Showing posts with label Germany. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Germany. Show all posts

July 16, 2020

When a church loses its Madonna can cultural diplomacy help her find her way back home?

On 9 July 1985 the Parish Church of San Felice Martire, located in S. Felice a Cancello, Italy suffered a horrendous loss.  Their gilded wooden statue, depicting the Madonna covered with a golden mantle and with the royal diadem on her head, holding the baby Jesus who is giving a blessing, was stolen.  Then in the copy put in her place was also stolen.

The original fourteenth-century ecclesiastical treasure, venerated by the Sanfelicians, soon found its way into the international underground and was smuggled out of Italy.  A short while later, in 1988 it popped up on the German art market. Yet, like thousands of other stolen Italian treasures, retrieving stolen art in Germany is no easy task, especially once that artwork has been laundered into the hands of a private individual as the country's laws try to balance the interests of the victim of theft of art and the interests of the good-faith acquirer.

Despite international letters rogatory, Italy's claim was rejected as inadmissible by the German authorities and, in 2000, Interpol Wiesbaden confirmed to the Italians that the current holder had bought the work in good faith, closing the door to the possibility of restitution.

According to the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, abbreviated BGB, which is the civil code of Germany § 935 there is no good-faith acquisition of title for stolen bewegliche cache ("movable property") as the owner (in this case the church) has not parted with his direct possession deliberately, so that the third person (thief) shall not have the benefit of the appearance of entitlement through possession under such circumstances.  However, anyone who acquires said property in good faith and has maintained this work in his or her possession for at least 10 years, while continuing to be in good faith, automatically acquires valid title. 

Likewise in Germany if the thief, upon his or her death was not in good faith but his heirs "inherit" the stolen property unknowingly and in good faith, the heir also can also acquire legal title after 10 years from the point of inheritance.  Legal title of a stolen work of art can also transfer to the good-faith acquirer if the work of art is sold in public auction (section 935(2), CC).

All this to say that the push by Italy's parliamentarians Margherita Corrado, Vilma Moronese, Luisa Angrisani, Danila De Lucia, Bianca Laura Granato, Vincenzo Presutto and Orietta Vanin made in April to Dario Franceschini,  Italy's Minister for Cultural Goods and Activities and Tourism (MiBact), encouraging him to engage directly with Monika Grütters, Germany's Commissioner for Culture and the Media, to honor the request of the patrons of church of San Felice Martyr,  is, for now, purely an exercise in cultural diplomacy.  Whether or not this soft parliamentary request will go farther than the transnational judicial one did remains to be seen.  

February 25, 2020

Mild prison sentences handed down in organized crime-related theft at the Bode Museum in Berlin


When a giant gold coin, weighing 100 kilos was stolen from room 243 of the Bode Museum and carted off without a hitch in the early morning hours of March 27, 2017 it wasn't long before the German authorities pinpointed a likely group of culprits.  Taking only 16 minutes to carry out the crime, complete with carbon-fiber-reinforced ax used to break the extremely heavy security glass, and with the help of a strategically placed roller and wheelbarrow, it was obvious that the museum's burglary was not a random smash and grab.  All clues pointed to inside help, especially as the culprits had walked straight passed higher value, but less liquidatable works of art.

Raids carried out by authorities in Neukölln, Berlin’s most impoverished district, in July 2017 turned up an interesting wrinkle; three of the four men taken into custody for questioning, Wayci Remmo (now 24) Ahmed Remmo (now 20), and Wissam Remmo (now 22) all appeared to have ties to one of Germany’s burgeoning ethnic crime syndicates.  Now headed by brothers Issa and Ashraf Remmo, the clan's defacto patriarchs, the Remmo clan includes an estimated 500 family members people, many of whom originate from Mardin, and immigrated first to Lebanon, and later to Germany.  

Der Spiegel estimates that while that clans make up just four percent of Berlin's inhabitants, 20 percent of suspects in organized crime cases belong to one of the well-known clans.  For decades it is believed that male members of this and similar ethnic family clans, have been associated with extortion, drugs, laundering criminal proceeds, theft and robbery.  The complicated family ties and ownership structures developed by the clans' membership make it possible for the tightly knit groups to launder money - and sometimes, but not in this case, make it considerably more difficult for investigators to work. 

In this case, it was the fourth suspect, Denis Wilhelm's friendship with Ahmed's which helped unravel the case.  Wilhelm had conveniently been hired as a subcontractor for night shift security at the Bode Museum the same month as the theft.

After lengthy hearings, cousins Ahmed and Wissam Remmo, both German citizens were convicted as having orchestrated the job with the help of their German friend, after evidence obtained during the search of 17 residences and related property tied the men to the scene of the crime. During these searches, police found clothing which to matched security footage from the theft as well as gold particles of the same purity as the mammoth coin and shards of glass similar to that of the protective casing which was smashed to access the coin at the museum.  

A search of Wissam Remmo's smart phone also showed an app used to calculate gold prices as well as recent searches on how to melt down chunks of gold. Given this, authorities have surmised that the €3.75 million coin was hacked up into smaller bits, melted down, and the proceeds distributed among an unknown or unnamed number of affiliates. 

Sentenced lightly, given the offense took place while they were juveniles, Ahmed and Wissam Remmo were each given just 54 months in prison.  Their heavist punishment appears to be the fine they were adjudicated, totalling €3.3 million , the estimated total loss of the stolen coin.  

Wissam Remmo's sentence comes on top of an earlier conviction where DNA at a crime scene tied him to another property theft.  In that criminal case he was recently sentenced to two years and six months in prison via the district court of Erlangen. 

