October 18, 2018

ARCA's Postgraduate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection is now accepting applications.


Who studies art crime?

ARCA's Postgraduate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection is now accepting applications.

Early applications will be accepted through 30 November subject to census limitations. 
In 2009, ARCA started the very first interdisciplinary program to study art crimes wholistically.

Designed to give participants a unique opportunity to train in a structured and academically diverse format, ARCA's summer-long postgraduate program was designed around the study of the dynamics, strategies, objectives and modus operandi of criminals and criminal organizations who commit a variety of art  related crimes.  

Turn on the news (or follow this blog) and you will see over and over again examples of museum thefts, forgeries, antiquities looting and illicit trafficking of cultural goods.  Intentional heritage destruction and religion-based iconoclasm during armed conflict, once a modern-day rarity, has affected multiple countries and adds to regional instability in many areas of the globe.


Looted art, both ancient and Holocaust-related, can and often does find its way into the world's premiere auction houses and the galleries of respected museum institutions while dealers working in the field continue to be less than adept at distinguishing smuggled and stolen art, from art with a clean provenance. Thus making dealing with art crime an unrelenting problem and one without any easy solution.

Taken incident by incident, it is difficult to see the impact and implications of art crime as a global concern, but when studied across disciplines, looking at the gaps of legal instruments, country to country, one begins to have a clearer picture of the significance of the problem and its impact on the world's collective patrimony.

The world's cultural heritage is an invaluable legacy and its protection is integral to our future. 

One summer, eleven courses.

At its foundation, ARCA's summer-long program in Italy draws upon the overlapping and complementary expertise of international thought-leaders on the topic of art crime – all practitioners and leading scholars who actively work in the sector. 

In 2019, participants of the program will receive 220+ hours of instruction over 11 courses taught by a range of experts actively committed to combatting art crime from a variety of different angles.

For more information on the summer 2019 postgraduate professional development program, please see ARCA's website here.

To request further information or to receive a 2019 prospectus and application materials, please email:
education (at) artcrimeresearch.org

Interested in knowing more about the program from a student's perspective?

Here are some blog posts from and by students who have attended in 20162015, 2014, and in 2013.



October 13, 2018

Restitution: Two Etruscan Objects returned to Italy from Great Britain

Image Credit:  ARCA From Left to Right - Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Britain's Minister of State for the Armed Forces Mark Lancaster, General of Army Corps Sabino Cavaliere, Commander of Mobile Units and Specialized Carabinieri 'Palidoro', Jill Morris, U.K. ambassador to Italy, and Detective Sergeant Rob Upham, chief of London's Metropolitan Police, Art & Antiques Squad.

In a formal ceremony on Thursday the 11th of October at the Villa Wolkonsky, the official residence of the British ambassador to Italy in Rome, UK authorities returned two Etruscan artifacts recovered by the Metropolitan Police in consultation with Italy's Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale.  Both objects had been located within the vibrant London antiquities market.  

The bronze Etruscan statuette of Lares had been stolen from the Museo Archeologico di Siena in 1988.  According to Detective Sergeant Rob Upham, on hand for the handover from New Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit, the terracotta Etruscan askos (a flask with spout and handle shaped like a sphinx), had once passed through the inventory of a convicted Italian ancient art dealer.   Elaborating to the press Upham added that the seller of the object in the UK appeared to be in good faith and therefore was treated as a cooperating witness during the Metropolitan police investigation. 

Image Credit:  ARCA Objects restituted
from the UK to Italy
To further the culture of legality in the field of protection of cultural heritage, and to highlight the UK's ongoing cooperation with their Italian counterparts, British Ambassador to Italy, Jill Morris CMG opened Villa Wolkonsky for the restitution ceremony highlighting the importance of recovery operations and welcoming experts from Italy and the UK in the fields of heritage protection and military cooperation.  Alongside the two restitutions Ambassador Morris and her staff arranged for an exhibition of stolen objects recovered by the Italy's art crime Carabinieri and an informative interactive display of many promising technological tools, made possible by advances in geophysics and remote sensing, which are now being used to assist in the protection of cultural heritage.  

Underpinning the event, was an afternoon heritage symposium titled  'UK-Italy: Partners for Culture' which served to underscore the embassy's commitment to the cultural partnerships established between Italy and the United Kingdom and which was facilitated through the combined efforts of the British Embassy in Rome, the British military, the British Council, the British School at Rome and the British Institute of Florence.   

Recovered objects presented in the exhibition highlighted several of the Carabinieri's significant recovery actions.  Three of which were:

A Violin made in 1567 by Cremonese violin maker Andrea Amati created to celebrate the investiture of King Charles IX of France.  The instrument was illegally exported from Italy in 2010 to the United States.


