July 29, 2018

41 suspects now named in the antiquities blitz "Operation Demetra" carried out in Italy, Germany, Spain, and the UK


As the transnational crime investigation Operation Demetra proceeds into the alleged trafficking of archaeological finds, Italian news reports have begun publishing the names of the 41 individuals currently listed in the obgoing investigation.  Some of these individuals have been given precautionary pretrial measures including pretrial incarceration, house arrest or electronic monitoring.  The remainder are at large pending the conclusion of the investigation.


The individuals alleged to be involved live in 19 cities in Italy, as well as in Ehingen, Germany, Barcelona, Spain, and Stanmore (London) in the United Kingdom. 

A breakdown of the cities is as follows:

Resident of Adrano, Italy
Salvatore Leanza, 55

Resident of Albiano d'Ivrea, Italy
Walter Angelo Rezza, 70

Resident of Belpasso, Italy
Palmino Pietro Signorello, 66

Residents of Campobello di Licata, Italy
Francesco Giorano, 71
Luigi Giuseppe Grisafi, 64
Ignazio Urbano La Mendola, 79

Residents of Canicattì, Italy
Anna Maria Omero, 74
Mauro Ettore Zanchi, 56

Residents of Centuripe, Italy
Franco Benardelli, 82
Francesco Saccone, (also known as "Ciccio") 80

Residents of Collegno, Italy
Valter Bertaggia, 70

Resident of Favara, Italy
Calogero Stagno, (also known as "Lillo"), 51

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

Resident of Licata, Italy
Salvatore Curella, 66

Resident of Mazzarino, Italy
Giovanni Stuppia, 39

Resident of Mazzè, Italy
Alfredo Crepaldi, 61
Salvatore Pappalardo, 55

Resident of Palma di Montechiaro, Italy
Domenico Dario Cutaia, 43

Residents of Paternò, Italy
Santo Gulisano, 58
Alfredo Antonino Pennisi, 57a
Luigi Signorello, 34

Residents of Ravanusa, Italy
Matteo Bello, 53
Calogero Ninotta, (also known as "Lilli"), 39
Gaetano Romano, (also known as "Mimmo"), 58
Bernardo Tresca, 67

Residents of Riesi, Italy
Angelo Chiantia, (also known as "Faccia pulita") 59  
Daniele Correnti, 55
Onofrio La Leggia, (also known as "Ciuffettino") 59
Francesco Lucerna, (also known as "U zu Ginu") 76
Gaetano Luciano Oliveri, 57
Gaetano Patermo, (also known as "Tano"), 63
Filippo Vecchio, 51

Residents of Refrancore, Italy
Renzo Maggiora, 79

Resident of Strongoli, Italy
Luigi La Croce, 62

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

Resident in Ehingen, Germany
Rocco Mondello, 61

Resident in Barcelona, Spain
Andrea Palma, 36,

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

July 25, 2018

New York Supreme Court judge orders plundered bas-relief from the city of Persepolis must be returned to Iran

A New York Supreme Court judge has ordered the plundered bas-relief from the city of Persepolis, which dates from the 5th Century B.C.E., must be returned to Iran as the country from which authorities say it was stolen more than 80 years ago.  

In February 2014 ARCA wrote about a sandstone bas-relief panel then-titled, "Head of a Guard" stolen in September 2011 from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) and found 2000 miles away in Edmonton.  The Persian Achaemenid relief from Persepolis was one of the museum's only pieces representative of Persian art of the Achaemenid period (2nd half 6th century BCE to 330 BCE) and had been part of the museum's permanent collection for decades. 

It was discovered thanks to a collaborative criminal investigation by the Sûreté du Québec and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in collaboration with a Loss Adjuster from the insurance firm AXA Art.

Shortly after its recovery, and with the MMFA unable, or uninterested, in buying the piece back from its insurer, the Persepolis relief was sold.   AXA Art sold the relief to  London antiquities dealer Rupert Wace, owner of Rupert Wace Ancient Art and the object entered the commercial art market.

Rare and highly valuable on the ancient art market, the relief's debut was highlighted in an article by Royal Academy of Art's Charles Saumarez Smith and Sam Phillips titled What to see at Frieze 2016.   In that article, the pair picked out some of their favourite artwork on sale at the London fairs and this image of an ancient fellow was one of them.