Their inside-man accomplice, Denis Wilhelm, was given a sentence of 40 months and was fined fine of €100,000. The fourth defendant, Wayci Remmo, a cousin of the two brothers, was acquitted of all charges as the court found the evidence insufficient to convict. 

To learn more about the structure of these groups, German readers can read 
Ralph Ghadban's Arabische Clans: Die unterschätzte Gefahr.  Ghadban, who has spoken out about the criminal machinations of the Arabische Großfamilie clans which dominate Berlin's underworld, is now under permanent police protection, for his criticism of the clans and the power of the Lebanese mafia in Europe. 

January 21, 2020

Five Masters Paintings, representing the GDR's largest art theft are finally coming home, but where they have been for 40 years and who was responsible for stealing them remains a mystery


With their authenticity confirmed, five old masters paintings, "Portrait of an Old Man" from the Rembrandt workshop (probably Ferdinand Bol), "Country Road with Farm Carts and Cows" by Jan Brueghel the Elder, the "Half-length Portrait of an Unknown Man with a Hat and Gloves" by Frans Hals, "Saint Catherine" by Hans Holbein the Elder, and "Self-portrait with Sunflower" by Anthonis van Dyck, will each go back on display in Gotha, Germany, at the end of January.  The artworks were stolen from the Friedenstein Palace exactly four decades ago. .  

Window where thieves accessed the gallery at the Friedenstein Palace in Gotha
Image credit: Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk
The Dutch master works were stolen on a rainy evening between 13-14 December 1979.  During the burglary, which coincided conveniently with the yet untested installation of a new security system, a thief, or thieves, accessed the west wing of the historic palace using some type of crampons, to climb up a rain gutter attached to the side of the building.  

Gaining entry via a second floor window, ten meters up the palace walls, the culprit(s) then are believed to have hand picked specific paintings, (having left other more valuable works behind) and then lowered the paintings back down the side of the building, before descending themselves and making their getaway through Gothaer Park where the baroque palace is located.   By the time the Gotha Volkspolizei (the city's People's Police) were alerted to the theft at 07:10 on the 14 December 1979, the perpetrators and the paintings were long gone. 

But the crime scene is a puzzle.

While exploring the grounds of the palace, the park and the nearby surrounds, detectives found one crampon of the estimated 12-13 that were likely put into service to scale the building.  Made of a steel alloy that was only used in the West, questions abounded as to why the culprits would methodically removed all the other supportive devices, each weighing approximately 5 kilos,  which would have made carrying the 5 paintings all that more difficult. Was this left evidence meant to lead investigators astray by making it appear that the culprits who planned the theft were outside the GDR (German Democratic Republic)?  Likewise, the broken pane of glass in the entry window was broken in such a way as to have made it highly improbable that the thieves would have gained entry by reaching through the hole created.  There were also no scrapings from the paintings frames in the immediate area near the window and the crime scene appeared to mimic three earlier attempts to break into the museum in a very similar fashion. 

Whatever the motivation, the one successful Gotha art robbery resulted in the largest art crime investigations in the history of the GDR.  Yet, despite the involvement of more than 100 detective officers as well as interviews with more than 1,000 people who lived and worked near the scene of the crime and the surveillance of individuals with connections to the Friedenstein Palace nothing was resolved.  Speculation abounded regarding whether the Stasi were involved and if the artworks had been transported to West Berlin via a truck from a nearby slaughterhouse.

Despite the seemingly thorough dragnet, and with little else to go on, the paintings were eventually listed in the loss catalog of the Schloss Friedenstein Foundation, and added to German the Lost Art database, the INTERPOL database of stolen works of art as well as the Art Loss Register.  But despite the widespread attention and extensive police investigations, the greatest art theft in the history of the GDR remained unsolved. 

Fast Forward to 2018

First reported on December 6, 2019. The paintings popped back on the world's radar in July 2018 when a broker, purporting to be acting on behalf of a group of anonymous heirs, contacted the German politician Knut Kreuch, Lord Mayor of Gotha, and then chairman of the Foundation Schloss Friedenstein Gotha.  Hoping to arrange a buyback for €5.25 million, the intermediary presented the mayor with an implausible story of the artworks' acquisition by the persons he represented.  Despite this, he piqued the mayor's interest when, during a meeting at city hall, he backed his story up by laying out a series of colored photographs depicting the front and the back of the paintings.  As all of previous images taken of the artworks were in black and white, this was the first genuine "proof of life" that the paintings still existed and might still be grouped together in spite of the decades that had passed since their original theft. 

While his negotiations continued, the Mayor contacted the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation. In keeping with the will of that foundation's founder, the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation, serves as a partner to German museums which promotes acquisitions, restorations and exhibitions, as well as with the the return of confiscated works of art to help making them available to the public.   In the past the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation had facilitated the successful return of a still life painting by Balthasar van der Ast (1628) that the Suermondt Ludwig Museum in Aachen lost in the post-war turmoil and an ivory tankard from the Castle Museum. 

It should be noted that the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation never purchases pieces directly from thieves, and in negotiating agreements the Holder has to reveal how they have come to be in possession of the artwork. 

At this point, the EvS began working with the mayor and the holders of the paintings towards an agreement in which the "interim owners" would receive a "moderate allowance or a finder's fee," but if, and only if, the art works of art could be authenticated by the German authorities with the understanding that those who possess purchased goods in good faith (i.e. who don't know that it has been stolen) and that can be reclaimed on the basis of a right in rem (e.g. ownership) of a third party, are afforded protection against claims for return after a 30 year time period.  To date, no information was given publicly as to what the sum of that fee might have been,  and whether or not the fee was delivered. 