A I-II century CE limestone Palmyrene funerary relief, plundered from a hypogeum located at the archaeological site of Palmyra in Syria.  This stele was recovered from of an individual in Turin following investigations by the Italian authorities into the illicit trafficking of archaeological assets from the Middle East.  

Each of the historic objects selected for Thursday's exhibition provided attendees with a narrative fulcrum of the pervasiveness and diversity of threats against heritage and the importance of preserving the delicate balance that exists between admiring and preserving the the past through connoisseurship and collecting and the loss of historical context when objects are stolen or looted.

On hand for the event, UK Minister for the Armed Forces, Mark Lancaster, announced that his country's Army-led Cultural Property Protection Unit (CPPU) has now been fully established as part of the UK Government’s implementation of the Hague Convention.  This instrument places obligations on signatory country's armed forces for the protection of cultural property from damage, destruction, and looting.  Minister Lancaster also reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to the Statement of Intent signed earlier this year which furthers defence and security cooperation between Italy and the United Kingdom on a wide range of security challenges.

Speaking on behalf of the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli highlighted the successes of his country's team since the founding of ‘Carabinieri’ Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in 1969.  Since its creation, the branch of the Italian Carabinieri responsible for combatting art and antiquities crimes has recovered more than 797,000 works of art and confiscated 1,096,747 archaeological finds.  The tenacious efforts of the unit's personnel in deterring the global clandestine market of antiquities, in collaboration with police, military forces and judicial authorities of others countries, serves as the gold standard military police model for addressing the far-reaching, multiform and pernicious problem of illicit trafficking and art theft, both nationally and transnationally. 

General Parrulli also emphasized Italy's ‘Unite4Heritage’ (Blue Helmets for culture) project, which was approved unanimously by UNESCO, as a division available and trained, to be used as needed both inside and outside Italy, for the protection of the cultural heritage in the event of natural disasters, armed conflicts or an international crisis at the request of the UN, UNESCO or State Parties.  Composed of 30 Carabinieri, a commander, and heritage experts (archaeologists, art historians, computer engineers and geologists) from the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, this team has been put in place to  support local police forces in their efforts to prevent looting, plundering and trafficking of historical and artistic heritage, as well as in the recovery and protection of these assets in times of crisis.

Seventy years after the British Army last had officers in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives sections during the Second World War and following the UK's ratification of the Hague Convention (1954), which makes it an obligation for the Armed Forces to have a military CPP unit, Lt. Col. Tim Purbrick OBE VR will be the first to lead the UK's newly formed Cultural Property Protection Unit.  During his presentation Lt. Col. Purbrick stated that his unit will consist of 15 trained experts, drawing from members of the Army, Navy, RAF, and Royal Marines as well as civilian experts, brought on board as Army reservists.  His team is expected to work closely with their Italian counterparts to advance the UK's own international military expertise within the sector of cultural property protection. 

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TPC  -
Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander
of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the
Protection of Cultural Heritage and Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO

ARCA also was invited to give a presentation at the symposium on the Association's contributions to the research academic examination of art crimes as a notable criminological area worthy of more profound study.   Speaking simply as a watchful observer to some of the problems existing within the licit art market, Lynda Albertson's presentation touched some of the impediments to successful prosecution of heritage crimes as they relate to the transnational movement of illicit  cultural objects.  

During her presentation Ms. Albertson highlighted the multijurisdictional movement of objects, as they transit from country of origin to country of purchase, discussing ARCA's initiatives in Italy and to providing training to heritage personnel in the Middle East as a way to assist in the tracking and identification of objects stolen from vulnerable source countries. 

Highlighting an insufficient number of law enforcement officers outside of Italy's formidable art squad, and the need for adequate funding to pay experts who presently monitor the market on a volunteer basis, Ms. Albertson also stressed the need for dedicated public prosecutors specializing in art and antiquities crimes and mandatory uniform reporting requirements for object provenance in the market as the market's opacity impedes the tracking stolen and looted objects and exacerbates the collective damage we all suffer when cultural goods are siphoned away through illegal exportation and trafficking. 

ARCA would like to thank Ambassador Morris for her kind invitation to participate and for her recognition of the value of culture in its own right and as a vector for Italy-UK cooperation. 

October 10, 2018

Trial dates tentatively set for December 2018 for 19 "Operation Demetra" defendants


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 set a tentative date for trial of December 2018 for 19 of the individuals connected to Italy's Operation Demetra. 


