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

May 25, 2018

Countering Antiquities Trafficking (CAT) in the Mashreq

From April 16 – 20, 2018 I had the pleasure to be one of a specialised group of trainers for Countering Antiquities Trafficking in the Mashreq: A Training Program for Specialists Working to Deter Cultural Property Theft and the Illicit Trafficking of Antiquities, a programme developed through the Secretariat of the 1970 Convention, the unit responsible for the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. 

Funded through UNESCO's Heritage Emergency Fund, the multidisciplinary practical training programme took place at UNESCO's Regional Office in Beirut, and involved experts working with and in collaboration to UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, a specialised agency of the UN based in Paris,  ARCA — the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, UNIDROIT — the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law, ICOM — the International Council of Museums, UNODC — the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and INTERPOL— the International Criminal Police Organization.


The CAT in the Mashreq training program was developed to provide technical support (risk management measures, situational interpretations, drawing conclusions, making recommendations) to staff from governmental authorities, art professionals, academics and decision-makers who work in fragile source countries, the very places where illicit antiquities originate and where heritage trafficking incidents are known to occur.

Developed by professionals for professionals, who understand the necessity of tackling the prevalent issues contributing to heritage crimes and cross-border smuggling of illegally exported antiquities, this initiative, hopefully replicable in more countries, was developed as a means of providing support to the affected source and transit countries of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey.

The overarching goal is to help heritage professionals address issues of common heritage concern in countries where civil unrest and social turmoil have contributed to porous borders where the absence of controls contributes to avenues for the looting and trafficking of cultural artifacts, as well as on occasion, incidences of cultural cleansing.

As a part of this ambitious initiative, 32 trainees where invited from the five aforementioned designated countries.  Each trainee, while there to learn, also contributed from their own professional knowledge, expertise and first-hand knowledge if the issues as they relate to the situation in their own country. Drawing upon my own professional experiences in cross-border policing, museum security and risk management, my objective in the initiative was to build multilateral capacity and to strengthen knowledge as it relates to the intricacies of art crime and heritage protection across jurisdictions.

Criminals work outside border considerations.

Always at the forefront of my training module was to need to develop a purposeful framework, for knowledge transfer and exchange, to be used to develop activities and approaches that move knowledge from those who have first hand experience in a specific area to others who need similar knowledge before during or after a similar incident.  Also of importance was to foster in others, the trust to work collaboratively and to be open to learning from one another as I believe it takes a non-political, multidisciplinary and multi-visionary approach to adequately deter and detect incidents of art crime as they across country boundaries.

There’s a difference between crime prevention and crime reaction:  Changing the way we think.

My contribution to the week-long training was to guide and coach participants through interactive case studies and exercises, promoting a proactive and systematically collaborative mind set to heritage risk management.  To that end,  I believe I was able to encourage the participants to take into consideration a variety of unexplored approaches to site security and protection.


This was done not only by analyzing and reviewing past incidents after they occur, in order to deter cultural property theft and illicit trafficking but to also fulfill my own goal for this training which was to raise individual and agency understanding of the need for a more proactive prevention and preparation approach, by predicting what types of emergencies might occur in advance of an incident or an all-out crisis, in order to rectify deficiencies in risk management, to prevent incidents from happening.

This was done by demonstrating the use of practical, proactive security measurements, proactive planning, predictive analysis, threat and risk management assessment, many of which can be applied to the conflict theatre and could be applicable to the situations occurring in this specific region.

During my module participants were given real world proactive vs. reactive examples of security measures and risk management advance planning techniques as this is the single most important thing an organisation can do to defend itself against a threat, i.e. understanding its existing vulnerabilities and setting up a framework for addressing them before incidences can occur.   By sharing and coordinating relevant information and existing security processes my goal was to help trainees be better able to protect assets, people, property (tangible and intangible), and archival information, before a loss occurs.

With so many incidents happening in the last decades in this region we still tend to look at the conflict itself and how to stop the trafficking of stolen goods after they have already been taken.  We need to start thinking outside the box and start looking how we can predict those incidents before they occur, and with that knowledge how we can find and develop solutions, measurements and support how to prevent them. And for the record, no I do not mean that this can stop a conflict, I mean that if it obvious that there can be a conflict, we should not wait until it is happening and react to it then.