After nearly two years of negotiations, on 30 September 2019, the paintings were relinquished voluntarily for authenticity  testing at the Rathgen Research Laboratory at the Staatlichen Museen (State Museums) in Berlin in cooperation with the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation.  Meanwhile, while prosecution against the original thief or thieves was time-barred, the Berlin public prosecutor's office began to apply alternative pressure.  

The State Criminal Police Office (LKA) in Berlin, in cooperation with the federal state agencies concerned, opened an investigation into two individuals from Heidelberg and Jena, then aged 54 and 46, on suspicion of extortion. Given their ages, the two suspects, if found culpable, would only have been intermediaries after the fact, as they would have been too young at the time of the original crime to have been directly involved in the art theft.  Search warrants were also executed by the police on 5 December 2019 at the offices and apartments of three witnesses and two suspects including a lawyer from southern Germany and the residence of a doctor from East Frisia, perhaps looking for evidence which could demonstrate direct collaboration between the thieves and any subsequent handlers.  

What can be ascertained is that the handlers, who alleged they had the pictures in their possession, could not rely on a simple defense of having acquired the artworks in good faith.  The theft of these paintings, as well as the Friedenstein Palace as their legitimate owner, were too well known.

The paintings will formally go back on public display at the Friedenstein Palace on Friday. 

By: Lynda Albertson

When fakes and false provenance go hand in hand.

At the end of this month a German dentist from Neuss will answer to allegations of fraud in the Düsseldorf District Court for allegedly trying to pass off twenty paintings as original works by the artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).  According to German news, the defendant, is alleged to have arranged meetings with art authenticators at the NH Düsseldorf Königsallee hotel, located in one of the main shopping streets and next to the tourist sites in the western german city. 

At that meeting it is alleged that the defendant presented photographs of the artworks to advisors of auction houses, along with fake certificates of authenticity from the Picasso estate.  It is also claimed that he indicated that handwritten notes, attached to the back of the paintings, were purportedly from the artist's son. 

In Germany, the crime of forgery is not charged unless the forgery (in this case the artworks themselves or the letters attached to their backings) were done with the intent to deceive or with the intent to commit an attempted fraud or larceny.  As no sales transactions occurred at the time of the meeting, the dentist most likely cannot be convicted of fraud under the German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch).  For § 263 (Fraud) and/or § 267 (Forgery) to be applicable the public prosecutor would need to prove that the dentist deceived someone with the intent of obtaining for himself or a third person an unlawful material benefit and to prove fraud, specific intent directed at enriching oneself or a third party is required.   Since the meeting was not in furtherance of conducting a sale this would be difficult to prove. 

That said, should it be determined that the dentist knowingly understood the paintings to be fake, and still electively sought appraisals for the misattributed artwork, using another person's personal data, the court may find him guilty of unauthorized exploitation of copyrighted works and/or for the (intentional) use of fake documents. 

October 25, 2019

Arrested and released for health reasons, German Dealer Michael Schultz is accused of having deceived clients with false documentation.


For more than 30 years, Michael Schultz operated one of Berlin's most prestigious galleries, focusing on contemporary European and Asian art and selling paintings and sculpture to Germany's rich and famous.  He also was associated with two other galleries, one in Beijing and another in Seoul and is known to have regularly participates at international art fairs in Cologne, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Miami Beach, and New York,

But his future in the art market was thrown into jeopardy following his arrest by Germany's State Criminal Police Office or Landeskriminalamt (LKA) on October 17, 2019.  Standing accused of fraud, Shultz who was arrested at home, was released pending trial by the German magistrate due to his poor state of health. 

At the heart of the investigation is a forged work of art purportedly by the renowned German visual artist Gerhard Richter.  

Original Richter
"Abstract Picture" (Catalogue Raisonné: 706-2)
painted in 1989.
The forged artwork, put up for auction at Christie's in New York, was given to a collector by Shultz as a repayment for an outstanding debt, when Shultz could not repay the original loan. The collector in turn consigned the painting for auction to Christies. 

As part of the auction house's due diligence, they in turn contacted the Gerhard Richter Archive of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden for information about the painting and from there things ultimately began to unravel.   The original artwork by Gerhard Richter, Catalogue Raisonné: 706-2, failed to match the artwork the collector had readied for auction. 

What prompted Shultz to pawn a forged work of art so easily verified through a digital online catalogue Raisonné is curious. Richter has long been known as the "Man Behind the Squeegee" and his highly crafted abstract minimalist artworks bring top dollar on the contemporary art market as they are highly sought after.  

To create his original works Richter first applies paint in scrims, then uses a length of perspex encased in wood, which he then moves left to right, or top to bottom to create textured smears of the many layers of the still-wet thickened paint.  A faux Richter, could never (conceivably) smear in quite the same way as an original. The forger would not only need to know exactly where and in what quantity the artist had placed the starting paint layers on the artwork but he/she would also have to employ the exact same squeegee sluices, using precisely the same motion and pressure to come anywhere close to replicating the work. 


What drove Shultz to perpetuate this fraud is unknown.  Perhaps it was driven by long-standing debts, as the dealer is known to have closed his gallery on Mommsenstraße, opened in 1986 in the rich district of Charlottenburg, center of the former west Berlin.  He also opened preliminary insolvency proceedings in September through the District Court of Charlottenburg. 

Interestingly, his bad luck with Gerhard Richter didn't just start now.  In 2015 Shultz had to answer to embezzlement charges Tiergarten district court when he sold a Richter he held as collateral for another art dealer who conversely, in this instance, borrowed money from him.  When that borrower defaulted, Shultz sold the other dealer's Richter for €300,000.  Given that the sold painting was actually the property of the second dealer's wife, (and therefore not the dealer's to use as a guarantee for debt, Schultz then claimed the painting had disappeared from his gallery. When the artwork was ultimately recovered, Richter was fined €15,000.


