September 11, 2018

Recovery: Gold Objects stolen from the Nizam Museum

Image Credit: Hyderabad Police

Holding a press conference in Hyderabad, authorities announced that the  gold tiffin box, saucer, cup & spoon stolen from Nizam Museum on September 3rd have been recovered by Hyderabad Police. The two accused, Mohammed Gaus Pasha (23) and a relative Mohammed Mubeen (24) from the Himayat Sagar area of ​​the city have been arrested.

The pair of thieves had accessed the museum by dislodging a four-feet wide ventilation grill and then dropping some 20 feet down into the exhibition gallery.  

For full details on the theft please see ARCA's earlier blog post here. 

Restitution: An Attic Marble Anthemion from a Grave Stele returned to Greece


On June 9, 2017 forensic archaeologist Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, wrote to ARCA and to the Art and Antiques Unit of London's Metropolitan Police (New Scotland Yard), INTERPOL and the Greek police Art Squad reporting that he had identified an Attic Marble Anthemion from a Grave Stele coming up for auction in Sotheby's June 12, 2017 London auction which he had traced to the archive of convicted Italian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina. 

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

These dealer records include shipping manifests, antiquarian dealer notes, invoices, pricing documents, and thousands of photographic images.  Many of which are not the slick art gallery salesroom photos, but rather, point and shoot Polaroids taken by looters and middlemen.  This latter type of image often depicts looted antiquities in their recently plundered state, some of which still bear soil and salt encrustations. 

Two of the identifying Polaroid images of the object
located in the Becchina archive. 
In 2011 Becchina was convicted in Italy for his role in the illegal antiquities trade and while he later appealed this conviction, he is currently under investigation by Italy's Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (DIA) who moved to seize his cement trade business, Atlas Cements Ltd., his olive oil company, Olio Verde srl., Demetra srl., Becchina & Company srl., bank accounts, land, and real estate properties including Palazzo Pignatelli in November 2017. 

Looted antiquities traced to Becchina's trafficking network, like this attic marble anthemion, continue to surface in private collections, museums and some of the world's most prestigious auction firms specializing in ancient art and are frequently identified by Tsirogiannis, archaeologists working with Italy's Avvocatura dello Stato, the Italian Carabinieri and the Greek police. 

In his email, Tsirogiannis stated that he had identified the attic marble anthemion in three professional and two Polaroids images as well as in four separate documents found in the confiscated Becchina business records. The dealer's documentation indicated that the stele appeared to have been in Becchina's hands from 1977 until 1990, when it was then sold on to George Ortiz, a collector and heir to the South American Patiñho tin fortune who lived in Geneva and whose name has appeared with regularity on this blog tied to purchases of objects of illicit origin.   Ortiz's name has long been associated with this trafficking network as his was one of the names found on the network organigram found in Pasquale Camera's personal possessions.

Interestingly both Becchina and Ortiz were never mentioned in the 'Provenance' section given by Sotheby's.   During the sale, the object's collection history was listed simply as follows: 


Possibly as a result of Tsirogiannis' identification, the 340 B.C.E. object (thankfully) failed to sell.  Eleven months later, in a May 7th 2018 issue of the Times, the newspaper reported that Sotheby's, not Tsirogiannis, had discovered that they had a false collecting history on the stele at which point "by way of a voluntary goodwill gesture" handed the stele over to the Metropolitan Police in London.  The Greek Embassy in London working with the Greek The Ministry of Culture authorities via the Directorate for the Documentation and Protection of Cultural Property, followed up with the legal claims necessary for restitution and on June 27th, 2018 Christos Tsirogiannis testified at the Greek consulate in London as to his findings. Subsequent to the above, the object was formally handed over on September 8, 2018.

After its return to Greece, yesterday, the column has been delivered to the Epigraphical Museum of Athens, Greece. 