Time to look further ahead as well as looking back.

Although I understand the current situations occurring in this zone, and the sensitive feelings of those involved, knowing that until now, their focus has been on getting the stolen, plundered or otherwise stolen or destroyed cultural heritage objects back, it is also time to look forward and try the prevent the next possible situation to happen.  I’m proud and honoured that I was asked to be part of this training and hope that a little seed of proactivity was planted, and there, will continue to grow.

Dick Drent, CPE
Founding Director, Omnirisk
Associate Director, SoSecure Intl.
Museum and Site Risk Management Expert

May 12, 2018

Museum Theft: Whatcom Museum

Ninety miles north of Seattle and twenty-one miles south of the Canadian border, Bellingham Police are investigating a theft from the Whatcom Museum's recently designed Lightcatcher building.
Image Credit:  Birmingham Police

While police have not indicated what was stolen, the theft occurred on May 3rd and involved an object valued at $15,000.  Appealing to the public for help, law enforcement officers have asked if anyone can identify this person of interest, seen photographing what appears to be an object from the museum's Jeweled Objects of Desire exhibition. 

This exhibition, which ran from February 10th through May 6th, featured the jewelled luxury art of artist Sidney Mobell. Mobell may be best known for adding bling to mundane everyday objects including a gold mouse trap with a wedge of cheese set with pavé diamonds, a 14-karat gold sardine tin embellished with fifty-five Russian diamonds, a 24 karat gilded mailbox with a sapphire eagle as well as a freshwater pearl and gold wire-encrusted corncob by designer John Hatleberg.  

Persons with information about this individual should contact the Bellingham Washington Police by calling +1 360-778-8800 referencing case No. 18B-25214.

Summer Clowers, ARCA '13 

May 6, 2018

Arrest warrant issued for UK suspect in 2017 Aspen Gallery Vandalism

One year ago, on Tuesday May 02, 2017, a man wearing sunglasses and a cap entered the Opera Gallery in Aspen, Colorado and slashed a £2.16 million ($3 million) painting by artist Christopher Wool with a razor before fleeing the gallery in under one minute. 

The episode, documented by internal CCTV security cameras made public by Aspen law enforcement authorities, showed a caucasian man in black jeans, a black jacket, who entered the gallery, blocking the door open with a small piece of wood before proceeding to bypass valuable works of art by Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso.  Arriving in front of the Untitled, 2004 "new expressionist" artwork by contemporary artist Wool, the vandal then, taking a black-handled object out of his pocket, made two quick downward slashes to the the canvas before hurrying back out the front door of the gallery. The consignor of the painting, kept anonymous at the time, was Harold Morley, 74, of Barbados, who had purchased the painting through a trust called Fallowfield Ltd.



One year later, felony criminal mischief charges have been filed along with an arrest warrant in Pitkin County District Court in Colorado which seem to implicate the son of the owner of the painting, Nicholas Morley, who is believed to have called the gallery on three occasions prior to the vandalism in order to ascertain security details within the gallery before carrying out the crime. 

It is believed that the 40 year old suspect flew from London's Heathrow Airport to Minneapolis-St. Paul on May under an assumed name before taking another flight on to Aspen, Colorado, where he then rented a car at the Denver airport under the name Nikola Marley, simply with the intent of defacing a painting belonging to his father, a wealthy property developer.

Police became suspicious when Harold Morley began making requests to downplay the incident, sending a letter on to the owner of the gallery stating that the painting "can be easily restored" and that he did not plan on filing an insurance claim. On May 10, the suspect himself, Nicholas Morley wrote an email to the gallery manager, indicating that Fallowfield Ltd., did not plan to hold the gallery liable for the incident happening while the painting was under their consignment. 

According to the court affidavit, in this email Nicholas Morley stated:

"It would appear possible based on the video footage (and is our judgment) that this was an accident rather than malicious damage," and "(We) kindly suggest that Opera either A: issue a press release that the incident was in fact an accident, or B: issue no further press comments." He also suggested that the Gallery advise the police that this was not a criminal act.

