Showing posts with label ICE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ICE. Show all posts

June 29, 2020

Object Alert: An Illicit antiquity breezes through the windy city

Hindman Auction Catalogue - 16 June 2020
Lot 157
Most of the time, when one thinks of illicit antiquities one imagines them transiting their way through lofty auction showrooms in London, New York, or more recently, as was in the news last week, Paris.  One doesn't usually suspect a homegrown auction house, from the windy city of Chicago, as a place to spot hot art that once passed through the hands of one of Italy's most notorious bad boys, art dealer Giacomo Medici.  But the market for looted or unprovenanced cultural property in America is still going strong and plundered artefacts have the tendency to scatter farther than you think.  Sometimes, when they do, they turn up in places that we don't expect, well, at least until we do.

An art dealer who post-sentence resides in an expansive seaside villa west of Rome, Giacomo Medici was convicted 13 December 2004 of participation in an organized criminal group as its principal promoter and organizer.  Men in his network plundered large swaths of Italy's territory, with the network's loot making its way into some of the world's most prestigious museums and lining the shelves of extravagant private collections.  But despite the sixteen years that have past since his conviction, Medici's ill-gotten wares continue to bubble to the surface, not unlike Italian gnocchi, one object at a time, in slow dribs and drabs and usually not even mentioning his name as was the case with this recent artefact.

This time, in late June, an investigation lead by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in collaboration with the New York District Attorney's Office and the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage turned up another one of Giacomino's antiquities, this time at Chicago's very own, Hindman Auctioneers, a firm which merged in 2019 with Ohio-based Cowan's and shortened its name from Leslie Hindman to just plain Hindman

Photographed on pages 116 and 117 of Hindman's 16 June 2020 Antiquities and Islamic Art catalogue, Lot 15, A Roman Marble Torso of a Faun with a Goose lists the artefact's provenance succinctly: 

Private Collection. London, acquired in New York in the early 1990s 
Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch. London, 2013

What was provided to back up this claim, or what import, export, or shipping documents were submitted to demonstrate that this Italian antiquity's passages into the United States previously, then back across the sea to the UK, then back into Chicago were legitimate, leaves me curious. 

With no difficulty, and without auction consignment profits to incentivise (or disincentivise) my due diligence, I was quickly, and without too much trouble, able to find and cross-reference the 2013 sale via the Forge & Lynch Antiquities - Including the Collection of Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) catalogue.   This sales PDF documented the previous sale of the mythological half-human, half-goat, creature with a discreet tail in a two-page spread.

Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd.,
Antiquities - Including the Collection of Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) Catalogue - 2013

Joint proprietors of the art dealership Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd., Forge and Lynch left Sotheby’s in London in 1997 when the auction house began winding down its London antiquities sales, and continued working together for their own ancient art gallery formed in UK in July 2000.  Both art dealers are familiar with the problem children antiquities dealers of yesteryear from their Sotheby's days, and both have continued to get their reputations scorched brokering suspect art via more recent problematic dealers like Subhash Kapoor. 

So even without Medici's name clearly printed on anything provenance-y provided by the Faun's consignor to Hindman, one has to question first where Forge & Lynch themselves got the piece, and secondly, their own provenance entry for the earlier sale of this artefact, which reads: 

Probably acquired in New York, early 1990s  
Private collection, London, early 1990s-2013

This entry leads me to ask why Hindman changed the "probably acquired in New York" to definitely acquired in New York.  It is also curious why Hindman left off the non-specific "Private collection" in London which at first shakes, might appear less problematic than Robin Symes, whose name appears elsewhere in the June catalogue for LOT 83 from this sale. 

Did someone at Hindman find paperwork that changed the Faun's purported New York acquisition from probable into definite?  And what about that private collection in London from the 1990s until 2013.  Wasn't that one line, even vaguely written, not naming names worth mentioning on the big empty space of the full-page advertisement for the sculpture?  So why did Hindman elect to omit this detail?  

My hunch is that Hindman, who voluntarily relinquished the sculpture of the Faun to the authorities once evidence was presented by law enforcement, operates under the assumption that the occasional confiscation of a found-to-be-looted antiquity identified in their sales catalogues is a reasonable cost of doing business in the murky world of ancient art.  

Risks Hindman has already proved willing to take in the past and that illicit antiquities researcher Christos Tsirogiannis, cooperating with HSI-ICE, pointed out in an earlier Hindman auction, published in the auction house's Worldly Pursuits: An Adventurer’s Collection. The Estate of Steve and Peggy Fossett cataloug. In that sale Tsirogiannis identified three antiquities which matched archival photos in the Medici and Symes archives which proved that the objects had once passed through, or been shared with the networks of Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, and Christo Michaelides.

