Showing posts with label Jason Felch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jason Felch. Show all posts

June 5, 2020

Virtual restitutions in the age of Coronavirus and Australian bush fires

On 27 November 2019 the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally announced that as a result of criminal law proceedings underway in India and the United States against New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, Australia would be voluntarily returning three culturally significant sculptures to India.  Five days later, on 2 December 2019 the Australian Government's Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications - Office for the Arts announced that the three artworks would be formally given back to the Indian authorities during the Prime Minister's visit to India, in January 2020.

Prime Minister Morrison was scheduled to travel to India on 13 January 2020 for bilateral meetings between Australia and India, at the invitation of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.  The pair planned to hand over the artworks and discuss the global economy before Morrison headed on to other meetings in Japan.  Those plans, however, fell by the wayside as Australia battled for control over the country's raging bush fires which continued unabated until mid-February, a result of the country's prolonged drought.

The next hiccup to the scheduled meeting and handover was the world-encompassing epidemic, the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Months later, opting for safety and security over politics, as coronavirus cases in India saw a record single-day jump of 9,304, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi held their first-ever “Bilateral Virtual Summit” on the 4th of June 2020.  This occasion, focused on comprehensive strategic partnerships between India and Australia, and was the occasion to allow Morrison to virtually hand over the pair of 15th century, Vijayanagar dynasty door guardians (Darapala) from Tamil Nadu, and a 6-8th century sandstone statue of the serpent king (Nagaraja) from Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, in India.

Speaking with S. Vijay Kumar of the India Pride Project, a volunteer organization involved in documenting and tracking stolen Indian artifacts, Mr. Kumar had this to say about the current restitutions:

"The return of the two door guardians, bought by the NGA for USD 495,000 in August 2005 and stolen from Tamil Nadu and the Nagaraja purchased for USD 337,500 in April 2006 from Madhya Pradesh will bring closure to an eight year struggle with the National Gallery of Australia which started with us, along with Mr. Jason Felch exposing the robber photos, showing the objects freshly looted against a vesti and lungi background. We also proved the fake provenance of the certificates issued by Art of Past for these purchases way back in 2015. 

The returns are important as they provide much-needed impetus to the sagging criminal trial of Subhash Kapoor by exposing the nexus between him and his associates. The Nagaraja was smuggled out of India sometime in 1999 by the mastermind of the illicit trafficking network in India who went by the codename "SHANTOO" who we now know is Ranjit Kanwar (but whom has yet to be arrested/traced by Indian law enforcement) but more importantly of the Prakash brothers who ran IndoNepal - who smuggled the two door guardians out of India sometime before 2002.  

These individuals have been named in the case filing on Kapoor in NYC Aug 2019 by US authorities, providing graphic details of how these stolen artefacts  are cleaned by intermediaries - in this case Solomon who has been since charged with abetting this crime for cleaning and removing any trace of dirt, etc from the Nagaraja and also how Subhash Kapoor used an old typewriter and some old stationery to fool the largest public museum in Australia.

The two Dwarapalas will be sent to India's Idol wing of Tamil Nadu which has registered a theft case related to the pair.  The Serpent King will initially go to the Red Fort Archaeological Museum located in the Mumtaz Mahal of the Red Fort in Delhi.

Kumar, Felch, and arts reporter Michaela Boland have long pushed for the examination and return of suspect Kapoor pieces, imploring the NGA to look closely at the provenance of all works in the museum's collection which were purchased by this dealer or his affiliates.  Extradited to India in July 2012, Kapoor remains incarcerated at Tiruchirappalli Central Prison awaiting the conclusion of his trial in India.  Afterward, the 70-year-old would likely be extradited to the United States to face 86 felony counts for allegedly looting $145 million in antiquities over the last 50 years.

By:  Lynda Albertson

February 26, 2020

Valerie Higgins returns to Amelia this summer to teach “Antiquities and Identity” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

By Edgar Tijhuis 

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 28 through August 12, 2020 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s lecturers will be interviewed. 

Valerie Higgins
Can you tell us something about your background and work?

I am the Program Director for the Master’s program in Sustainable Cultural Heritage and Associate Professor in Archaeology at The American University of Rome. I am an archaeologist by training, and I began my professional career as an archaeologist working in local government before returning to university to complete a Ph.D., studying human remains from a medieval Italian monastery site.

After completing a visiting university appointment in New Zealand, I returned to work in Rome where I was lucky enough to get a tenured position at the American University. Being based in Rome, a lot of my teaching has been outside at the monuments themselves, rather than in the classroom, and it was this that first sparked my interest in cultural heritage. The daily contact with the monuments and witnessing the issues of caring for such a massive patrimony, gradually led to me becoming more and more involved in that side of archaeology. Looting of antiquities is a huge problem in Italy and it has deep historical roots. An important part of tackling looting is to understand the societal context in which it takes place.

What do you feel is the most relevant aspect of your course?

The course incorporates discussion of contentious issues that are currently in the news, such as the role of museums and their obligation (or not) to reflect social issues, decolonization of heritage and museums, issues of identity politics relating to ownership, etc. Those of us who are engaged in protecting heritage need to get involved in these debates and we need to ensure that the discussion are well informed. This is increasingly difficult in an era of fake news and short soundbites.

What do you hope participants will get out of the courses?

I hope participants will understand the broader context behind art crime and will feel a greater engagement with topical issues. I hope that they will have a more profound understanding of the background to current disputes. Increasingly, journalistic sources present arguments in a very one-sided way and reduce complex arguments to emotive headlines. I hope that participants will appreciate more the complexity and long history that underlies many current issues.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

My classes are very interactive. I like everyone to contribute to class discussions from their own experiences. Every year at ARCA we get participants from all over the world, with diverse professional and personal backgrounds so when we are discussing issues we can get many different viewpoints, and this is very stimulating.

While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your courses, is there anything you learn from them in class?

A huge amount! I encourage everybody to take the topics we cover in the class and apply them to situations they face in their professional lives back home. As a result, I get to hear about new places, new disputes, new heritage sites, new groups and it is always fascinating to me. I regularly incorporate in my teaching at the American University information I have gained from ARCA participants and in that way I hope that I spread the knowledge.

