earlier alleged offences the details of the 2007 case were remarkably similar to the methodology used by traffickers involved in the 2014-2018 investigation that Patermo has now been arrested for.  According to the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Property responsible for the archaeological heritage of Palermo, led by Major Luigi Mancuso, the antiquities were being transferred from Sicily to northern Italy, hidden inside baggage along with travellers garments and inside the linings of suitcases. 

In the older case, clandestine material was transported out of Sicily through Spain and Switzerland by means of campers or trucks loaded with fruits and vegetables.  Once out of the country the antiquities and coins were also passed on to potential international buyers.  

As it relates to Operation Demetra, it is alleged that Patermo had contacts with the network of couriers that transported illlicit material and interacted with individuals connected to the London-based art dealer William Thomas Veres. 

Angelo Chiantia and Simone Di Simone
Angelo Chiantia (Left) and Simone Di Simone (Right)
Not picked up in the original sweep earlier this week, but wanted by the Italian authorities in connection with this more recent investigation, Angelo Chiantia of Riesi and Simone Di Simone of Gela, in the presence of their lawyers, turned themselves in to law enforcement authorities yesterday afternoon.  Both are believed to have played roles as middlemen in the smuggling of cultural heritage abroad. 

Francesco Lucerna is from Riesi, hometown of the notorious Mafia boss Giuseppe Di Cristina in the province of Caltanissetta, whose death was a prelude to the Second Mafia War.  In addition to being an alleged "tomborolo" Lucerne was identified in February 2015 as the person who put together this organized network of tombaroli and counterfeiters, selling authentic and imitation archaeological remains to wealthy entrepreneurs and industrialists in Piedmont, where he had relocated, as well as on to buyers in Germany.  

Following the 2015 search and seizures carried out in the province of Caltanissetta more than one thousand artifacts were seized including 859 clay vases and amphorae, 146 ancient coins dating back to the Greek and Roman age, 191 paleontological finds and two illegal metal detectors.   The antiquities were believed to have come from an undocumented fourth or fifth century BCE villa, most likely discovered somewhere in the archaeological area of ​​Philosopiana, between Butera and Riesi.  Unfortunately without a find spot, and with nothing known about the context around where the antiquities were excavated, little can be concretely ascertained.  Police also raided two forgers in Misterbianco and Paternò, near Catania, whose workshops contained 878 counterfeit coins and 960 forged coin dies which were used to strike the authentic-looking fakes.  These were being prepared to be sold to collectors, possibly being told they were authentic. 

Andrea Palma
Lists himself on Linkedin as a Numismatic Expert & Advisor at Martí Hervera, SL in Barcelona as well as at Soler y Llach Subastas Internacionales, S.A.

Interestingly, he also appears to have been affiliated in some way with an excavation at the Villa Romana del Casale di Piazza Armerina (EN), in Sicily and to have earned a degree from the Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza" where he studied at numismatics, epigraphy and archaeology. 

William Veres

The Hungarian-born antiquities dealer William Veres has always walked a fine line in who and how he has worked with individuals known to have had connections to illicit trafficking.  In addition to the questionable incidences already mentioned in our earlier blog posts, in which he received a suspended sentence, and the billionaire purchaser was acquitted, Veres was once accused by former self-confessed smuggler and police informant Michel Van Rijn of running a London-based business that deals in smuggled relics.  One of those relics was a Coptic Ps.Gospel of Judas (Iscariot), part of an ancient codice written in Coptic and Greek which surfaced on the international art market once connected to many well known names and faces.

Veres was arrested at his home at his home in Stanmore, northwest London this week. 

William Veres
Lest we forget, art criminals don't just deal with tomb raiders, gallery show rooms and collectors of ancient art.  Sometimes they also rub elbows with the worst of the underworld. And if you think that the Procura di Caltanissetta only deals with heritage crimes you would be wrong.

