Showing posts with label Antiquities; Looting; Smuggling; Collecting; Collections; Italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Antiquities; Looting; Smuggling; Collecting; Collections; Italy. Show all posts

June 14, 2020

Remembering Paolo Giorgio Ferri

Image Credit: Jason Felch
It is with profound sadness that ARCA shares the news of today's passing of Paolo Giorgio Ferri, Italy's famed Sostituto Procuratore della Repubblica a Roma due to health complications. He was 72 years old. 

Dr. Ferri's first investigative case into Italy's stolen heritage began in 1994 and involved a statue stolen from Rome's Villa Torlonia that was then sold at auction by Sotheby's.   But it was the invaluable role he played in doggedly pursuing corrupt antiquities dealers who laundered antiquities into some of the world's most prestigious museums that made his name famous among those who follow art and heritage crimes. 

Forty-eight when his investigation began into the activities of Giacomo Medici, Gianfranco Becchina, Robin Symes and others, Paolo was integral in truly exposing the ugly underbelly of the ancient art trade and the insidious phenomenon of laundering cultural goods. 

Image Credit: ARCA
In February 2000 Judge Ferri received a commendation and a formal expression of esteem from General Roberto Conforti (then Commanding Officer of the Carabinieri Department for the Protection of the Italian Cultural Heritage) for the suggestions he made in relation to a project initiative to change the Italian law on cultural goods.   In 2011 ARCA honored Dr. Ferri with an art crime protection award for his role in the 2005 case against Emanuel Robert Hecht and Marion True, the former curator of the J Paul Getty Museum.  This case, and his work on it, marked a dramatic change, in years to come, in the policy of acquisitions by museums around the world, as well as set the stage for numerous restitutions of stolen artifacts to their countries of origin.

Following his career as a prosecutor, Ferri continued to fight for Italy's heritage and served on a special commission with Italy's Ministry of Culture, created for the restitution of national cultural heritage stolen abroad.  There he served as a legal advisor on cultural diplomacy negotiations.  Ferri also provided legal opinions regarding criminal matters, served as an advisor to ICCROM,  was part of a commission for the criminal reform of the Code of Cultural Heritage, and participated in Vienna in the drafting of Guidelines to the United Nations Convention against transnational organized crime, which was signed in Palermo in 2000.

Paolo Giorgio Ferri
Image Credit:  Daniela Rizzo/Maurizio Pelligrini, friends and colleagues.  Maurizio Pelligrini relates that this photo was taken 28 September 2004, when Paolo was in New York and still did not know if Italy would be able to convince the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philippe de Montebello to destitute the famous Euphronios crater.
Dr. Ferri will be remembered by his colleagues and friends as one who never backed off in the fight against illicit trafficking and as someone always willing to share his knowledge and legal expertise freely and openly.  Journalist Fabio Isman, who broke the news to some of us, recalled that when Dr. Ferri wrote his first Letters Rogatory, it took three weeks to draft the document.   At the height of his investigations Ferri would go on to write three Letters Rogatory a week, asking the world for judicial assistance in the restitution of Italy's stolen works of art. 

ARCA wishes to offer its support and condolences to everyone close to this wonderful man, but most importantly to Paolo's family, particularly his wife Mariarita, his daughter Sofia and his grandchildren. 

March 5, 2020

­čĆ║ How a 21st century art market resembles its 18th century counterpart: Lessons for collectors attending TEFAF Maastricht 2020

"La vista dell'antiquario" 1788 by Jacques Sabet
In Rome, in the late 1700s, the value of ancient art was far different from what it is today.  The city's ancient grandeur, the Mirabilia urbis Romae (The Marvels of Rome) had faded considerably.  Gone were many of the cities grand Roman temples, its proud colonnades and heat-saving porticoes, which once heralded the glory, and some thought eternity, of Rome.   