In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants?

I enjoyed the book ‘Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum’ by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino. It is written by two journalists, not academics, but it conveys very well the attitudes that were current in the museum world in the last part of the twentieth century and the first decade of this century and the almost total disregard for ethics that should have governed museum acquisitions. I would also recommend the BBC podcasts in the series the Museum of Lost Objects. This series looked at antiquities that were lost or looted in Iraq, Syria, India and Pakistan. I like the series because it focuses on the human cost of looting not the economic cost.

What makes the yearly ARCA program so unique?

The people! Every year we get an incredible mix of people taking and teaching the courses in the program and then, of course, during the conference this number increases dramatically. The setting in Amelia also makes the program special. Amelia is a small intimate setting where it is easy to meet people outside of class, over a coffee.

Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why?

I am very interested in Marc Balcells course because he studies art crime as a sociological phenomenon rather than on an individual case by case basis. I believe this aspect is very underdeveloped. Although we will always need law enforcement as a backstop, the greatest impact on reducing art crime is to have a greater understanding of the underlying social forces. Very few people do this and Marc does it so well.

Is there anything you can recommend for future participants to do in Amelia or Umbria?

Amelia is set in beautiful countryside and there are some great walks and picnic spots in the countryside outside the walls. Don’t think that you always have to get on a bus or train to have a great day out!

Are there any funny or interesting things you experienced in Italy, outside class?

Italians certainly have their own ways of doing things which often seem incomprehensible to foreigners. It is not uncommon to go to see something that is supposed to be open and you find it isn’t. However, if you ask around there may be someone who can help you to get in or you might find something else to see that you did not even know existed. Italy is full of fantastic sites that are not in any guidebook or on any website, you may end up having an even better day out. It pays to be flexible and laid back.

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June? 

I find the conference a very useful way to catch up with what is going on in the field and also people working in the field. The refreshments breaks are almost as valuable as the presentations. To my knowledge, no other conference has such an eclectic mix of people from museums, law enforcement and academia.

Anything else…. The most important thing is to enjoy yourself in Amelia!

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at 


Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

December 1, 2013

ARCA Associates participating in International Conference on Protecting Cultural Heritage As a Common Good of Humanity: A Challenge for Criminal Justice; Italian conference scheduled Dec. 13-15 in Courmayeur Mont Blanc

ARCA's CEO Lynda Albertson; ARCA lecturer Richard Ellis and 2012 and 2013 award winners, Jason Felch and Duncan Chappell, will be speaking at the International Conference on Protecting Cultural Heritage As a Common Good of Humanity: A Challenge for Criminal Justice on December 13-15 in Courmayeur Mont Blanc in Italy 13-15 December 2013.