September 8, 2018

Saturday, September 08, 2018 - , No comments

Repatriation: The Sicán funeral mask finally goes home to Peru

Image Credit: Patricia Balbuena
Ministry of Culture Peru
In a legal battle that has taken 19 years of litigation, Germany's Plenipotentiary of the Free State of Bavaria, Dr. Rolf-Dieter Jungk, has turned over the eighth-century pre Columbian gold Lambayeque (Sicán) funerary mask to the Peruvian Culture Minister, Patricia Balbuena, at the Peruvian embassy in Berlin on Thursday. The priceless mask, made of hammered sheet gold alloy, was confiscated in Wiesbaden in 1999.


Decorative masks such as these have been found in tombs in the Lambayeque region of Peru, near the modern city of Chiclayo. As they lack perforations to see with, or holes to breathe through, they are believed to have been created solely as ornaments for the deceased, and likely covered the faces of high status individuals as part of their burial processes.


According to investigations by the Fiscal Police of Peru, the mask is believed to have been smuggled out of Peru sometime in 1997 and was brought to Germany by Aydin Dikmen. Dikmen was arrested in 1998 for his role in selling looted mosaics from the 6th century church of the Virgin of Kanakaria in the village of Lythrangomi sold on to Peg Goldberg in the United States.  The mask was formally confiscated in 1999 by the INTERPOL Office in Wiesbaden, Germany. 
 
Cover article in El Comercio
June 16, 1998
The case for restitution took years, winding its way through the Regional Court of Munich.  In December 2016, the 6th Civil Chamber issued a sentence ordering the release of the Sican Mask, confiscated by the Munich Prosecutor's Office and authorized its delivery to the Peruvian State.

For more information illustrating the search for recorded cultural goods, stolen, auctioned and repatriated from Peru, please follow the excellent writing at Memoria Robada. 

September 6, 2018

Museum Theft Update: Doge’s Palace - Venice, Italy

Exhibition Hall, Sala dello Scrutinio, Doge's Palace, Venice
Image Credit: Palazzo Ducale
Eight months into the investigation, Italian news sites have begun reporting more details on the band of thieves believed to be behind the theft of part of the jewellry collection of Qatar's Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani. The jewels were stolen from an alcove just off of the Sala della Scrutinio at the Palazzo Ducale during a brazen, broad daylight, robbery from the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" exhibition on January 3rd.

Reconstructing the events surrounding the 10 am theft on the final day of the exhibition authorities have apparently discussed their hypothesis with one or more members of the Italian press. 
According to a report first published on Twitter by Mediaset Journalist Clemente Mimun, it is believed that the thieves may be members of a Croatian and Serbian criminal network which specialized in high value thefts, known to have commited other offenses in Italy and other countries.  No information is given in Mediaset's formal article several hours after Mimun's tweet, nor in La Repubblica's subsequent article as to why authorities believe the squad is made up of Serb and Croat nationals or indicating what information aside from general speculation would lead to this assumption.


During the January 3, 2018 incident, two thieves, one serving as lookout, wearing a buttoned sweater and a fisherman's beanie, and a second serving as principal actor, took a remarkable 20 seconds to open, then pocket a pair of teardrop diamond earrings and a heavy brooch made up of diamonds, rubies, gold, and platinum.


Given that the display case and its alarm failed to activate or activate in a timely manner when the glass case was breached, it is reasonable to assume that the pair of thieves might have had insider help.  Perhaps from someone either connected to the museum with knowledge of or access to the exhibitions alarm systems as they were expressly installed for this specific exhibit and in normal circumstances would have been expected to sound an alarm as soon as the display case was opened which would allow time for the perimeter to have been sealed.

Gone in a Bling

In the CCTV camera footage a clean-shaven man wearing a hooded puffer jacket and casual pants, sporting a traditional coppola style flat cap, can be seen at first viewing the jewels in several display cases at a leisurely pace, along with five other individuals, one of whom is believed to have served as a lookout.


Once the room clears of potential witnesses, the thief, working quickly and discreetly, but in full view of the CCTV camera, opens the glass door on the case and pockets the jewellry in the pocket of his jacket.  Afterwards the pair calmly blend back in with the rest of the museum's patrons, and casually exit the Doge's Palace before security has time to apprehend them. 

