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

November 28, 2018

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - ,,,, No comments

Recovered: "Portrait of Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti" stolen 32 years ago from Palazzo Chigi

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TPC
The team of the Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (TPC) in Palermo, under the command of Magg. Luigi Mancuso, has proven once again that patience makes perfect when it comes to the recovery of stolen art.  While the squad has not yet recovered the Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence, the Caravaggio masterpiece stolen in 1969, they have recovered a painting from the 1600s stolen thirty-two years ago.  

The painting, an oil on canvas, is a portrait of Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti (1649-1718), wife of marchese Cesare Baldinotti, and was taken from Palazzo Chigi, a historic building in the historic center of Ariccia, in the province of Rome. The artwork was identified during a series of investigations as well as a crosscheck of records within the Carabinieri Leonardo Stolen Art database and was found to be part of the inventory of an antiques dealer in Palermo. 

Questioned by law enforcement, the antiquarian gave an implausible answer as to how and where he had acquired the works and when pressed for proof of ownership was unable to substantiate legitimate his ownership or how how he came to be in possession of the oil painting.  

During their investigations the Carabinieri squad in Sicily also identified a second individual, from Marsala, who along with the antiquarian has been referred to the Public Prosecutor's Office at the Court of Palermo for receiving stolen goods.


While the press release from the Carabinieri have not listed the name of the artist who painted the portrait the oil painting appears strikingly similar to another portrait of the Marchioness Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti attributed to Jacob Ferdinand Voet, a Flemish portrait painter from the Baroque period who is known for his portraits. He had an international career, which brought him to Italy and France where he made portraits for an elite.

Image Credit:
Screen Capture Sotheby's website
29 Nov 2018
After training in Paris, he spent much time in Rome, then Florence and Turin, before returning, first to Antwerp in 1684 and later in 1686, to Paris as a painter of the French court. The Marchioness was the daughter of Felice Angelo Ghezzi, the Duke of Carpignano and Baron Zullino. On April 17, 1667, she married the Marquis Cesare Baldinotti di Pistoia (1636-1728) who was the Duke of Pescorocchiano.

That version, which once belonged to architect, interior decorator and garden designer Giles Newby Vincent, was purchased by the architect in Paris in 2006 for €26,400, who then put the artwork up for auction in London at Bonham's in 2014 for between £20,000 and £30,000 but the painting went unsold. In 2016, it sold at auction in Paris at Sotheby's for €20,000.

Image Credit: Screen Capture Bonham's website 28 Nov 2018
As a painter Voet was highly sought after and had numerous followers and imitators, many who copied his style of portraiture of well bred ladies, those that made up the so-called galleria delle belle or cabinets des dames, which was  leitmotiv in the furnishing of noble residences during the seventeenth century when the artist was still alive.

October 29, 2018

Recovered: 26 years after its theft "San Carlo Borromeo in Contemplation"

Image Credit: https://www.ilcittadino.it

In a ceremony held at the San Pietro Apostolo in Cavenago d'Adda, Italy, parishioners celebrate the return of the 17th century painting "San Carlo Borromeo in Contemplation" by early Baroque artist Daniele Crespi.   Stolen twenty-six years ago, on February 5, 1992,  together with two other portraits, one of San Francesco d'Assisi and another of Sant'Anna, one of the three paintings has been recovered by officers from the Venice division of Italy's Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, under the supervision of Major Christian Costantini, commander. 

Focusing on thefts of works of art related to places of worship, the painting was found in September the possession of an individual living in Borso del Grappa (Treviso) accused of receiving stolen goods. 

This is not the first artwork by Daniele Crespi to have been stolen and recovered by the Carabinieri.

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TPC
The painting "Il Christo, Salvator Mundi" was stolen in between the 16th and the 17th of January 1989 from the private residence of an art collector in Castiglione Olona.  Recognised by the Carabinieri TPC in November 2011, the squad identified the stolen artwork from auction records at Sotheby's dating to 2004 in London.  After confirming with the painting's heirs that the artwork matched their stolen object and without valid export documentation. 