This cultural heritage protection conference is the initiative of International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the United Nations; Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme-ISPAC; Fondazione Centro Nazionale di Prevenzione e Difesa Sociale-CNPDS; and Fondazione Courmayeur Mont Blanc in co-operation with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime-UNODC, Vienna under the auspices of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
ISPAC is organizing an International Conference aimed at exploring the indispensable role of crime prevention and criminal justice responses, at both international and domestic level, in combating all forms of trafficking in cultural property and related offences in a comprehensive and effective manner. This Conference addressed to international organizations, national enforcement agencies, academics, cultural institutions, private sector operators in art and antiquities follows a long-established commitment of ISPAC in the protection of cultural heritage and public goods as one of the most relevant challenges for contemporary criminal policy. Cultural heritage has come to be perceived not only as an asset for the "source Countries", but also, more relevantly, as the object of a cultural right any human being is entitled to, as well as a fundamental heritage for the whole mankind. Hence the growing interest that the United Nations, as well as many other international organizations, have been developing in the phenomenon, and the commitment to produce and implement international legal instruments aimed at protecting cultural heritage. 
In the past, several instruments have been adopted. The prevention and sanctioning of harms traditionally inflicted to cultural property during wars was the first aim to be pursued through the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954), and its Additional Protocols as well as the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions (1977). Other interventions by the international community focussed on illicit imports, exports and transfers of ownership of cultural property under any kind of circumstance, and namely the UNESCO Convention (1970), as well as the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (1995). The international commitment to the safeguard of cultural heritage found also expression in several other international instruments, such as the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001), the European Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property (1985), the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (1969) and its revised version (1992). 
Nowadays the pervasiveness of this phenomenon, and its very complex features, are increasingly acknowledged at both international and national level. Trafficking in cultural property, as well as all other crimes related to cultural objects (such as looting, illicit import and export, forgery, and so on), are believed to be a constantly growing sector of criminality, and an increasingly attractive one for national and transnational criminal organizations. Hence, too, the growing involvement of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in drafting and implementing international instruments to face offences against cultural heritage. Since 2009 several initiatives were adopted pursuant to Economic and Social Council resolution 2008/23. In its resolution 2010/19, then, the Council considered that the Organized Crime Convention (2000), as well as the UN Convention against Corruption (2003), should be fully used for the purpose of strengthening the fight against trafficking in cultural property. At its twentieth session, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice prepared a draft resolution (2011/42) entitled Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Protect Cultural Property, Especially with Regard to its Trafficking, in which it mandated the Secretariat to further explore the development of specific guidelines for crime prevention and criminal justice responses with respect to trafficking in cultural property, and invited Member States to submit written comments on the UN Model Treaty for the Prevention of Crimes that Infringe on the Cultural Heritage of Peoples in the Form of Movable Property. Finally, in April 2013, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice recommended to the ECOSOC a draft resolution on Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Protect Cultural Property, Especially with Regard to its Trafficking, to be submitted for adoption to the General Assembly. The Thirteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (to be held in Qatar in 2015) will specifically focus - among others - on comprehensive and balanced approaches to prevent and adequately respond to new and emerging forms of transnational crime, such as trafficking of cultural property. 
ISPAC's Conference aims at exploring the indispensable role of crime prevention and criminal justice responses in combating all forms of trafficking in cultural property and related offences in a comprehensive and effective manner; the need for States to consider reviewing their legal frameworks, in order to provide the most extensive international cooperation to fully address trafficking in cultural property; the possibility for national jurisdictions to make trafficking in cultural property (including stealing and looting at archaeological and other cultural sites) a serious crime, as defined in art. 2 UNCTOC, as well as to fully utilize that Convention for the purpose of extensive international cooperation; finally, the importance of a speedy and effective finalization of the Guidelines, on the basis of the work carried out in the last years. Further issues worth consideration will be the need for credible and comparable data on different aspects of crimes against cultural property, including the links with transnational organized crime and the laundering of illicit proceeds, as well as the benefits of collecting and comparing best practices both in the public and in the private sector. 
PROGRAMME (contacts with panellists are in progress)
Opening Session • LODOVICO PASSERIN de ENTRÈVES, Chair of the Scientific Committee of the Courmayeur Mont Blanc Foundation, Italy • FABRIZIA DERRIARD, Mayor of Courmayeur, Italy • AUGUSTO ROLLANDIN, President, Region of Aosta Valley, Italy • LIVIA POMODORO, President, Court of Milan, Italy; CNPDS/ISPAC Chairman • Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism • Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Keynote Address • JOHN SANDAGE, Director Division for Treaty Affairs, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime-UNODC, Vienna, Austria 
Session I ILLEGAL TRAFFIC OF CULTURAL PROPERTY : THE NEED FOR A REFORM Chair DUNCAN CHAPPELL, Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology, University of Sydney, Australia; ISPAC Board Member
• Cultural Heritage and Commons: New Tasks for International Community. UGO MATTEI, Professor of Private Comparative Law at University of Turin, Italy; University of California, Hastings College of Law, USA 
• Curbing Illegal Traffic of Cultural Property: Initiatives at the International Level STEFANO MANACORDA, Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Naples II, Italy; Collège de France, Paris, France; Deputy Chair and Director ISPAC 
• Anatomy of a Statue Trafficking Network: an Empirical Report from Regional Case Study Fieldwork SIMON MACKENZIE, Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of Glasgow, UK
• ALBERTO DEREGIBUS, Colonel, Cultural Heritage Protection Unit, Carabinieri Corps, UNESCO, Paris, France
• SARA GREENBLATT, Chief, Organized Crime Branch, Division for Treaty Affairs, UNODC, Vienna, Austria
• FOLARIN SHYLLON, Professor at Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan, Nigeria 
Session III INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION: OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES NATIONAL JURISDICTION Chair EMILIO VIANO, Professor, Department of Justice, Law and Society, American University, Washington DC, USA 
• HUANG FENG, Professor of Criminal Law, Director Institute for International Criminal Law, Beijing Normal University, China 
• DEREK FINCHAM, Associate Professor, South Texas College of Law, Houston, USA 
• Cultural heritage crime in the Islamic Penal Code of Iran MIR MOHAMMAD SADEGHI, Professor of Criminal Law and Head of Department of Criminal Law and Criminology, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran; UNESCO Chairholder for Human Rights, Peace And Democracy, Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran, Iran 
• HELENA REGINA LOBO DA COSTA, Professor, University of São Paulo, Brazil (tbc) 
• ADOLFO MEDRANO MALLQUI, Professor of Criminal Law, Lawyer, Lima, Peru Coffee Break 
SESSION III (continued) POLICE COOPERATION Chair EMILIO VIANO, Professor, Department of Justice, Law and Society, American University, Washington DC, USA 
• RICHARD ELLIS, Founder of Scotland Yard! s Art and Antiquities Squad, London, UK • ANTONIO COPPOLA, Major, Head of the Operative Cultural Heritage Protection Unit, Carabinieri Corps, Rome, Italy 
• STÉPHANE GAUFFENY, Colonel, Central office for the fight against Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods (OCBC), Central Directorate of Judicial Police, Paris, France (tbc) 
• DOMENICO GIANI, Inspector General of the Gendarmeria Corps, Vatican City (tbc 
SESSION III (continued) RETURN, RESTITUTION AND CONFISCATION Chair LUIS ARROYO ZAP ATERO, Professor of Criminal Law, Universidad Castilla-la-Mancha, Spain
• Restitution and International Judicial Cooperation MARC-ANDRÉ RENOLD, Professor of Art and Cultural Property Law; Director of the Art-Law Centre; Holder of the UNESCO Chair in the International Law of Cultural Heritage at the University of Geneva, Switzerland
MARIE PFAMMATTER, post doctoral researcher, University of Geneva, Switzerland
• PASCAL BEAUVAIS, Professor, University of Paris Ouest Nanterre, Paris France
• STEVEN FELDMAN, Partner, Herrick, Feinstein LLP, New York, USA
• MARK V. VLASIC, Senior Fellow & Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University, Washington, USA
• ROBERT WITTMAN, Art Crime Investigator, President of Robert Wittman Inc., Pennsylvania, USA
• JAMES RATCLIFFE, Head of Recoveries, The Art Loss Register-ALR, London, UK
• LYNDA ALBERTSON, Chief Executive Officer, Association for Research into Crimes against Art-ARCA, Rome, Italy
• ROBERT N. LAYNE, Executive Director, International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection, Denver, CO, USA
• MARK STARLING, Chair, International Convention Of Exhibition And Fine Art Transporters-ICEFAT, Toronto, Canada
Round Table PROTECTING CULTURAL PROPERTY: CASE STUDIES AND BEST PRACTICES Chair SIMON MACKENZIE, Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of Glasgow, UK 
• GIOVANNI MELILLO, Prosecutor, Court of Naples, Italy 
• FABRIZIO LEMME, Professor and Lawyer, Rome, Italy
• TESS DAVIS, Vice Chair of the American Society of International Law! s Cultural Heritage and the Arts Interest Group - Researcher SCCJR, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow, UK 
• FABIO ISMAN, Journalist, Italy 
• JASON FELCH, Journalist, Los Angeles Times, USA 
Conference Venue Conference Hall, Hôtel Pavillon Via Regionale, 62 - 11013 Courmayeur (AO) Official Languages English and Italian with simultaneous interpretation 
Conference Secretariat Fondazione Centro nazionale di prevenzione e difesa sociale-CNPDS Palazzo Comunale delle Scienze Sociali 3, Piazza Castello - 20121 Milano MI Tel.: +39 02 - Fax: +39 02 E-mail: - Home page: Home page:

October 11, 2013

The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation Presents The Monuments Men, Social Media, the Law and Cultural Heritage

The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation Presents "The Monuments Men, Social Media, the Law and Cultural Heritage" on Friday, November 1, 2013 at Fordham Law School in New York City. Map and directions:

The program will begin with Diane Penneys Edelman, Villanova University School of Law; President, Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation; Leila Amineddoleh, Adjunct Professor of Law, Fordham Law School; Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation; and Irina Tarsis, Chair, American Society of International Law Cultural Heritage & the Arts Interest Group.