Johann Wilhelm von Archenholz writing in 1791 at the peak of the Grand Tour wrote sadly:

In spite of the great care taken not to touch the ruins of the great Coliseum, which has been done formerly, it falls by degrees under the power of time; huge masses of stone detach themselves from it and roll upon each other; as there are everywhere wide breaches between, and there is no cement to keep them together, it may naturally be supposed, that in a few centuries more [than] nothing of the upper part will be left: but the lower, with its enormous vaults, is made for eternity, and will surely outlast all the ruins of Rome. . . . Of the broken stones of this gigantic work, the palace of Farnese, St. Mark’s, and the chancery have been erected. Its amphitheatrical ruins are now held sacred, as so many Christians suffered martyrdom in them. Altars have been erected within, before which some devout souls are always praying, in order to obtain the indulgences annexed to those acts of devotion. 

People of the day roasted fish in front of the Pantheon and in the Roman Forum, where the temples of Vesta and Caster and Pollux once stood,  the grassy spaces were used as a cattle market.  Within this decay, an enormous gap developed in culture and art between what Rome was at the height of the empire and what it was to become.  

Think that with Pope Pius VI’s commitment to sanitize and remake Rome in the late 1700s, he paid important artisans like Francesco Antonio Franzoni, one of the most renowned sculptors and restorers of antique sculpture in Rome of that period, a mere 20 scudi a month.  Pontifical big wigs, by comparison would earn between 20-30 scudi per month and a captain in the Pope's army received a paltry 200 scudi a year.  All in a time when a mid-day meal in Caput Mundi would cost you half a scudi. 

The Barberini Juno
Museo Pio-Clementino, Vatican Museums
By artistic comparison, in Rome during that same period, a museum-worthy sculpture, such as the colossal Roman statue of Juno, discovered in my old Rome neighborhood (Monti) in the late 17th century, sold for 2600 scudi to the Pius and Clementine’s Museum within the Vatican. Private individuals, growing their collections, bought ancient marble works in a frenzy, for anywhere from 100-300 scudi a pop. 

Like in today's market, famous contemporary artists of the late 1700s likewise received eye-popping (for their time) commissions for their creations.  Take for example the fee charged by Antonio Canova to sculpt the funeral monument of Clement XIII in St. Peter's Basilica.  His asking price? 11 thousand scudi. 

Yet, while Italy's attention was turned to reshaping their past, Anglo-Saxon nobility, who considered ancient Greek and Roman statuary as a tie to their heredity and an important status symbol, gladly profited by taking ancient Roman and Greek art off their hands.  Their buying sprees allowed the English to fill their manor houses back home without thought to the future generations of Italians who now make great efforts to preserve the past.  

Likewise, the 18th century art market also had its plundered components.  To feed the appetites of its wealthy foreign collectors, merchants bought up entire collections and resold them at staggeringly wide margins.  In doing so they carted off Italy's neglected cultural patrimony by the boatload.   

An example of this can be seen in the maritime cargo carried by the English ship Westmorland, one of a dozen armed vessels used by art merchants plying their lucrative trade in Italy, used to transport artworks back to Britain.   Records tell us that the vessel, armed with 22 carriage guns and 12-16 swivel guns, was seized by two French warships off the coast of Malaga, Spain on January 7, 1779.  

Having set sail from the Tuscan port city Livorno, the Westmorland's bounty was bound for important collectors such as the brother of George III, Prince William, 10th duke of Norfolk, and the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh. The ship's cargo was known to have included some 60 paintings, including works by Pompeo Batoni, Guercino, Carlo Maratti, Anton Raphael Mengs, Guido Reni and Guercino.  Alongside these cavasses were engravings by Piranesi, forty sculptures, 23 Roman marble vases, and various gouaches, watercolors, books and musical instruments.  This artistic treasure was also topped off with a sampling of Italy's food treasure: 32 rounds of parmesan.  

With France having joined the colonists in America's War of Independence, a January 9, 1799 naval trail established that the French were the legal "owners" of all cargo seized on the Westmorland and the merchandise was declared war booty.  The King of Spain, Charles III, in turn ultimately purchased the bulk of the valuable artworks, taking his pick of the pieces, some of which are now part of the collection at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid.

Flash forward to tomorrow, where the the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) opens in the Netherlands for its 33rd edition.  Like their 18th century counterparts, many collectors at the Dutch fair, give little thought to the country of origin of the ancient objects they purchase or the sourcing practices of the dealers they buy from.  Their purchases focus on authenticity, beauty, and price,  just as their counterparts focused on centuries ago.