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

January 6, 2018

Conference - “20 years of the Washington Principles: Challenges for the Future”



Location: 

Berlin, Germany

Date: 

Monday-Wednesday, November 26-28, 2018.

Cost:
Details Forthcoming

Presenters: 
To be Announced

Attended by Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel and former US-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the 1998 Washington DC conference, hosted by the US Department of State and the Holocaust Memorial Museum, in order to develop a statement concerning the restitution of art confiscated by the Nazi regime in Germany before and during World War II.  This statement, sometimes referred to as "The Washington Declaration" or the "Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art", was developed to address the issue of assets and provided eleven non-binding principles on dealing with material confiscated by the Nazis.  The document specifically dealt with art and insurance, as well as communal property, archives, books, and built on remaining gold issues following the Nazi Gold conference which had been held in London in December 1997.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of this meeting, the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste [DZK or German Lost Art Foundation] will be sponsoring an international conference scheduled to take place in Berlin, Germany from November 26 through November 28, 2018.

The conference is being organized with the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz  [the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation] and the Kulturstiftung des Bundes [the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States].

Please see the Holocaust Art Restitution Project for more details as they become available. 





July 14, 2017

Recipe for a museum theft: 5 seized vehicles, 4 shotguns, a six-figure sum of money, and a pinch of organized crime.


When a giant gold coin, weighing 100 kilos was stolen from the Bode Museum in the early morning hours of March 27, 2017 it was pretty obvious that there might be insider involvement.  Even if the group of burglars had entered the Berlin museum through a forced window, evading the prestigious museum's alarm system, hacking their way through the exhibit's attack-proof glass case and then carting the heavy coin away in a wheelbarrow.

But this week's raids, carried out by authorities in Neukölln, Berlin’s most impoverished district, turned up an interesting wrinkle; three of the four men taken into custody, Abdel R. (18), Ahmed R. (19), and Wissam R. (20) appear to have ties to a Middle Eastern crime syndicate referred to as the “R. family*. The fourth suspect, Dennis W. was German and had just gotten a subcontracting job at the Bode Museum as a supervisor shortly before the robbery.  Nine others, individuals, older members of the same “R” clan, are also under investigation with the German authorities.    

Al-Zein, Fakhro, Omeirat, Osman, Miri, Remmo

These are grandfamilies of Lebanese-Kurdish descent who immigrated to Germany during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. Many moved to immigrant neighborhoods like those in Kreuzberg, Wedding, and Neukölln where this week's raids took place.  Some of these families originate with the Mhallami community, a tightly-knit group of families with origins in the Mardin Province of Southeastern Turkey who had previously lived in Beirut, Tripoli, and the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon.

Members of several of these families have been criminally conspicuous, gaining reputations for trafficking, racketeering and robbery, some of which have been spectacular in their execution. 

While searching 20 apartments and making yesterday's arrests, authorities seized four firearms, five vehicles and "a low six-figure sum" in cash. 

Given that all four of the arrested co-conspirators are under 21 years old, the case will be tried in the regional Jugendstrafkammer, Germany's regional youth criminal court.

By Lynda Albertson




March 19, 2017

One well documented theft = three separate seizures - Egypt's successes in curbing the sale of a stolen ancient objects

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
Four years after being stolen and then trafficked illegally out of Egypt, a painted wooden New Kingdom mummy mask has been returned to its country of origin this week, after turning up at a French antiquities auction in December 2016.

The mask is just one of 96 artifacts from the Pharaonic, Greek and Roman periods, discovered during foreign archaeological missions which were stolen in 2013, during a break-in of the Museum of Antiquities storage facilities at Elephantine. An archaeologically rich island, Elephantine is the largest island in the Aswan archipelago in Northern Nubia, Egypt. The island lies opposite central Aswan, just north of the First Cataract on the Nile.  


Given that the professionally excavated objects were formal discoveries by authorized archaeological missions, versus illicitly excavated, the stolen antiquities, were well documented.   This gave the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities the necessary evidentiary documentation to list the ancient objects as possibly in circulation with national and international law enforcement authorities.  

One Well Documented Theft = Numerous Separate Seizures

Monitoring the antiquities market closely, Egypt has succeeded in stopping the sale of several stolen objects from this single theft over the last few years. In this most recent incident, once the mummy mask had been spotted, Shabaan Abdel Gawad, the general supervisor of the Antiquities Repatriation Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, was able to request that the mask's auction be halted, demanding the object's return through formal channels via the Egyptian embassy in Paris.

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation
Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
Earlier, on January 29, 2017, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced that a deputy from the British Museum had handed over a 16.5 centimeter tall, carved wooden Ushabti statue with gold inscriptions.  This ancient object, stolen during the same break-in, had been relinquished by a British citizen. The funerary object had been excavated by Spanish archaeologists at the site of the Qubbet al-Hawa Necropolis in Aswan, and dates to ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom period (circa 1990 BCE – 1775 BCE). 

Ushabti statues, sometimes called simply "Shabtis" by dealers in the antiquities trade, are very popular with ancient art collectors. These small wooden and stone figurines were once placed in Egyptian tombs, intended to function as the servants of the deceased during their afterlife.

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation
Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
On June 14, 2015 a 2,300 year old Ancient Egyptian ivory statuette was identified up for sale at the Aton Gallery of Egyptian Art in Oberhausen, Germany. Stolen during the same 2013 robbery, this 11.5 cm tall, statuette of a man carrying a gazelle over his shoulders, was unearthed in 2008 by a Swiss archaeological mission that had been carrying out excavations at the Khnum Temple at Elephantine.  Once identified at the auction house, the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry reported the auction to INTERPOL.