The first panel, Monuments Officers, the Roberts Commission, Rose Valland, Ardelia Hall, the protection of monuments in Europe and Asia during WWII, law governing the “Spoils of War Doctrine,” legacy issues for museums and the art market, will be chaired by Thomas R. Kline, Of Counsel, Andrews Kurth, LLP; Assistant Professorial Lecturer, George Washington University, Museum Studies. Speakers: Elizabeth Hudson, Chief Researcher, Monuments Men Foundation; Marc Masurovsky, Independent Historian and Author and formerly with U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; Anne Rothfeld, Independent Historian, Ph.D. Candidate, American University; and Victoria Reed, Curator for Provenance, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The second panel, Prevention efforts in problem areas since WWII: Evolution of U.S. law, policy and practice concerning looting prevention and restitution efforts in post-WWII conflicts, will be chaired by Lucille Roussin, Founder and Director, Holocaust Restitution and Claims Practicum, and Adjunct Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Speakers: Richard B. Jackson, Special Assistant to the Army Judge Advocate General for Law of War Matters; Salam al-Kuntar, Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania Department of Anthropology; James McAndrew, Forensic Specialist, Grunfeld, Desiderio, Lebowitz, Silverman & Klestadt.

Lunchtime Conversation with Lynn H. Nicholas, Independent Researcher and Author, The Rape of Europa: 12:15-1:30p.m. Interview by Thomas Kline.

The third panel, Present-day initiatives taken by the US armed forces, law enforcement, the art market and others to prevent and remedy looting and the trade of works looted during times of conflict, as well as law governing trade in looted objects, will be chaired by Chair: Elizabeth Varner, Executive Director, National Art Museum of Sport. Speakers: Corine Wegener, Preservation Specialist for Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution; Laurie W. Rush, Anthropologist and Cultural Resources Manager, United States Army; Thomas Mulhall, Supervisory Special Agent, Department of Homeland Security (ICE); Monica Dugot, Senior Vice President, International Director of Restitution, Christie’s.

The fourth panel, The use of the Internet, social media, television, news industry and film to raise awareness of looting, theft, and cultural heritage issues. A discussion about alternative channels used to reduce cultural heritage loss and increase restitution, will be chaired by Ms. Amineddoleh. Speakers: Darius Arya, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, American Institute for Culture; Jason Felch, Reporter, Los Angeles Times; Co-Author, Chasing Aphrodite; David D’Arcy, Correspondent, The Art Newspaper; Screenwriter/Producer, Portrait of Wally.

Afterword by Robert Edsel, Author and President, Monuments Men Foundation, WWII Monuments Men to the Present: What have we learned? What do we need to relearn? Introduction by Thomas R. Kline.

August 16, 2012

Q&A with Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch

Editor-in-Chief Noah Charney features "Q&A with Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.

Ralph Frammolino, along with Jason Felch, is the co-winner of the 2012 Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Art Crime Scholarship. The award was granted both for Frammolino and Felch’s outstanding journalistic work, and the book that resulted from it, Chasing Aphrodite, about the Getty antiquities scandal and Marion True. To learn more about the award winners, please see the awards section in this issue. Ralph responded to some questions on his own behalf, and on behalf of Jason Felch.

Noah Charney: What is the origin of your interest in the protection of antiquities?
Ralph Frammolino: Prior to Chasing Aphrodite, I was among the blissfully ignorant art-loving masses who regarded museums with a sort of hushed awe while delighting in their inspiring displays of ancient pieces. I accepted without question the good intention of curators, academics and museum officials, never giving a thought to the back story of how they obtained their trove of Greek and Roman pieces (my favorites). Then, as an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, I had the rare opportunity to examine this world through a different prism. Jason and others at the paper had just finished an investigation into the finances of the Getty Trust, the richest art institution in the world. The editors at the LA Times teamed me up with Jason to look at problems with the antiquities collection, a move that happened about the time a Roman court indicted Getty antiquities curator Marion True for trafficking in looted artifacts. What we found was shocking, the equivalent of steroids in baseball and pedophile priests in the Catholic Church. The museum world had its own dirty little secret – that it was feasting on the fruits of an illegal trade – and justifying it through sham acquisition policies, temporized denials and archly worded statements about serving posterity. To me, the protection of antiquities became a proxy for cultural colonialism. While I would like to think that the Getty scandal marked a change, I’m no longer sure. In my mind, the Getty’s selection of James Cuno as CEO and Timothy Potts as Museum Director – two openly avowed collecting hawks – marks a giant step backward from the enlightened, culturally sensitive stance the Getty adopted after it was caught with looted masterpieces. Now Cuno and Potts say they want to start to aggressively acquire Middle Eastern antiquities – coincidentally as war, terrorism and regime change have triggered wholesale looting of such artifacts, which will no doubt start bobbing up through the market in the coming years.
You may read this interview in The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing through ARCA's website.

July 15, 2012

Press Release for the 2012 ARCA Conference on the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

by Noah Charney, Founder of ARCA

The fourth annual ARCA Conference on the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection was held June 23-24 in Amelia, Umbria, the seat of ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, a program held in Italy every summer that is the first academic program in the interdisciplinary study of art crime. Among the many important speakers were winners of the annual awards presented by ARCA, including George Abungu, the leading spokesperson for the protection of cultural heritage in Africa; Joris Kila, a co-winner with Karl von Habsburg, who is a specialist in the protection of art and monuments during military operations; and Jason Felch, co-winner with Ralph Frammolino, for his investigative work in the , about the Getty art scandals.

