Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts

July 8, 2018

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


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

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

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

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

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




July 6, 2018

More details on Operation Demetra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Veres

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

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

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

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

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 4, 2018

Operation Demetra: The Trafficking of Sicilian Archaeological Treasures

Image Credit: Carabinieri TPC

Updated 13:00 GMT+1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are:

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

By:  Lynda Albertson

March 25, 2018

Museum Theft: Museo del Sannio - Benevento, Italy


Italian authorities have announced a theft from the Museo del Sannio in Benevento, Italy. The theft appears to have occurred around 2:00 am early Wednesday morning, March 22, 2018.  According to initial reports, an alarm activated, triggered by the opening of the emergency exit door overlooking Piazza Arechi, in front of the Conservatory but as no signs of burglary or break-in were found at the time of its sounding, the incident was misinterpreted as a false alarm. 

The museum detected the theft the following afternoon, when personnel, reviewing the miss-read false alarm,  discovered broken pottery fragments scattered on the ground in the vicinity of a museum storage area located in the building off Piazza Santa Sofia.  Perhaps spooked when the alarm sounded, the group of thieves left behind an already packed container, where they had placed other objects they intended to remove and in their hasty departure apparently knocked over and damaged more than a dozen other pieces stored in the same depot. 

The Head of the Museum Management of the Province of Benevento, Gabriella Gomma, has handed over a preliminary inventory of objects stolen to the State Police authorities in Benevento and a comprehensive list should be completed by Monday, April 26.  Initial reports indicate that some of the twenty vases already identified as missing include archaeological finds dating back to the Hellenistic period ( 323 - 31 BCE).  

March 2, 2018

Repatriations - a 17th century Italianate landscape and a first century CE marble sculpture depicting Aphrodite

Two months into the new year brings with it two significant repatriations for objects stolen in Italy and illegally transferred for sale on foreign art markets.  Both artworks, an oil painting and a marble statue, were discovered during auction sales, despite having been stolen in Italy. 

This week a 17th century Italianate landscape, attributed to either Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691-1765) or Andrea Locatelli (1695-1741), has made its way home to Italy.  

Donated in 1892 by the Italian noble Torlonia family, the oil painting was stolen on January 1, 1994.  In November 2017 the artwork was identified by the Italian authorities when it came up for sale at a London auction house. Its starting bid: 40.000 GBP.

At some point the painting appears to have passed through the hands of the Roman branch of the London auction house, before being transferred to London for sale.  Under Italy’s Cultural Heritage Code any artwork created more than fifty years ago (i.e. before 1947 in this case) by a deceased artist requires an export licence in order to be exported.  No information has been released by the Italian authorities as to if the consigner provided the auction house with such a document and if so, if that document was valid or fabricated.  

After this week's press conference, the painting will be returned to the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism and reintegrated into the collection of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica where it will go on display at either the the Palazzo Barberini or the Palazzo Corsini. 


One month earlier, on January 30, 2018 the Carabinieri reported that a first century CE marble sculpture depicting the torso of the goddess Aphrodite had also been repatriated to Italy.  This marble statue, with an estimated value of €300.000 had been stolen in 2011 from the University of Foggia and was identified by Italy's Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale for sale in Munich Germany in 2013. 

In the scope of a lengthy investigation, Italian and German authorities identified identified an organized smuggling ring, operating between Italy and Germany, where looted antiquities plundarded from Italy passed from the hands of a looter, through a  middleman, who carried out the deliveries abroad, on to the individual in Germany who sold objects to collectors interested in antiquities in Germany. 

In 2016, when those involved in this trafficking operation were taken into custody, more than 2,500 objects were seized which had not yet made their way to Germany.   The statue of Aphrodite, was returned to Italy via international letters rogatory and with cooperation from the German authorities as well as the Public Prosecutor's Office of Rome. 


Museum Theft: Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza - Faenza, Italy

Vestibule, Maestro of Faenza Sec. XIII
Crucifixion and descent into limbo
panel painting, 35x28 cm.  + frame 15 cm., N. inv. 98
Image Credit: Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza
Discovered missing on Thursday morning, March 01, 2018, a small panel painting, dating back to the 1200s attributed to the Maestro of Faenza has been reported stolen from the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza.