But let's go back to this month's Hindman, June 16th auction catalogue.  In this summer's sale 127 objects out of 273 are listed without any provenance dates whatsoever.  Of the 146 remaining objects included in the catalogue which do list some date references:

15 show collection history dates which predate the UNESCO 1970s convention;
12 show collection history dates only to the 1970s;
85 show collection history dates only to the 1980s;
32 show collection history dates only to the 1990s;
and 2 only go back as far as the 2000s.

Knowing that illicit trafficking eyes cannot monitor every single sale, or inquire about every single object consigned to every auction house around the world, leaving out provenance details creates an environment conducive for a game of risk, with dealers more than willing to play, chalking up any losses from the occasional identified object after it has been illegally exported, as inventory shrinkage.

By limiting the details of what is written in provenance descriptions for objects being sold, dealers and auction houses create intentional impediments to those who try to research an object's legitimacy, making it more difficult to discern when an antiquity has passed through the hands of suspect dealers and when a legitimate object has simply been badly documented by a previous owner careless with their receipts.  And that's just speaking to those interested enough, and with the time to dedicate to actually monitor the previous sales of ancient artefacts.

According to a new report published to the LiveAuctioneers website, this inaugural Hindman ancient art auction brought in nearly $1M in sales, proving once again, that despite all the academics screaming about the necessity for clean provenance, buyers of ancient art, for the most part, are not unduly curious about the collection histories of their potential ancient art purchases.  Likewise, more collectors continue to be oblivious or disengaged as to whether or not the antiquities market is problematic and whether or not their lack of curiosity, and lack of due diligence before buying, acts as a catalyst for the destruction of archaeological sites in the Mediterranean world.

Should Hindman have known better with this artefact and should they have been more forthcoming with all of the collection histories listed for this $1M sale's catalogue? Yes and yes.

Hindman Auctioneers was founded by Leslie Hindman in Chicago in 1982.  The firm was not born yesterday, therefore they should be aware of the problems of illicit material infiltrating the ancient art market.  Thomas Galbraith who took over from Leslie Hindman as CEO of the company she founded, (she remains on the board) previously worked as Artnet’s director of global strategy and as interim CEO for Google Venture's start-up Twyla, an online sales platform for art, meaning they both are experienced in art world sales. Given the people at Hindman's helm, and the company's sales presence on the Live Auctioneers sales portal, it also stands to reason that the Chicago auction house has employees with sufficient technical abilities and talent to Google the legitimacy of the objects they accept on consignment and the names of dealers which are problematic.  Given that neither Galbraith nor Hindman are new to the problems of the world, one can assume that their lack of transparency when it comes to collection publishing collection histories for the objects they auction is a conscious choice.

But despite all this, the windy city seems to be gaining ground in the art market. Phillips and Bonhams, both based in London, having opened there, alongside already existing Christie's, and Sotheby's, to keep Hindman company. And browsing through the names of important London and New York ancient art dealers like Charles Ede Ltd., and Royal Athena Galleries whose's pieces were selling in this June's Hindman catalogue, it seems apropos to remind collectors of ancient art (once again) of the need to open their eyes and ask for proof of legitimacy, before simply forking over cash for what might turn out to be tomorrow's new seizure. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

December 20, 2019

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seizes a female funerary statue previously on sale on the online website Live Auctioneers


Tuesday, December 17, 2019 agents with the United States Department of Homeland Security - HSI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized a female funerary statue previously listed for sale last April for an estimated Estimation 500.000-800.000 USD on the online website Live Auctioneers.  The statue, advertised at: https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/70314848_an-important-life-size-greek-marble-figure-of-a-female  was listed as Lot 0032.  In its description, the dealers had stated that the statue was "an impressive Greek marble three quarter life-size figure of a veiled woman, likely among a handful  [of] available Greek figures for sale."  

While the auction page for this antiquity has since been removed, the heavy 400 pound statue of a Greek funerary deity from the Hellenistic period, has been identified as having come from Cyrenaica, in present-day Libya, a source nation not mentioned in the description given by the sellers.  This area of the North African country has been the subject of accelerating pillage for more than a decade, sometimes in support of financing criminal groups.  Frequently this plunder destroys irreplaceable archaeological data. 

For years the Security Directorate of Shahhat, in Libya's eastern coastal region, has tried to foil the attempts of individuals threatening to tamper with, loot, or destroy antiquities from the ruins of the ancient Greek and Roman city, Cyrene.  But given rampant urban encroachment and the lack of uniform security within Libya's complicated political terrain following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Cyrenaica's rich archaeological heritage remains vastly underprotected, a fact often overlooked by the media amid its focus of ISIS looting and iconoclasm in Syria and Iraq. 

Veiled marble sculptures such as the one seized in New York City are not found in Greece.  They are only found in the ancient Greek cemeteries of the ancient cities of Cyrenaica, the area along the eastern coastal region of what is today modern Libya. These uniquely stylized funerary decorations are easily identifiable as their distinctive styling is not found in any other part of the Classical world.  The alone makes it off concern that the dealers elected to refer to the piece as solely "Greek". 