HRH Ravivaddhana Sisowath, Prince of Cambodia
A surprise addition to the roster of speakers at the conference was His Royal Highness, Ravivaddhana Sisowath, Prince of Cambodia. His Highness spoke about the recent seizure from Sotheby’s of the Koh Kher statue by US authorities.

Fabio Isman
Isman, Italy’s leading investigative journalist on the black market in antiquities, and winner of a 2011 ARCA award, spoke of the continued problem of looted Italian antiquities, and the extent of the problem as a whole, which is far greater than most realize. An estimated 7% of all works looted from Italy since the Napoleonic era have been returned—the rest remains abroad. That said, Italy has had more art repatriated than any other country, in any period in history, aside from the immediate repatriation of post-World War Two Nazi-looted art. A Princeton University study estimates that, since 1970 alone, approximately 1.5 million items were looted from Italy. Isman’s research found around 25,000 items that had been identified and returned. What is still out there is staggering. Isman discussed cases within the last six months that show the continued willingness for museums to trade in illicit antiquities.

Laurie Rush
The Writer in Residence on the ARCA Program for 2012, Dr Rush is an archaeologist with the US Army who is charged with training US soldiers and officers about the importance of respecting and protecting local cultural heritage and traditions in combat zones. Conflict offers opportunity for theft, but also and far more frequent the inadvertent damage of cultural property. Rush noted the Italian antiques market magazine Antiquariato, in 2011, wrote that this was the best time to collect Egyptian antiquities, referring to the social turmoil in Egypt, which would surely turn up more antiques smuggled out of the country. Dr Rush is preparing the US Field Commander’s Guide to Cultural Heritage Protection, and is an advocate of paying local families in conflict zones like Afghanistan, who have lost their livelihood, to protect and supervise local cultural heritage sites—they are empowered, paid a small amount that is large to them, and are best situated to respectfully function as long-term protector of a site.

Bill Wei
Dr Wei, of the Netherlands Institute of Cultural Heritage, is an engineer and conservator who spoke of a new system for “fingerprinting” artworks that he has helped to develop. The system is called Fing-Art-Print, and is a non-contact method for the three-dimensional identification of unique art objects.
Joris Kila
Dr Kila, who accepted the award on behalf of both winners, discussed his adventures investigating accusations of looting in Libya, and found no such evidence, aside from the now-renowned Ben Ghazzi coin heist, in which thieves elaborately drilled through a thick cement bank vault floor during bombings. Dr Kila also emphasized the tremendous success of precision bombing during the Libya conflict: Ghaddafi had situated key military targets on or next to archaeological sites, to dissuade bombings. And yet the precision bombing was so successful that no archaeological items were damaged, and yet the targets were destroyed, even when they were situated beside the archaeological site. Dr Kila showed photographs of destroyed military transports and radar machinery that stood within meters of a Roman ruin, and yet the ruin was entirely unharmed.

Jason Felch
Felch accepted the award on behalf of both parties. He discussed his immersion in the world of illicit antiquities and major museums, and how he slowly uncovered a vast cache of tens of thousands of documents and images of looted art, many of the documents explicitly proving that insiders at the Getty had knowingly purchased looted antiquities over many years, and were making secret plans to cover up their actions. While the Getty has returned 60 objects looted from Italy, a secret Getty memo uncovered by Felch and Frammolino noted around 350 total looted objects that Getty officials were concerned could be targeted by Italy because they were looted. Felch also described his WikiLoot project, a new endeavor in its infant stages which Felch envisions as a crowd-sourcing online platform to publish documents and photographs related to the illicit trade in antiquities. He intends to publically publish these tens of thousands of documents and photos in the future. The ARCA Conference, and Jason’s activities, were covered recently in The Guardian.

George Abungu
The final award of the day was for Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art, and when to George H. O. Abungu. Dr. Abungu, a native of Kenya, has served on multiple chairs and committees related to protection world and African cultural heritage. He was Director-General of the National Museums of Kenya, and is now Vice-President of ICOM, serves on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, among his many distinguished titles and activities. Dr Abungu discussed the protection and preservation of rock art throughout Africa. Rock carvings and paintings dating to thousands of years BC are found throughout Africa, from South Africa to Morocco—and yet they are largely at exposed, though remote, sites and are therefore at risk of the elements, looting, and occasional vandalism.

Paolo Giorgio Ferri
The renowned Italian prosecutor, winner of an ARCA award in 2011, returned to give a keynote speech, discussing his discovery of a forged Euphronios kylix that had been mixed in with authentic looted antiquities and passed off by tomb raiders as original, demonstrating the alarming link between forgeries and the illicit antiquities trade. While artist foundations preserve the legacy of modern painters, there are no organizations charged with preserving the legacy of the ancients. Dr Ferri discussed the importance of enforcing the well-meaning, but not always effective customs laws put in place by UNESCO and the Palermo Convention. He also was asked why the infamous art dealer Robin Symes has not been indicted by Italy. He responded that there were many factors, including the non-cooperation of the UK, the end of the statute of limitations for the main case Italy had built against Symes (the crime took place in 1982 but the evidence was only complete in 2004), and the face that Symes had cooperated with Italian authorities in the recovery of some looted antiquities taken by other dealers, including an ivory mask that was recovered thanks to Symes, and for information about the Fleischman collection laundering operation.

June 7, 2012

Paolo Ferri and Jason Felch on Wikiloot

ARCA's Annual Conference in Amelia
Tom Kington reports for the Guardian on the efforts of Jason Felch to use crowdsourcing to help police the antiquities trade with wikiloot:
Felch now plans to obtain and post piles of material seized from dealers during police raids and deposited for trials which have yet to be published, and let allcomers mine the data for new clues. "It's all raw, unprocessed data. Researchers can use it, but we also hope the public can use it to find out a bit more about what is on display at their local museum," he said. . . .
 "We will also need a few hundred thousand dollars," added Felch, who is applying for grants, talking to universities and promoting the concept this month at the annual conference in Italy of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA). . . . 
With an estimated 500,000 artefacts looted from Italy to date, one Italian investigator – Paolo Ferri, a magistrate now working at Italy's culture ministry – said any attempt to track them down was welcome. He was cautious about aspects of the crowdsourcing concept, claiming that publishing images or descriptions of looted artefacts could push their collectors to hide them better. "They may also work harder to camouflage the origins of their pieces or even access the archive to manipulate it," Ferri said. "Why not have a password to keep traffickers out?"