The oldest Museum in Faenza, established in 1797, when the municipality purchased Giuseppe Zauli's art collection, the Pinacoteca's core collection centers on paintings and sculptures from the 13th to the 18th century. The stolen panel painting, attributed to the Maestro of Faenza, depicts two scenes, the crucifixion of Christ on the top portion of the panel and his descent into limbo on the bottom.  The framed panel had been on public display in the Hall of the Vestibule, where it was hung to the left of the Crocefisso del Maestro Francescano in Gallery 6. 

According to a televised report given by Claudio Casadio, the director of the Pinacoteca, the theft was discovered during a morning walkthrough by personnel on Monday who discovered the empty frame and backboard mounting discarded in the gallery where the artwork had been hung.  


Given the panel painting's small size, the artwork may have been hidden under  the thief's winter clothing at some point during museum opening hours though the date of the theft itself still unclear. 


This is the third theft of sacred art in Italy to have occured in a one week period.  All three thefts have occured in the region of Emilia-Romagna. 

During an early morning religious service at the Chiesa del Suffragio in Rimini a thief or thieves stole the crown and veil of a Madonna, Our Lady of Sorrows,  a statue dating back to the 1700s from the Church’s main nave.  The theft apparently occurred while mass was taking place in a smaller adjoining side chapel. 

An almost identical theft took also was carried out at the Cathedral of Cervia,  in the province of Ravenna, where the crown adorning a statue of Our Lady of Fire also disappeared.

Two of these thefts, the one in Faenza and Cervia both occurred in the province of Ravenna.  The third theft in Rimini occured in a coastal town in the same region (Emilia-Romagna). 

Director Claudio Casadio, the director of the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza believes the theft from his museum gallery is indisputably a theft to order, given the object is well documented in public records and would be unsellable on the licit art market. If his assumption is correct, and coupled with these other two thefts, the string of the events seem to illustrate an interesting organizational structure to a coordinated series of thefts, likely committed to sustain the black market for religious art.

The theft is being investigated by the Carabinieri. 

January 31, 2018

The Manhattan District Attorney's office has removed an ancient wall fresco fragment from the residence of Michael Steinhardt

Image Credit:  Manhattan District Attorney's Office, New York
The Manhattan District Attorney's office has confirmed that they have taken custody of a second object from the New York City residence of Michael Steinhardt located during their earlier January 24, 2018 warrant execution.

The seizure warrant for the removal of these both objects states that the described property constitutes evidence, and tends to demonstrate, that the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in First Degree – NY Penal Law 165.54 was committed, e.g. the possession of stolen or illicitly trafficked antiquities.

Those convicted of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in First Degree face a mandatory minimum sentence of one to three years and a maximum sentence of up to eight and one third to twenty five years in state prison.

The second object seized on January 24th is a Roman frescoed panel of a mythological scene, believed to date to the first century CE.  Depicted at the top of this article, the fresco fragment illustrates the infant Hercules on the left, strangling a snake which has been sent by Hera to bring about his death.  Jove, the god of the sky and thunder, and king of the gods in Ancient Roman mythology, is depicted in the centre of the panel in the form of an eagle alight on top of a globe.  To their right is Amphitryon.

According to the New York warrant, the fresco fragment, likely a wall painting, is believed to have been purchased by Steinhardt in 1996 for approximately $600,000 USD.

A person is found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner, and when the value of the value of the stolen property exceeds $1,000,000. 

If charges are filed against Steinhardt under the New York Penal Law 165.54  this offense would be classified as a “B” non violent felony. Probation and community service are not options.

A copy of the public domain record for the January 24, 2018 Search Warrant at Michael Steinhardt's apartment filed with New York County relating to this case can be found in the case review file on ARCA's website here. 