Following the statues identification, concern over the object's pending sale on the ancient art market was widely publicized by the Archaeology Information Network (ArchaeologyIN) through their Archaeology in Libya social media network.  Drawing the public's attention to the fact that plundered Libyan artifacts are regularly appearing on the licit market, the grass roots activist group included a link to the dealer's auction which identified the sellers as Aphrodite Gallery, an online branch of Aphrodite Ancient Art.  Both of these ancient art enterprises are owned and/or operated by Jamal and Jad Rifai.

The object's provenance on the online sales site was listed as:

"Ex. Swiss private collection, from the 1980's, with import document and Art Loss Register certificate."   But the export license? 


A 2008 cached version of the Aphrodite Ancient Art website (now taken down) stated: 




Previous notes on Facebook, also now removed, once indicated that the brick and mortar gallery of Aphrodite Ancient Art opened in Manhattan in May 2012 after operating virtually as far back as 2007.  This date coincides with data captured by the Wayback Machine which maintains archives of some of the company's web pages dating as far back as 2008.  In contrast, the LinkedIn profile of one of the company's principles states that he has been part of the ancient art market in New York operating as Aphrodite Ancient Art since 1999. 

The seizure of this funerary statue was taken into consideration based on initial research conducted by individuals working with the Federation of Archaeological Missions in Libya, including Vincent Michel and Morgan Belzic (French Mission), Oliva Menozzi (Italian missions), Susan Kane (US Missions), as well as other unnamed colleagues.  Formal requests for assistance from the Libyan authorities came from Dr. Ahmed H. Abdalkariem, Chairmen of the Department of Antiquities (DOA) in Libya, in coordination with the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Libyan embassy who worked jointly with the US Federal and local law enforcement authorities.  

According Morgan Belzic, at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art and Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, illicit funerary sculptures from the Cyrenaica region of Libya have passed through the ancient art market with increasing frequency since the start of political unrest in the region. This uptick in sales volume for Greek artifacts plundered from Libya coincides with the suspension, or reduction, of many state services within the country, including those for heritage protection and management,  without which there has been an increase in criminal activity as well as sometimes aggressive pillaging of archaeological sites.  Belzic's conflict antiquities research has centered on the proceeds from the illicit trafficking of objects from the Cyrenaica region which benefit directly the criminal groups who organize the smuggling of looted antiquities out of Libya, selling on to intermediaries and art merchants in both the US and Europe. 

But could the dealer have known that the statue was illicit? 

Given its distinct style, it seems unlikely that the sellers of this important artifact would not have been able to identify that this statue came from the areas surrounding the ancient Greek cemeteries of the ancient cities of Cyrenaica.  Knowing that, the purported "Ex. Swiss private collection, from the 1980's" and the lack of export documentation of Libya fails to hold water. 

The cultural heritage of Libya is protected by both its national laws as well as by multilateral agreements and international instruments.  The 1951 Constitution grants the government control of the country’s antiquities, archaeological sites, and museums. Law Number 11 on Antiquities, Archaeological Sites, and Museums (1953) further obligates the state to protect cultural heritage in peace and wartime and prohibits damage to and illegal trade of cultural property, including exports. Law Number 2 of 1983 and Law Number 3 of 1994 have similar provisions. The latter names the Department of Antiquities (DOA) as the expert authority responsible for management, organization, care and protection of antiquities, museums, manuscripts, ancient cities, and historic localities and buildings.

The current governing document is the Constitutional Declaration, adopted by the National Transitional Council on August 3, 2011, which reinforces that Libya’s legal framework for cultural preservation has remained largely unchanged to date. International agreements to which Libya is a State Party also remain in effect such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Nature and Extent of Art Market for Archaeological and Ethnological Material from Libya

On June 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of State published notification in the Federal Register of the receipt of a request from the Government of Libya to the Government of the United States of America requesting import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Libya representing its prehistoric through Ottoman Era heritage.

In their request it was outlined that the United States is a major market, perhaps the single largest market, for sales of archaeological material from Libya. and that between approximately 2007 and 2014, nearly fifteen sculptures based on stylistic composition and other criteria identified as coming from Libya, and known to have come from Cyrene (some documented from the excavation storerooms; others undocumented) have been sold through the ancient art market in the United States or by US based companies operating virtually.

On December 5, 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection placed import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Libya to assist in combating the illicit trafficking from the region.  

October 3, 2019

The Libya MOU in action. The United States recovers and restitutes an ancient sculpture stolen from the city of Shahat (Cyrene).


For years the Security Directorate of Shahhat in the eastern coastal region of Libya has tried to foil the attempts of individuals threatening to tamper with, loot, or destroy antiquities from the ruins of its ancient Greek and Roman city, Cyrene.  But given rampant urban encroachment and the lack of uniform security in a complicated political terrain created following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Cyrenaica's rich archaeological heritage remains vastly underprotected and often overlooked by the media amid its focus on looting and iconoclasm in Syria and Iraq. 