The article opened with a high-resolution image of the Assyrian relief and went on to say that the antiquity was located at the booth of Sam Fogg near the show's entrance.  It mentioned the relief as being museum quality and that it was once part of the Montreal Museum of Art collection but made no mention of its theft in Canada or why the Museum did not buy back the object at the time it was recovered.  A further article in The Guardian stated that the piece was for sale for £2.2 million. 

But then the little soldier didn't sell.

The Park Avenue Armory. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Later, on October 27, 2017, law enforcement authorities confiscated the antiquity from Rupert Wace's own stand at the Park Avenue Armory during the first hours of The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in New York.  The seizure was done under orders from the New York district attorney’s office on the basis that it had been unlawfully transported out of its country of origin.

Court records indicate that archeologists from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago had documented that the same bearded, eight-inch-square, relief of a Persian imperial guard could be seen in old photographs adorning the Persepolis ruins in Iran as late as the year 1936.  Given that the Iranian government had criminalised the export of such antiquities in 1930, the New York authorities seized the antiquity as evidence in a possession of stolen property investigation.

Antiquities dealer Rupert Wace argued that the relief had been donated to the Quebec National Museum by Canadian department store heir and collector Frederick Cleveland Morgan sometime between 1950 and 1951 and had been openly exhibited at the museum without any requests from Iran up until the date it was stolen in 2011.

Image Credit:  Courtesy of the
Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago
But on Monday, July 23, 2018 a New York Supreme Court judge sided with Iran and ordered that the eight-inch-by-eight-inch work be returned to its country of origin on the basis that a thief cannot pass on good title on stolen goods.

As can be seen by this artworks presence in both the London and later New York sale venues, insurance claims can get complicated when it comes to magnificent art works once donated without fabricated, little, or no provenance to museums.  Especially when it comes to objects donated during time periods when stricter standards of due diligence may not have been satisfactorily applied.  This is especially true when high-value, high-portability and rapidly appreciating works of art are stolen and subsequently recovered years later. 

Updated:  26 May 2018

To view New York's very very interesting Application for Turnover and its details on the transactions and due diligence of both AXA and the dealer purchaser in determining this object's legitimacy in the market, please see here. 

To view New York's Final Turnover Order please see here. 

By Lynda Albertson

July 24, 2018

Request for Return: A marble head of Alexander the Great as Helios, the Sun God

Image Credit: Safani Gallery TEFAF Maastricht advertisement

On Monday, 23 July 2018 Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel in the Office of New York County District through Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., submitted an Application for Turnover in support of an order pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law §450.10 (Consol. 2017) and N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law §690.55 (Consol. 2017) authorising the transfer of a circa-1st-century CE marble head of Alexander the Great as Helios, the Sun God, seized pursuant to a previously executed search warrant, from the custody of the court, to the custody of Italy.

Under order of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, the antiquity had been seized at Safani Gallery on February 22, 2018 and was taken into evidence as part of a state investigation seeking to demonstrate the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree.  This seizure was based on suspicions that the object had been stolen and at some point illegally exported from the country of origin in contravention of Italy’s cultural heritage law (No 364/1909).

Since February 22nd the object had been retained as evidence by the New York authorities pending confirmation of a formal request from Italy formally requesting intervention and while the legal case advanced through the New York legal system.

In terms of its history, court documents set out that the head was discovered during excavations of the Basilica Aemilia, located on the Via Sacra.  This is the ancient road between the Capitoline Hill and the Colosseum located within the Roman Forum in Rome. While little remains of the Basilica Aemilia today, it was considered by Rome historian Pliny the Elder to be one of the three most beautiful elements of the Roman Forum, this alongside the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Peace. 

Looking across the remains of the Basilica Aemilia
towards the Severan Arch,
the Tabularium, and the Modern Senate House
Image Credit: B. Dolan
The head was discovered at some point during Italian research excavations carried out by Drs. Professors Giacomo Boni and later by Professor Alfonso Bartoli which were carried  out on the Palatine Hill between 1899 and 1939.  Documentation from the excavations suggest that the head belongs to one of the “Statues of Parthian Barbarians” which once adorned the Basilica.