The same group of 21st century purchasers who might adamantly demand ethical sourcing practices in the consumable products they purchase, to ensure that the smartphones and designer bags they buy are manufactured by legal workers who work in safe working environments, fail, more often than not, to pay close attention to their art dealer's supply chain. While demanding transparency, human rights, and exploitation-free production in their ethical jeans, shoes, and watches, today's art collectors give only passing thought to an object's legitimacy and often assume (wrongly) that the dealers they buy from have taken the trouble to ensure that the artwork they are considering for purchase comes with a well researched and legitimately licit pedigree. 

Few collectors ask the truly hard questions of where the art work came from, or demand proof that it was sourced legally.  Some proudly defend questionable purchases added to collections as being done for the purpose of preservation, because source countries have failed to safeguard their rare material culture from destruction, either by environmental harm or by conflict. 

"The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest" by Willem van Haecht

If you are purchasing at TEFAF in Maastricht (or any other art fair) ARCA recommends the following:

Do Your Research 
Make sure you research who you buy your art from…and their suppliers. With a myriad of complex export regulations from one country of origin to the market country where the object is being sold, it is important to inform yourself of the export rules in the country of origin at the time your object left its home country.  

Stay Away from the Black Hats 
Assess whether the names listed in the provenance of your artwork are already suspect actors, known to have purchased, fenced, or participated in the looting of art in the past.   For this Google is your friend. 

Ask the Dealer Tough Questions 
Make your dealer show you all the documents they have in their possession on an artwork so that you can ensure that the purchase you are considering is an ethical one.  Do this BEFORE you agree to open your wallet.  As a buyer, it is your right to ensure that the art you are purchasing has been sourced ethically.  Don't let dealers intimidate you into thinking these questions are nieve, rude or inappropriate.  They service you.  You are the buyer.  If they treat you badly, walk away.  If all customers follow this rule, art dealers will quickly learn that their livelihood depends upon their suppliers being ethical actors.  This will in turn help hold the market to a higher standard with the knowledge that they are being monitored by their clients, and not just research groups like ARCA.

Spread the Love 
Encourage fellow collectors to also keep a close eye on their own art dealers and purchases. Work with them to create an aligned ethical collecting base.  

Practice What You Preach 
Ensure that you as well as your dealers uphold ethical sales practices.  Take a microscope to your own collection and if object's/artwork's purchased in the past  does not pass a critical ethical eye, consider voluntarily restituting the piece back to the heir or country of origin rather than turning a blind eye and selling an tainted object onward to another unsuspecting individual who hasn't done their homework. 

Take Advantage of ARCA 
In this world that we live in, ARCA publishes frequently on problems of bad actors plying their trade within the art market. Follow this blog or even write to us if you have questions about a problematic artwork in your collection.  We will try to help. 

Create a Community 
Encourage the art buying community to think like the conscientious consumer electronics community. Create networks that share knowledge and demand an ethical supply chain. 


Making sure your collection is ethically sourced is not a simple task, but it is good for you and good for humanity.  It is also essential to ensure that your 21st century collection habits do not mirror those of your 18th century ancestors. This benefits not only you (and your conscience), but also the citizen's of the source country where objects are stolen from. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

November 18, 2019

Carabinieri, EUROPOL , EUROJUST investigation, code named: "Achea"

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TP
NOTE: This article has been updated after the conclusion of the press conference. 

Today at 10:30, the Carabinieri Provincial Command of Crotone, a port city in Calabria, southern Italy, and the region's Public Prosecutor held a press conference to announce the results of a multicountry operation into the illicit trafficking of antiquities which feeds the clandestine market for ancient art.  This after having carried out an order for the application of precautionary measures, issued by the Judge of the Crotone Court, at the request of the local Public Prosecutor who coordinated the investigations.

Begun in 2017 and carried out in coordination with EUROPOL and EUROJUST, the investigation, named "Achea" after the first Hellenic population, involved 350 officers from Italy, France, Germany, Serbia, and the United Kingdom working together to reconstruct an entire criminal chain of actors responsible for the illegal exportation of archaeological material from the areas around Crotone to market countries in Europe.