The statuette is believed to date back to Egypt's Late Period, from 664-332 BCE which ended with the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great and the establishment of the Ptolemaic Dynasty.

According to a screenshot grabbed by ARCA on June 14, 2015 (and since removed from the dealer's website), the web page depicted the object's upcoming auction and included a reserve price of $5050.  At the time of the auction, Aton Gallery had listed the provenance for the ivory figurine as being part of a German private collection, formed in the 60s and 70s, before being part of an earlier American Collection formed in the 1930s.  Misleading provenance, in this case either by the auction house or the consignor, underscores how easy stolen and looted antiquities can be made to appear part of older more established collections, when in fact they are not. 
ARCA Screenshot capture: June 14, 2015
Piece by priceless piece, Egypt is taking collectors and dealers to task.  And while 93 of the 96 stolen items are still out there, three recoveries are better than none.  

France Desmarais of ICOM’s International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods has stated 

"Stolen items are not necessarily lost forever because many can be recovered and will inevitably resurface at some point in time, whether in the art market or while crossing borders."

But Egypt’s police force and governmental heritage authorities can only do so much in their protection of the country’s thousands of archaeological sites, museums and historical objects.  This vulnerability is something looters are all too aware of. 

Playing on the limited resources of source countries, especially those suffering from political turmoil, looters, middlemen and traffickers can wait years before floating highly valued pieces onto the licit art market.   In the interim, those dealing in black market sales sustain themselves financially on the proceeds derived from a small but steady trickle of smaller finds, often dribbled out to lesser known dealers and galleries. As the art market is adapting to online sales, some items are not being sold through brick and mortar shops any longer, instead, objects are passing through simple one on one, online or social media transactions. 

But while objects from well documented thefts like the one on the Elephantine storeroom eventually do resurface, the process of identify-seizure-forfeiture, on an object by object basis is a painfully slow, and only moderately successful, road to repatriation.  

To staunch the flow of high demand antiquities for vulnerable source countries collectors must begin to hold themselves more accountable.  Knowing what we know today, collectors should curb their consumerist tendencies of wanting what they want when purchasing ancient art without documentation of legal export. More often than not, antiquities without sound paperwork have a higher probability of having been stolen or looted. 

It's time for collectors to take themselves to task, taking stock in the origins of their past purchases and voluntarily relinquishing items bought in the past without concern for legality, when they have have contributed to the theft and looting of historic sites around the globe.

Doing the Right Thing

If you are a collector and you suspect an antiquity you have purchased may have been looted or stolen, here are some things you can do.


If your object is on one of these lists, consult with your local museum's curatorial staff. 

Lastly, Interpol, National Law Enforcement, UNESCO, ICOM and organizations like ARCA maintain contacts with experts familiar with looted and stolen art.   If you have doubts about a purchase and don't know who to contact or need help with the ancient remains in a specific country, please write to us here

By:  Lynda Albertson

December 11, 2016

Auction Alert: Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktion, München, Deutschland

ARCA kindly thanks archaeologist and academic translator Folkert Tiarks of Toptransarchaeo for his assistance in translating this blog report from English into German for ARCA's German-speaking readership.

Am 29. November 2016 wurde ARCA durch Christos Tsirogiannis darüber informiert dass er vier antike, potentiell illegale Objekte identifiziert habe, die  am 14. Dezember 2016 bei Gorny & Mosch in München versteigert werden sollen.  Jedes dieser vier Objekte  lässt sich auf Fotos aus den beschlagnahmten Archiven von Gianfranco  Becchina und Robin Symes nachweisen.

Los 19 Etruskische Bronzestatue eines Jünglings, Mitte 5. Jahrhundert vor Christus

Abbildung 1 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 19 

Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben:  
"Ex Sammlung R.G., Deutschland. Bei Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010, 43. Ex Sotheby´s Catalogue of Antiquities 13. Juli 1981, 341."

Jerome Eisenberg, Herausgeber der Zeitschrift Minerva und Eigentümer der Royal Athena Galleries in New York City, ist ein Name, der in der Vergangenheit als Käufer oder Verkäufer von Antiken umstrittener Herkunft  zur Sprache gekommen ist. Für weitere Informationen zu einigen der  in letzter Zeit von der Gallery erworbenen Objekte klicken sie bitte hierhier, hier und hier


Abbildung 2 - Symes Archiv Foto
Kürzlich erkannte Tsirogiannis Los 19 (Bild 1) im Symes Archiv (Bild 2), während dieses Loss noch  im Oktober 2010, zusammen mit einigen anderen Antiken, deren Bilder in den Archiven von Medici und Becchina auftauchten  von der Royal Athena Galleries angeboten wurde. Im Januar 2011 wurden diese Identifizierungen von Professor David Gill in seinem Blog "Looting Matters" vorgestellt und in der italienischen Presse durch den auf Kunst und Korruption spezialisierten Journalisten Fabio Isman im "Giornalle dell’arte" publik gemacht. Zusammen mit jeder dieser Bekanntmachungen wurde ein aus dem Symes Archiv stammendes Foto der etruskischen Bronzefigur veröffentlicht.

Die Tatsache, dass dieses Objekt jetzt, fünf Jahre nach der ersten Identifizierung, wieder zum Verkauf angeboten wird, bedeutet entweder dass die italienischen Behörden bei diesem einzelnen Objekt nicht tätig wurden oder dass der damalige Besitzer der Antike ausreichende Beweise vorlegen konnte die eine Einstufung als illegal gehandelte Antike verhinderten. Diese Information (sofern es sie gibt) wurde durch das Auktionshaus nicht in die Sammlungs-geschichte aufgenommen.

Los 87 Eine apulische rotfigurige Situla des Lykurgos-Malers. 360-350 v. Chr.