After 20 BCE Roman art often portrayed the people of the Empire and during its restoration in 14 BCE, Augustus chose to line the Basilica with a series of Parthian figurines, perhaps in humiliation of Rome's ancient foreign enemy.  Representing individuals from the Parthian Empire (also known as the Arsacid Empire), these likenesses depicted the conquered Parthians as representatives of the Orbis Alter, subjects of Rome not considered to be part of the “civilised” world.  Stylistically, they differ from representations we have from the same period of people from the Orbis Romanus. 

According to court documents, the Italian Soprintendenza alle Antichità Palatino e Foro Romano began keeping archival photographic documentation of the objects discovered during the lengthy excavation starting in 1908.  Based on these records, the head of Alexander the Great, seized from the New York gallery, is believed to have been discovered during the second phase of excavations.  These began after 1909. This dating is derived as the Italian authorities have no written, descriptive entries or photographic archival documentation of any marble head finds from the Roman forum of the Barbarian statues prior to 1909.   It was also not until September 1909 that Dr. Professor Bartoli's team began their explorations in the zone of the Basilica Aemilia.  As a result of this and other evidence described in the Court's Application for Turnover it seems most likely that the marble head was likely found sometime around 1910.

Bear in mind 1909 is a critical date as it is this year that Italy's Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage (No 364/1909) was made into law.  According to this law, there is a presumption of the State's ownership for all archaeological objects discovered after 1909, unless the cultural Ministry acknowledges that the object does not have a cultural interest, something it would never do for objects located in the Roman Forum.

Italy's archival records from the Forum excavation document an image of the head of Alexander, taken after it was excavated, resting separately on a table at the Museo Forense cloister as well as other photos where the ovject is pictured with additional finds.  While the date of the actual theft of this head and another second missing object, which was also stolen, is undetermined the incident is believed to have occurred sometime before 1959.

What we can define with certainty, on the basis of the dating of the archival photograph, along with the excavation records of the start date of the Basilica site excavation, and documentation of the dates the Museo Forense cloister would have been available to be used as a evidentiary photographic venue, is that this object indisputably originated from Italy.  Predicated on the foregoing evidence, it can be proven that the marble head of Alexander was removed from Italian territory after the 1909 law was enacted.

It is on this basis that the object has been defined as stolen property by the State of New York, as its removal from the custody of the Italian authorities was in contravention of the 1909 Italian law.  Also, according to New York law, a thief can never acquire good title.  It should be noted that the removal of the head of Alexander from the Republic of Italy without an export license from the Italian governmental authorities authorising its removal from the territory is also a further violation of Italian law.

Interestingly though, like many stolen works of art illicitly obtained, antiquities remain fairly easy to launder, being sold over and over again through a lack of adequate due diligence in some of the finest, legitimate marketplaces and to and through some of the richest collectors in the world.  In this instance, the Alexander head has sold in the United States and in the United Kingdom on multiple occasions.

But where was the object bought and sold? 

While the documentation of this object's collection history is spartan, we know that on 22 November 1974 the head of Alexander sold for a mere $650, having been consigned by the Hagop Kevorkian fund to Sotheby Parke Bernet. Sotheby’s Auction House acquired Parke Bernet Galleries in 1964 and adopted the name Sotheby Parke Bernet throughout the 1970s.  Today, that auction house is known simply as Sotheby’s.  The buyer at the time was listed only as "Altertum Ltd."

Sometime after that date the object was then purportedly purchased by Professor Oikonomides who indicated to others that he purchased the object while vacationing in Cairo, Egypt sometime between 1984 and 1986.  The object was then bequeathed to Dr. Miller by Oikonomides when he passed away in 1988.

Sotheby's Website Screen Capture
taken 24 July 2018
On 08 December 2011 the object sold at Sotheby's for a second time during Sotheby’s Egyptian, Classical and Western Asiatic Antiquities sale .

At the time of this auction, the purported provenance for the object was listed as:

Hagop Kevorkian (1872-1962), New York, most likely acquired prior to World War II
The Hagop Kevorkian Fund (Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, November 22nd, 1974, no. 317, illus.)
A.N. Oikonomides, Chicago

But with very little in the way of documentation to confirm this narrative.