Image Credit:  Europol
Inside Italy, searches were carried out by the Carabinieri Provincial Commands of Bari, Benevento, Bolzano, Caserta, Catania, Catanzaro, Cosenza, Crotone, Ferrara, Frosinone, Latina, Matera, Milan, Perugia, Potenza, Ravenna, Reggio Calabria, Rome, Siena, Terni, Viterbo as well as with the support of the 8th Carabinieri Core of Vibo Valentia and the helicopter squadron "Cacciatori di Calabria".  Outside Italy's borders, additional searches were conducted by the French Central Police Office for the fight against the international traffic of Cultural Heritage (OCBC -  (Office central de lutte contre le trafic de biens culturels) in France, the German Bavarian LKA (Bayerisches Landeskriminalamt) in Germany, the Serbian Criminal Investigations Directorate in Serbia and the Metropolitan Police (New Scotland Yard) of London in the UK.  According to a EUROPOL statement the Europol Analysis Project FURTUM supported the investigation by coordinating information exchanges, holding operational meetings, preparing the action day and providing analytical support in Italy.

Image Credit:  Europol
The network of criminal actors included a structured group of tombaroli, fences and intermediaries involved in moving illicit antiquities from archaeological sites in and around Crotone, where one of the most important and best known sanctuaries of Magna Graecia is located.  Source locations preyed upon by the squad include the public archaeological sites of Apollo Aleo at Cir├▓ Marina, Capo Colonna, Castiglione di Paludi in the Municipality of Paludi, as well as unmapped areas near Cosentino and Cerasello.  The looters also dug on private lands in the province of Crotone and Cosenza.

During the press conference, it was stated that the criminal group associated with this action appeared to be well organized and had an entrepreneurial approach to structuring their criminal association. As the result of surveillance and wiretaps law enforcement officers were able to determine the top management of the organization, who directed and controlled the activity of the lower members of the association.  They also determined who planned the individual shipments, identified the places of interest for plunder, and worked to prevent, or at least minimize the risk of detection by the police.

Image Credit:  Europol
In Italy searches were conducted against a total of 80 individuals.  In italy, two were taken into custody and 23 have others been reportedly placed under house arrest upon the request of the public prosecutor.  The coinvolved overseas have not been named. 


Held in Custody
Giorgio Salvatore Pucci, from Cir├▓ Marina who was already named in a previous investigation. 
Alessandro Giovinazzi, from Scandale

Released under house arrest
Alfiero Angelucci, from Trevi
Antonio Camardo, from Pisticci,
Giuseppe Caputo,from Dugenta
Sebastiano Castagnino, from Petilia Policastro
Enrico Cocchi, from Castano Primo
Francesco Comito, from Rocca di Neto 
Simone Esposito, from Rocca di Neto
Giuseppe Gallo, from Strongoli
Raffaele Gualtieri, from Isola Capo Rizzuto 
Domenico Guareri, from Isola Capo Rizzuto
Vittorio Kuckiewicz, from Fermo
Franco Lanzi, a numismatic expert from Norcia
Leonardo Lecce from Crotone,
Raffaele Malena, from Cir├▓ Marina, (also named in previous antiquities investigation)
Marco Godano Otranto, from Crotone,
Renato Peroni, from Magnago
Santo Perri, from Sersale
Vincenzo Petrocca, from Isola Capo Rizzuto,
Aldo Picozzi, from Castano Primo
Domenico Riolo, from Scandale
Dino Sprovieri from Cir├▓ Marina

4 others unnamed individuals have been arrested are domiciled abroad

Initial reports state that some of the individuals involved in the criminal conspiracy communicated with one another using a codified language and in some cases accessed archaeological finds using a backhoe, drones, and sophisticated metal detectors from Minelab, despite the fact that the use of metal detectors is completely prohibited in Calabria.


Some of the artifacts recovered include terracotta vases and oil lamps, terracotta plates, fibulas and pieces of ancient jewelry, some dating to the IV and III century BCE.

Italy's Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini gave a statement regarding the investigation saying "Thanks to sophisticated investigative techniques and the collaboration of Europol and the competent foreign police forces, in Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Serbia, the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage has completed with a vast operation to counter the illicit trafficking of archaeological finds from Calabria to Northern Italy and abroad has been successful, recovering thousands of goods and seizing materials used for clandestine excavations, an operation that once again demonstrates the excellence of the Carabinieri Command which has been operating since 1969 in defense of the Italian cultural heritage."