Personnel of the provincial command of the Carabinieri of Caltanissetta, at the request of the DDA (Direzione Distrettuale Antimafia) and of the local prosecutor are also following investigations in the region against the 'family' of Riesi, the "stidda" of the Cosa Nostra.  This group is believed to be responsible for not only the trafficking of drugs, and extortion, but also appear to have been the executors of numerous murders and attempted murders which took place in the early 1990s. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 4, 2018

Operation Demetra: The Trafficking of Sicilian Archaeological Treasures

Image Credit: Carabinieri TPC

Updated 13:00 GMT+1

In a press conference held today, at 11:00 at the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Court of Caltanissetta, Italy announced the result of an illicit trafficking investigation, long established under the code named "Demeter" which first started in 2014.

In coordination with officials from EUROPOL and EUROJUST, the District Anti-Mafia Directorate of Caltanissetta and the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Unit of Palermo, in collaboration with the investigative nucleus of Caltanissetta, an order for the application of precautionary measures was issued by the Court of Caltanissetta, against 23 people.

Precautionary measures, were issued to individuals in Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Crotone, Enna, Lecce, Naples, Novara, Taranto, Turin, Ragusa, and Syracuse, where simultaneously or in tandem, raids were carried out which also included searches for illicit archaeological finds.  Precautionary measures against those taken into custody are those measures of privation or restriction of the rights of a person, adopted on the basis of a dual premise: the serious indications of guilt (article 272 c.p.p.) and the precautionary requirements related to ensuring their presence at judicial proceedings (article 273c.p.p.).

According to the Italian authorities, Francesco Lucerna, a 76-year-old "tombarolo" from Riesi, a small town in the province of Caltanissetta, worked alongside a network of individuals fencing archaeological finds for decades uncovered via clandestine excavations.  Many of these illicit excavations purportedly took place in the provinces of Caltanissetta and Agrigento, areas in Sicily which are rich with ancient objects of Greek and Roma production, many of which date back to the IV-V centuries BCE.  The plundered objects dug up by this group were transported to Northern Italy via middlemen and from there made their way into collectors hands and the greater European art market.

With regards to in this multiyear long investigation the following individuals are being held in pre-trial detention:

• Francesco Lucerna, also known as "Zu Gino", 76 years old from Riesi (CL);
• Matteo Bello, 61, from Ravanusa (AG);
• Francesco Giordano, 71, from Campobello di Licata (AG);
• Luigi Giuseppe Grifasi, 64, from Ravanusa (AG);
• Calogero Ninotta, 39, from Ravanusa (AG);
• Gaetano Romano, 58, from Ravanusa (AG);
• Gaetano Patermo, 63, from Riesi (CL);
• Palmino Pietro Signorello, 66, from Belpasso (CT).

The following have been released on house arrest pending the outcome of their cases:
• Giovanni Lucerna, 49, from Turin;
• Maria Debora Lucerna , 55, from Turin;
• Salvatore Pappalardo, 75, of Misterbianco (CT);
• Calogero Stagno, 51, of Favara (AG);
• Luigi Signorello, 34, from Belpasso (CT);
• Luigi Laroce, 62, from Strongoli (KR).

While most of the individuals implicated reside in Italy, three others were arrested in Great Britain, Germany and Spain.

They are:

William Thomas Veres, 64, residing in London, UK;
Andrea Palma, 36, originally from Campobasso but resident in Barcelona, Spain;
Rocco Mondello, 61 years old from Gela, a resident of Ehingen, Germany.


Each is accused in various ways of criminal association and/or the receiving of stolen goods as it relates to the trafficking of antiquities.

William Thomas Veres has been previously arrested in Spain on August 16, 2017 on un unrelated trafficking case via an extradition warrant from Italy for the alleged theft of antiquities and cultural heritage objects.  Veres was also given a suspended sentence of one year and ten months imprisonment for his role in a November 09, 1995, U.S. Customs seizure of a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale used for pouring libations sold on to Art Collector Michael Steinhardt.