Given that the security for this event was specifically requested and installed as a condition of the exhibition of the Sheik's jewels, it is reasonable to believe that the culprits were practiced experts, perhaps those who also had advance knowledge of the Doge's security routine, and the timing it would take for security to react to their breach.

Whether or not Mediaset was referring to a network of jewel thieves known as "The Pink Panthers", an elusive gang of jewel thieves which is believed to have members from Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is unclear. This sometimes violent network of jewel thieves are believed to be responsible for more than 200 high value robberies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  For fifteen years this network of Balkan jewel thieves have committed audacious heists, sometimes by violent means as depicted in the real-life surveillance footage shown in the documentary “Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers.” 


As in the Venice heist Pink Panther thefts usually involve prior preparation and advanced skill, often casting nondescript individuals to case locations of potential robberies prior to their execution.  In one particularly dramatic theft on May 19, 2003 at Graff on New Bond Street in London a member of the group was able to make off with more than thirty million dollars’ worth of diamonds at in less than three minutes.

Whether or not the Doge's Palace Museum theft is related to the Pink Panthers is unclear, but should they be, they will likely benefit from the inventive perpetrators uncanny ability to fence traceable high-end goods. In the past law enforcement authorities have indicated that the Panther network consisted of between twenty and thirty experienced thieves at any given time, with facilitators in various cities providing logistical assistance.   Often, stolen diamonds end up in Antwerp as well as among the collections of indifferent clients in wealthy countries like Italy, France, Russia and Switzerland.



September 5, 2018

Museum Theft: Nizam Museum (HEH Nizam's Museum) Hyderabad, India


According to local authorities, thieves broke into the Nizam Museum housed on the first floor of the Purani Haveli palace located in Hyderabad, Telangana, India sometime on the evening of Sunday, September 2, 2018.  The palace, located just a few kilometers away from Chowmahalla Palace, is also home to a library and the Mukarram Jah Technical Institute.

In the past the palace was once the official residence of the Nizam, the last of whom ruled over the region from 1911 to 1948, when Hyderabad State was annexed by India.  The museum showcases many gifts that the 7th and last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII received on his silver jubilee in 1936.  The museum  has been privately run by the Nizam’s Jubilee Pavillion Trust, and managed by descendants of the Nizam since the year 2000.  It houses approximately 450 objects in its collection.

Dislodging a four-feet wide ventilation grill, the burglar or burglars appear to have worked as a coordinated pair, dropping some 20 feet down into the exhibition gallery.  


Once inside one of the culprits broke into a non alarmed exhibition case and removed a three-tier diamond-studded gold tiffin box with trays carved with flora and fauna, as well as a golden tea cup and saucer embedded with ruby and emeralds, a spoon and a tray which once belonged to the 7th Nizam. Tiffins (or dhabbas) are traditionally round metal lunch containers with three or four stacking compartments used for serving traditional homemade thali lunches which feature bread, pickles, spicy curries, and sometimes desserts.


Once the goods were in hand, the thief was then hoisted back up and out of the same way he entered before making their getaway.



The loss was discovered the following morning by the museum's personnel who discovered the broken locks and empty showcase and then alerted the police.


CCTV Footage of suspected burglers

Journalists in India report that workers at the museum have been asking for security upgrades for quite some time.   Initial thoughts on the theft are leaning towards someone familiar with its limited security as one of the limited number of museum CCTV cameras had been tilted in such a way as to limit the image capture of the burgler(s). 