Unfortunately this is not the first time Crotone has been the focal point of such a blitz.  From 2014 until January 2017 an investigation coordinated by the Public Prosecutor of Crotone through Procurator dott. Giuseppe Capoccia and the Deputy Dr. Luisiana Di Vittorio, and conducted by the Police of the Cultural Heritage Protection Center of Cosenza followed up on a number of clandestine excavations conducted in archaeological sites in the areas surrounding Crotone area. While that investigation also served to identify many of the actors of a diffuse and well-structured criminal association it seems that one group dismantled simply made room for another.


November 20, 2018

How long does it take to achieve restitution of a looted antiquity? In some cases 25 years or more.


PURCHASED           ACQ NUMBER          DESCRIPTION
29 February 1992          292.AA.10                  Statue of Zeus Enthroned

On October 27, 2018 a first century BCE, marble statue of Zeus, seated on his throne, finally moved to its permanent home, the Archaeological Museum of the Phlegrean Fields in the Castello Aragonese di Baia.  

Like its own lost version of Atlantis, the Campi Flegrei, as the area is known to Italians, is a large, highly active volcanic region, nestled in the northern portion of the Gulf of Naples.  Declared a regional park in 2003, and lying mostly underwater, the archaeological site of Baia, named aptly for its thermal waters, guards treasures from Rome's ancient past, some of which have been transferred to the Archaeological Museum for land lovers to see and appreciate.

A site of profound and priceless beauty, the submerged archaeological park preserves an astounding collection of Roman statues, frozen in liquid time. along with ancient villas, public baths, private grottos and even entire city streets. All of which serve as testimony to the charm of the now submerged city where many of Rome's elite and influential patricians once spent their time relaxing. 

But back to the statue of Zeus and its purchase

Guided by its then antiquities curator, Dr. Marion True, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles purchased the 75-cm-high "Zeus Enthroned" from Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman in 1992.  The Fleischman's in turn had purchased the statue of the Greek god five years earlier in 1987 from British antiquities dealer Robin Symes

Prominent philanthropists of the Metropolitan and other noteworthy American museums, True met the Fleischmans in the late eighties.  At the time, the couple were actively being courted by museums who hoped to purchase all or parts of their substantial personal collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities.  As wealthy collectors, they couple had purchased antiquities from both Robin Symes and Giacomo Medici, art dealers readers of this blog should be familiar with.

But the Fleischman's relationship with True mixed business with pleasure and the Getty curator was known to have visited the couple in their East Side New York duplex, which was filled with classical art purchased through these now-disgraced antiquities dealers.  By 1996, True's relationship with the philanthropists was such that Lawrence Fleischman provided a loan towards True's vacation home on the Greek island of Paros.  Conveniently, the loan was arranged days after the Fleischmans finalized their acquisition agreement with the Getty Museum.  In total the museum purchased more than three hundred objects from the couple's collection.  Valued at sixty million dollars, the Getty paid the Fleischmans twenty million and the philanthropists made a tax-deductible donation worth another 40 million, to conclude the deal.

In 2005, Italian Public Prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri brought formal criminal charges against True. The gist of the Italian claims were that the curator  “conspired with Hecht and Medici to supply the Getty with artifacts that had been illegally unearthed and exported from Italy, and that she used the Fleischmans’ collection to ‘launder’ antiquities, giving them a clean bill of provenience before bringing them to the museum”. As the Italian court case got into full swing, True resigned over the Paros home loan and shortly after, in 2006, Barbara Fleischman resigned as a trustee of the Getty Trust.

Over the years numerous Fleischman antiquities, tied to illlicit trafficking have been returned to Italy and coupled with the fact that the enthroned Zeus statue had no documentation of licit export, it became the work of the Italian authorities to prove where the object had come from and to tie the object's origins to Italian territory in order to make a viable claim for its restitution. 

According to a recently published book by Stefano Alessandrini, "Italian cultural diplomacy for the return of assets in exile," the statue's return to Italy in the summer of 2017 was thanks to a combined effort; the joint work of historic researchers, illicit trafficking investigators, judicial magistrates and cultural diplomacy advisors with Italy's cultural ministry.  