Abbildung 3 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 87

Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben: 

"Aus der James Stirt Collection, Vevey in der Schweiz, erworben 1997 bei Heidi Vollmöller, Zürich."

Abbildung 4 Gegenteil von Los 87 (links)
 Becchina Archivfoto einer Situla (rechts)
Das von Tsirogiannis zur Verfügung gestellte Foto aus dem Archiv Symes zeigt die Vase mit schweren Ablagerungen von Erde und Salz. Aus einer dem Archivfoto beigefügten hand-schriftlichen Notiz geht hervor, dass die Bilder am 18. März 1988 von Raffaele Montichelli an Gianfranco Becchina geschickt wurden.

Montichelli ist ein verurteilter Antikenhändler aus Tarent der über viele Jahre eine Partnerschaft mit Gianfranco Becchina unterhielt. Als Montichellis seriöser Beruf wird Grundschullehrer im Ruhestand erwähnt, dennoch scheint er aus den unrechtmäßigen Einnahmen mit illegal gehandelter Kunst genug l Geld verdient zu haben, dass er in einigen von Italiens exklusiveren Gegenden von Florenz und Rom lukrative Immobilien kaufen konnte. Diese wurden später durch die italienischen Behörden beschlagnahmt.

Es ist bemerkenswert, dass in der Sammlungsgeschichte dieses Lots der Abschnitt über Becchina vor der im Verkaufskatalog von Gorny & Mosch erwähnten Herkunft aus einem Auktionshaus datiert. Hat Vollmöller, als sie das Objekt in Kommission nahm, die Kaufgeschichte, von wem die Situla erworben wurde, weggelassen oder haben Gorny & Mosch sie absichtlich ausgelassen?

Lot 88 An Apulian red-figure bell-krater of the Dechter Painter. 350 - 340 B.C.E. 

Abbildung 4 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 88
Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben: 

Ex Galerie Palladion, Basel; ex Privatsammlung von Frau Borowzova, Binnigen in der Schweiz, erworben 1976 von Elie Borowski, Basel.

Abbildung 6 - Becchina Archiv foto
dieses Kraters
Palladion Antike Kunst (man beachte den leicht korrigierten Namen der Galerie) wurde von Gianfranco Becchina aus Basel, Schweiz, geleitet obwohl als offizielle Besitzerin der Schweizer Galerie Ursula “Rosie“ Juraschek, Becchinas Ehefrau geführt wurde.

Tsirogiannis stellte ein aus dem Becchina Archiv stammendes, auf den 4. April 1989 datiertes Foto dieses Kraters (Abb.6 ) zur Verfügung. Wieder sehen wir ein mit Erd-und Salzablagerungen bedecktes Objekt mit einigen Fehlstellen. Man beachte dass die Datierung des  unrestaurierten Objektes in das Jahr 1989 nicht mit dem Datum übereinstimmt, an dem das Objekt in die Sammlung Elie Borowski aufgenommen wurde.

Elie Borowski, dessen umfangreiche Sammlung von Gegenstanden aus dem Mittleren Osten später den Großteil des Bible Land Museums bildete, starb im Jahr 2003. Vertraut mit den Schattenseiten des Antikenhandels, teilte die ehemalige Kurator der Antiken-Abteilung des Getty Museums, Marion True, den italienischen Behörden mit, dass auch Borowski, ein in Basel/Schweiz, ansässiger Antiken-händler, ein Kunde Gianfranco Becchinas sei.

Interessanterweise unternahm Borowski eine diskrete Reise nach Gubbio um sich dort die erst kurz zuvor aus dem Meer geborgene Bronze anzusehen, bevor diese ihren endgültigen Weg nach Malibu antrat. Aber Borowskis Eintauchen in eine mögliche Betrügerei war hier noch nicht zu Ende. Sein Name erscheint in einem inzwischen zu Berühmtheit gelangtem Organigramm von Händlern, einem handgeschriebenen Schaubild des illegalen Handels, das von den italienischen Behörden im wohnung von Danilo Zicchi beschlagnahmt wurde. Sein Name wurde auch in Verbindung gebracht mit Raubantiken aus der Türkei.

Los 127 Gedrungenes Alabastron der Gnathia-Ware mit dem Bildnis einer geflügelten Frau mit Sakkos. Dem Maler der weißen Hauben zugeschrieben. Apulien, 320-310 v. Chr.


Abbildung 7 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 127 
Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben:

Ex Christie´s London, 15.04.2015, ex 113; aus der Privatsammlung von Hans Humbel, Schweiz, erworben bei der Galerie Arete, Zürich in den frühen 1990er Jahren.

Abbildung 8 - Becchina Archiv foto
dieses alabastron
Zusammen mit anderen  im Hintergrund sichtbaren Antiken, ist dieses Objekt auch auf einem von Tsirogiannis zur Verfügung gestellten Foto aus dem Becchina Archiv zu sehen. Das Foto datiert vom 24. September 1988 und wurde ebenfalls vom verurteilten Händler Raffaele Montichelli an Gianfranco Becchina geschickt.

Wie bei den vorausgegangenen Losen, datiert das Datum auf dem Foto vor die von Gorny & Mosch angegebene Sammlungsgeschichte. Dies lässt mich vermuten, dass die Sammlungsgeschichten aller vier Objekte in Details nur sehr spärlich angegeben wurden.

Wie Los 19 dieser Identifizierung, ist dieses das zweite Mal, dass dieses bestimmte Objekt vor einer bevorstehenden Auktion identifiziert wurde.

Aber die Spur wird noch interessanter.

Am 11. April 2015 veröffentlichte ARCA Tsirogiannis originale Identifizierung des Alabastrons mit folgender, von Christies zur Verfügung gestellter Provenien-zangabe.