The motive for the event is not clear at this time.

May 2, 2018

Auction Alert - Sotheby’s New York - a bronze Greek figure of a horse

On May 01, 2018 ARCA was contacted by Christos Tsirogiannis about a possible ancient object of concern in an upcoming Sotheby's auction titled 'The Shape of the Beauty: Sculpture from the Collection of Howard and Saretta Barnet' scheduled for 10:00 AM EST on May 14, 2018 in New York City. The antiquities researcher had also notified law enforcement authorities in New York and at INTERPOL. 

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

Image Credit: ARCA
Screenshot taken 02 May 2018
Dr. Tsirogiannis noted that Lot 4 of the sale, a bronze Greek figure of a horse, lists the object's collecting history as:
Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, May 6, 1967, lot 2
Robin Symes, London, very probably acquired at the above auction
Howard and Saretta Barnet, New York, acquired from the above on November 16, 1973 .

For its literature, the auction house mentions the following text: Zimmermann, Les chevaux de bronze dans l'art géométrique grec, Mainz and Geneva, 1989, p. 178.

Through my own explorations I found that Scholar Paul Cartledge, in The Classical Review 41 (1):173-175 (1991), stated:

"Like Archaic Greek bronze hoplite-figurines (CR 38 [1988], 342), Greek Geometric bronze horse-figurines are eminently marketable (and forgeable) artefacts for which private collectors, chiefly in New York, London, Geneva and Basel, are prepared to part with a great deal of hard currency. Their (al)lure is undeniable; I have myself trekked halfway across Europe in pursuit of their elusive charm."

As if to underscore their allure, both past and present, Tsirogiannis sent along three photos of the object on auction which he conclusively matched to photos found in the confiscated Robin Symes archive. 

Three, (3) photos from the Symes -Michaelides Archive
provided by Christos Tsirogiannis

Saretta Barnet died in March of 2017.  Her husband had passed away in 1992. Collecting for more than 4 decades, the couple's collection included everything from pen and brown ink landscapes by Fra Bartolommeo, works by Goya, François Boucher, Lucien Freud, tribal art and a noteworthy collection of antiquities.  

In a December 01, 2017 article in the Financial Times, discussing this upcoming sale, their son, Peter Barnet, indicated that “his late parents bought carefully and took their time to make decisions. For that reason, they preferred not to buy at auction but from dealers.”  Apparently though, not all of those purchases were carefully vetted. 

Screenshot:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bulletin 3269091
In 1999 the family of Howard J. Barnet donated a Black-Figure Kylix, ca. 550-525 B.C.E attributed to the Hunt Painter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That object according to an article by Dr. David Gill, was relinquished by the museum via a transfer in title in a negotiation completed with the Italian Ministry of Culture on February 21, 2006 and returned to Italy in one of the first repatriation agreements between Italy and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

While the Barnet's may have been selective in the quality of the pieces they purchased for their collection, their relationships with dealers known to have dealt in plundered antiquities such as Symes, as well as collecting transactions with private collectors such as George Ortiz, who is also known to have purchased tainted objects, leaves one to question how carefully the Barnet's vetted the objects they acquired.

Given that the bronze Greek figure of a horse appears in photographs found in the Symes archive and the fact that at least one other object donated by the Barnet's was tied to illicit trafficking and was repatriated to its country of origin, this statue deserves a closer look.  With further research, the object and its past collecting history might lead to a link in the trafficking chain that has not yet been fully explored or considered. 

Take the provenance listed in this sales event for example.  If the object's listing of a sale at Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel in May 6, 1967 is not a fabrication, then exploring this sale in Switzerland, determining who the consignor was, might give us another name name in the looting/trafficking/laundering chain which could help us determine the country of origin and be worthwhile for law enforcement in Switzerland and New York to explore. 

At the very least, this upcoming auction notice seems to indicate that the auction house did not contact Greek or Italian source country authorities before accepting the object on consignment.  This despite the object's passage through the hands of a British antiquities dealer long-known to have been a key player in an international criminal network that traded in looted antiquities. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 11, 2018

Auction Alert - Christie's Auction House - an Etruscan 'Pontic' black-figured neck-amphora and a Roman bronze boar

ARCA has been informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified two potentially tainted antiquities, scheduled to be auctioned by Christie's auction house in New York on 18 April 2018.  The antiquities researcher had notified law enforcement authorities in late March.