October 13, 2018

Restitution: Two Etruscan Objects returned to Italy from Great Britain

Image Credit:  ARCA From Left to Right - Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Britain's Minister of State for the Armed Forces Mark Lancaster, General of Army Corps Sabino Cavaliere, Commander of Mobile Units and Specialized Carabinieri 'Palidoro', Jill Morris, U.K. ambassador to Italy, and Detective Sergeant Rob Upham, chief of London's Metropolitan Police, Art & Antiques Squad.

In a formal ceremony on Thursday the 11th of October at the Villa Wolkonsky, the official residence of the British ambassador to Italy in Rome, UK authorities returned two Etruscan artifacts recovered by the Metropolitan Police in consultation with Italy's Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale.  Both objects had been located within the vibrant London antiquities market.  

The bronze Etruscan statuette of Lares had been stolen from the Museo Archeologico di Siena in 1988.  According to Detective Sergeant Rob Upham, on hand for the handover from New Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit, the terracotta Etruscan askos (a flask with spout and handle shaped like a sphinx), had once passed through the inventory of a convicted Italian ancient art dealer.   Elaborating to the press Upham added that the seller of the object in the UK appeared to be in good faith and therefore was treated as a cooperating witness during the Metropolitan police investigation. 

Image Credit:  ARCA Objects restituted
from the UK to Italy
To further the culture of legality in the field of protection of cultural heritage, and to highlight the UK's ongoing cooperation with their Italian counterparts, British Ambassador to Italy, Jill Morris CMG opened Villa Wolkonsky for the restitution ceremony highlighting the importance of recovery operations and welcoming experts from Italy and the UK in the fields of heritage protection and military cooperation.  Alongside the two restitutions Ambassador Morris and her staff arranged for an exhibition of stolen objects recovered by the Italy's art crime Carabinieri and an informative interactive display of many promising technological tools, made possible by advances in geophysics and remote sensing, which are now being used to assist in the protection of cultural heritage.  

Underpinning the event, was an afternoon heritage symposium titled  'UK-Italy: Partners for Culture' which served to underscore the embassy's commitment to the cultural partnerships established between Italy and the United Kingdom and which was facilitated through the combined efforts of the British Embassy in Rome, the British military, the British Council, the British School at Rome and the British Institute of Florence.   

Recovered objects presented in the exhibition highlighted several of the Carabinieri's significant recovery actions.  Three of which were:

A Violin made in 1567 by Cremonese violin maker Andrea Amati created to celebrate the investiture of King Charles IX of France.  The instrument was illegally exported from Italy in 2010 to the United States.


A I-II century CE limestone Palmyrene funerary relief, plundered from a hypogeum located at the archaeological site of Palmyra in Syria.  This stele was recovered from of an individual in Turin following investigations by the Italian authorities into the illicit trafficking of archaeological assets from the Middle East.  

Each of the historic objects selected for Thursday's exhibition provided attendees with a narrative fulcrum of the pervasiveness and diversity of threats against heritage and the importance of preserving the delicate balance that exists between admiring and preserving the the past through connoisseurship and collecting and the loss of historical context when objects are stolen or looted.

On hand for the event, UK Minister for the Armed Forces, Mark Lancaster, announced that his country's Army-led Cultural Property Protection Unit (CPPU) has now been fully established as part of the UK Government’s implementation of the Hague Convention.  This instrument places obligations on signatory country's armed forces for the protection of cultural property from damage, destruction, and looting.  Minister Lancaster also reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to the Statement of Intent signed earlier this year which furthers defence and security cooperation between Italy and the United Kingdom on a wide range of security challenges.

Speaking on behalf of the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli highlighted the successes of his country's team since the founding of ‘Carabinieri’ Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in 1969.  Since its creation, the branch of the Italian Carabinieri responsible for combatting art and antiquities crimes has recovered more than 797,000 works of art and confiscated 1,096,747 archaeological finds.  The tenacious efforts of the unit's personnel in deterring the global clandestine market of antiquities, in collaboration with police, military forces and judicial authorities of others countries, serves as the gold standard military police model for addressing the far-reaching, multiform and pernicious problem of illicit trafficking and art theft, both nationally and transnationally. 