January 24, 2018

Conference: Save the Date and Call for Presenters - the 2018 Amelia Conference

Conference Date:  
June 22-24, 2018
Abstract Submittal Deadline:  
March 30, 2018
Location: Amelia, Italy

In celebration of its 10th anniversary, ARCA will host its annual summer interdisciplinary art crime conference the weekend of June 22nd through June 24th this summer. 

Known as the Amelia Conference, the Association's weekend-long event aims to facilitate a critical appraisal of art crimes and the protection of art and cultural heritage and brings together researchers and academics, police, and individuals from many of the allied professions that interact with the art market, coming together to discuss issues of common concern. 

The Amelia Conference is held annually in the historic city of Amelia, in the heart of Italy's Umbria region where ARCA also plays host to its Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection and a joint ARCA-HARP Provenance Training course, “Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets.”

ARCA welcomes speaking proposals from individuals in relevant fields, including law, criminal justice, security, art history, conservation, archaeology, or museum security and risk management on the topical sessions listed here. We invite individuals interested in presenting to submit their topic of choice along with a presentation title, a concise 400-word abstract, a brief professional biography and a recent CV to the conference organizers at:

italy.conference [at] artcrimeresearch.org

Accepted presenters will be asked to limit their presentations to 15-20 minutes, and will be grouped together in thematically-organized panels in order to allow time for brief questions from the audience and fellow panelists.  

Registration

For more details on this event please watch the conference information page on the ARCA website where you can register and where a list of accepted speakers will be posted by April 07, 2018

We hope to see many of you in Amelia in June!

January 13, 2018

INTERPOL's Most Wanted stolen works of art lists

Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit

Every June and December, INTERPOL, the International Criminal Police Organization publishes a poster which highlights key works of art that the law enforcement organization designates as important stolen works of art taken in incidences which have been reported during the previous six months. 

Distributed via all INTERPOL NCBs (National Central Bureaus) biannually to law enforcement agencies worldwide and available to the interested public on the INTERPOL website, their ID tool raises awareness of specific works of art to be watching for.  


Since the publication of INTERPOL's first stolen works of art poster in June 1972, the organization has brought attention to 534 stolen objects; 51 of these  objects have been recovered. 

In addition to the biannual posters, INTERPOL sometimes publishes highlight posters designed to draw attention to serious multi-object thefts of substation value that occur at single locations.  

Recent examples of these include: 


Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit


Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit


Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit


Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit
While Ukrainian border guards recovered 17 of the stolen Old Master paintings worth $18.3 million from the Italian museum, other historical objects in Iraq and Syria are still missing. 

January 6, 2018

Diamonds are a thief's best friend: The stolen objects from Doge's Palace identified


The jewelry stolen during the Doge's Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale) robbery this week were modern compositions created by one of the foremost contemporary jewelry designers in the world.  Considered by some to be the world’s greatest living jeweller, the objects were created by the spectacularly gifted, Mumbai-based, artisan Viren Bhagat whose work has been characterised as a contemporary synthesis of traditional Mughal motifs and 1920s Cartier Art Deco.  

Bhagat comes from an artisan family who has been in the Indian jewelry business for more than one hundred years. He is one of only two contemporary jewelers, the second being Joel Arthur Rosenthal (JAR), whose works are included in Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani's extravagant collection of  more than 400 pieces of Indian jewelry and jeweled artifacts spanning four centuries. 

Bhagat produces only a small number of breathtaking pieces each year using only precious stones to stay true to the aesthetic of historic Indian jewelry.  Each of his designs are first pencil-sketched, then precisely produced.  All of his jewelry pieces are one of a kind originals and none of his jewelry is created on commission. 

What makes Bhagat popular with wealthy jewelry lovers worldwide (some 60 percent of his work is purchased outside of India) is his recognizably stylistic touches of western elegance in symmetry with eastern extravagance, making his pieces perfect for modern day maharajas.  

Given his recognition in the jewelry world some of his pieces reach well into seven figures. 

The pair of earrings stolen earlier this week from the Doge's Palace, pictured above, started with a simple, clear halo of asymmetrical flat-cut diamonds surrounding an eye-popping 30.2-carat nearly-colorless teardrop shape diamond mounted on a barely-there platinum setting.  