Alessandrini states that the request for restitution of a cultural property illicitly removed from the patrimony of a State doesn't constitute a hostile act towards the State to which the work is requested. In fact, Italy seeks to enforce not just the law concerning property, but the right of culture, regulated by numerous international conventions.


Zeus and his relationship with the Phlegrean Fields

Image Credit:
The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal
Volume 21, 1993
Italian researchers believed that the marble Zeus was once part of a collection of cult statues, likely displayed in a lararium, a sacred space designed to hold the images of guardian deities, believed in ancient times, to be the protectors of a villa and the family residing in it. 

From its overall condition, scholars were able to deduce that the object had likely spent a large portion of its lifetime, partially submerged on the seabed, laying on its side, as only half of the object seemed to have been marred by marine encrustations.

But to prove to the J. Paul Getty Museum that their Zeus came from Baia took a bit of random luck.

In December 2012 Italy's Guardia di Finanza stumbled upon a mable fragment from a clandestine excavation during an investigation in Bacoli (Naples).  In examining the piece, hoping to determine its original context, the Italians began to consider whether or not the piece of marble might have once been attached to the corner of the arm of the throne upon which Zeus was resting his laurels. Using open source photos, from the Getty Museum's own website, researchers were able to superimpose their looter fragment onto the edge of the photographed chair.

The result proved to be a compatible match. 

To solidify their visual hypothesis, scientific verification tests were performed in California on 6 March 2014 which determined that the marine encrustations present on the Italian fragment matched those also adhering to the Getty's statue in California. 

Image Credit:
ARCA Screenshot 
Getty Website
accessed 20 November 2018. 
From that point, it took another three years of cultural diplomacy before an agreement for restitution could be solidified between the Italian state and the US museum.  On June 13, 2017 Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying:

"The fragment gave every indication that it was a part of the sculpture we had...It came from the general region of Naples, so it meant this object had come from there."

As a result of museum to State negotiations, the J. Paul Getty Museum formally turned over the Zeus statue to the Italian Consul General for Los Angeles, Antonio Verde, on 14 June 2017 in a restitution ceremony at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

25 years and sometimes longer

Not long ago, the world's museum directors spent their days and careers primarily focused on the custodianship of their institution's art objects.  But to truly attone for the sins of the father, todays directors need to become more proactive global citizens and accept their global (and ethical) responsibilities for the errors of their predecessors.  

While museum and museum associations are becoming more aware of the importance of object provenance, to step up to the plate, their management must become more politically engaged, globally connected and skilled in the arts of arbitration and mediation as it applies to suspect objects like this one. Equally importantly, they must also stop the foot dragging when it comes to acknowledging and correcting the errors of past acquisition judgement, as an entrenched means of delaying the inevitable.

Image Credit: ANSA
Given the known problems with the numerous objects in the Getty collection which were accessioned through the Fleischman acquisition, the tug and pull for ownership of the Zeus statue, eventually settled through mutual (and lengthy) negotiation, should not have taken years to hammer out.

But if you want to see Zeus the next time you are in the Bay of Naples area, to celebrate this one success, he'll be waiting for you, on display at the castle, as part of the exhibition "The visible, the invisible and the sea".   His trip home was a long and complicated one, but at least he is not hurling lightening bolts for how long it took.


By:  Lynda Albertson

June 29, 2018

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


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

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

PROVENANCE: From an European private collection.

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

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

This fragment of sarcophagus was smuggled abroad after illicit
excavations in Perge and given back by Paul Getty Museum of USA in 1983.
Perge, 2nd Cent. AD
Inv. 1.11.81 - 1.3.99 - 2.3.99
Antalya Archaeological Museum
Image Credit:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/130870_040871/16937604198/in/photostream/

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

Later, in 1993, acting on an international letters rogatory from the Turkish Government, FBI agents from the New York field office went to the Fortuna Fine Arts gallery, then located on Madison Avenue, and seized a marble statue of a young man and fragment of garland taken from Aphrodisias, an ancient Greek Hellenistic city in the historic Caria cultural region of western Anatolia, Turkey. 