In answer to concerns that looters are exploiting the political chaos in the region, UNESCO placed all five of its Libyan World Heritage sites on the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list in July 2016.  This list named the  2,600-year-old Greco-Roman archaeological city of Cyrene, which struggles with neglect, vandalism, looting and unregulated development; the ancient city of Leptis Magna; the ancient city of Sabratha; the Islamic desert trading city of Ghadam├Ęs; and the Tadrart Akakus, a mountain range in the desert of the Ghat District in western Libya that contains thousands of prehistoric rock-art sites, some dating as far back as 9,000 BCE.

Yet despite the lack of press coverage, a steady trickle of artefacts of dubious origin originating from Libyan historical sites do get identified by illicit trafficking researchers, law enforcement and customs officials.  Usually this occurs years after their original looting, once the antiquities are routed out of the region via transit countries and sometimes once they make their way into the commercial art market, turning up for sale in galleries and showrooms in London, Paris, Switzerland, Barcelona and the US.  

Some notable Libya-origin objects identified include:

Four funerary deities seized in France in 2012. 

A four foot marble statue, identified in 2013, as having been exported by Dubai-based antiques dealer Hassan Fazeli, dating from the 3-4 century BCE.  The statue was imported with provenance stating it was from the "personal collection of Mr Fazeli since 1977" and as having originated from Turkey when in fact it had actually been stolen from Cyrene before being smuggled into Britain.  This HMRC court case was not the first time that Hassan Fazeli's name had appeared connected to trafficked antiquities. 

Three Hellenistic Period funerary divinities probably coming from the same burial either from Cyrene or Apollonia seized in Geneva.  

A set of five marble sculptures from Cyrenaica seized by Egyptian port police in Damietta when inspecting  a container bound for Bangkok. 

Despite these identifications, protecting Libya's cultural heritage sites is difficult, in part because there is no single unifying political authority for the country as a whole in the aftermath of the Libyan Civil War.

For the moment the country is influenced by three influential political/governmental groups. The first is the Presidential Council (PC), which presides over the Government of National Accord (GNA) and is based in Tripoli.  The second, also based in Tripoli, was the former Government of National Salvation, which rested on the authority of the rival General National Congress (GNC), the resurrected parliament elected in 2012. Dissolved in April 2016, the GNC was replaced by the High Council of State, an advisory body advising the interim Government of National Accord (GNA).

The third governmental authority in Libya is based in Tobruk and al-Bayda.  The House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk is considered to be the legitimate legislative authority under the Libyan Political Agreement, while the government of Abdullah al-Thinni operates from al-Bayda. Both the Tobruk and al-Bayda authorities are united under the control of Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar who leads the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the system of government in much of the east and some of the south and west parts of Libya following what is referred to as the Second Libyan Civil War (2014 to present)..

In response to a long history of threats to archaeological and historical sites in Libya, and to solidify U.S. and Libya’s joint collaboration to combat looting and trafficking of cultural objects originating from the north african country, the US signed its 17th cultural property agreement with Libya in 2018.  Signed by Irwin Stephen Goldstein for the United States and by Lutfi Almughrabi, Libyan Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the agreement formalizes a collaboration to protect Libya heritage for a period of five (5) years, unless the MOU is extended at a later date.  This agreement has been opposed by many in the antiquities trade but seen as necessary by those who see civil unrest and war as a precursor and or conduit to the trafficking of illicit antiquities.

Article 1.2 of the MOU states:

The Government of the United States of America shall offer for return to the Government of Libya any object or material on the Designated List forfeited to the Government of the United States of America.

In the first tangible fruit of this accord, Jamal Ali al-Barq, head of the Department of International Cooperation, at Libya's Foreign Ministry has announced that during a ceremony today, at the Libyan embassy in Washington DC, the United States Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) will hand over a marble head of a woman to the Libyan authorities.

Image Credit:  Libyan Embassy, Washington DC
The identification of this antiquity, up for auction in the United States, was partly made possible by French historian Morgan Belzic, an expert on the sculptural remains of Libya who cooperates with law enforcement authorities on identifying plundered objects from Shahat (Cyrene), Susa (Apollonia), Tocra (Taucheira), Tulmaytha (Ptolemais), and Benghazi (Euesperides/Berenike).  While working on his PhD, Belzic noted a correlation between the increasing destruction of funerary monuments in Libya and the appearance of ancient pieces on the market statistically out of range with those appearing prior to the country's unrest.

Image Credit:  HSI-ICE
This fragmented head of a veiled woman is the the first identification from Belzic's research into illicit trafficking to be returned from the United States.  In a conversation with Belzic, he in turn credited US art historian and archaeologist Susan Kane, of Oberlin College, Ohio, and the Department of Antiquities (DoA) of Libya for their own critical roles in making this recovery possible.