Both Felch and Ferri are slated to appear at ARCA's annual conference here in Amelia in a few weeks on June 23-24. The report makes it appear as if Felch has been invited to discuss wikiloot. He is welcome of course to discuss the initiative, but the primary purpose of his invitation is to honor his writing and reporting. He and Ralph Frammolino will be honored for the terrific reporting they have done, which culminated in Chasing Aphrodite, and the blog which has continued that good work.

Conference attendees will have an opportunity to hear more about Felch's plans for wikiloot, and though Ferri and others share misgivings, the conference will allow an opportunity to listen and take into account those concerns. One of the aims for ARCA's annual conference is to bring folks together and foster a productive exchange.
  1. Tom Kington, WikiLoot aims to use crowdsourcing to track down stolen ancient artefacts, the Guardian, June 6, 2012,
ARCA's annual conference is free to attend, and open to the general public. For any questions about the conference please contact us at:

May 7, 2012

The Getty should return the Fano Athlete to Italy, Judge rules

Governor Spacca and an image of the
 Fano Athlete at a press conference
 in LA last year
Jason Felch, who has been covering this story since 2006, reported for The Los Angeles Times that on May 3 a judge in Marche confirmed that the J. Paul Getty Museum should return the Fano Athlete to the country from which it was illegally exported.

Felch, co-author of Chasing Aphrodite, posted the judge's ruling on his website here.

On the blog Looting Matters, David Gill encourages The Getty to cooperate before additional legal steps reveal more problems. Gill also provides an overview of the 'collecting history' and Italy's years long political fight on his blog here.

This is the victory Governor Spacca of Marche spoke of when he visited the Getty in March 2011 in an attempt to negotiate a friendly resolution (reported here and here on the ARCA blog).

April 11, 2012

"Chasing Aphrodite" Authors Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino Win 2012 Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Art Crime Scholarship

ARCA (the Association for Research into Crimes against Art) is pleased to announce the winners of its annual awards for the year 2012. ARCA is an international research group that promotes the study of art crime cultural heritage protection, registered as a 501c3 in the United States and an Associazione Culturale in Italy.

ARCA presents four annual awards.  Nominations are made by ARCA staff, trustees, and members of the editorial board of ARCA’s peer-reviewed publication, The Journal of Art Crime.  The winners are decided by a vote of the trustees, and are presented at ARCA’s annual conference, held in Amelia, Italy on June 23 and 24 of this year. For more information about ARCA or to attend its annual conference, please contact Lynda Albertson: lynda.albertson (at)

Eleanor and Anthony Vallombroso Award for Art Crime Scholarship
Past winners:  Norman Palmer (2009), Larry Rothfield (2010), Neil Brodie (2011)
Shortlisted nominees: Fabio Isman, Sandy Nairne
2012 joint winners: Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino

Mr. Felch and Mr. Frammolino are award-winning investigative journalists with the Los Angeles Times newspaper, and co-authors of a book based on their columns, entitled Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum (2011).

Jason Felch is an award winning investigative reporter with the Los Angeles Times. In 2006 he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting for exposing the role of the J. Paul Getty Museum and other American museums in the black market for looted antiquities. His work has also been honored by the National Journalism Awards, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the NationalAssociation of Science Writers and others. Prior to joining the LA Times in 2004, Jason was a fellow at the Center for Investigative Reporting and a freelance writer on topics such as money laundering, arms trafficking and drilling for natural gas in the Peruvian rainforest.

Ralph Frammolino is a veteran journalist who worked at American newspapers for 30 years. He spent 25 of those at the Los Angeles Times, where he covered a variety of beats but mostly concentrated in investigative projects for the Metro staff. His work has been honored by the Associated Press of Texas, Dartmouth University Business School and the Los Angeles Press Club. He was part of the staff effort that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for the coverage of the Northridge Earthquake, and was a co-finalist for a Pulitzer in 2006 for his coverage of the J. Paul Getty Museum antiquities scandal. Since leaving the LA Times in 2008, Mr. Frammolino has been working in South Asia as a teacher, journalism trainer and media development consultant with USAID, the World Bank and other foreign aid donors. He continues to freelance and his stories have appeared in The New York Times, New York Post, LA Times, Columbia Journalism Review and, most recently, Smithsonian Magazine.

Felch and Frammolino are jointly awarded for their outstanding research and scholarship that informed both their investigative articles for the Los Angeles Times and their book, Chasing Aphrodite.

February 10, 2012

Journalist Jason Felch on Antiquities Dealer Robert Hecht Jr. "I found Hecht to be a likable rogue"

Robert Hecht Jr in front of the Euphronios Krater
 at The Met which was returned to Italy; now on display at 
the National Etruscan Museum at the Villa Guilia in Rome.
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Journalist Jason Felch, co-author of Chasing Aphrodite with Ralph Frammolino, reported for The Los Angeles Times the death of the "controversial dealer in classical antiquities," 92-year-old Robert Hecht Jr. who died in Paris just three weeks after Italian judges dismissed looting charges against him.

In their book on the history of The J. Paul Getty Museum's collection practices for antiquities, Chasing Aphrodite (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), Felch and Frammolino describe Hecht as "the preeminent middleman of the classical antiquities trade" who's "network of loyal suppliers reached deep into the tombs and ruins of Greece, Turkey and Italy."
"Since the 1950s, Hecht had sold some of the finest pieces of classical art to emerge on the market. His clients included dozens of American and European museums, universities, and private collectors ... For decades, Hecht single-handedly dominated the antiquities market with his brilliance, brutality and panache.... Even those who sold directly to museums gave Hecht a cut of the deal, earning him the nickname "Mr. Percentage".
Last month, Elisabetta Povoledo for The New York Times reported that the Italian trial against Robert Hecht for "receiving artifacts illegally looted from Italy and conspiring to deal in them" ended with the expiration of the statue of limitations on his alleged crimes.