"Durch den gegenwärtigen Eigentümer im Jahr 1998 vom Petit Musee, Montreal, erworben".

Das Objekt war ein Teil des aus zwei Vasen bestehenden Loses 113, das am 15. April 2016 in der Antiken-Auktion von Christie’s in London versteigert wurde. Ein von ARCA aufgenommener screenshot (Bild 9) der bei der urprünglichen Identifizierung vom April 2015 verwendet wurde, wird unten nochmals abgebildet.

Abbildung 9 - Screenshot der Website von Christie 11. April 2015 
Am 15. April 2015 wurde das Alabastron mit folgender Bekanntmachung im Auktionssaal von der Auktion zurückgezogen: "Das Los wurde zurückgezogen".

Wenn man heute Christie‘ s URL anklickt, die immer noch mit der letztjährigen Auktion verlinkt,  sieht man, dass das Foto gelöscht und durch ein anderes (Bild 10) ersetzt wurde, das nur die birnenförmige Flasche aus  Los 113 zeigt.

Abbildung 10 - Screenshot der Website von Christie 30. November 2016

Darüber hinaus wurde die Bekanntmachung der Rücknahme durch diese ersetzt (Abb. 11).

Abbildung 11 - Screenshot der Website von Christie 30. November 2016
Seltsamerweise führen Gorny & Mosch als Provenienz "Ex Christie’s London, 15.April 2015".

Hat Christie’s den Verkauf im April 2015 durchgesetzt anstatt ihn zurückzunehmen? Oderhaben Gorny & Mosch die unbeendete Auktion aufgeführt um ihrer eigenen Auflistung mehr Glaubwürdigkeit zu verleihen, jetzt, da sich der Besitzer des Stückes sich entschlossen hat, das Stück in Deutschland zu…Wer hat aus welchem Grund das Bild des Alabastrons gegen das der birnenförmigen Flasche ausgetauscht?

Und was ist mit Christie’s früherer Provenienzangabe, die das „Petit Musee, Motreal“ nannte, von dem der jetzige Besitzer das Stück im Jahr 1988 erwarb?  War diese Sammlungsgeschichte eine Fiktion, die später unbequem für den Besitzer und das aktuelle Auktionshaus wurde?

ARCA hofft, dass durch die kontinuierliche Bekanntgabe der Häufigkeit mit der illegale Antiken die Unregelmäßigkeiten in ihrer Provenienz  aufweisen wie dies bei  diesen Identifizierungen der Fall ist,  auf den legalen Kunstmarkt gelangen, Auktionshäuser und Sammler gezwungen werden ,die genauen und strengen Anforderungen bei der Angabe der Sammlungsgeschichte ihrer Objekt  einzuhalten, so dass neue Käufer nicht weiter Objekte waschen, um den Handel mit illegalen Antiken zu unterstützen.

Abschließend sei gesagt, dass sich Tsirogiannis, ein in Cambridge ansässiger forensischer Archäologe und Dozent beim Aufbaustudiengang der ARCA "Kriminalität gegen die Kunst und Kulturgüter-schutz", seit 2007 darum bemüht, Antiken illegaler Herkunft zu identifizieren, die sich in denjenigen Museen, Sammlungen, Galerien und Auktionshäusern befinden, die durch die beschlagnahmten Archive von Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, Christos Michaelides und Gianfranco Becchina zurückverfolgt werden können.

Tsirogiannis hat Interpol über seine Identifizierungen informiert verbunden mit der Bitte, sowohl die italienschen als auch die deutschen Behörden ebenfalls formell darüber zu informieren. Hoffen wir, dass Gorny & Mosch das Objekt zurückziehen und künftig ihrer Sorgfaltspflicht bei der Prüfung der Einlieferer von Objekten besser nachkommen.

Von Lynda Albertson

November 30, 2016

Auction Alert II: Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction, Munich

On November 29, 2016 ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified four potentially-tainted antiquity scheduled to be auctioned by Gorny & Mosch in Munich, Germany on December 14, 2016.  Each of the four ancient objects are traceable to photos in the confiscated Gianfranco Becchina and Robin Symes archives.

The antiquities identified by Tsirogiannis are:

Lot 19 An Etruscan bronze figure of a youth. Mid 5th century B.C.E.

Image 1 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 19 

The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
"Ex collection RG, Germany. At Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010 43. Ex Sotheby Catalogue of Antiquities 13 July 1981 341."

Jerome Eisenberg, editor of the Minerva journal and proprietor of Royal Athena Galleries in New York City is a name that has come up in the past as the purchasor or seller of antiquities with contriversial backgrounds.  Please see the following links for more information on a few of the gallery's previous aquisitions herehere, here and here


Image 2 - Symes Archive Photo
Tsirogiannis previously identified Lot 19 (Image 1) in the Symes archive (Image 2), while on offer through the Royal Athena Galleries in October 2010 along with several other antiquities whose images appeared in the Medici and the Becchina archives.  In January 2011 these identifications were presented by Professor David Gill through his 'Looting Matters' blog and publicized in the Italian press by art and curruption journalist Fabio Isman through the art publication Il Giornale dell'Arte. Each notification published a copy of the Syme's archive photo of the Etruscan figurine.

The fact that this bronze figure reappears for sale now, five years after the first identification, may mean that the Italian authorities chose not to act on this particular object or that the holder of the antiquity at that time, was able to produce sufficient evidence to eliminate it as a potentially trafficked antiquity. That information (if it exists) was not made part of the auction house collection history. 

Lot 87 An Apulian red-figure situla of the Lycurgus Painter. 360 - 350 B.C.E.