Utilising a European Investigation Order issued by the prosecutor of the Republic of Caltanissetta and with the coordination of EUROPOL and EUROJUST, searches were conducted abroad where numerous archaeological finds, 30,000 euros in cash and documentation useful for further investigations were all seized.  Investigations are also reported to be ongoing at two auction houses located in Munich, Germany.

Entered into force 22 May 2017, a European Investigation Order is based on mutual recognition, and requires that each EU country be obliged to recognise and carry out the request of the other EU country, as it would do with a decision coming from its own authorities. 

In total some 3,000 archaeological objects are said to have been recovered with an estimated value of €20 million.  Placing value on material culture outside of their context though cheapens the loss as the loss of context and what we can learn from the objects found in situ is not factored in their estimated valuation. 

Interestingly this network is also believed to have been involved in counterfeiting ancient coins and other objects intended for sale when the demand for ancient material exceeded the supply chain's capacity to provide looted material. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 3, 2018

Conference: 4th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium - Save the Date and Call for Presentations

Event:  ArtCrime2018 - the 4th Annual New Zealand Art Crime Symposium
Location: City Gallery Wellington, New Zealand
Date: Saturday 22 September 2018

Hosted by the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, in conjunction with City Gallery Wellington and other sponsors, ArtCrime2018 will encompass a wide range of presentations on all aspects of, and explore a range of issues relating to, art crime in New Zealand. The programme will favour New Zealand content, but will also encompass international content that highlights or illustrates material of relevance to a primarily New Zealand audience. There will be a range of presentations, plus ample opportunities for networking.

The overall theme of ArtCrime2018 will be "Provenance Matters".

Individuals are invited to submit a 200-word abstracts for 20-minute presentations, within the broad ambit of the overall theme by emailing their interest to:
artcrimenz@gmail.com

Deadline for Abstract Submission: 
Friday,  21 July 2018

Abstract proposals should be pasted into the body of submission email and include a short biography (up to 350 words, and including were appropriate short summaries of relevant publications and previous conference or symposia presentations). 

Successful presenters will be notified by email by Friday 03August 2018 and will have their Symposium's registration fee waived. 

For further information please see ehe New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust  symposium website page

June 29, 2018

Seizure: An Etruscan Hare Aryballos circa 580-560 B.C.E.


At the request of the Manhattan district attorney's office, the Hon. Ellen N. Biben, Administrative Judge of New York County Supreme Court, issued a seizure warrant for an ancient Etruscan terracotta vessel, in the shape of a reclined rabbit.  Listed as a Hare Aryballos, circa 580-560 B.C.E., the unguentarium was seized by New York authorities at Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd., a firm which specializes in antiquities and numismatics, located at 3 East 69th Street in New York City. 

Earlier, on 30 June 2018, this same aryballos sold for £950 in London via Rome-based Bertolami Fine Arts through ACR Auctions, an online auction firm used by the Italian auction house. 

PROVENANCE: From an European private collection.

The New York gallery where the seizure warrant was executed is managed by Selim Dere, Founder and Erdal Dere (son of Aysel Dere and Selim Dere), President of Fortuna Fine Arts.   There is no information available at this time as to whether or not Mr. Dere had valid import and export documentation. 

Prior to moving to New York, Selim Dere was reportedly arrested by Turkish police, along with cousin Aziz Dere and art dealer Faraç Üzülmez for their roles in the smuggling a marble sarcophagus depicting the twelve labours of Heracles from Perge, Turkey.  Purportedly sliced into pieces for transport, part of this sarcophogus was repatriated by the John Paul Getty Museum to Turkey in 1983 while others were located in Kessel, West Germany.