The stolen brooch-pendant features a 10.03-carat center diamond mined from the historic Golconda sultanate, surrounded by a double row of calibrated rubies and flat-cut diamond petals, the combination form the image of a Mogul lotus.  Below the centerpiece hangs a thirteen strand, proportioned tassel of diamond and ruby beads, a type of flourish occasionally found in Indian turban jewels. 

Described in the book Beyond Extravagance: A Royal Collection of Gems and Jewels, edited by Amin Jaffer, the former international director of Asian art at Christie’s, and current curator of the Al-Thani collection, the back of the brooch is said to be covered in pavé diamonds, echoing the extravagant Indian tradition of decorating the reverse side of jewelry as well as the front. Not your everyday Bollywood bling. 

NOTE:  The SCO - the Central Operations Service of the Police (Italian: Servizio Centrale Operativo) and the Scientific Police (Italian: Polizia Scientifica) will be assisting the investigators of the local Mobile Squad on this investigation. 

January 5, 2018

15 seconds to open, plus 5 seconds to pocket

That's how long it took a thief, in full view of CCTV security cameras, to open a glass display case while an accomplice stood lookout.

You can see the CCTV footage released by the authorities below.


In the CCTV camera footage a clean-shaven man wearing a hooded puffer jacket and casual pants, sporting a traditional coppola style flat cap, can be seen viewing the jewels in several display cases at a leisurely pace, along with five other individuals.  Nearby, one of the five, his accomplice, wearing a buttoned sweater and a fisherman's beanie also pretends to be enjoying the exhibition. 

Four of the individuals, two with hats and two without, leave the space viewable by the security camera in one group after only giving passing glances to the objects on display in the exhibition room.  The man with the fisherman's beanie remains, feigning interest in the objects on display before he too moves out of view of the camera's range, standing as a lookout.  

In the next frame of images, after purposely walking towards the middle display, we can see the thief warily working the lock mechanism on the alarmed display case, possibly with some type of burglary tool, though the view of how he unlocks its glass door is blocked by his back, out of view of the camera.  Opening the case takes only 15 seconds.

Glancing back over his shoulder before and after he gains access to the interior of the case, the culprit then reaches in and deftly grabs the brooch and earrings, placing them quickly in his right pocket in just five seconds.  He then closes the glass door on the case and exits in the same direction as the four earlier individuals. 

It is not very clear whether or not the four other individuals pictured in the CCTV  footage had any role in the event.  Nor is it unusual for patrons to wear hats in Italian museums during bouts of colder weather.  What is clear, though, is that hats used as disguises can be quickly removed and hooded puffer jackets can be flipped up or discarded with ease, allowing the thief and his accomplice to rapidly change their appearance, making them less identifiable.

This change-up can be seen in the footage stills taken of the two suspects.



In the top image, the lookout has donned a red puffer jacket which now covers or has replaced his earlier buttoned sweater.  


As the pair depart, the lookout exits with his hands stuffed in his pockets while the man who removed the objects from the case inside the Doge's Palace now has his hands free and appears to be talking on his cell phone. 

January 3, 2018

Museum Theft: Doge’s Palace - Venice, Italy


Shortly after 10 am this morning, on the last day of an exhibition at the Doge’s Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale), once the heart of the political life and public administration at the time of the Venetian Republic, jewel thieves broke into a display case and absconded with pieces of jewelry on temporary display in Venice.

Promoted by Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, the exhibition was curated by Amin Jaffer, Senior Curator of the private collection, and Gian Carlo Calza, a distinguished Italian scholar of East Asian art.  The exhibition, titled "Treasures of the Mughals and Maharaja" brought together 270+ pieces of Indian jewelry, covering four centuries of India's heritage, owned by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani, CEO of Qatar Investment & Projects Development Holding Company (QIPCO), the Qatari mega-holding company.  

Sheikh Al-Thani is the first cousin of Qatar's Emir, and began acquiring pieces for his now-extensive jewelry collection after visiting an exhibition of Indian art in 2009 at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.