In fact, although Hecht was banished from Turkey in 1962 for allegedly dealing in ancient coins and from his home in Italy after details of his relationship with Giacomo Medici and Marion True emerged, Hecht was never convicted of any crime. Medici was convicted of trafficking in looted antiquities in 2004 but remains out of jail while he appeals the conviction. The case against Marion True was also dismissed because the statue of limitations expired.

Via email I asked for Jason Felch's thoughts on Robert Hecht whom he had interviewed on the phone after the charges were dismissed last month.  This is Mr. Felch's response:
Hecht was a career criminal, and a remarkably successful one. We've detailed his crimes and the damage they caused in Chasing Aphrodite at length. He was investigated several times in several countries and never successfully prosecuted. Obviously that's a failure of justice. 
That said, I rather liked Hecht. I first met him in 2006 in New York City and continued to talk and occasionally meet with him over the years as I investigated the illicit antiquities trade. During those same years I also met with several other key middlemen in the trade. All were interesting men, but most were unpleasant. Medici was overbearing and boorish, fond of speak of himself in the third person. [Gianfranco] Becchina was hard to read and rather ominous. [Robin] Symes, who I never met but Ralph interviewed in jail in London, came off as a shrill pill. 
Hecht, by contrast, was fascinating and, for the most part, a pleasant dinner companion. He was very sharp, evasive and often witty. He told me his story and the story of the trade, while always remaining coy about certain details. He had deep knowledge about ancient art of all kinds and was clearly passionate about the subject. So much so that he was a lousy businessman, perennially broke because he couldn't say no (and because of a nasty gambling habit.) He was driven less by greed, it seems, than by a passion for the objects and the collector's obsession to possess. He was brilliant at what he did, and had he continued with his studies at the American Academy he would have made a remarkable archaeologist. Instead, he chose the dark side.
He also had a curious sense of honor, one honed during decades of working in a criminal underworld. The latest example was telling. About a month after I sent him a copy of Chasing Aphrodite -- which contain dozens of damning references to Hecht's role in the illicit trade -- he called me at my desk at the Times. Well written, he said, but you got one thing wrong. I asked: Was it that part about you running the illicit antiquities trade for decades? Or perhaps the part where Marion True describes you as an abusive, occasionally violent alcoholic? No, Hecht was upset that we had suggested he had ratted out the competition (something his competitors accused him of in sworn testimony.) He had never done so, he insisted, and our suggesting otherwise was "bad for business."
My job occasionally requires me to spend time with criminals. Many are awful people. I found Hecht to be a likable rogue. Someone should make a movie.
In addition to Chasing Aphrodite, you may find additional information about Robert Hecht Jr.'s career in the book by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities -- From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums (PublicAffairs, 2006).

January 25, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - ,, 1 comment

National Press Club event: "Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum" - Jan. 24, 2012

Jason Felch and Tanya Lervik (ARCA Alum)
by Tanya K. Lervik, ARCA Alum

WASHINGTON DC - Tonight the National Press Club hosted a lively panel discussion on the topic of looted antiquities as exemplified by the J. Paul Getty Museum debacle. The panel, which was moderated by the congenial James Grimaldi, investigative reporter for the Washington Post, featured Jason Felch (in person) and Ralph Frammolino (phoning in from Bangladesh) - the two authors of "Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum." The book is the culmination of five years of investigative reporting inspired by a Los Angeles Times series for which Felch and Frammolino were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. They were joined on the panel by Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum and Arthur Houghton, a former curator at the Getty Museum who spoke passionately on behalf of museums.

The discussion covered a wide range of topics – from the basics of international law and the ethical responsibility of museums to the specifics of various transgressions that occurred at the Getty. Felch and Frammolino described the scope of the problem and how they came upon the antiquities story while researching the lavish spending of a Getty executive, Barry Munitz. In the course of their investigation, they were approached by a “Greek chorus of Deep Throats” who informed them that the executive’s indiscretions paled in comparison.

Arthur Houghton commented on his experience at the Getty and recruited members of the audience (including yours truly) to illustrate the donation tax fraud scheme that he discovered was being perpetrated by one-time curator, Jiri Frel. Houghton was instrumental in putting an end to that practice, but he was also the author of the “smoking gun” memo often cited as evidence that the Getty Museum management was aware they were acquiring looted works in contravention of the 1970 UNESCO convention. Houghton also suffered some uncomfortable moments when the conversation turned to his role as the originator of the Getty’s controversial policy of “optical due diligence” wherein they would generally accept an antiquity’s provenance as provided by dealers without stringently investigating its validity.

Before entertaining questions from the packed Press Club Ballroom, the session closed with thoughts for the future. Gary Vikan of the Walters Art Museum proposed that perhaps the best way to address the perennial tug-of-war between art-rich/cash-poor source countries and art-poor/cash rich consumer countries would be to encourage a system of long-term loans. In the wake of the Italian government’s prosecution of former Getty Museum curator, Marion True, the Getty returned a number of important items, but the Italian government also agreed to lend the museum significant items to help fill the void.

Such a model could be used to perpetuate the objectives of “universal museums” aiming to display the breadth of human creativity without swelling the demand for looted antiquities. It would also encourage sharing of knowledge and expertise. Aggressively pursuing a series of long-term loans rather than permanent acquisitions certainly honors the value of our shared human heritage without the potential ethical pitfalls of purchase. Though long-terms loans address neither the issue of private collectors nor their museum bequests, it does give hope for the future. Tonight's discussion served to highlight the pivotal, complex nature of the debate and the far-reaching effects of the Italian efforts to repatriate looted antiquities.