August 15, 2018

Repatriation: The Case of the Stolen TEFAF Buddha

Screen Shot of ID Matching Buddha stolen 57 years ago.
Image Credit:  ARCA with permission from ASI Archives in India
In a tale that began as a follow up to a funding initiative, I was scheduled to be in the Netherlands this past March to meet with folks at Maastricht University who ARCA was collaborating with on an EU funded Horizon 2020 grant proposal designed to address the critical issues involved the illicit trafficking of antiquities (which, by the way, we were later not awarded).  "The European Fine Arts Fair," or more simply by its art market acronym, TEFAF.  Part of the impetus for meeting in the Netherlands was that I was already in Maastricht, as each year, since 1988, the city has played host to an annual art, antiques, and design fair at the MECC which is organized by The European Fine Art Foundation called

I was at TEFAF to keep an eye open for looted antiquities which might be on sale with fabricated provenances — artworks from the ancient past which have no legitimate pedigree as they have been looted directly from the ground.  Illicit antiquities like these have a propensity for eventually bubbling up into auction house and trade fair sales as their illicit excavation from archaeologically rich sites means that they will not appear in any for-fee stolen art database searches as there is no way to report a previously unknown object as missing.  Once a looted object gains a plausible fabricated provenance, it only takes a few purchases and a publication in one or two glossy exhibition catalogs, to give a looted object a superficial patina of legitimacy.

I was not expecting to find an object stolen from a museum as these types of thefts are routinely registered with police, as well as with art market theft databases.  Searching services, conducted by Art Loss Register, are also incorporated into the vetting of objects for sale at TEFAF in both their New York and Maastricht sales events and are designed to reduce or resolve art-related ownership disputes.

But on Thursday, 15 March 2018 around lunchtime, I pressed the send button on my smartphone application and passed a high resolution photo of a suspicious object I had seen at the stand of one of the international art dealers.  The photo sent was of a Post-Gupta, seated Buddha in the Bhumisparsha Mudra pose, a delicate bronze with his right hand as a pendant over the right knee and with the palm of his left hand facing upward.  The person I sent the photo to was Vijay Kumar, the cofounder of India Pride Project.  

IPP has been responsible for identifying countless Indian treasures stolen and smuggled overseas, some of which have been found in prestigious museums around the globe.  Less than 2 hours later, and with careful comparison with  images obtained through a retired ASI employee, Dr. Sachindra S Biswas, Kumar and I were fairly confident we had a match.  

Image Credit:  Left - ARCA Photo from TEFAF Maastricht 2018
Right - ISA Archive photo
The following morning, Friday, 16 March 2018 and after multiple cross checks, between the photos of the object I took and those of the ASI, I contacted Martin Finkelnberg, Head of the Art and Antiques Crime Unit of the Netherlands National Police Force, INTERPOL, UNESCO and the Indian authorities and presented everyone with the supporting evidence of our identification.   In our opinion, as well as the opinion of two external experts, we felt confident, to the best of our abilities, that the object for sale at TEFAF in March 2018 was an exact match to one of 14 objects stolen from the Nalanda Archaeological Museum of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Nalanda, Bihar, India on August 22, 1961.

Despite its theft, the stolen Buddha was pictured in Ulrich Von Schroeder's book "Into-Tibetan Bronzes," a book published in Hong Kong in 1981.  By that time the object had already been satisfactorily laundered into the licit market and was  listed as part of a private collection in London.  

Pages from Ulrich Von Schroeder's book "Into-Tibetan Bronzes,"
illustrating the stolen Buddha
Based on the preponderance of evidence we presented, the Dutch police force acted immediately and sent officers to pay a visit to the dealer's representative on site at TEFAF for the last day of the Dutch fair.  The manager of the stand reported to the Dutch police that the firm was holding the object for a consignor who resided outside of the Netherlands.  

Working cooperatively with law enforcement, the dealer agreed to be in touch with the Buddha's current owner as well as New Scotland Yard, London's Metropolitan Police upon their return to London where an investigation could be taken up by the UK authorities.  ARCA and India Pride Project, in turn, passed all the evidence we had obtained on to Detective Constable Sophie Hayes, of New Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit. 

Once in London, Constable Hayes began her own necessary due diligence in order to ensure that our impressions were correct.  After reviewing the documentation we had provided to the London police, Hayes contacted France Desmarais of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).  

Desmarais arranged for a neutral external expert opinion on the Buddha currently held in the UK by the antiquities dealer for the consignor.  This evaluation was conducted for evidence of authenticity as well as in comparison to the evidence provided by ARCA and India Pride Project related to the theft in Nalanda, Bihar 57 years ago. 