Some of the bejeweled pieces on display at the Doge's Palace included encrusted jewelry with diamonds, rubies, jade, pearls and emeralds, once owned by India's great maharajas, nizams and emperors.  Founded by Babur after his conquest of much of Northern India, the pieces from the Mughal dynasty date from the early 16th century to the mid 18th century, one of India's most opulent eras in jewelry composition.  

Additional pieces from the collection were created during the politically chaotic 18th century and from the British Raj period in the 19th century and were produced to appeal to wealthy British travelers and India's upper caste.  The collector's more extravagant contemporary objects on display include a necklace commissioned in 1937 by Maharaja Digvijaysinhji of Nawanagar and made by Jacques Cartier, which is said to rival the ruby and diamond necklace of Empress Marie-Louise which is part of the Crown Jewels of France.

The Al-Thani collection brings together and regroups pieces from many former Indian treasuries, some of which emphasize beliefs of the period.

In India, the nine stones of the Navaratna (Sanskrit: नवरत्न) where nava stands for nine and ratna for jewel, are considered to be auspicious, and in Vedic texts and Indian Astrology were believed to have the power to protect the wearer.

These jewels are:

Blue sapphire (niilam)
Cat's Eye (vaidooryam)
Diamond (vajram)
Emerald (marathakam)
Hessonite (gomeda)
Pearl (muktaaphalam)
Red Coral (vidrumam)
Ruby (maanikyam)
Yellow sapphire (pushparajam)

Often the gems were set in pure gold, using a gemstone setting art form known as Kundan, a method of gem setting, that consist of inserting a gold foil between the stones which does not require soldering or claw mounts. 


Former V&A curator Dr. Amin Jaffer is said to have begun advising Sheik Hamad on his acquisitions, after becoming the international director of Asian art at Christie’s.  In 2017, after ten years with the auction house, Jaffer resigned to take the position of Chief Curator of the Al-Thani's collection.

Ripped from the pages of an Oceans 8 Hollywood Script

According to current reconstruction of the incident using cameras surveillance footage, two thieves, one serving as lookout and a second culprit who actively broke into a display case located in the Sala dello Scrutinio, quickly made off with one brooch and  a pair of earrings. As soon as the display case was breachedsounding an alarm, the pair deftly escaped through the crowded museum gallery, blending in among the patrons and were out of the museum before security could seal the museum's perimeter to apprehend them.

Exhibition Hall, Sala dello Scrutinio, Doge's Palace, Venice
Image Credit: Palazzo Ducale
Immediately after the theft, the Sala dello Scrutinio was closed pending a complete inventory and review of surveillance footage.   

At the present time, photographs of the pieces stolen during the robbery have not been released by the authorities or by Al-Thani. In a statement given by the Venice city police commissioner Vito Gagliardi, the stolen jewelry included diamonds, gold and platinum, had been assigned a customs value of just 30,000 euros ($36,084), but are likely worth “a few million euros.”  

Selling hot goods

While diamonds may be a girl's best friend, buying stolen gemstones is a serious crime.  Without a certificate of authenticity which proves a diamond adheres to the KCPS, or Kimberly Process Certification Scheme showing that the gem does not originate from a "blood zone" tainted by human rights abuses, finding a buyer who will purchase an unprovenanced jewel of skeptical origin can be difficult.

Individuals caught trading in stolen or "blood diamonds" face significant legal ramifications and buying unprovenanced jewels poses great economic risk for jewelers, pawn shops, diamond and gem traders and cutters, and anyone else who might come into contact with a newly stolen and possibly well documented stolen gemstone.

Even if the Venice gem thieves were able to successful sell their newly stolen loot, they will likely do so with only a modicum of success. While big-time professional jewel thieves may have black market connections that allow them to sell substantial pieces for hefty sums, most implus thieves have to settle for intermediary fences which pay nowhere near what the gems in the necklace may actually be worth, financially or historically.

By:  Lynda Albertson

November 17, 2017

A Sicilian Mafia Primer to Organized Crime Members with apparent ties to Gianfranco Becchina


This is a list of mafia-tied individuals and cooperating mafia-tied individuals authorities have stated have associations with, or who have directly implicated, Gianfranco Becchina for Cosa Nostra involvement. 