According to an HSI Cultural property report, the object had made its way into the United States via a Dubai-based antiquities dealer to a collector in Queens, NY following an investigation which began in 2008 identifying objects from various nations sold to major museums, galleries and art houses in New York City.  As a result of this investigation several key players in a transnational criminal organization engaging in the illicit trafficking of cultural antiquities were identified.

Anyone with information about the illicit distribution of cultural property within and the illegal trafficking of artwork within the United States are urged to call ICE at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete the online tip form.

November 30, 2016

Auction Alert I: Ancient Palmyran Limestone Head Ca. 3rd-5th century A.D.?



Two different online auction websites, Live Auctioneers and Invaluable each have "sold" a listing for the same Palmyrene limestone funerary bust.  The object on offer was sold November 29th through Palmyra Heritage Gallery in New York City with a closing bid of USD $3,900.

As some of ARCA's readers may recall from an earlier blog post, Palmyra Heritage Gallery is operated by Mousa Khouli who also uses the Americanized name of Morris. Khouli has dealt in antiquities and ancient coins in the New York area for quite some time and has operated his business as both Windsor Antiquities and Palmyra Heritage. His ancient wares have been found on vCoin previously and are currently offered on the online auction powerhouse website eBay using a seller profile called:
palmyraheritagemorriskhouligallery. 

As detailed in that earlier ARCA blog post, involving another potentially suspect object, Khouli moved to New York City with his family from Syria in 1992. Once in America he opened a gallery specializing in objects from the ancient world in 1995. His father had a gallery in Damascus, Syria for 35 years and his grandfather too worked in the art and antiquities trade, meaning that he should likely be well-versed in the legalities of trading in objects from the ancient world.


But knowing the law and abiding by the law, are two different things. 

In 2008 and 2009 Khouli arranged for the purchase and smuggling of a series of Egyptian antiquities, exported from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and then smuggled into the United States under false declarations to the US Customs authorities concerning the country of origin and the value of the antiquities. The illicit objects included a set of Egyptian funerary boats, a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, a three-part nesting coffin set, which, according to its hieroglyphics, may have belonged to “Shesepamuntayesher” from the Saite period or 26th Dynasty, and several Egyptian limestone figurines. The contents on the shipping labels and customs paperwork supplied for the imported items were intentionally mislabeled as “antiques,” “wood panels,” and a “wooden painted box.” 

Cultural Property Attorney Rick St. Hilaire, who followed the court case against Khouli and other defendants throughout the federal proceedings, reported in April 2012 that the antiquities dealer/numismatist pled guilty to smuggling Egyptian cultural property into the United States and to making a false statement to law enforcement authorities. In November of the same year United States Senior District Judge Edward R. Korman departed from the federal sentencing guidelines and sentenced Khouli to a relatively light sentence for his misdeeds: six months home confinement, one-year probation, 200 hours of community service, and a criminal monetary assessment of $200. 

Yet looking at the documentation for Khouli's recent auction of the Palmyrene limestone funerary sculpture also raises some questions. At the time of the 2008-09 conviction Khouli provided the purchasing collector with false provenance for the trafficked Egyptian antiquities; documents which stated that the objects were part of a private collection that his father had assembled in Israel in the 1960s.

Under the listing for the Palmyrene limestone funerary bust both websites list: "Private NYC Collection acquired From Israel 10-03-2011 with original Export License from Israel" for the object's provenance.  Along with the written detail, each auction included a reassuring photo for the would-be bidder, a rumpled document written in Hebrew and English that states that the object had been exported from Israel through Sami Taha, an antiquarian and numismatist whose website states he is "serving Jerusalem and the world's market for antiquities from the Holy Land by authority of the Israel Antiquities Authority."

Sami Taha's business is operated with the following details:
Twitter Profile: @BiblicalArtifas
eBay Seller Profile: biblicalartifacts.jerusalem

Until August 2016 he listed himself as an authorised Antiquities Dealer, License No.144 *
Ancient Art of the Holy Land
45 Jaffa Gate, opposite David Citadel entrance
PO Box. 14646
Jerusalem 9114601, Israel
The physical location for his shop has since closed though he is still selling actively on the web. 

* Note:  No copy of this dealer's Israeli Antiquities Authority license has been provided on Taha's website.

If the provenance document provided during the sale for this limestone funerary bust is to be believed, the object was shipped from Israel to a collector in Europe. Interestingly the name listed as the importer,  also shows up on other antiquities traceable to Khouli as the collector listed in the provenance of at least three objects being sold or which have sold through various online auction websites, making these objects equally questionable. 

But what does an Israeli export authorization form actually look like?

Below is an example of an authentic Israeli-issued IAA export approval document issued in 2011 (below left). The document next to it is the one provided by Khouli for the Palmyra bust (below right).


Notice that the documentation provided for the purported Syrian object does not identify the export authority in the header, nor is it rubber-stamped or signed.