ICOM's expert found the bronze in question to be authentic, and a match to one of the 14 objects stolen in 1961.

To understand how experts authenticate ancient art of this type it is important to understand that bronzes produced in the later medieval period (circa 12th century) in eastern India were made using the “lost wax” method.  This is a process where a wax model is made which can be used only once, as the wax melts away when the molten bronze is poured into the mould. For this reason, each bronze Buddha made using the lost wax method is unique, and while other Buddhas may have a similar appearances or poses, no two will be exactly alike as each object has to be made from its own individual wax mold. 

Completing this confirmation check took some time, as the number of post-Gupta era experts is limited and authentication is not something experts working in the museum community perform without careful consideration and thoughtful examination.  I'd like to personally thank both the anonymized expert and Ms. Desmarais for their time and expert assistance regarding the origins of this bronze. 

With ICOM's confirmation in hand, the Met's Art and Antiquities Squad worked to convince the current owner of the Buddha, who, along with the dealer had been cooperative throughout the investigation, to voluntarily relinquish the object back to its home country.   Today, it was handed over to Indian High Commissioner to the UK, YK Sinha during a ceremony this morning at the Gandhi Hall, India House, Aldwych in London, timed to coincide with India’s Independence Day.

Mr Rahul Nangare, First Secretary (Trade), High Commission of India,
and Dr Rajarajan, IPP volunteer
Imae credit:  IPP
Speaking with Vijay this morning hee stated "this is a great demonstration of inter governmental and activist groups and also the need for proper documentation. We hope this is just the beginning in finding closure to this case as we are still after the rest of the stolen artifacts. Hope the museums in America are looking at this with interest. "

While I, like Vijay am overjoyed that this stolen Buddha is finally going home, another similar to it, identified in February and stolen during the same theft, still sits at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in Los Angeles, California.  The question remains, if the US-based museum will be as forthcoming as this collector and UK dealer.  Both of whom did the right thing by cooperating during the investigation and eventually returning the stolen object back to India voluntarily.  

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 8, 2018

Sicilian judges reject appeal made by William Veres

Screenshot of William Veres from the documentary
“The Hunt for Transylvanian Gold
Judges from the Tribunale del Riesame di Caltanissetta, the court of first instance with general jurisdiction in criminal matters within the territory of Caltanissetta, Sicily, have rejected an appeal made through attorney, Davide Limoncello,  presented in relation to a European arrest warrant (EAW) issued for William Veres.  The London-based Hungarian antiquities dealer is one of 41 persons who have been named in Operation Demetra, an Italian-led illicit trafficking blitz carried out by law enforcement authorities in Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom in July 2018.  

The appeal presented by Limoncello on behalf of Mr. Veres was made to address the personal and real precautionary measures requested by the Italian authorities in relation to his client, deemed necessary by the prosecutor in the context of the criminal proceedings related to the case. 

Veres was taken into custody on 4 July by officers from London's Metropolitan Police - Art and Antiques Unit at his home in Forge Close, Stanmore in north-west London.  Subsequent to his arrest, Veres was released on bail with supervised release conditions while he awaits the UK's ruling at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court as to whether or not he should be extradited to Italy to face the charges against him.

Extradition to Italy is regulated by law as well as by international conventions and agreements. In general, extradition, is this case between Britain and Italy, means that Italy has asked the UK to surrender Veres as a suspected criminal in order to stand trial for an alleged violation of the Italian law.  But before doing so, the antiquities dealer is entitled to an extradition hearing.

During that extradition hearing a UK judge will need to be satisfied that the conduct described in the European arrest warrant amounts to an extraditable offence in Great Britain.  This means, in almost all cases, that the alleged conduct of the suspect would also amount to a criminal offence were it to have occurred in the UK.  The UK courts would also have to evaluate whether or not  any of the UK's statutory bars to extradition apply. 