On April 11th, 2018 one of these objects is now listed as withdrawn from the auction.

Lot 26, an Etruscan 'Pontic' black-figured neck-amphora attributed to the Paris Painter, Circa 530 BCE. was listed in the auction documentation, before its withdrawal with an estimated sale price of $30,000-50,000 USD.


The provenance published with this object is: 
"with Galerie Günter Puhze, Freiburg.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 1993."

The second item, Lot 48, is a Roman Bronze Boar, Circa 1st-2nd Century CE., is currently still listed with an estimate sale price of $10,000-15,000 USD.


The provenance published with this object is: 
"with Mathias Komor, New York, 1974. Christos G. Bastis (1904-1999), New York. The Christos G. Bastis Collection; Sotheby’s, New York, 9 December 1999, lot 159."

Photo from the Gianfranco Becchina archive
Exhibited: 
"The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Antiquities from the Collection of Christos G. Bastis, 20 November 1987-10 January 1988."

Tsirogiannis matched the black-figured neck-amphora with two Polaroid images found pasted onto a 22 June 1993 document located within the confiscated archive of Sicilian antiquity dealer Gianfranco Becchina. The white piece of paper describes the scene depicted on the object, while the two photos pasted to the document show the same antiquity prior to its restoration.  In this image, the vase is still broken into many fragments and is seen with soil and salt encrustations.   The dealers handwritten notes on the page include numeric notations and refer to an individual named "Sandro."

Becchina's archive, an accumulation of business records, seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002, consists of some 140 binders containing more than 13,000 documents related to antiquities, bought and sold, which at one point or another are known to have passed through Becchina's network of illicit suppliers.

As those who are familiar with Peter Watson's and Cecilia Todeschini's book, The Medici Conspiracy may recall, numerous handwritten notes and lists of antiquities, invoices, and etc., found in the Becchina archive refer to Sandro Cimicchi, an artifact restorer based in Basel, Switzerland.

This is interesting in that one of the supply chain elements in Becchina's enterprise frequently foresaw a first phase of restoration on the plundered artwork, then the subsequent creation of false attestations on the antiquity's origin, made possible also through the artificial attribution of ownership to associated companies.

Cimicchi's name also appears on a comprehensive hand-written organisational chart written by dealer/trafficker Pasquale Camera which was recovered by the Italian authorities in September 1995 during a Carabinieri raid.  This ‘organigram’ has been useful to Italian investigators and cultural researchers in piecing together members of this well known trafficking TOC group.  Starting from the bottom and working your way up, this document references everyone from tombaroli, to intermediaries, to restorers, to mid-level Italian dealers (Gianfranco Becchina and Giacomo Medici), and lastly, to wealthy international dealers Robert E. Hecht and Robin Symes.

Cimicchi name has consistently been connected with illicit antiquities dealers and had been noted to have been Gianfranco Becchina's usual restorer. 

Becchina was convicted in 2011 for his role in the illegal antiquities trade yet, this antiquity's passage, through or between Becchina and Cimicchi, has not been listed in the provenance details which were published by the Christie's auction house for its upcoming sale.

Tsirogiannis informed me that the second object, the Roman bronze boar, is depicted in two separate professional images in the business archive records of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides,  two other high-profile art dealers we have written about in detail. 


The Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives were presented publicly by the Italian judicial and police authorities during the trials of Giacomo Medici, Gianfranco Becchina, Robert Hecht, and dozens of Italian tombaroli in Rome from 2000-2011. Like the Becchina archive, this Greek file features a stash of images seized during a raid on the Greek island of Schinousa, that once formed the stock of Robin Symes and Christo Michaelides.

Unfortunately, neither Symes nor Michaelides appear in the provenance documentation published by Christie's for the upcoming sale on the Roman bronze boar.