But why didn't the limestone funerary bust, allegedly from Palmyra, have any documentation from its country of origin, Syria?

Probably because there isn't any.   The general export of antiquities is altogether banned in Syria in all but the rarest of circumstances and the country's cultural heritage is protected by numerous national laws.  A review of the ICOM red list for Syria shows that authentic funerary busts from Palmyra would likely be classified as a movable antiquity, considered immovable in cases where they are parts or decorations of immovable antiquities (such as gravesites) and covered under the following national rulings:

Decree-Law No. 84 of the Civil Code regarding archaeological objects
covered by specific laws - 18 May 1949

Legislative Decree No. 148 of the Penal Code regarding the destructions
of historical monuments - 22 May 1949

Legislative Decree No. 222 on the Antiquities regime in Syria - 26 October 1963, as amended by the Antiquities Law - 5 April 1999
NOTE: Legislative Decree No. 222 encompasses previous national legislation
regarding the protection of cultural heritage:
Legislative Decree No. 295 - 2 December 1969
Legislative Decree No. 296 - 2 December 1969
Legislative Decree No. 333 - 23 December 1969

Law No. 38 on Customs - 6 July 2006

Decree-Law No. 107 regarding local administration - 23 August 2011

Article 69 of the Syrian Antiquities Law specifically provides that an export license may only be granted with regard to antiquities that are to be exchanged with museums and other scientific institutions, and with regard to antiquities given to an organization or mission after excavations are finished.  Neither of these circumstances appear to be the case with the auctioned funerary bust, making the fact that the object has no other substantiating paperwork, prior to 1963, all the more suspicious.

So if the object is authentic, then who moved the bust from Syria to New York, and how and is it authentic? 

ArchaeologyIN (The Archaeology Information Network) has notified Walid Al-Asad, the former director of antiquities and museums in Palmyra on 28 November about the object's upcoming sale and Al-Asad stated that at first glance the auction photo appears to meet the artistic specifications of a Palmyrene limestone funerary bust.  On this basis, ArchaeologyIN formally notified Dr. Maamoun Abdulkarim, Director General, Directorate General of Antiquities & Museums (DGAM) in Syria of the potentially suspicious item.

Questioning its entry into the United States on the basis of the material supplied by the seller, ARCA in turn contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New York about its concerns regarding the object's limited import/export paperwork and the bust's purported export provenance from Israel via possibly Oslo.

But small organizations and understaffed source countries, acting alone or in cooperation, cannot tackle all of the triangulations between looters, smugglers, dealers and potential buyers. Without the active support of the art collecting community itself, the problem of illicit trafficking will always be a catch me if you can game of cat and mouse.

The appearance of paperwork, should never replace a buyer's own due diligence.

If crafty antiquities dealers can write anything they want about an object's collecting history when promoting their wares for an auction listing then it's ultimately up to the individual collector/buyer to do their own homework before ethically committing to the purchase ancient art.  This is all the more true of antiquities whose purported origins are from conflict-ridden war zones such as Palmyra.

The antiquities dealer says he has an export license?  Do you, as the potential buyer, know what type of actual import and export documentation an ancient object would need to have to have legally passed out of the object's source country and into the hands of the seller in the dealer's destination country?  Do you as a collector know enough about the heritage protection laws in the country where the object originates to make sure what you are purchasing isn't contributing to a country's instability?

As a morally principled art buyer, who are you are entrusting your purchase to? Do you know the background and ethics of the antiquities dealer you are purchasing an object from?  Has that person been involved in dishonest trading in the past?   Have they falsified documentation previously in furtherance of laundering illicit objects through the licit market either for greed or to satisfy collector's demands?

As a buyer, investing in ancient art, the antiquities collector has the right, but also the responsibility, to ask to see all export documentation and to verify that the object's provenance claims are true, before any money changes hands.

Ethical antiquities dealer with a clean object should have no problem with the close scrutiny.  If they do, or if the deal seems too good to be true, then it most likely is.

For more information on this particular dealer's past history ARCA recommends the following Dr. David Gill's Looting Matters posts as well as the comprehensive federal case reporting of Rick St. Hilaire which can be found here. 

By: Lynda Albertson

November 7, 2016

Repatriation: 14th century illuminated manuscript


After reviewing photographic documentation provided by Italian authorities, the Cleveland Museum of Art has voluntarily transferred a 14th-century manuscript folio (leaf) from an Italian Antiphonary to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division for its eventual return to Tuscany. 

An antiphonary is a book intended for use by a liturgical choir.  This particular looted page was sliced out of a seven-page songbook that originally belonged to the Church of Saints Ippolito and Biagio of Castelfiorentino.  Its sister pages are preserved at the Museum of Santa Verdiana south west of Florence. The page is believed to have been removed from the antiphonary sometime between 1933 and 1952 when the work was purchased by the museum. 