Most of the bars prohibiting extradition in the UK have to do with double jeopardy, the absence of a prosecution decision (whether the prosecution case against the accused is sufficiently advanced) or whether or not the request by the requesting foreign authority is improperly motivated.   The London judge will also decide if extradition would be disproportionate or incompatible with Veres'  human rights. 

Should the judge at the extradition hearing decide it would be both proportionate and compatible, Veres' extradition to Italy would subsequently be ordered.  Veres could then, if he so chose, ask the UK High Court for permission to appeal this decision, provided that request is made within seven days of the previous order.  

If the High Court grants an appeal, in that situation and later affirms the lower court's ruling that extradition is both proportionate and compatible, Veres would become subject to extradition within 10 days of the final court order (unless an agreement to extend, due to exceptional circumstances, is made with Italy).

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 7, 2018

August 3, 2018

Decision from the Greek Court on the Schinoussa and Psychiko seizure case

Antiquities and copies of antiquities from the 2006 Greek Seizures
In a court ruling coming in at the end of July, first reported by the blog of the Committee on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), the E (5th) 3 member Appeal Penal Court of Athens, Greece, hearing the case in first instance, has handed down their decision on members of the well-known shipping family Papadimitriou, originally accused on 22 November 2006 of illegally possessing and receiving illicit antiquities.

According to the contents of an email, apparently recieved by the State Legal Adviser's Office to the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Hellenic Republic, relating the outcome of the 26 July 2018 hearing on the case (translated from the original Greek):

"The Court by majority found guilty Despina and Dimitri Papadimitriou for the act of embezzlement of monuments and convicted each one of them to suspended imprisonment of 4 years. It also ratified the seizure and ordered the confiscation of the seized items."
According to Greek Law No. 3028/02, “On the Protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in General” (article 56), destruction, damage or alteration of a monument, as well as theft or embezzlement of monuments, (articles 53 and 54 respectively) are punishable acts in Greece.

The objects which led to this reported conviction were confiscated twelve years ago from the family's villa on the Aegean island of Schinoussa as well as at a second family residence in the suburb of Psychiko, in northern Athens.

The Saint Basil area of the Island of Schinoussa.
The private peninsula owned by the Papadimitriou/Michaelides family.
Image Credit:  ARCA 2018 Google Maps screen capture
The antiquities connected to these charges were held on that occasion in accordance with Greek Law 3028/2002 on the Protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in General along with a significant number of photographic images, many of which represent additional antiquities, not recovered on the properties during the aforementioned Greek raids. The objects portrayed in the photos are related to the commercial transactions of antiquities dealers Christo Michaelides and Robin Symes who sold ancient art through Robin Symes Limited.

According to the book "The Medici Conspiracy" the 17 albums of photographic documentation seized, often referred to as the "Schinoussa archive" depict 995 artifacts in 2,191 photos.   The bulk of the images, shot by professional photographers.  The binders are said to be derived from the most important antiquities which are known to have passed through Symes and Michaelides' hands at some point during their business dealings from the 1980s through the 1990s.

While photographs from the Schinoussa archive do not, in and of themselves, prove that a specifically photographed antiquity is illicit in origin, the images photographed can raise disturbing questions about which middleman hands unprovenanced antiquities have passed through.  What we do know is that the Symes - Michaelides duo sold objects tied to other traffickers in completion of transactions to wealthy collectors and some of the most prestigious museums in the world.

An example of this is the recently repatriated calyx-krater mixing vessel attributed to Python, as painter which was returned to Italy. This object was purchased by Speed Art Museum through Robin Symes Limited, on the basis that the krater came from a private collector in Paris.  Instead the object was found to match photos from the Giacomo Medici archive, where the antiquity is depicted in an unrestored, and obviously looted, state.  This means the French provenance applied to the object and relayed to the museum was a fabrication.  It is for this reason, that objects represented in the Schinoussa archive and/or sold via Robin Symes Limited, in circulation within the world's thriving antiquities art market deserve careful scrutiny as they may represent antiquities derived from illegal sources.  

