Showing posts with label cultural repatriation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cultural repatriation. Show all posts

November 15, 2019

Revisiting the case of the marble head of Alexander the Great as Helios, the Sun God

Sotheby's Website Screen Capture
taken 24 July 2018
This week journalist John Russell, of Courthouse News Service, reported that the attorney representing Safani Gallery Inc., in New York has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to block the application for turnover request for a marble antiquity seized by the Manhattan District Attorney.  In their complaint Safani Gallery Inc., wholly owned by Alan Safani, is seeking a trial by jury for the return of an Augustan Age marble head of Alexander the Great as Helios, the Sun God, or damages for the losses it believes it has incurred, from the Italian Republic.  On page 15 of that complaint, Safani through their council asks for a ruling by jury for either the return of the marble sculpture or the full fair-market value of the Head of Alexander, plus legal expenses and interest.

In its complaint Safani Gallery also represents that it was given express representations and warranties of the authenticity, ownership, export licensing, and other attributes of the provenance for the marble head from Foundation, Classical Galleries. Ltd., which sold the New York gallery the antiquity. The complaint also states that by seizing the sculpture, Italy seeks to receive a benefit, including the expropriation of the gallery's property for Italy's own use and gain, to which the country has no claim, interest, or right.

To provide background on this case, Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel in the Office of New York County District, through Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., submitted an Application for Turnover on 23 July 2018 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) requesting the transfer of this antiquity, 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 marble head of Alexander the Great had been seized at Safani Gallery  on 22 February 2018.  As a result of that seizure, the object 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.  That seizure was carried out based on evidence provided by the Italian authorities that the object had been stolen and illegally exported from the country of origin in contravention of Italy’s cultural heritage law (No 364/1909).

Looking across the remains of the Basilica Aemilia
towards the Severan Arch,
the Tabularium, and the Modern Senate House
Image Credit: B. Dolan
In terms of its history, the NY District Attorney 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 Rome's Colosseum, located within the Roman Forum. While little remains of the Basilica Aemilia today, its presence in the form is documented by Rome historian Pliny the Elder as being one of the three most beautiful elements on the site alongside the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Peace.


The contested marble head was discovered at some point during Italian research excavations carried out by Professor Giacomo Boni and later by Professor Alfonso Bartoli, who conducted archaeological surveys of the Palatine Hill in Rome between 1899 and 1939.  Written documentation from these explorations suggest that the head was once part of the “Statues of Parthian Barbarians” which are believed to have adorned the Basilica Aemilia.  As such, these objects represent a valuable testimony to the art and architecture decorating buildings in the Forum during the Augustan Age.

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 to humiliate the ancient foreign enemy of Rome.  Representing individuals from the Parthian Empire (also known as the Arsacid Empire), these human 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 time period of people from the Orbis Romanus which makes this statue grouping particularly identifiable.

Correlating statue from the Basilica Aemilia
According to New York court documents, the Italian Soprintendenza alle Antichità Palatino e Foro Romano began keeping archival ambrotype photographic documentation of the objects it discovered during these excavations beginning in 1908.  This method of documentation most likely came about as a result of the country having instituted regional "Superintendencies" in 1907 on the basis of law no 386 dated 27 June 1907.   Prior to that, Italy lacked a strong national framework to encompass cultural heritage laws and regulations, and the area's cultural heritage was protected by the individual laws and decrees inherited from the many states and kingdoms that formerly made up Italy prior to it unification.

To archive the excavation finds from the Roman Forum, the city's cultural authorities placed the smaller antiquities discovered during this excavation upon a table in the Museo Forense cloister for cataloging.   The objects were then photographed against a dark background to aid in their identification and documentation.

Italy's archival records from this period document an image of the Head of Alexander, taken after its initial excavation, resting alone on this table in the aforementioned cloister.  The location where this image was taken is confirmed via a second image photographed in the same cloister of additional excavation finds from the Basilica Aemilia excavation which depicts objects photographed on the same table, but taken from a wider angle which allows the viewer to see the architectural elements from the cloister.  Based on these photographic records, the contested head of Alexander the Great is believed to have been discovered during the second phase of excavations which began after 1909, one year after the superintendency began using this type of photographic imagery for this excavation.

An ambrotype is an early form of photography dating to the 1850s which, in many ways, is a more cumbersome antique equivalent to the modern day slide, with the exception being the photograph was created by way of a fragile glass negative.  To preserve them, ambrotypes are generally stored in cases called a casket or union case and in single envelopes which require special care given their fragility. 

Sample ambrotype photo in its union case.
To date the find period for this object it must be remembered that the Italian authorities also have no contradicting written entries or alternative photographic archival documentation of any marble head finds, Alexander the Great or otherwise, from the Basilica Aemilia excavations related to the Barbarian statues prior to 1909.  All records of this marble head date from 1909 and points thereafter.

It is important to note that Professors Bartoli and Boni began their explorations in the zone of the Basilica Aemilia, where the head has been reported to have been excavated, in September 1909.  This time period, discussed at length in the State of New York's Application for Turnover, is documented in the archaeological record and demonstrates that in all likelihood, the marble head was found after September 1909 when excavations at the Basilica resumed.  Possibly more precisely, the first written documentation of marble sculptural heads of this type being found at the Basilica Aemilia were documented in  Bartoli's excavation journal in March and June 1910.  

This dating is critical to this restitution case in so much as Italy's Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage (No 364/1909) was made into law less than three months earlier, on 20 June 1909.  According to that law, there is a presumption of State ownership for all archaeological objects discovered after the law's implementation, unless the Italian cultural ministry acknowledges that the object does not have a cultural interest.  Given the importance of the Roman Forum excavations, it is not likely that the newly established Superintendency responsible for Rome would have categorized the symbolic head of Alexander the Great, from a site as important as the Basilica Aemilia, within the Forum Romanum,  as insignificant.