This fragment of sarcophagus was smuggled abroad after illicit
excavations in Perge and given back by Paul Getty Museum of USA in 1983.
Perge, 2nd Cent. AD
Inv. 1.11.81 - 1.3.99 - 2.3.99
Antalya Archaeological Museum
Image Credit:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/130870_040871/16937604198/in/photostream/
Later, in 1993, acting on an international letters rogatory from the Turkish Government, FBI agents from the New York field office went to the Fortuna Fine Arts gallery, then located on Madison Avenue, and seized a marble statue of a young man and fragment of garland taken from Aphrodisias, an ancient Greek Hellenistic city in the historic Caria cultural region of western Anatolia, Turkey. 


Later, in June 2009, the owner of Fortuna Fine Arts was stopped upon arrival at John F Kennedy International Airport following a flight originating in Munich, Germany where he had stated on his entry documentation that he had nothing to declare. Despite that affirmation, a physical examination of his person and luggage uncovered three artifacts: a red intaglio stone, a Byzantine gold pendant, and a terracotta pottery fragment. All three objects were seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on the basis of 18 U.S.C. § 545 (1982) and19 U.S.C. § 149 (authorizing penalties for failure to declare articles upon entry into the United States) and authorizing Customs agents to search and seize property imported contrary to U.S. laws).

In March 2013, the intaglio and pottery fragment were examined by the Archaeological Director of the Special Superintendent, MiBACT in Rome, Italy, who determined that both objects were of Italian origin and had likely been illegally looted from an archaeological site somewhere in Italy.

**NOTE:  This article was updated 01 July 2018 to reflect repatriation details of partial sarcophagus to Turkey in 1983. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

Italy Returns Trafficked Artifacts to the Archaeological Departments of the Ministry of Antiquities of the Republic of Egypt


In a ceremony held in Rome on June 27, 2018 at the headquarters of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Salerno, Dr. Corrado Lembo and the Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, returned 23,000 ancient bronze and silver coins and 195 archaeological finds, including funerary masks decorated in gold, a sarcophagus, a "Boat of the Dead" with 40 oarsmen, amphorae, pectoral paintings, wooden sculptures, bronzes, and oshabti statuettes, to the Ministry of Antiquities for the Republic of Egypt.  The objects, dating from the Predynastic to the Ptolemaic period, were believed to have been excavated during clandestine excavations in the south of Egypt.

On hand for the ceremony were Egyptian Ambassador, HE Hesham Badr, Professor Mohamed Ezzat, Senior Coordinator at the International Cooperation Administration of the General Prosecutor's Office, and Professor Moustafa Waziry, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt. 

The pieces were discovered during a seizure which took place in May 2017, at the customs area of ​​the port of Salerno, by the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Center of Naples, in collaboration with the officials of the Customs Agency and the local Superintendency.  The stop, was part of a customs inspection of a container which was marked as being for the transport of only household goods.









June 12, 2018

The J. Paul Getty Museum has issued a statement regarding the judicial ruling on the Statue of a Victorious Youth AKA the Getty Bronze (In English and Italian)

Backdated to June 08, 2018, Ron Hartwig, the spokesperson for the J. Paul Getty Trust, has issued a public statement (in English) regarding the ruling of the Italian court magistrate on over the museum's rights to retain l’Atleta di Fano.

That statement can be found/downloaded on the museum's website here and here. 

For our English and Italian readers, we have reposted their statement and translated it into Italian for this blog's readers.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNE 08, 2018

STATEMENT FROM RON HARTWIG, SPOKESPERSON FOR THE J. PAUL GETTY TRUST, REGARDING THE RULING IN PESARO ON THE VICTORIOUS YOUTH

Press Release

MEDIA CONTACT(S):

Julie Jaskol
jjaskol@getty.edu
(310) 440-7607
Getty Communications

Statement from Ron Hartwig, spokesperson for the J. Paul Getty Trust,
regarding the ruling in Pesaro on the Victorious Youth


We have just received the judge’s decision and are reviewing it. We are disappointed in the ruling, but we will continue to defend our legal right to the statue. The facts in this case do not warrant restitution of the object to Italy. The statue was found in international waters in 1964, and was purchased by the Getty Museum in 1977, years after Italian courts concluded there was no evidence that the statue belonged to Italy.