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

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

By:  Lynda Albertson

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


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

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

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









October 22, 2017

Recovered - 200 undocumented ancient objects in Grosseto, Italy

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

Four antiquities collectors in Grosseto stand accused of illicit detention and possession of property belonging to the state after officers from Italy's Guardia di Finanza seized more than 200 undocumented ancient objects uncovered during asset controls in the garden of a villa.  The search and seizure warrant was issued by the Public Prosecutor of Rome.  

Some of the pieces recovered date back to the Roman imperial age and depict various inscriptions and scenes of Mithraism. 

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

In addition to these, law enforcement officers seized marble heads and busts, including the one of Jupiter pictured in the header of this article, and another of Faustina Maggiore.

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

Also seized was an ancient sarcophagus, unfortunately converted into a utilitarian planter, a full-body statue of a female, attic pottery, columns, and pedestals. Many are in poor condition, perhaps due to exposure to the elements. 

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

As part of this investigation, Italy's finance police raided 22 residences in three regions: Lazio, Sicily, and Tuscany. Eleven suspects have been placed under investigation.  

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza
Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

August 31, 2017

UK Art dealer arrested in Los Palacios, Spain for stealing antiques and on an order of extradition to Italy

Objects seized.  Image Credit: Guardia Civil / DGGC
Identified during a routine inspection of guest lists for lodgings in Los Palacios y Villafranca, a city located in the province of Seville, Spain's Guardia Civil, has detained a British citizen on August 16, 2017 on an arrest and extradition warrant from Italy for the alleged theft of antiquities and cultural heritage objects.

Reported Tuesday, August 29, 2017 in a published statement by the Civil Guard, the detainee, was listed simply with his initials, W.T.V.  At the time he was detained, he was found to be in the possession of 140 objects, including ancient oil lamps, ancient Roman and Arab origin coins, rings, clay tiles and five burner phones. Despite the large quantity of artefacts in his possession, authorities have stated the arrestee was unable to show proof of legal ownership.  

While the full name of the individual was not stated in the press release, the arrestee's initials belong to an expatriate Hungarian coin dealer named William Veres who once managed a company named Stedron based in Zurich, Switzerland.  Veres is known to have worked out of both the UK and Spain and has had his name attached to various illicit activities. 

If Vere's name sounds familiar it is because we mentioned him on this blog one week ago.  He is one of two individuals prosecuted for his earlier role in the illicit sale of a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale forfeited to Italy by Michael Steinhardt following a lengthy court case and appeals in the United States. 

Working with the Carabinieri in Italy it will be interesting to see what Spain's Guardia Civil will be able to determine regarding the provenance of the objects found in this dealer's possession.  

Now in custody, he will likely be sent back to Italy via the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system, applied throughout the EU to replace Europe's old lengthy extradition procedures within the territorial jurisdiction.  Through the EAW crime suspects are extradited at the request of foreign countries without the evidence against them being examined in the court of the country where they are detained. 

An EAW may be issued by a national judicial authority if:
  • the person whose return is sought is accused of an offence for which the maximum period of the penalty is at least one year in prison;
  • he or she has been sentenced to a prison term of at least four months.
Having appeared before a judge at a closed hearing in Madrid, it is not yet clear if Veres has agreed to being extradited or whether he will fight the attempt to return him to Italy to face prosecution.

August 10, 2016

Reverse Smuggling - Archaeological Remains and Paintings Imported to Italy Without Proper Authority Seized

Three containers, searched by Italy's customs authorities have been seized by the Guardia di Finanza at the Port of La Spezia having been found to contain numerous smuggled works of art.  

The shipping crates, reported to be the property of a wealthy US businessman, are said to contain more than 100 objects, including several Roman era archaeological finds dating from the IV-III century BCE, 1 century CE Carrara marble statues, two large French-origin oil paintings dating back to the eighteenth century and various other antiquities and pieces of furniture. 

During the search, it was found that all the shipped items were imported without adequate proof of ownership or provenance.   

The objects, arriving from Miami, Florida, appear to have been smuggled into Italy in part, to furnish a home in the Florentine hills.  Local Italian authorities have filed a complaint against the US businessman for conduct punishable by the Italian Code of Cultural Heritage, the Italian Criminal Code and the Italian Customs Code.  

It has been estimates that the undeclared items, should proper provenance actually be established, would have an estimated import fee totalling approximately 23 thousand euros.