(Note:  This list is not complete and will be updated periodically as other names and details are released.)

Giovanni Brusca - Ex Capomafia of the San Giuseppe Jato family.  Incarcerated. Also known as "U' Verru" (in Sicilian) or Il Porco or Il Maiale, (In Italian: The Pig, The Swine) or lo scannacristiani (christian-slayer; in Italian dialects the word "christians" often stands in place of human beings). The information he provided regarding Becchina has not been made public though it appears to implicate Becchina with having had a relationship with  Francesco Messina Denaro and fencing of antiquities.

Calculating and violent, Brusca is known to have tortured the 11-year-old son of a mafia turncoat or pentito to get him to retract statements made to the authorities in connection to the Capaci massacre.  After holding the boy hostage for 26 months, he strangled the child and dissolved his body in acid.  Brusca  once stated that he had killed "between 100 and 200" people with his own hands but was unable to recall exactly how many murders he had participated in or ordered.

Brusca is also responsible for detonating 100 kilograms of TNT in 1992 under the highway between Palermo and the Punta Raisi airport in a bomb attack which murdered anti-Mafia magistrate and prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, Falcone's wife and five of his bodyguards. In 1993 Brusca mounted further bombing raids throughout mainland Italy hoping to intimidate politicians into reversing decrees for tougher jail regimes for incarcerated mafiosi. This wave of bombings in Florence, Milan and Rome left 10 people dead and injured 70 others.

Later, after his arrest, and through a series of strange accords, Brusca also turned informant, though much of his testimony has, at times, appeared to be self serving.  His testimony has afforded him controversial and exceptional treatment in direct contrast with his previous level of lethality. According to some of the testimony released, Messina Denaro was given the job of picking which paintings to target in the Florence bombing that ripped through a wing of the world famous Uffizi gallery because of his knowledge of art.    He is currently sentenced to life in prison.

Rosario Cascio - Mafia Associate to several bosses in multiple families including the fugitive Matteo Messina Denaro of the Castelvetrano family.  Incarcerated.  A Sicilian building magnate known as the "cashier of Cosa Nostra." At one time had a hit put out on him by mobster Angelo Siino only to have Matteo Messina Denaro intervene on his behalf.

Cascio managed the family's economic activities and sub-contracts, and monopolized the concrete market and the sale of and construction equipment.  Through these he steered public contracts towards mafia businesses and managed an extortion racket which imposed sub contracts and labor.  In 1991 Cascio became connected with Becchina's Atlas cements Ltd., and took over as reference shareholder and director.

Vincenzo Calcara - exMafia soldier of the Castelvetrano family and collaborator of justice. Former protege of Francesco Messina Denaro.  Previously involved in international drug trafficking and money laundering which purportedly implicated the Vatican bank.  Calcara was originally tasked to kill antimafia Judge Paolo Borsellino with a sniper rifle but was arrested before he could carry out the plot. Involved in the trafficking of weapons, drugs, and political corruption. Offered a place in the witness protection program but refused.  Later Cosa Nostra determined his whereabouts and threatened his wife if she didn't get him to stop talking to authorities.  In 1992 Calcara and Rosario Spatola incriminated Becchina for alleged association with the Campobello di Mazara and Castelvetrano clans implying that there was a gang affiliate active in Switzerland whose role was to excavate and sell ancient artefacts on the black market.

Lorenzo Cimarosa -  Mafia declarant and law enforcement collaborator. Deceased.  Died as the result of cancer while on house arrest. Cimarosa was married to a cousin of mob boss Matteo Messina Denaro. Cimarosa told authorities about a warning message Becchina received from the mob in January 2012.  In that incident, someone fired shots from a shotgun at Becchina's door and left an intimidating gift of flowers. Cimarosa told authorities that he had heard through Francesco Guttadauro, nephew of the boss of the Castelvetrano family, that the incident was ordered by Matteo Messina Denaro himself for non-delivery of payments.  Cimorosa indicated that between 70 and 80,000 euros were paid through Becchina regularly. After his death the site where Cimorasa was buried has subsequently vandalized, perhaps as a warning to his wife and son. 