Moreover, the statue is not part of Italy’s extraordinary cultural heritage. Accidental discovery by Italian citizens does not make the statue an Italian object. Found outside the territory of any modern state, and immersed in the sea for two millennia, the Bronze has only a fleeting and incidental connection with Italy.

We very much value our strong and fruitful relationship with the Italian Ministry of Culture and our museum colleagues in Italy. Resolution of this matter must rest on the facts and applicable law, under which we expect our ownership of the Victorious Youth to be upheld.

For more details on Italy's recent court decision on this case please see our earlier blog post here.

༺═──────────────═༻


PER IL RILASCIO IMMEDIATO
8 GIUGNO 2018

DICHIARAZIONE DI RON HARTWIG, PORTAVOCE DEL J. PAUL GETTY TRUST, IN MERITO SENTENZA A PESARO SULLA GIOVENTÙ VITTORIOSA

Comunicato stampa

CONTATTO / I PER I MEDIA:

Julie Jaskol 
jjaskol@getty.edu 
(310) 440-7607 
Getty Communications 
Dichiarazione di Ron Hartwig, portavoce del J. Paul Getty Trust, 
riguardo alla sentenza a Pesaro sulla Gioventù vittoriosa

Abbiamo appena ricevuto la decisione del giudice e la stiamo esaminando. Siamo delusi dalla sentenza, ma continueremo a difendere il nostro diritto legale alla statua. I fatti in questo caso non garantiscono la restituzione dell'oggetto in Italia. La statua fu trovata in acque internazionali nel 1964 e fu acquistata dal Getty Museum nel 1977, anni dopo che le tribunali italiani conclusero che non esisteva alcuna prova che la statua appartenesse all'Italia. 

Inoltre, la statua non fa parte dello straordinario patrimonio culturale italiano. La scoperta casuale da parte di cittadini non rende la statua un oggetto italiano. Trovata al di fuori del territorio di qualsiasi stato moderno, e immersa nel mare per due millenni, il Bronzo ha solo una fugace e fortuita connessione con l'Italia. 

Apprezziamo molto il nostro rapporto forte e proficuo con il Ministero della Cultura italiano e con i nostri colleghi museali in Italia. La risoluzione di questo problema deve basarsi sui fatti e sulla giurisprudenza applicabile, in base alla quale ci aspettiamo che la nostra proprietà del Giovane vittorioso venga mantenuta. 

Per piu dettagli sulla la decisione del giudice del tribunale italiana per favore consultare il nostro precedente post sul blog qui.

June 10, 2018

Syria has ratified the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.

The smashed face of a statue found on the floor of the Palmyra museum in the Syrian city of Tadmur, Homs Governate,  March 31, 2016. Image Credit - Joseph Eid
To address the ongoing issue of illicit trafficking of Syrian cultural property, the country has now ratified the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.   Adopted on 24 June 1995, representatives of over seventy states met in Rome with an ambitious goal aimed at harmonizing the rules of private law of various states parties affecting the restitution and return of cultural objects between states party to the Convention to their country of origin. 

The aim of UNIDROIT (is clearly stated in Paragraph 4 of its preamble.  That that is: to contribute effectively to the fight against the illicit trade in cultural objects by establishing common, minimal legal rules for the restitution and return of cultural objects between contracting states with the objective of improving the preservation and protection of cultural heritage.  

At present, including Syria, there are now forty-three states party signatories to the Convention. 

With Syria's deposit of the instrument of accession to the UNIDROIT Convention of 1995 at the Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) on 27 April 2018, the UNIDROIT Convention will enter into force for the Syrian Arab Republic on 1 October 2018.