General Parrulli also emphasized Italy's ‘Unite4Heritage’ (Blue Helmets for culture) project, which was approved unanimously by UNESCO, as a division available and trained, to be used as needed both inside and outside Italy, for the protection of the cultural heritage in the event of natural disasters, armed conflicts or an international crisis at the request of the UN, UNESCO or State Parties.  Composed of 30 Carabinieri, a commander, and heritage experts (archaeologists, art historians, computer engineers and geologists) from the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, this team has been put in place to  support local police forces in their efforts to prevent looting, plundering and trafficking of historical and artistic heritage, as well as in the recovery and protection of these assets in times of crisis.

Seventy years after the British Army last had officers in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives sections during the Second World War and following the UK's ratification of the Hague Convention (1954), which makes it an obligation for the Armed Forces to have a military CPP unit, Lt. Col. Tim Purbrick OBE VR will be the first to lead the UK's newly formed Cultural Property Protection Unit.  During his presentation Lt. Col. Purbrick stated that his unit will consist of 15 trained experts, drawing from members of the Army, Navy, RAF, and Royal Marines as well as civilian experts, brought on board as Army reservists.  His team is expected to work closely with their Italian counterparts to advance the UK's own international military expertise within the sector of cultural property protection. 

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TPC  -
Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander
of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the
Protection of Cultural Heritage and Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO

ARCA also was invited to give a presentation at the symposium on the Association's contributions to the research academic examination of art crimes as a notable criminological area worthy of more profound study.   Speaking simply as a watchful observer to some of the problems existing within the licit art market, Lynda Albertson's presentation touched some of the impediments to successful prosecution of heritage crimes as they relate to the transnational movement of illicit  cultural objects.  

During her presentation Ms. Albertson highlighted the multijurisdictional movement of objects, as they transit from country of origin to country of purchase, discussing ARCA's initiatives in Italy and to providing training to heritage personnel in the Middle East as a way to assist in the tracking and identification of objects stolen from vulnerable source countries. 

Highlighting an insufficient number of law enforcement officers outside of Italy's formidable art squad, and the need for adequate funding to pay experts who presently monitor the market on a volunteer basis, Ms. Albertson also stressed the need for dedicated public prosecutors specializing in art and antiquities crimes and mandatory uniform reporting requirements for object provenance in the market as the market's opacity impedes the tracking stolen and looted objects and exacerbates the collective damage we all suffer when cultural goods are siphoned away through illegal exportation and trafficking. 

ARCA would like to thank Ambassador Morris for her kind invitation to participate and for her recognition of the value of culture in its own right and as a vector for Italy-UK cooperation. 

October 10, 2018

Trial dates tentatively set for December 2018 for 19 "Operation Demetra" defendants


Judges from the Tribunale del Riesame di Caltanissetta, the court of first instance with general jurisdiction in criminal matters within the territory of Caltanissetta, Sicily, have set a tentative date for trial of December 2018 for 19 of the individuals connected to Italy's Operation Demetra. 


Resident of Belpasso, Italy
Palmino Pietro Signorello, 66

Residents of Campobello di Licata, Italy
Francesco Giordano, 71 
Luigi Giuseppe Grisafi, 64

Residents of Gela, Italy
Giuseppe Cassarà, 58
Simone Di Simone, (also known as "Ucca aperta"), 46
Rocco Mondello, 61
Orazio Pellegrino, (also known as "nacagliacani"), 54

Resident of Mazzè, Italy
Salvatore Pappalardo, 55

Residents of Paternò, Italy
Luigi Signorello, 34

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

Residents of Riesi, Italy
Angelo Chiantia, (also known as "Faccia pulita") 59  
Francesco Lucerna, (also known as "U zu Ginu") 76
Gaetano Patermo, (also known as "Tano"), 63

Resident of Strongoli, Italy
Luigi La Croce, 62

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

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

Lawyers for the accused are:

Ivan Bellanti
Angelo Cafà
Paolo Di Caro
Davide Limoncello
Ignazio Valenza

The gup of the Court of Caltanissetta, also has decided to revoke the precautionary measures, of three defendants who had previously been released pending trial to their homes with permission to go to leave to go to and from work.  Those individuals are Francesco Giordano, Luigi Giuseppe Grisafi, and Calogero Ninotta.