Image 3 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 87

The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
"From James Stirt Collection, Vevey, Switzerland, acquired in 1997 Heidi Vollmöller, Zürich"

Image 4 - Reverse side of Lot 87 (left)
Becchina Archive photo of a Situla (right)
The photo provided by Tsirogiannis from the Becchina archive (Image 4) shows the vase badly encrusted with soil and salt deposits). A handwritten note included with the archive photograph indicates that the images were sent from Raffaele Montichelli to Gianfranco Becchina on 18 March 1988.

Montichelli is a convicted antiquities trafficker from Taranto who had a long-standing relationship with Gianfranco Becchina.  Montichelli's legitimate occupation was listed as a retired elementary school teacher, yet it seems he made enough money from the illicit proceeds of trafficked art, to purchase lucritive property (later seized by the Italian authorities) in some of Italy's more exclusive areas of Florence and Rome.

It is interesting to note that the passage via Becchina in this lot's collection history, pre-dates the auction house provenance written in the sale catalog by Gorny & Mosch.  Did Vollmöller leave out the purchasing history of who the situla was purchased from when placing the object on consignment or did Gorny & Mosch omit it intentionally?

Lot 88 An Apulian red-figure bell-krater of the Dechter Painter. 350 - 340 B.C.E. 

Image 5 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 88
The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
Ex Gallery Palladion, Basel; . ex private collection of Mrs. Borowzova, Binnigen in Switzerland, acquired in 1976 by Elie Borowski, Basel

Image 6 - Becchina Archive photo
of a Bell Crater 
Palladion Antike Kunst (notice the slightly corrected name of the gallery) was managed by Gianfranco Becchina in Basel, Switzerland though the Swiss gallery was officially listed as belonging to Ursula ''Rosie'' Juraschek, Becchina's wife.

Tsirogiannis provided a photo of this krater (Image 6) from the Becchina archive which was dated APR 4 '89' (4/4/1989).  Again we see a "raw" object covered with soil and salt encrustations and missing various fragments. Note that the 1989 date on the unrestored object photo doesn't match up to the date of the object's inclusion in the Elie Borowski collection.

Elie Borowski, whose vast collection of Mideast artifacts later formed bulk of Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, died in 2003. No stranger to the antiquities underbelly, former Getty antiquities curator Marion True told Italian authorities that Borowski, a Basel, Switzerland, antiquities dealer was also a client of Gianfranco Becchina.

Interestingly, Borowski once made a discreet trip to Gubbio to view the recently-fished Getty Bronze before it made its eventual way to Malibu, but Borowski's dip into possible skulduggery didn't stop there.  His name appears in the now famous trafficker's organigram, the handwritten organization chart of the illicit trade seized by Italian authorities from the apartment of Danilo Zicchi.  His name has also been linked to possibly looted antiquities from Turkey as well.

Lot 127 A squat alabastron of the Gnathia-ware with the bust of a winged woman with sakkos. Said to be from the White Sakkos Painter. Apulia, 320 - 310 B.C.E.


Image 7 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 127
The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
Ex Christie's London, 15/04/2015, ex 113; from the private collection of Hans Humbel, Switzerland, acquired at the Galerie Arete, Zurich in the early 1990s.

Image 8 - Becchina archive alabastron
This alabastron is also depicted in a Becchina archive photo supplied by Tsirogiannis (Image 8), alongside other antiquities in the background.  The photo's image is dated 24/9/1988 and was again sent to Gianfranco Becchina from convicted trafficker Raffaele Montichelli.

As with the previous lots, the date on the image pre-dates the collecting history listed by Gorny & Mosch leading me to hypothesize that the collection histories of all four objects have been intentionally spartan on details.

Like Lot 19 in these identifications, this is the second time Tsirogiannis has identified this particular antiquity in an upcoming auction.

But here the trail gets more interesting. 

On April 11, 2015 ARCA published Tsirogianni's original identification of the alabastron with the following provenance provided by Christies.

"Provenance with Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998."

The object was one of two vases comprising Lot 113, in Christie's April 15, 2016 antiquities auction in London and a screenshot (Image 9) taken by ARCA and used in the original April 11, 2015 identification post is reposted below.

Image 9 - Christie's website screenshot April 11, 2015
On April 15, 2015 the alabastron was withdrawn from the auction with a Saleroom Notice that read: "This Lot is withdrawn"

Clicking on the Christie's URL today, which still links to last year's sale, shows that the alabastron photo has been deleted and replaced with an alternative one (Image 10), that shows only Lot 113's piriform bottle.

Image 10 - Christie's website screenshot
November 30, 2016

Additionally, the "withdrawn" notice has been replaced with this one (Image 11)

Image 11 - Christie's website screenshot
November 30, 2016
Strangely, the Gorny & Mosch provenance lists "Ex Christie's London, 15/04/2015".

Did Christie's follow through with the April 2015 sale instead of withdrawing it?Or has Gorny & Mosch listed the unfulfilled auction to add credibility to its own listing now that the owner of the piece has decided to shop the antiquity in Germany.   Who changed out the image of the alabastron for the piriform bottle and for what motive?

And what about the object's prior Christie's provenance which listed "the Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998"?  Was that collecting history a work of fiction that later became inconvenient for the owner and current auction house?

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as those seen in these identifications, will force auction houses and collectors to adhere to accurate and stringent reporting requirements on their object collection histories so that new buyers do not continually launder objects in support the illicit antiquities trade.

In closing,  since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has sought to identify antiquities of illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.

Tsirogiannis has notified INTERPOL of his identifications asking them to formally notify both the German and the Italian authorities.  Let's hope Gorny & Mosch withdraw the object and conduct a more thorough due diligence with the object's consignor/s.

By Lynda Albertson