The full text of the Convention is available here.

Extracted from the UNIDROIT website:


For years, many middle eastern countries failed to consider ratification of UNIDROIT working under the false assumption that the initiative for the Convention on the protection of cultural property was a manoeuvre by “art importing” countries to weaken the UNESCO Convention. Others (wrongly) misinterpreted the nature of the agreement as an extension of the UNESCO Convention at the behest of the “exporting” States.   The reality is quite different as Marina Schneider, Senior Legal Officer and Treaty Depositary explains.  In trainings conducted throughout the globe, Ms. Schneider explains that it was at UNESCO’s request that UNIDROIT (International Institute for the Unification of Private Law) took up the matter of illicit traffic in cultural movables given the enormous complexity of legislation as it relates to the phenomenon of illicit trafficking. 

For a “live” status map of the Signatory and State parties to the UNIDROIT Convention please see the UNIDROIT website here: https://www.unidroit.org/status-cp?id=1769
The ratification of the UNIDROIT convention will allow Syria to fight more effectively, together with other signatory States, against theft, import, export and illegal transfer of ownership of its cultural patrimony.   Let's hope Iraq will sign on next. 

June 9, 2018

The Statue of a Victorious Country: Judge issues a long awaited ordinance on the fate of the "Getty" Bronze

The Getty Villa.
Image Credit: ARCA 2018
For the third time, and after years and years of battles, which started in the courtrooms of Pesaro before passing slowly through Italy’s Corte Suprema di Cassazione (Supreme Court of Cassation), only to be sent back down to the lower courts again, we finally have a verdict over the rights to l’Atleta di Fano.

Commonly known as the Statue of a Victorious Youth or colloquially as the Getty Bronze, to the Italians this stoic bronze statue is known as il Lisippo or l'Atleta di Fano.  Yet, despite Italy's long-held claim for its return, the bronze has long held pride of place at the Getty Villa, the Los Angeles museum at the easterly end of the Malibu bluffs in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood.  There, in one of America's most prestigious museums, the athletic youth stands with all of his weight on his right leg, crowning himself with an olive wreath, as his gaze looks out over some of the museum's most impressive Hellenistic artworks in the California villa's newly renovated Gallery 111.

But that may change very soon. 


Judge Gasparini listens to Getty
council’s final argument in open court
Pesaro court house, 05 Feb 2018
Image Credit: ARCA
On June 08, 2018, in a long-awaited judicial decision, the Italian Tribunale di Pesaro issued a 50-page ordinance, written and signed by Magistrate Giacomo Gasparini who firmly rejected the Getty museum's opposition to Italy's order of confiscation.

Throughout the case, the J. Paul Getty Museum has stood by its original claim, that its purchase of the statue in 1977, for $3.95 million, was legitimate.  The museum's legal team and its current director Timothy Potts have stoically maintained that there was no evidence that the statue belongs in any way to Italy, discounting the country's claim that the object was exported out of Italy in contravention of existing Italian law.  This despite the fact that the bronze had been fished from the sea by Italian fishermen aboard the Ferruccio Ferri in 1964, who then brought the statue to the Italian city of Fano where they hid it from authorities, first, by burying it in a cabbage patch and later, by hiding it in a priest's bathtub rather than declare their cultural find as required to the Italian customs dogana.

Getty Museum attorney's listen to
their Italian council's final argument
in open court
Pesaro court house, 05 Feb 2018
Image Credit: ARCA
During those open court hearings which I attended in Pesaro, the Getty's attorney's maintained that John Paul Getty himself had originally walked away from the purchase of the statue, not for the reasons maintained by Italy's attorneys, but because at the time the object was originally proffered to him, Getty was more concerned about the fate and wellbeing of his grandson, 16-year-old John Paul Getty III, who had been kidnapped from Piazza Farnese in Rome on July 10, 1973.