Francesco Messina Denaro - Capo Mandamento of the Castelvetrano family.  Deceased.  Died in hiding in 1998 while a fugitive from justice.  Father to Matteo Messina Denaro who took over his father's enterprise.  Francesco, also known as Don Ciccio, headed up the Castelvetrano family from 1981 until 1998 and was a member of the Cupola (Mafia Commission) of the Trapani region from 1983 until his death in 1998.  He was a close ally to the Corleone faction led by Salvatore "Totò" Riina and Bernardo Provenzano.  Purportedly had ties to Becchina relating to the theft, looting, and laundering of antiquities. 

Matteo Messina Denaro - Boss of the Castelvetrano family. Also known as "Diabolik." Fugutive.  Solidified his position in the mafia following the arrests of two of his predecessors, Salvatore "Totò" Riina in 1993 and Bernardo Provenzano in 2006.  A fugitive since 1993, he has been convicted in absentia for the Sicilian mafia's bombing campaign in the early 1990s, which killed magistrates and bystanders in Sicily, Rome and Florence which killed ten people and injured 93 others.  He once boasted "I filled a cemetery all by myself." According to Giovanni Brusca, Matteo Messina Denaro was the facilitator of the 1993 Uffizi gallery bombing in Florence.  In that incident a Fiat car packed with 100kg of explosives detonated killing six people, and destroying three paintings - two by Bartolomeo Manfredi and one by the Gherardo delle Notti.  He was also implicated in the bombing of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.  Becchina allegedly passed envelopes of money to Denaro's brother in law and sister. Investigative seizures made by authorities in connection with this Cosa Nostra boss are so extensive it is hard to tell where the economy of western Sicily stops and Denaro’s mafia-controlled empire begins.  

Patrizia Messina Denaro - Sister of fugitive Boss and Capodonna representative of the Castelvetrano family.  Incarcerated.  Serving a 14 year and 6 months sentence for acting as stand in Capo Donna for her brother.  She was found guilty of being a full member of the Mafia and not an affiliate mafia. Several firms including an olive-oil company belonging to her and her husband were impounded and a number of bank accounts frozen.

Francesco Geraci - Mafia associate to Boss of Bosses Salvatore "Totò" Riina of of the Catania Family.  Incarcerated. There are two Cosa Nostra affiliates in custody with this same name.  One is the nephew and one is son of a deceased capomafia of the mafia family of Chiusa Sclafani.  It is unclear at this time which is cooperating with authorities. 

Giuseppe Grigoli - Mafia associate to the Castelvetrano family and law enforcement collaborator. Incarcerated. Also known as "Grigg." Former owner of a chain of Despar supermarkets in Sicily, convicted of being the entrepreneurial arm of fugitive Messina Denaro’s organisation using his retail and distribution group to launder Matteo Messina Denaro's cash.  Told the PM of the District Anti-Mafia Directorate of Palermo that between 1999 and 2006 he was given envelopes filled with money by Becchina which were to be delivered to Vincenzo Panicola, the husband of Matteo Messina Denaro's sister Patrizia Messina Denaro. These exchanges were said to have taken place in the former offices of 6Gdo, the distribution chain confiscated just at the time of his arrest. 

Concetto Mariano - Mafia Associate of the Cosa Nostra Marsala family and law enforcement collaborator. Incarcerated. Mariano began cooperating with justice officials two months after being arrested.  Implicated Becchina in a plot to steal and fence in Switzerland the bronze statue of the Dancing Satyr, attributed by scholars to Praxiteles housed at the Piazza Plebiscito Museum in Mazara del Vallo.

Vincenzo Panicola - Mafia associate. -Incarcerated.  Brother-in-Law of fugitive Castelvetrano boss, Matteo Messina Denaro. Husband of Patrizia Messina Denaro, sister of the boss.  Worked with mafia associate Mafia associate to the Castelvetrano family, Giuseppe Grigoli. Convicted in 2013 to ten years in prison. Several firms including an olive-oil company belonging to him and his wife were impounded and a number of bank accounts frozen.