The antifonary, measures 44.3 x 35.2 cm and is believed to have been created by an artist known as the Master of Dominican Effigies, an important illuminator whose exact name, until now, is unknown.  The illuminated parchment hymnal was produced sometime between 1335 and 1345.  The foglio page being returned has illustrations in ink and tempera and is embellished with gold leafing. 

According to the Cleveland Museum of Art, the foglio was attributed to another illustrator at the time of its purchase.  Curators at the museum became suspicious when a second attributable page from the same antiphonary came up for sale on the Swiss art market. US and Italian law enforcement authorities were notified and an investigation was initiated which has led to this eventual return. 

Collecting single leaves from Medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts while quite in vogue, are activities collectors should approach with a lot of caution and healthy doses of due diligence.  While there has been a historic tradition of biblioclasts, or book breakers — someone who breaks up books and manuscripts for the illustrations or illuminations, there are also way too many instances of more recent thefts commited by individuals with access to little used historic texts who have helped themselves to more than a page or two, creating collection histories to cover their tracks.  

Pier Luigi Cimma and Franca Gatto, two professors who participated in a 1990 inventory of Italian church archives were known to have cut pages from several manuscripts, most of which they sold to a bookseller in Turin, Italy. Thanks to the city of Monza's squad from the Nucleo dei Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, several of these were recovered from Sotheby’s in London. 

September 30, 2015

Highlights from “Conflict Antiquities: Forging a Public/Private Response to Save Iraq and Syria's Endangered Cultural Heritage”


In an awareness raising initiative to highlight the ongoing upheaval and destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria, the Metropolitan Museum and the US State Department jointly held an event yesterday titled, “Conflict Antiquities: Forging a Public/Private Response to Save Iraq and Syria's Endangered Cultural Heritage” in New York City.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted one example of a looted and not destroyed antiquity that is known to have passed through the hands of ISIS operatives.  The object, a 9th century B.C.E: ivory plaque, decorated with a procession of Assyrian officials and foreign tributaries was excavated at the ancient Assyrian capital of Nimrud by a team from the British Museum in 1989.  The plaque was recovered by U.S. special operations forces during a tactical raid that killed a key ISIS commander, identified by his nom de guerre Abu Sayyaf, last May in al-Omar in eastern Syria.

This ancient object is known to have been looted from the Mosul Museum (Iraq) and underscores what many following illicit antiquities trafficking have already concluded, that the Islamic State not only destroys objects it find religiously offensive or useful for its public propaganda but also has been known to plunder antiquities for some level of financial gain or as war booty when opportunity knocks. 

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Keller added that "newly declassified evidence" seized when American Delta Force commandos took out Abu Sayyaf and twelve other Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters included receipts collecting taxes from looters as well as written edicts that threatened punishment for those caught looting antiquities without formal Islamic State permission. 

While some of this information appears to be newly declassified, conflict antiquities archaeologist Dr. Sam Hardy released a lengthy analysis of the heritage hoard seized during the Abu Sayyaf raid when details of the cache were released by the State Department in July 2015.  That analysis has been available for two months and can be reviewed here.  

Robert A. Hartung, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Diplomatic Affairs announced a new initiative within their "Rewards for Justice" program,  an incentive established by the 1984 Act to Combat International Terrorism, Public Law 98-533.   The program is administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and announced yesterday that they are set to 


Hartuung emphasized that the Rewards for Justice incentive is not a buyback program, but reward for help in identifying and catching smugglers linked to ISIS.  At present this reward appears to be restricted solely to the Islamic State and does not appear to be not available for information leading to the disruption of the sale of illicit antiquities by other armed groups or other non political traffickers profiting from the absence of controls during the ongoing war.

Another panel discussion highlighted the work of the US government-sponsored organisation currently tasked with ground-based observations of cultural heritage incidents in Syria and Iraq. Michael Danti, from the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), who’s group has just been allocated a second tranche of federal funding totalling $900,000 in an extension to their previous $600,000 one-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State spoke on his organization's work continues to document the current condition of cultural heritage sites in Syria and portions of Iraq.   While useful in its own right, ASOR's federally-funded initiative often draws upon the research and analysis of other conflict antiquities researchers, some of whom consistently work below the funding radar, within this sector of expertise on a voluntary basis and without the benefit of funding from governmental or academic bodies. 

Wolfgang Weber, ‎Head of Global Regulatory Policy at eBay, spoke about the due diligence of the web-based auction powerhouse that handles 800 million online auctions a year.  Sales of illicit objects online are a known and ongoing problem where illicit antiquities are concerned and attempts to prevent such illegal activity via large auction sites such as eBay are a work in progress.  Judging from their ability to monitor other areas of illicit activity, many believe that eBay's efforts in policing their online marketplace have largely been ineffective or fallen short of desirable outcomes. 

Weber's presence on the panel underscores that the internet is being harnessed to provide valuable tools for traffickers, who exploit weaknesses in online marketplaces, making the illicit trafficking of cultural property faster, easier and ever more difficult for authorities to fight.