Justice moves slowly and will the Athlete of Fano come home? 

For now, we do not know. 

To understand how this complicated case has moved through the Italian judicial system it is first necessary to understand a bit more about the country’s legal system.  It is the responsibility of the Corte Suprema di Cassazione to ensure the correct application of law in the inferior and appeal courts and to resolve disputes as to which lower court (penal, civil, administrative, military) has jurisdiction.  Additionally, the higher court is also entrusted with the charge of defining the jurisdiction i.e., of indicating, in case of controversy, the court, either ordinary or special, Italian or foreign, which has the power to rule on a case.

Unlike upper level courts in the United States or the United Kingdom, the Italian Supreme Court cannot refuse to review cases and defendants have unlimited appeal rights to the Supreme Court of Cassation.  This means that the Getty Museum could, if it chooses to do so, repeat its appeals process for a second time, all the way back up to the higher court extending their claim for additional years to come.

Given the backlog of criminal and civil cases pending and the lengthy process involved in delivering a ruling once an absolute decision has been handed down, cases like this one often linger in judicial limbo for many years.

Interior, Palazzo di Giustizia, Roma
To put things in perspective and to give readers an idea of how this complicates judicial resolutions, it's helpful to look at other countries for comparison.  The United Kingdom's Supreme Court hears approximately 75 cases per year while the United States Supreme Court generally rules on 100 to 120 case decisions annually.  In a country serving a local population that is one-fifth the size of the United States, the Italian Supreme Court of Cassation decides on close to 50,000 cases (both criminal and civil) annually.  The final administrative court, the Consiglio di Stato decides over 10,000 cases per year; while the Constitutional Court makes final decisions on around 400 cases per year.

Like other supreme courts around the world, the Court of Cassation is not tasked with re-examining the entire body of evidence in a given case.  Additionally it does not have to make rulings solely on cases that have passed through the Corte d'Assise d'Apello, Italy's Appellate Court. Cases which meet certain criteria can go directly from the tribunal level court system to the supreme court as the Court's role is specifically to rule on erores in iudicando and errores in procedendo (errors in procedure or application of the law). 

Some criminal cases reach Italy's Court of Cassation by first passing through the Corte d'Assise d'Apello, as was the case with the high profile murder case of Amanda Knox.  Both the defendant and the prosecution in that type of appeal case retain the right of appeal and both the Corte d'Assise d'Appello and the Supreme Court are required to publish written explanations of their rulings and decisions.

But these are the upper courts.

Before arriving at the Supreme Court or Appeal Court cases are heard by regional tribunals.  Tribunals consist of one single judge or a panel of three judges depending on the type of case being heard.  It is these tribunali which are the Italian court's first instance of general jurisdiction in both civil and criminal matters and it is at this level, in Pesaro, that this recent decision has been handed down. 

The Getty Villa, California
But getting back to the specifics of the case of the Getty Bronze that in some ways is as complex and hard to follow judicially as a tightly contested Wimbledon tennis match.

In 2007 the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the J. Paul Getty Trust agreed to set the question of the Victorius Youth aside pending the ongoing legal process before the Tribunal in Pesaro concerning the object's illegal exportation from Italy.  The accord of the parties on this point was crucial as earlier negotiations in 2006 had been contentious and unfruitful due to disagreements between Italy and the Getty over the statue's ownership status.

In 2007, in proceedings before the Tribunal of Pesaro, charges related to the illicit exportation of the Victorious Youth were dismissed upon the request of the public prosecutor on the grounds that the statute of limitations on prosecution had expired against all of the defendants in the case, leaving the Italian state with no one left to prosecute.  At the time of the requested dismissal, the prosecutor demanded the confiscation of the bronze given it had been exported out of Italy in contravention of existing Italian law.