Santo Sacco - Mafia associate - Incarcerated.  A former UIL trade unionist and city councillor for Castelvetrano, Sacco was  sentenced to 12 years for is affiliations with Matteo Messina Denaro in the control of various business activities, including alternative energy as well as activities in support of the families of mobsters incarcerated.  Wiretaps of conversations with Becchina show collusion towards vote fixing and influence peddling in support of the election campaigns of Giuseppe Marinello and Ludovico Corrao. 

Angelo Siino - Mafia associate to the San Giuseppe Jato family. Incarcerated.  Often referred to as Cosa Nostra's "ex-minister of public works".  A businessman who oversaw whose principal duties were to oversee mafia public sector affairs through the illegal acquisition of public work contracts. Siino would receive the lists of public contracts before they became publicised and through through threats and extortion, insure that these contracts would be awarded to mafia influence coalitions, thereby controlling the market for public contracts in Sicily.

Rosario Spatola - Law enforcement collaborator.  Deceased. A former drug dealer who passed information in the 1990s to Judge Paolo Borsellino on drug trafficking in Trapani area and the role of the clan led by Boss Francesco Messina Denaro.  Believed by some not to be a true member of Cosa Nostra as his father was a policeman making his membership void.  In 1992 Spatola and Vincenzo Calcara, incriminated Becchina for alleged association with the Campobello di Mazara and Castelvetrano clans implying that there was a gang affiliate active in Switzerland whose role was to excavate and sell ancient artefacts on the black market.  At the time much of his testimony was discounted as many were skeptical that he had actual knowledge or invented things to his own benefit.

For more details on this case please see the following to blog posts here and here

October 12, 2017

Recovered: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian....Stolen


Thirteen Roman-era marble columns, two pedestals, a funerary stele, architectural capitals, amphorae and vases have reportedly been recovered by Italian authorities from INSIDE a private residence in the Santa Teresa area of Anzio, approximately 50 km from Rome. 


Given their large size, many of the objects have been temporarily transported to the Museum Villa Adele at Anzio where the larger of them remain outside the museum near its entrance.

No indications, in initial public reports, state when this seizure occurred or in whose private villa the ancient objects were initially sequestered. The large size of the artifacts, which required heavy transport vehicles to deposit them at the entrance of the museum, leave more questions unanswered than answered.   how could objects this large be stolen and transported inside a private home without raising any alarm bells along the way?









October 6, 2017

Recovered: Antiquities, historic weaponry and a church relic that likely dates to Pope Innocent XI

Image Credit:   Guardia di Finanza
Today, Italy’s Guardia di Finanza unit in Foggia announced the recovery of a large stash of antiquities, antique weaponry and religious art and relics. 

Image Credit:   Guardia di Finanza
In two separate raids between Cerignola and the provincial capital of Foggia GdF officers have recovered 350 archaeological objects including votive statues, two volute craters decorated with moulded Medusa head handles, an impressive quantity of gnathia vases, attic pottery, painted plates, pouring vessels, and ancient jewelry decorated with gold, stone and bronze elements.  

Image Credit:   Guardia di Finanza
According to the superintendence who evaluated the finds, some of the ancient objects likely plundered  from a Roman or Samnite tomb, possibly that of a soldier.

In addition to the antiquities officers recovered a canvas painting taken a few years back from the rural church of Palazzo d'Ascoli in the countryside of Ascoli Satriano, in the province of Foggia and what appears to be slipper, attached with a note proclaiming it belonged to the Blessed Pope Innocent XI (1611-1689).

Image Credit:   Guardia di Finanza
Also recovered were a group of antique firearms dating back to 1600 -1800, as well as modern weaponry. 

Image Credit:   Guardia di Finanza
Two individuals, a 48-year old from Orta Nova and a 61 year old from Cerignola have been taken into custody by the financial police of the provincial command of Foggia charged with illegal possession of weapons, stolen goods and violations of the rules on the protection of cultural heritage.  The latter individual, an attorney, has been released for the present time.