With regularity, objects such as these, connected to tainted antiquities dealers, known to have profited from the trafficking of illicit antiquities, appear on the licit market.  Since 2006 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist, affiliated researcher and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has, with some regularity, identified antiquities of suspect origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses, liking passages in their collection histories to Giacomo Medici, Fritz Bürki, Gianfranco Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides. 

As part of a rigorous due diligence process, auction houses are encouraged to check with the Italian or Greek authorities to ensure that the antiquities going up for auction are clean, so as not to pass tainted objects on to new owners.  Yet dealers in the art market sometimes forgo this due diligence step, as talking with the  law enforcement authorities, means they would likely be required to provide the name of the consignor, should the archive control, come up with a matching incriminating photo.  

As this poses problems of confidentiality for dealers, this step, is too frequently omitted, leaving the only way for matches to be made being when pieces like this  ancient vase, or bronze boar, or marble statue, or Roman glass bottle, eventually comes up for sale during a public auction. Given that TEFAF's newly released report states that there are more than 28,000 auction houses trading world-wide, the task of monitoring them all becomes gargantuan. 

In UNESCO's recent “Engaging the European Art Market in the Fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property”  I suggested to personnel of the art market on hand for the meeting that the legal conundrum of client confidentiality could be circumvented by auction houses and dealers implementing a policy whereby the consignor themselves contacts the Italian and Greek authorities for a check of the the Medici, Bürki, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides archives before the auction house agrees to list these topologies of antiquities up for auction when the provenance the client has is short on clarity. This would eliminate the auction house's liability for disclosing a confidential client. 

While it might slow down the proposed sales cycle, or be an uncomfortable proactive step for good faith purchases who may have unfortunately purchased a suspect antiquity in good faith in the past, it would be the market's ethical step towards not furthering the laundering by selective omission and it would begin to help collectors understand that their purchases and eventual sales now need to be ethical ones given the onus for ethical behavior being placed on them. 

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as these seen in these two identifications, will encourage auction houses or collectors themselves to adhere to more accurate and stringent reporting requirements when listing their object's collection histories.  It is only in this way that new buyers do not continue to launder objects with their future purchases, further prolonging the damages caused by the the illicit antiquities trade.

March 30, 2018

Illegal chains which mirror legal ones and function in the penumbra of the legal ones


While much has been discussed with regards to terrorism financed via the sale of plundered antiquities, substantiating claims with clear and defined ‘evidence’ is not straightforward. From the outside these networks are labyrinthine, multi-tiered and opaque.  From the inside militants and non-militant criminals are known to conduct illicit transactions with cash and cash alternatives which are, by their very nature, structured to fly below the radar of law enforcement authorities. This makes assessing their impact difficult to estimate and the detection and prosecution of criminals complicated. 

Even when uncovered, traffickers involved in the laundering of illicit antiquities usually haven't kept substantive incriminating paper trails that investigators can peruse to determine what their profit margin was on the antiquities they launder.  Nor are people facing charges of laundering antiquities through the art market likely to be forthcoming with incriminating evidence that identifies who else has benefited from the layered transactions that occur from the time the object is looted from an archaeological rich region until the antiquity reached the identified collector, dealer, gallery, or auction house.

All this to say that those involved in the illicit market don't advertise their relationships with known criminals and the same holds even more true when the profiteering parties have direct or indirect business dealings with transnational criminal networks or militant organizations.

Additionally the economic behavior of terrorist groups and transnational criminal networks during conflicts share many of the same characteristics, methods and tactics.  Both operate in secrecy and little is known about how the groups coexist and, or, interact within the same geographic space.  

But like any legal supply chain does, an illegal supply chain matches supply with demand. So while much of our evidence of where the proceeds of transnational artefact crime finish is condemned by the market as being anecdotal, what we see clearly is the regions from which illicit contraband flows.  From there we can extrapolate that illicit antiquities originating in countries of conflict, from zones where terrorists or militants have a controlling stake territorially, are a potential revenue stream for terrorism.

Where the two chains, the legal and the illegal, meet.


This month after almost three years of investigations, involving some fifty law enforcement officers, Spanish authorities have brought formal charges against two individuals for their alleged participation in a crime of financing terrorism, belonging to a criminal organization, concealment of contraband and use of forgery for their roles in facilitating the sale of illicit antiquities.