Previously the Italian courts rejected an appeal made through attorney, Davide Limoncello, presented in relation to a European arrest warrant (EAW) issued for William Veres. The London-based Hungarian antiquities dealer is one of the strategic names in Operation Demetra, an Italian-led illicit trafficking blitz carried out by law enforcement authorities in Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom in July 2018. 

Veres has been released on bail with supervised release conditions while he awaits the UK's ruling at London’s Westminster Magistrates Court as to whether or not he should be extradited to Italy to face the charges against him. Extradition to Italy is regulated by law as well as by international conventions and agreements. In general, extradition, is this case between Britain and Italy, means that Italy has asked the UK to surrender Veres as a suspected criminal in order to stand trial for an alleged violation of the Italian law. But before doing so, the antiquities dealer is entitled to an extradition hearing. For more on this procedure, please see our previous article here. 

Should the UK judge, at the extradition hearing, decide it would be both proportionate and compatible, Veres' extradition to Italy would subsequently be ordered and Veres would then, if he so chose, ask the UK High Court for permission to appeal this decision, provided that request is made within seven days of the previous order. If the High Court does not grant his appeal, in that situation and later affirms the lower court's ruling that extradition is both proportionate and compatible, Veres would become subject to extradition within 10 days of the final court order, and would then be transferred to Italy either in time for the December court hearing, or to be rescheduled at a later date. 

September 6, 2018

Museum Theft Update: Doge’s Palace - Venice, Italy

Exhibition Hall, Sala dello Scrutinio, Doge's Palace, Venice
Image Credit: Palazzo Ducale
Eight months into the investigation, Italian news sites have begun reporting more details on the band of thieves believed to be behind the theft of part of the jewellry collection of Qatar's Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani. The jewels were stolen from an alcove just off of the Sala della Scrutinio at the Palazzo Ducale during a brazen, broad daylight, robbery from the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" exhibition on January 3rd.

Reconstructing the events surrounding the 10 am theft on the final day of the exhibition authorities have apparently discussed their hypothesis with one or more members of the Italian press. 
According to a report first published on Twitter by Mediaset Journalist Clemente Mimun, it is believed that the thieves may be members of a Croatian and Serbian criminal network which specialized in high value thefts, known to have commited other offenses in Italy and other countries.  No information is given in Mediaset's formal article several hours after Mimun's tweet, nor in La Repubblica's subsequent article as to why authorities believe the squad is made up of Serb and Croat nationals or indicating what information aside from general speculation would lead to this assumption.


During the January 3, 2018 incident, two thieves, one serving as lookout, wearing a buttoned sweater and a fisherman's beanie, and a second serving as principal actor, took a remarkable 20 seconds to open, then pocket a pair of teardrop diamond earrings and a heavy brooch made up of diamonds, rubies, gold, and platinum.


Given that the display case and its alarm failed to activate or activate in a timely manner when the glass case was breached, it is reasonable to assume that the pair of thieves might have had insider help.  Perhaps from someone either connected to the museum with knowledge of or access to the exhibitions alarm systems as they were expressly installed for this specific exhibit and in normal circumstances would have been expected to sound an alarm as soon as the display case was opened which would allow time for the perimeter to have been sealed.

Gone in a Bling

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 at first viewing the jewels in several display cases at a leisurely pace, along with five other individuals, one of whom is believed to have served as a lookout.


Once the room clears of potential witnesses, the thief, working quickly and discreetly, but in full view of the CCTV camera, opens the glass door on the case and pockets the jewellry in the pocket of his jacket.  Afterwards the pair calmly blend back in with the rest of the museum's patrons, and casually exit the Doge's Palace before security has time to apprehend them. 

Given that the security for this event was specifically requested and installed as a condition of the exhibition of the Sheik's jewels, it is reasonable to believe that the culprits were practiced experts, perhaps those who also had advance knowledge of the Doge's security routine, and the timing it would take for security to react to their breach.