November 12, 2011

Jason Felch on Deadline LA (Radio): "See No Evil, The Policy of Art Looters at the Getty and other museums"

Barbara Osborn and Harold Bloom conduct a 30 minute discussion with Jason Felch, co-author with Ralph Frammolino of "Chasing Aphrodite", about museums complicity in art theft and the looting of archaeological sites since the accord of UNESCO's 1970 Convention meant to create international cooperation in stopping the sale of illegal antiquities. From essentially laundering the works of art from Italy through Switzerland and notable art collectors in the United States, Felch quickly and lucidly outlines how the Getty's spending of more than $150 million likely encouraged the unearthing of new objects to be sold to the billionaire institution in Los Angeles. However, the Getty wasn't the only museum to engage in such practices and as Harold Bloom says, put stolen art on public display.  Felch explains what finally prompted Italian authorities to take action against the practice by museums to purchase objects of antiquities without asking questions. Deadline LA (Bloom and Osborn's show) will also broadcast the second part of their interview with Felch next week.

June 25, 2011

LA Times' Jason Flech on "Can Whitey Bulger help solve biggest art heist in U. S. History?"

Los Angeles Times reporter Jason Flech has written an article, "Can Whitey Bulger help solve the biggest art heist in U.S. history?", which talks about why robbing the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 would not have been the type of crime Bulger would have committed; the hope that Bulger does know who did the theft; and what publicity could do to recover the paintings. Jason Flech is the co-author of "Chasing Aphrodite", the story of The Getty, stolen antiquities, and the fall of Marion True.

Image to the left copied from the article as published by The Los Angeles Times online.

May 29, 2011

ARCA Blog Interviews Jason Felch, co-author of "Chasing Aphrodite"

Getty Goddess now home/
Chasing Aphrodite
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

ARCA Blog: How did you feel, being so close to this story, seeing "Aphrodite" being returned to her homeland? Did you understand more about the statute by visiting the area she came from?
Jason: We were thrilled to be able to attend the inauguration of the Getty goddess in her new home in Aidone, Sicily. For both Ralph and me, the trip -- which coincided with the release of Chasing Aphrodite -- really brought a feeling of closure to our own "chase," which began more than six years ago. Seeing the goddess -- can't really call her Aphrodite anymore -- in Sicily brought up some bittersweet feelings. The archaeological museum there sees about 17,000 visitors a year, far fewer than the 400,000 than visit the Getty Villa. Sicilian officials are hoping the goddess' return will change that, but certainly fewer people will see her now, and LA has lost an important masterpiece. That said, it was VERY powerful to see the statue in her new context, a stone's throw from Morgantina, the Greek ruins from where she was looted in the late 1970s. Surrounded by eerily similar figures depicting the fertility goddesses Persephone and Demeter, the statue takes on a startling new meaning.
ARCA Blog: What do you think we can expect from the Getty's new chief, James Cuno, author of "Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage?" What do you think the Getty is saying here with the appointment of Cuno?
Jason: The Getty made a very curious choice with Jim Cuno. On the one hand, he's an obvious candidate and a widely respected figure in the museum world. But on the issue he is most passionate and outspoken about, he is on the opposite end of the reformed Getty, which really has been leading reform efforts on the antiquities issue. In recent years, particularly after Phillip de Montebello stepped down at the Met, Cuno has been the leading voice for a position that has fewer and fewer supporters. Why would the progressive Getty chose such a regressive leader? From speaking with Cuno and several board members involved in the decision, it sounds like he was selected for everything except his views on antiquities collecting. Neil Rudenstein, who as President of Harvard was Cuno's boss for a time, said he personally disagrees with Cuno on that issue but thinks he'll nevertheless make a good chief executive of the Trust. Cuno himself has said he'll honor (and keep) the Getty's acquisition policy, which bars acquisitions of antiquities unless they have clear provenance dating to 1970. So we'll have to wait and see. Will the Italians curb the generosity of their loans? Will the Getty find ways to wiggle around its strict policy? Or by hiring Cuno, has the Getty cleverly "co-opted" one of the biggest opponents to to reform in this area? Time will tell. Meantime, I'd watch closely to see who Cuno chooses as the Getty's new museum director...and who that person chooses as the museum's antiquities curator.
ARCA Blog: Since I remember her even at the old Getty Villa in Malibu, I was a bit sorry to see "Aphrodite" leave Southern California. Did you become attached to her while you were researching your book?
Jason: Frankly, I never found the goddess to be the most beautiful of the objects at the Getty. In my view, she is far more important than she is beautiful, and that importance was largely squandered during her 22 years at the Getty -- she was almost entirely ignored by the scholarly community, thanks in large part to her scandalous past. Now that she's back in Sicily, I hope to see a new wave of scholarship that tries to restore her context and meaning. I feel more wistful about some of the other masterpieces the Getty returned -- the amazing griffons that adorn the cover of our book, the golden funerary wreath that may have rested on the head of a relative of Alexander the Great. Those are objects I'll miss seeing regularly. 
Reception in Aidone, Italy 
ARCA Blog: When you were in Italy, did you wonder if anyone in the crowd had made money from selling "Aphrodite" to the Getty? How well were you able to explain this transaction in your book?
Jason: Yes, there is plenty of irony here. In effect, the goddess has been returned to those who looted her, broke her into pieces and smuggled her out of the country for profit. Aidone is a very small town, and I was told that several of the locals who attended the ceremonies used to be clandestini -- the Sicilian term for looters. In reporting the book, we were able to recreate some of the illicit journey the goddess took from Morgantina to the Getty -- where it was found; how it was broken and smuggled out of the country to Chiasso, Switzerland; how it was shopped around (for a far lower price!) before the Getty bought it for $18 million in 1988. But much of that account is based on whispers and confidential law enforcement sources. There are conflicting aspects of the account, and the full story remains to be told. I'm hoping more details will emerge now that the statue is back home and the statute of limitations has expired on any criminal charges. In particular, it would be very important to know the precise find spot, which could then be formally excavated. But secrets have a way of staying secret in Sicily. We may never know the full truth.
Jason Felch will be signing the non-fiction book he co-authored with Ralph Frammolino, "Chasing Aphrodite, The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum", at 7 p.m. on May 31 at Book Soup in Los Angeles.

You may read more about the trip home for the Getty goddess here on the website of Chasing Aphrodite.