The object ultimately sold to an unidentified buyer for $92,500 USD.

In May 2017, the head of Alexander surfaced across the Atlantic.  This time the ancient marble head went up for sale in the United Kingdom, having once been in the possession of former Qatari culture minister and cousin of the current ruler of the oil-rich Arab country, Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Ali Al-Thani.  Before his death in 2014 Sheikh Saud Al-Thani was believed to have been the world's richest art collector.

Through Classical Galleries Limited, UK the Sheikh’s foundation sold the head of Alexander on to Alan Safani of Safani Gallery for $152,625 on June 20, 2017.

Object Identified

Safani Gallery Booth - TEFAF 2018
Image Credit: L. Albertson
By an amazing bit of serendipity, on 19 February 2018 Dr. Patrizia Fortini, Director and Coordinator of the Archaeological Site of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill chanced upon an advertisement which featured a photo of the stolen head in a publication for the upcoming 2018 Fine Arts Expo known as TEFAF.  In the dealer's documentation, a photograph of the head had been included highlighting Safani Gallery's offerings for the upcoming Maastricht sale due to be held in the Netherlands, March 10-18, 2018.

The photo in the advertisement and the old archival documentation photo of the head in the Museo Forense’s cloister were one and the same object and as a result, Italy moved forward in requesting the object's seizure.

Statute of Limitations and Clear Title

Under New York law, barring the expiration of the statute of limitations or application of the laches doctrine, one cannot obtain title from a thief unless the present-day possessor's title can be traced to someone with whom the original owner voluntarily entrusted the art.  As clear title is not possible in the case of Italy's marble head of Alexander, it will be up to Safani and his counsel to see if they will base their case on the laches defense or voluntarily relinquish the object.  What is clear is that the plaintiff, in this case Italy, has not unreasonably delayed in initiating their action.

The purpose of the doctrine of laches is to safeguard the interests of good faith purchasers, in this case of lost/stolen art, by weighing in the balance of competing interest, the owner's diligence in pursuing their claim.   

While delay in pursuing a claim for the head could be considered in the context of laches under New York law given that the theft occurred at an unknown time so many years ago, it has long been the law of this state that a property owner, having discovered the location of its lost property, cannot unreasonably delay in making their demand upon the person in possession of that property.  As Italy acted quickly as soon as the ID was confirmed, this course of legal action doesn't seem to be a viable route for retaining the objet in question.

To view the New York Application for Turnover in its entirety, please see here.
To view the New York February 22, 2018 Seizure Order, please see here.

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 23, 2018

The Riddle of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist is being made into a Podcast


81 Minutes. 13 Works of Art. $10 million reward. 

These three figures have plagued the art world since the night of March 18, 1990 when Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was ransacked by two men posing as police officers. 

The world’s greatest unsolved art heist remains the focus of Last Seen*, a new podcast presented by WBUR and The Boston Globe. The 10-part investigative podcast will premiere on September 17, hosted by WBUR senior producer Kelly Horan and reporter Jack Rodolico, with major contributions from Stephen Kurkjian, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Globe reporter and editor and author of the 2015 book “Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist.” The team will rely on “first-ever interviews, unprecedented access and over a year of investigative reporting.”

Released on the heels of Empty Frames, another podcast examining the Gardner Heist, the most recent trailer for the program queries “How can you find the truth?” “As the hosts venture to Philadelphia, Florida, Ireland, and Italy to examine various suspects and scenarios,” we have the chance to sift through all of the evidence available to the public. 

Will we ever find the truth? Or, after 28 years and despite the offer of a $10 million reward, are the Gardner frames destined to remain empty?

By:  Aubrey Catrone, Provenance Researcher

*To subscribe to the podcast on Apple: 
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1413228088



July 22, 2018

Organised crime, museum theft and bank robbery


On Wednesday the Berlin public prosecutor's office and the state criminal police provisionally seized 77 properties, including apartments, houses and land belonging to members of the "Lebanese" Kurdish extended family "Remmo" worth an estimated 9.3 million euros.  These seizures were based on evidence that the properties was likely purchased with proceeds from crime using new rules under the German Criminal Code (StGB) and Criminal Procedural Order (StPO) enacted 1 July 2017.  Modelled after Italy's own organised crime laws on property seizure,  where the state may order the seizure of property that a person of interest is able to dispose of when the value of the property is disproportionate to the person’s declared income or economic activity, Germany's new law regulates the recovery of criminal proceeds and serves to effectively confiscate illegal proceeds from offenders or third beneficiaries who can be tied to proceeds from criminal transactions.  