Resident of Belpasso, Italy
Palmino Pietro Signorello, 66

Residents of Campobello di Licata, Italy
Francesco Giordano, 71 
Luigi Giuseppe Grisafi, 64

Residents of Gela, Italy
Giuseppe Cassarà, 58
Simone Di Simone, (also known as "Ucca aperta"), 46
Rocco Mondello, 61
Orazio Pellegrino, (also known as "nacagliacani"), 54

Resident of Mazzè, Italy
Salvatore Pappalardo, 55

Residents of Paternò, Italy
Luigi Signorello, 34

Residents of Ravanusa, Italy
Matteo Bello, 53
Calogero Ninotta, (also known as "Lilli"), 39
Gaetano Romano, (also known as "Mimmo"), 58

Residents of Riesi, Italy
Angelo Chiantia, (also known as "Faccia pulita") 59  
Francesco Lucerna, (also known as "U zu Ginu") 76
Gaetano Patermo, (also known as "Tano"), 63

Resident of Strongoli, Italy
Luigi La Croce, 62

Residents of Torino, Italy
Giovanni Lucerna, 49
Maria Debora Lucerna, 55

Resident in Stanmore (London), UK
William Veres, (also known as “il professore"), 64

Lawyers for the accused are:

Ivan Bellanti
Angelo Cafà
Paolo Di Caro
Davide Limoncello
Ignazio Valenza

The gup of the Court of Caltanissetta, also has decided to revoke the precautionary measures, of three defendants who had previously been released pending trial to their homes with permission to go to leave to go to and from work.  Those individuals are Francesco Giordano, Luigi Giuseppe Grisafi, and Calogero Ninotta.

Previously the Italian courts 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 the strategic names 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. 

Veres has been 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. For more on this procedure, please see our previous article here. 

Should the UK judge, at the extradition hearing, decide it would be both proportionate and compatible, Veres' extradition to Italy would subsequently be ordered and Veres would 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 does not grant his 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, and would then be transferred to Italy either in time for the December court hearing, or to be rescheduled at a later date. 

October 8, 2018

Conference: Third All Art and Cultural Heritage Law Conference on “National Treasures: Limits to Private Property and Cross-Border Movements”


The 3rd All Art and Cultural Heritage Law Conference on “National Treasures: Limits to Private Property and Cross-Border Movements” will be held at the University of Geneva on Saturday, November 10, 2018 and will look at the concept of “national treasures” and to critically explore its meaning and impact on the regulation of the cross-border trade in cultural objects. 

Participation is free but attendees are asked to register by 30 October 2018 at
art-droit@unige.ch

Details presented by the organizers are as follows: 

10:00 Registration
10:30 Welcome words 
Benedict Foëx, Dean of the Law Faculty, University of Geneva

Foreword / Introduction
Stephen Urice, Professor, School of Law, University of Miami
Marc-André Renold, Director of the Art-Law Centre, UNESCO Chair, University of Geneva

PANEL I – LEGAL PERSPECTIVE: RULES, NOTIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS 
Chair: Alessandro Chechi, University of Geneva

10:50 Gagliani Gabriele, Bocconi University 
Article XX(f) of the GATT 1994 and Rules on Treaty Interpretation: Defining ‘National Treasures’ in International Trade Law

11:10 Anna Frankiewicz-Boydynek and Piotor Stec, Opole University 
Defining ‘National Treasures’ under the EU Directive on Return of Cultural Goods. Is Sky Really the Limit?
 
Discussion and coffee break

11:50 Ferrazzi Sabrina, University of Verona 
EU National Treasures, Politics and the Role of the ECJ

12:10 Evelien Campfens, University of Leiden 
Whose Treasures? Limits to the Notion of ‘National Treasures’ and New Prospects

12:30 Edith Wagner, Max Planck Institute Luxembourg 
Regulation through Litigation. The Procedural Protection of National Treasures and the Potential of EU Civil Procedure to Regulate the Cross-Border Trade in Cultural Property
 
Discussion and lunch break

PANEL II – PRACTICAL PERSPECTIVE: CASES FROM EUROPE AND BEYOND 
Chair: Marc-André Renold, Director of the Art-Law Centre, 
University of Geneva

14:00 Gillman Derek, Drexel University 
The Old Summer Palace and the Making of National Treasures

14:20 Teodora Konach and Michaela Löff, University of Vienna 
How ‘National’ Are ‘National Treasures’? Comparative Analysis of Austrian, Czech and Polish Legislation

14:40 Arianna Visconti and Eliana Romanelli, Catholic University of Milan 
The Definition and Identification of Cultural Property under the Italian Code of Cultural Heritage in light of the Recent Reform on the Export of Cultural Goods: Closing the Gap with the EU Approach, or Cosmetics?
 
Discussion and coffee break

15:40 Charlotte Woodhead, University of Warwick 
Tarnished Treasures: Provenance and the UK’s Waverly Criteria

16:00 Musa Ramatu, University of Basel 
The Sapi-Portuguese Ivories as ‘National Treasures’ of the Republic of Sierra Leone: A Moral Case for Repatriation

16:20 Riccardo Vecellio Segate, Utrecht University 
Treasures and Heritage under the TFEU: The Case of Music Legacy

16:40 Marc-André Renold, Alessandro Chechi and Stephen Urice 
Conclusions

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