At the time of the Schinoussa and Psychiko villa searches, in April of 2006, the resulting haul of undocumented antiquities was considered to be the largest antiquities seizure by law enforcement in recent Greek history.  In total, some 152 undocumented ancient artworks were inventoried by investigating authorities.  Later, evaluations by two committees of experts were held in order  to determine which objects were authentic and therefore subject to seizure under existing Greek law.  The committee also looked at what might merely be fakes or reproductions.

Some of the notable objects identified on the Papadimitriou properties included two large Egyptian sphinxes made of pink granite, nine rare Coptic weavings from the fourth-to-sixth centuries C.E., multiple marble busts, Corinthian capitals, and Byzantine architectural elements.  There was even a fake statue that was once displayed at the Getty Museum.  One of the more unusual finds was the remains of an entire 17th century building which had been dismantled, perhaps to be reconstructed elsewhere at some later date.

Officers also found shipment boxes from Christie's auction house which included market transactions from 2001 through 2005.  Notably, many of the objects found during the executed search warrants were still wrapped, either having never been unwrapped, or perhaps having been rewrapped, awaiting transport elsewhere.

At the end of the committee evaluations a total 69 objects were confiscated by the authorities.  Their total estimated value:  a little more than €982,000 euros.


The largest find during the raid in Schinoussa.
A modern construction chapel dedicated to Saint Basil made up of architectural elements originating from other Byzantine temples. Photo Credit: C. Tsirogiannis
Those who follow illicit trafficking will already be familiar with the name of deceased antiquities dealer Christo Michaelides, who, prior to his death was the former partner of Robin Symes. Michaelidis lived with Symes from the 1970s until his death on 5 July 1999 as a result of a fatal fall which occurred during a dinner party in a villa in Terni, Italy hosted by the now famous American antiquities collectors, Leon Levy and Shelby White.

Michaelides descended from a Greek shipping family, run by his father, Alexander Votsi Michaelides.  His sister is Despina Papadimitriou, is one of the four original defendants charged by Greek prosecutor Eleni Raikou seven months after the Schinoussa and Psychiko seizures.  The other individuals named in this case are Despina's three adult children, Dimitri, Alexis, and Angeliki, though it appears that the court has ruled negatively on solely Despina and Dimitri.

According to the Greek indictment, the defendants unlawfully appropriated 
"ancient monuments, cultural goods dating back to prehistoric, ancient, Byzantine and post-Byzantine times until 1830." 
(Greek «ιδιοποιήθηκαν παράνομα αρχαία μνημεία, πολιτιστικά αγαθά που ανάγονται στους προϊστορικούς, αρχαίους, βυζαντινούς και μεταβυζαντινούς χρόνους έως και το 1830»)

And as stated in the hearing that referred them to the audience of the Triennial Court of Appeal of Athens: 
"There is an aim of income generation and a constant propensity to commit the crime, which is directed against the State, the embezzlement of monuments as an element of their personality."(Greek «Προκύπτει σκοπός για πορισμό εισοδήματος και σταθερή ροπή προς τη διάπραξη του εγκλήματος, που στρέφεται κατά του Δημοσίου, της υπεξαίρεσης μνημείων ως στοιχείο της προσωπικότητάς τους».)
During the proceedings the defendants disputed Greece's charges arguing that the seized property was owned by their husband/father, Alexander Michaelides, or by their brother/uncle, Christo Michaelides.  Prior to his death, Christo Michaelides spent a significant amount of time on the family estate in Schinoussa, socializing with individuals known to purchase ancient art, some with fabricated provenances, including Marion True, the former Curator of Antiquities at the J.Paul Getty Museum.

 Former Getty Curator Marion True, with
Christo Michaelides, in Greece, 1998
Image Credit:  The Medici Conspiracy


This statement is perplexing given her brother's longterm ties to his partner, Robin Symes, and the pair's business dealings with well-publicised dealers of ancient art who were already known to be involved in the handling and selling of tainted illicit antiquities.