This is the same organised crime family, one of the grandfamilies of Lebanese-Kurdish descent, who immigrated to Germany during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, and who were written about previously on this blog in relation to their involvement in the eye-popping March 2017 theft of a 100-kilogram gold coin stolen from the Münzkabinett (coin cabinet) at the Bode Museum in Berlin.

One year ago, in July of 2017 police arrested three members of this Mhallamiye kurdish family, Abdul, Ahmed, and Wissam Remmo, each on suspicion of involvement in the museum theft along with a fourth suspect, an employee of the Bode museum who held a subcontracting job as a supervisor.  The Big Maple Leaf coin, made of 99.999 percent pure gold, was (once) the largest coin ever to have been minted.  Unfortunately, the object has never been recovered and likely has been melted down and its proceeds used by other criminal accomplices.

Authorities began looking more closely into the transactions of the Remmo clan in 2014, when members of the clan were tied to involvement in a spectacularly violent bank heist in the outskirts of Berlin.  During that robbery heavily armed gunmen with sub-machine guns rounded up and threatened bank employees and cleaning staff before making off with €8 million in valuables from the suburban bank's safety deposit boxes.  Using DNA found at the crime scene, Toufic Remmo, 33, was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in the offence.  

During the current investigation, financial investigators of the State Criminal Police Office searched 13 locations in Berlin and Brandenburg tied to 16 members of the Remmo clan allegedly believed to have ties to proceeds from ongoing criminal activity. According to state officials members of the clan have been involved in drug-dealing, extortion, theft and robberies to acquire income-earning real estate for the family group. 

According to the Berlin police, 14 of the 68 major investigations into organised crime in the city in 2017 involved members of ethnic family crime groups like the Remmos which are difficult to penetrate given the closed familial structures of the clans.

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 21, 2018

Recovered: "The Holy Family" by Peter Paul Rubens and "Girls on the Lawn" by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TPC - Monza Unit
In June 2018 five individuals, were charged by the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Unit in Monza, Italy in connection with the theft of two paintings, "The Holy Family" (Italian: "La sacra famiglia") by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens and "Girls on the Lawn" (Italian: "Le fanciulle sul prato") by the French Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  

During the heist, which took place on April 20, 2017, one of the accomplices posed as a potential buyer, and staged an elaborate hoax, in which Nenad Jovanovic, presented himself as an Israeli rabbinical diplomat, calling himself Samuel Abraham Lewy Graham.   Over the course of several appointments, the man convinced the two gallery representatives that he was a legitimate buyer, willing to purchase both works of art for a negotiated price of 26 million euros (about $30 million).  Once the bait was set and the accomplices set about renting meeting space at Via Quintino Sella in Monza below the offices of the Albanian honorary consul to legitimise their ruse that the transaction for the paintings' sale was all set to be finalised.


Instead, Jovanovic, along with another accomplice, absconded with the boxes which contained the paintings using a nearby Peugeot automobile to make their getaway. 

Seventeen months later, a total of eight individuals have been implicated in the crime and law enforcement authorities announced yesterday that both works of art have been recovered this week from inside a warehouse in the province of Turin.

Major Francesco Provenza of the Carabinieri has stated that the recovered canvases will now undergo scientific evaluation by experts who have been appointed by the Monza prosecutors in order to verify their authenticity and attribution.

July 17, 2018

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Efficient like DHL.  Words worth remembering. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 8, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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




July 6, 2018

More details on Operation Demetra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Veres

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

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

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

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

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 4, 2018

Operation Demetra: The Trafficking of Sicilian Archaeological Treasures

Image Credit: Carabinieri TPC

Updated 13:00 GMT+1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are:

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Deadline for Abstract Submission: 
Friday,  21 July 2018

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

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

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