Whether or not Mediaset was referring to a network of jewel thieves known as "The Pink Panthers", an elusive gang of jewel thieves which is believed to have members from Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is unclear. This sometimes violent network of jewel thieves are believed to be responsible for more than 200 high value robberies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  For fifteen years this network of Balkan jewel thieves have committed audacious heists, sometimes by violent means as depicted in the real-life surveillance footage shown in the documentary “Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers.” 


As in the Venice heist Pink Panther thefts usually involve prior preparation and advanced skill, often casting nondescript individuals to case locations of potential robberies prior to their execution.  In one particularly dramatic theft on May 19, 2003 at Graff on New Bond Street in London a member of the group was able to make off with more than thirty million dollars’ worth of diamonds at in less than three minutes.

Whether or not the Doge's Palace Museum theft is related to the Pink Panthers is unclear, but should they be, they will likely benefit from the inventive perpetrators uncanny ability to fence traceable high-end goods. In the past law enforcement authorities have indicated that the Panther network consisted of between twenty and thirty experienced thieves at any given time, with facilitators in various cities providing logistical assistance.   Often, stolen diamonds end up in Antwerp as well as among the collections of indifferent clients in wealthy countries like Italy, France, Russia and Switzerland.



August 8, 2018

Sicilian judges reject appeal made by William Veres

Screenshot of William Veres from the documentary
“The Hunt for Transylvanian Gold
Judges from the Tribunale del Riesame di Caltanissetta, the court of first instance with general jurisdiction in criminal matters within the territory of Caltanissetta, Sicily, have rejected an appeal made through attorney, Davide Limoncello,  presented in relation to a European arrest warrant (EAW) issued for William Veres.  The London-based Hungarian antiquities dealer is one of 41 persons who have been named in Operation Demetra, an Italian-led illicit trafficking blitz carried out by law enforcement authorities in Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom in July 2018.  

The appeal presented by Limoncello on behalf of Mr. Veres was made to address the personal and real precautionary measures requested by the Italian authorities in relation to his client, deemed necessary by the prosecutor in the context of the criminal proceedings related to the case. 

Veres was taken into custody on 4 July by officers from London's Metropolitan Police - Art and Antiques Unit at his home in Forge Close, Stanmore in north-west London.  Subsequent to his arrest, Veres was released on bail with supervised release conditions while he awaits the UK's ruling at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court as to whether or not he should be extradited to Italy to face the charges against him.

Extradition to Italy is regulated by law as well as by international conventions and agreements. In general, extradition, is this case between Britain and Italy, means that Italy has asked the UK to surrender Veres as a suspected criminal in order to stand trial for an alleged violation of the Italian law.  But before doing so, the antiquities dealer is entitled to an extradition hearing.

During that extradition hearing a UK judge will need to be satisfied that the conduct described in the European arrest warrant amounts to an extraditable offence in Great Britain.  This means, in almost all cases, that the alleged conduct of the suspect would also amount to a criminal offence were it to have occurred in the UK.  The UK courts would also have to evaluate whether or not  any of the UK's statutory bars to extradition apply. 

Most of the bars prohibiting extradition in the UK have to do with double jeopardy, the absence of a prosecution decision (whether the prosecution case against the accused is sufficiently advanced) or whether or not the request by the requesting foreign authority is improperly motivated.   The London judge will also decide if extradition would be disproportionate or incompatible with Veres'  human rights. 

Should the judge at the extradition hearing decide it would be both proportionate and compatible, Veres' extradition to Italy would subsequently be ordered.  Veres could then, if he so chose, ask the UK High Court for permission to appeal this decision, provided that request is made within seven days of the previous order.  

If the High Court grants an appeal, in that situation and later affirms the lower court's ruling that extradition is both proportionate and compatible, Veres would become subject to extradition within 10 days of the final court order (unless an agreement to extend, due to exceptional circumstances, is made with Italy).

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 24, 2018

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

Image Credit: Safani Gallery TEFAF Maastricht advertisement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But where was the object bought and sold? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Object Identified

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

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

Statute of Limitations and Clear Title

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

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

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

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

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 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.