On orders from the Audiencia Nacional, a special high court in Spain with jurisdiction throughout the Spanish territory and over international crimes which come under the competence of Spanish courts, Barcelona antiquities dealer Jaume Bagot and his partner Oriol Carreras Palomar.  Both were taken into custody for their alleged role(s) in the sale of Greek and Roman antiquities plundered from Libya and Egypt, which prosecutors believe were then being sold through the licit European art market purporting to be antiquities from historic collections.

Screen Capture: 
Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XObAk1kDVp4
Answering to the charges, the pair appeared before Judicial Magistrate Diego de Egea of the Central Court of Instruction Number 6 of the National Court on Monday, March 26, 2018 where they were formally informed of the allegations against them. During the hearing the magistrate granted their release pending trial, imposing a financial surety (bond) and a series of pretrial release conditions which included the forfeiture of their passports, a mandate to remain within the territory of Spain, and biweekly court appearances as conditions of their release while awaiting trial.

Jaume Bagot established his gallery, J. Bagot Arqueología Ancient Art Gallery in 2005 in the heart of Barcelona.  According to his profile on the BRAFA art fair website, where he is a vetted dealer of ancient art, Bagot's firm specializes in the sale of art from the Etruscan, Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilizations, from Mesopotamia, the Middle East, Gandhara and from various Pre-Columbian cultures. No mention of Libyan cultural objects are mentioned in his BRAFA profile, and yet, police authorities in Spain have seized sculpture which originated from three cities of Libya: Albaida, Apolonia and Cyrene, some of which is believed to have been looted while the territory was under the control of Islamist militants.

Bagot's gallery is listed as a member of the influential dealer association C.I.N.O.A. (Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d'Art), as well as the F.E.A. (Federación Española de Anticuarios) where they list him as Jaume Bagot Peix, where he is identified as the vice-président of the  Professional Group of Antiquarians of the (Barcelona) Royal Shipyard (Asociación de Anticuarios de las Reales Atarazanas) 

In addition to forming strategic affiliations within the art market's important dealer associations, Bagot's gallery's "about us" page assures potential collectors that he is an ethical dealer by stating:

"Our main objective is to offer original ancient works of art guaranteeing their authenticity and maximum quality while at the same time strictly complying with the laws of protection of national, foreign and UNESCO heritage." 

and

"We also carry out exhaustive research into the provenance and previous ownership of the pieces. To this end we make use of the  data base [sic] of stolen objects, Art Loss Register, as well as making use of publications, sworn  statements, dated photographs, bills, customs documents and insurance policies."

All of which stands in stark contradiction to the apparent charges he now faces with the Spanish authorities of facilitating the sale of illicit antiquities from regions of conflict where terrorist actors might have been involved.

Criminal actors and investments in the legitimate art economy: 
The making of a case = Good (unfortunately usally unpaid) research.

As is all too often the case, some of the best evidence collected highlighting trends in the field of illicit trafficking, is research conducted by unpaid academics, as there has been little funding up until now, made available at the national or multinational level in market countries to financially support the type of in-depth specialized research required by provenance experts studying the flow of illicit objects onto the licit market.  This holds true as well for this particular Spanish investigation, which got its start thanks to an academic researcher.

During his PhD research on les sculptures funéraires de Cyrénaïque (the funerary sculptures of Cyrenaica), French historian, turned conflict antiquities researcher, Morgan Belzic, of the École Pratique des Hautes Études had been working with the French Archaeological Mission and Libya heritage authorities documenting antiquity in the northeastern part of modern Libya focusing on the cities of Shahat (Cyrene), Susa (Apollonia), Tulmaytha (Ptolemais), Tocra (Taucheira), and Benghazi (Euesperides/Berenike).

Looking at evidence useful for understanding the culture and history of ancient Cyrenaica, which thrived between the 6th century BCE and the 4th century CE, Belzic uncovered a worrisome correlation between the looting and destruction that has occurred over the past twenty years at the Greek necropoleis of Libya and an uptick in the number of ancient objects, identifiable solely to that specific region, appearing on the international art market. In conjunction with this increased availability of ancient material surfacing on the art market, he also noted that tomb destruction in the region had risen exponentially, in part as a result of the longstanding instability in the region, but notably over the last ten years in conjunction with items appearing in the market.