The Athlete of Fano, depicted before restoration. 
Almost three years later, on the tenth of February 2010, Luisa Mussoni, the preliminary investigation judge at the Tribunal of Pesaro, ruled that the Victorious Youth had been exported illicitly.  As a result of this court decision, the tribunal issued an order for the statue's immediate seizure and restitution to Italy.  This court order followed an earlier and separate order June 12, 2009 ruling on the question of the jurisdiction.

As a result of these two decisions, the Getty Museum subsequently challenged the orders' validity before the Italian Court of Cassation on February 18, 2011. At that hearing the case was remanded back to the Tribunal of Pesaro for further examination of the merits of the case.

On May 3, 2012 Maurizio Di Palma, the pretrial judge at the Tribunal of Pesaro, once again upheld the earlier 2010 order of forfeiture and confirmed that the statue was illegally exported from Italy.  His ruling placed the case's resolution back with Italy's Supreme Court for what was supposed to be the case's final ruling.

But it wasn't.

Instead in February 2014 the Prima Sezione Penale della Cassazione (First Penal Section of the Supreme Court of Italy) elected to transfer the case to the Terzo Sezione Penale della Suprema Corte (Third Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court) where a new hearing was scheduled to establish whether or not the order of confiscation issued by the Court of Pesaro on May 3, 2012 should have been affirmed.

In 2014 the Terzo sezione penale della Suprema Corte, based on the European convention on human rights, ruled that cases must be heard in open court and that in not providing for such, the Getty museum had been "deprived of its constitutional rights" to a public hearing.  In furtherance of this, and much to the frustration of those working towards the statue's repatriation, the Italian Court of Cassation remanded the supreme court case back to the lower court authorities in Le Marche in order to establish in open court where witnesses could be called, to determine whether or not the earlier order of confiscation issued by the Court of Pesaro on May 3, 2012 should be affirmed.

Yesterday, in his June 8, 2018 ordinance, Magistrate Giacomo Gasparini stated in clear terms that he agreed with the previous court decisions (Mussoni in 2010 and Di Palma in 2012) and wrote in favor of the object's seizure stating, "Confiscate il Lisippo, ovunque si trovi" (English: "Confiscate Il Lisippo from wherever it is").

Given this prestigious statue's pride of place at the Getty Villa, the J. Paul Getty Museum would lose its substantial investment and a critical and cherished piece in their collection should they abide by Magistrate Gasparini's seizure ruling and relinquish the statue to Italy as a result of this last affirmation. If they choose not to, they can again delay what now seems to be the inevitable, simply by tying the case up again, appealing Pesaro Magistrate Gasparini's ruling up through Italy's higher courts. 
Screenshot from RAI 1 Production
"Petrolio" aired 06 June 2018

But what is the point? 

The protracted legal challenge of this case have been so lengthy that it has been a career making case for three of Italy's cultural property attorneys: Public Prosecutor from the tribunal of Rome, Paolo Giorgio Ferri, Italian State Attorney Maurizio Fiorilli and most recently, the next generation of Italian state prosecutors, Lorenzo D'Ascia.  Given its tenacity to fight for its cultural patrimony, and the fact that Italy would be hearing any new appeal on its own legal turf, the Getty's legal fees might be better spent on new acquisitions and not on this long-contested object which has such a contentious background.

But having said that, the question remains as to if the director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Timothy Potts, appointed in September 2012, will continue to fight Italy's seizure ruling, or will he be the first in the Getty's line of directors to acquiesce and accept defeat gracefully.

In a recent interview with Potts aired on Italy's RAI1 television program Petrolio on June 6, 2018, just two days before Gasparini's verdict was announced, Potts continued to grimly assert his museum's stance.  In that interview Potts forcefully stating that l’Atleta di Fano was found in international waters and staunchly negating that it formed a part of Italy’s cultural patrimony, given that it had passed through multiple countries and was not found in Italy.

It will be interesting to see if he changes his mind after reading Magistrate Garparini's 50 page decision. 


By Lynda Albertson, CEO, ARCA