As this court decision moves forward to the second judicial phase it is interesting to note that London lawyers on behalf of all four members of the Papadimitriou family named in this court case have sent a lengthy letter, written one day after the Court's decision, to one of the Greek state's witnesses who testified on behalf of the government during their trial. The contents of this four-page letter, written to Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, might be interpreted as witness intimidation. 

The letter, written by attorney's representing the Papadimitriou family, including its sharply worded final sentence,  can be read in its entirety in the EAA blog of the Committee on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material.

Commentary regarding the allegations made in the text of this letter to Tsirogiannis can be found on the blog of antiquities trafficking researcher Dr. Samuel Hardy here.


By:  Lynda Albertson





August 1, 2018

Sad Conclusion: The case is von Saher v Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena et al, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 16-58308.

The protracted multi-million dollar lawsuit regarding the 480-year-old paintings of Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder at the Norton Simon Museum that has lasted more than ten years has now come to a close.  A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a unanimous decision, has ruled in favour of the museum and not Marei von Saher, the sole surviving heir of the Dutch-Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, who has long sought to recover her father in law’s artworks, looted during the Second World War. 

Throughout this protracted judicial process, Saher, had sought the return of the two 500-year-old biblical-themed paintings, which at one point had been appraised at $24 million.  

Jacques Goudstikker was once considered to be the preeminent dealer of Old Master paintings in Amsterdam and is estimated to have amassed an extraordinary collection of some 1400 works of art of the course of his professional career.  When Germany began its assault on Holland on May 10, 1940, Goudstikker knew that his family's time was up. As Rotterdam burned and the Nazi invasion under Reichsmarschall Göring gained speed, Goudstikker, his young wife Désirée von Halban Kurtz, and their infant son Edo boarded the SS Bodegraven, a ship docked at the port city of IJmuiden, departing for England and then on its way to the Americas. 

Goudstikker inventory of property

Unable to transport his collection with him, Goudstikker carried a neatly typed inventory of his property in a black leather notebook.  This notebook detailed artworks by important Dutch and Flemish artists like Jan Mostaert and Jan Steen, as well as works by Peter Paul Rubens, Giotto, Pasqualino Veneziano, Titian, Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh as well as the Cranachs.  Unfortunately, in a further tragic twist of fate, Goudstikker lost his life on his journey to safety, breaking his neck in an accidental fall through an uncovered hatch just two days into the departing ship's voyage.

In less than a week after the German Luftwaffe of the Third Reich crossed into Dutch airspace, Dutch commanding general General Henry G. Winkelman surrendered and the country fell under German occupation.   As a result, Amsterdam came under a civilian administration overseen by the Reichskommissariat Niederlande, which was dominated by the Schutzstaffel.  

Goudstikker's collection was quickly liquidated in a forced sale typical of many World War II -era art thefts.  Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring himself cherry picked many of the choicest art works, including these two 6-1/4 foot (1.9 meters) tall Cranach panels. Göring went on to send more than 800 paintings to Germany, some of which were hung in his private collection at Karinhall, his country estate near Berlin.

On Monday, July 30, 2018, the three-judge panel with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is the U.S. Federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in Alaska, Arizona and the Central District of California applied “the act of state doctrine,” validated the 1966 sale of the paintings by the Dutch government, which by then owned them, to George Stroganoff-Scherbatoff who in turn sold them to the Norton Simon in 1971.

“The act of state doctrine,” limits the ability of U.S. courts, in certain instances, from determining the legality of the acts of a sovereign state within that sovereign's own territory and is often applied in appropriations disputes which immunizes foreign nations from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts when certain conditions are satisfied.

The judges held that in order for von Saher’s claim to have been upheld, the  court would have been required to invalidate the official acts of the Dutch government. Specifically, the Dutch government’s conveyance of the paintings to Stroganoff-Scherbatoff would have needed to have been deemed legally inoperative.  Additionally the panel would have needed to disregard both the Dutch government’s 1999 decision not to restore von Saher’s rights to the paintings, and its later statement that her claim to the paintings had “been settled.”

To view the Judges' opinion entirety, please download the file from the ARCA website here.

By:  Lynda Albertson