Speaking with Morgan about his research last summer, during an informal ARCA meeting of academic antiquities researchers, he told me that while the material remains, the alabaster, glass, and terracotta, found in the tombs of Cyrenaica could likewise be found in other Hellenistic regions, making it difficult to pinpoint the country of origin for looted antiquities of these types, the deities and funerary portraits of Cyrenaica are an exception.

Belzic explained that these sculptures are quite specific in their iconography and style, making it possible for experts, familiar with the sculpture of Cyrenaica, to objectively identify pieces from the region.  Then when these types of sculpture come on the market,  with limited documentation that does not match with existing established collections, one can begin to question their legitimacy and whether or not they may have come from ransacked tombs before making their way into some of Europe's prestigious galleries.

With two rival governments, and countless local militias in Libya, Belzic understood that the probability of staunching the flow of illicit objects following out of Libya could only be tackled by disrupting the demand side of the supply chain.  With that in mind, he turned his research over to law enforcement authorities in Spain who began their lengthy investigation building upon the foundation of his academic research.

In an interview with Crónica Global Media “JBP,” as the Catalan antiquarian prefers to be called, denies any direct involvement with purchasing antiquities from parties in Iraq, Libya or Syria.  He goes on to add that all the items in his inventory have been purchased in good faith, without knowing that the objects in question had been stolen or looted.  His statements imply that any illegal antiquities that made their way into his gallery's inventory did so by honest, unknowing mistake, rather than willful ignorance or a lack of due diligence.

Bagot’s statements are telling as they touch upon the legal framework, technicalities and procedural obstacles that the dealer may try to use in his defence and when fighting any cross-border restitution claim presented by Libya and Egypt in relation to the seizure of his merchandise. It is this culture of willful impunity, the eye's closed "I didn't know" approach which has, for so long, contributed to the challenges of preventing the illegal trafficking of cultural objects through the means of prosecution. 

Unless we establish mandated due diligence accountability for dealers, those who deal in the grey area of the market will continue to rely on the legal conceptualizations of property and ownership in countries favourable to their mercurial transactions.  

Last week I spoke at an UNESCO-EU-funded conference in Paris entitled “Engaging the European Art Market in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property” where I recommended more dedicated public prosecutors and law enforcement officers assigned to focus on art crimes, and building capacity (i.e. funding) in support of experts dedicated to analyzing trafficking from regions at risk.   Belzic, who sat beside me, listened thoughtfully to Erika Bochereau, General Secretary of C.I.N.O.A. (Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d'Art) as she said “It is in the interest of dealers to work only in the licit trade because their business depends on it.”  

I wonder what the confederation's stance will be now that one of their members has come under prosecutorial scrutiny.  

By:  Lynda Albertson

March 25, 2018

Museum Theft: Museo del Sannio - Benevento, Italy


Italian authorities have announced a theft from the Museo del Sannio in Benevento, Italy. The theft appears to have occurred around 2:00 am early Wednesday morning, March 22, 2018.  According to initial reports, an alarm activated, triggered by the opening of the emergency exit door overlooking Piazza Arechi, in front of the Conservatory but as no signs of burglary or break-in were found at the time of its sounding, the incident was misinterpreted as a false alarm. 

The museum detected the theft the following afternoon, when personnel, reviewing the miss-read false alarm,  discovered broken pottery fragments scattered on the ground in the vicinity of a museum storage area located in the building off Piazza Santa Sofia.  Perhaps spooked when the alarm sounded, the group of thieves left behind an already packed container, where they had placed other objects they intended to remove and in their hasty departure apparently knocked over and damaged more than a dozen other pieces stored in the same depot. 

The Head of the Museum Management of the Province of Benevento, Gabriella Gomma, has handed over a preliminary inventory of objects stolen to the State Police authorities in Benevento and a comprehensive list should be completed by Monday, April 26.  Initial reports indicate that some of the twenty vases already identified as missing include archaeological finds dating back to the Hellenistic period ( 323 - 31 BCE).