During his presentation Weber stated that his team's task is to identify illegal items & remove them from the online marketplace but he added that eBay does not have the capacity to check individual items, only their sales conduit.  This means that the auction site's contribution to stopping illegal sales is limited to preventing sellers from listing items of concern or in some cases removing listings before a sale can be made.  

eBay relies heavily on key word searches and external reports by individuals who inform the company when an object has been identified which is of dubious origin or legality.  Private citizens and researchers connected to small NGOs are hampered from stopping the online trafficking of items as they can only flag up what’s known to be illegal or looks that way to eBay. Those monitoring the online auction site cannot procure hard evidence by buying the actual contraband as they would then be in violation of national and international laws and treaties themselves. 

Lev Kubiak, ICE Assistant Director for International Operations spoke on US Immigration and Customs Enforcements roll in cultural property, art and antiquities investigations highlighting their 
"Operation Mummy’s Curse,” a five-year investigation carried out by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that targeting an international criminal network that illegally smuggled and imported more than 7,000 cultural items from around the world and resulted in at least two convictions. 

Sharon Cott, Senior Vice President, Secretary & General Counsel at the Metropolitan Museum, spoke in support of AAMD member museums who apply ethical principles to safeguard against purchasing blood antiquities and to the roll of museums should play as safe havens for objects during times of unrest. 

Dr. Markus Hilgert, a professor of ancient Near-Eastern studies and Director of the Vorderasiatisches Museum im Pergamonmuseum - Staatliche Museen zu Berlin spoke about his newly funded trans-disciplinary research project on the illicit trade, ILLICID, with partners in customs and law enforcement, the German Federal Foreign Office, Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media, German Commission for UNESCO and ICOM. The ILLICID project is financed via the German Federal Ministry for Education.

Hilgert stressed the need to identify and develop criminological methods for in-depth analysis of illicit trafficking, stressing the need for more information on object types, turnover, networks, and various modus operandi.  He further underscored the need to adequately assess the various dimensions of money laundering and terrorist financing that may be being derived from heritage trafficking.  In conclusion he emphasized that trafficking is the number one threat to the world's cultural patrimony - more than destruction. 

ARCA would like to thank all those who were present in the room and who live-tweeted the conference and took detailed notes allowing those of us in Europe to listen in, even if it was way past our bedtimes.

A list of those folks who lent a hand are:
@cwjones89
@vagabondslog
@keridouglas
@AWOL_tweets
@mokersel
@adreinhard
@mokersel
@HeritageAtState
@ChasingAphrodit
@metmuseum
@jstpwalsh
@LarryCoben
@InventorLogan

There was a lot of ground covered and more still that needs to be covered.

by Lynda Albertson

July 17, 2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - ,, No comments

Spotlight on Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations and Repatriations

By Colette Loll Marvin

On July 12th, I attended a cultural repatriation ceremony at the Embassy of Peru in Washington, DC. The ceremony was conducted in order for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to formally return to the government of Peru 14 stolen and looted cultural paintings and artifact. The items were recovered in 5 separate investigations by special agents of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Returned to the people of Peru were 9 beautiful 18th century religious paintings from the Cusco region of Peru, a Spanish colonial silver and gilt enamel monstrance from the 1700’s that was stolen from a church altar, and 4 archeological items that date back more than 2,000 years. The return of these items was the culmination of a year’s long investigative effort by ICE special agents, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Interpol, and the State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center.

Participating in the repatriation ceremony were ICE Director John Morton, Peruvian Ambassador to the United States Harold Forsyth, and U.S. Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

“The plundering of cultural property is one of the oldest forms of organized cross-border crime and has become a world-wide phenomenon that transcends frontiers” said ICE Director John Morton. He then added, “Why do we care about cultural heritage crimes when we could be chasing drug smugglers, human traffickers and gang members? If we ignore these crimes, we debase our past.”

“This repatriation is an example of what can be accomplished when law enforcement partners and government leaders from around the world work together in pursuit of a common goal” said Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

Because of the proactive and thorough investigative and undercover work by special agents, these items were able to be returned to their country of origin. Several were up for auction at a Christies, some were being sold at numerous galleries, and still others were offered for sale on EBay. HSI investigations revealed that all of these objects were taken out of Peru in violation of Peruvian law and brought into the U.S. in violation of U.S. Customs law and regulations. Specifically, the items had been removed in violation of a U.S.--Peru bi-lateral agreement negotiated by the U.S. Department of State and enacted in 1997, which restricts the importation of pre-Columbian artifacts and colonial-era religious objects into the United States without proper documentation.

Federal importation laws give HSI the authority to take a leading role in investigating crimes involving the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property and art. Customs laws allow HSI to seize cultural property and art brought into the United States illegally, especially when objects have been reported lost or stolen.

ICE agents bring valuable artworks into the Peruvian Embassy ICE agents inspect works that are intended for repatriation