History tells us though that records for the marble head notated "perduta" (Italian for the word "lost") in November of 1960, when a review of the photographic negative of the Head of Alexander, inventory number 5862, no longer could be matched with a correlating object within the state's collection inventories.  Yet, at the time of this notation, there was no evidence to indicate that the object, or a second, also notated missing antiquity, had been stolen.  It is for this reason perhaps that the object was not archived within Italy's Leonardo database, the Italian state's archive for stolen art and antiquities.

But where was the object bought and sold before ultimately being located by the Italians? 

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 now known simply as Sotheby’s.  The buyer at this 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 then sold at Sotheby's for a second time, during Sotheby’s Egyptian, Classical and Western Asiatic Antiquities sale .

At the time of this second 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

At the time of this transaction, there was very little in the way of documentation to confirm the provenance narrative.  Despite this, the marble head sold to a then unidentified buyer for $92,500 USD.

In May 2017, the head of Alexander surfaced once again, but on the other side of 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 in turn sold the head of Alexander to Alan Safani of Safani Gallery for $152,625 on 20 June 2017.

Object Identified by the Italians

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 art fair advertisement which featured a photo of the stolen head in a publication for the upcoming 2018 fine arts fair 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, 10-18 March 2018.  Fortini determined that the photo in the advertisement and the old archival documentation photo of the head in the Museo Forense’s cloister were of the same object.

That same day, 19 February 2018, Fortini contacted the Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage a informed them of her suspicions.  On February 20, 2018, the Carabinieri likewise notified the New York authorities of Dr. Fortini's concerns.  Two days later, on February 22, 2019, a formal theft report had been filed with the Italian authorities and Lieutenant Colonel Nicola Candido, Commander of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Rome, formally notified Matthew Bogdanos at the New York District Attorney's office that the Head of Alexander was “stolen from the L'Antiquarium Forense in Rome (Italy) - an Archaeological Site that belongs to the Italian State,” and that “the Italian Republic has never issued a state-approved license for the exportation of the [Head] from Italy; and has never transferred the ownership of the [Head] from Italy to any third party.”  These statements and the accompanying evidence gathered in relation to the assertion resulted in the seizure of the sculpture from Safani Gallery.

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 this marble head, this leaves Safani and his counsel, David Schoen, to see if they can make their case based on the laches defense.  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 against 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 the state of New York 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 within days of its identification that its "lost" item was in fact stolen, this course of legal action doesn't seem to be a viable route for retaining the object in question.

Likewise, as of this date, Safani Gallery hasn't produced any records or bill of sale for any pre-1974 transaction for the Head of Alexander.  Nor are there any records or invoices for the 1974 sale by Sotheby’s to Altertum Ltd., or any export visas or stamp authorizing the Head’s legitimate removal from Italy. Nor are there any records which would confirm a date for which the object was shipped out of the source country, such as a bill of lading or a customs declaration.  This leaves Safani with little tangible evidence to disprove the NYDA's stance that the object was stolen and then illegally removed from Italy.

Despite this, on 14 November 2018 Safani's attorney reported that the New York courts denied the NY DA's Turnover Application

To clarify on the aforementioned tweet by David Schoen, which only presents a portion of the facts,  the judge in this complicated case has stayed the proceeding pending the outcome of the federal case, and ruled that New York does have jurisdiction to resolve ownership disputes of antiquities under PL 450.10, and that he will do so in appropriate cases.

So for now, the court wrangling continues to drag on.

To view the 22 February 2018 Seizure Order, please see here.
To view the 23 July 2018 Application for Turnover, please see here.
To view the 12 November 2019 Safani Complaint, please see here.

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 21, 2019

Restitution: The grassroots work of the IPP pays off again.

Image Credit: Rahul Nangare, 
Indian Revenue Service Diplomat, First Secretary
High Commission of India, London
On August 15, the High Commissioner of India in London accepted the return of two objects looted from India.  The first was a 1st Century BCE - 1st Century CE carved limestone railing, which experts believe may have possibly been stolen from the Buddhist complex at Vaddamānu in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.  The second item, was a 17th century Indian bronze figure depicting the Krishna as Balakrishna, standing on a lotus base.  The Hindu deity is naked except for his jeweled ornaments, dancing with his right leg raised, holding a ball of butter in his right hand.  This statue is believed to have been taken from the area of Tamil Nadu, the Indian state located in the extreme south of the subcontinent.

Both objects were voluntarily relinquished by an unnamed collector said to have purchased the objects via an also unnamed individual, long implicated in illicit trafficking. This unnamed dealer is presumed to be Subhash Kapoor.

For the uninitiated, Vaddamānu in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur district might not ring any bells.  But for S. Vijay Kumar, a Singapore-based Indian trafficking expert and co-founder of the India Pride Project, the area is of considerable historic importance and one subject to looting.  ARCA has also noted that excavations in the area have yielded railing pillars, carved in limestone ('Palnad marble), similar to the one that has just been restituted.  One example of such is pictured here. These objects, along with cross-bars, copings, and other architectural elements were used in ancient Vihara and Stupa, some which date as far back as the Mauryan Empire (322 BCE - 185 BCE).  At Buddhist sites such as these, carved stone railings, sometimes square in plan, but more often circular, were used to define the confines of religious sites and could also have been used as decoration to delineate an external processional path.

Both of these recently restituted pieces came to the attention of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) when the London-based collector who possessed them contacted the agency wanting to voluntarily surrender the objects to their rightful home.  The pieces are believed to have been purchased the objects via Subhash Kapoor, a disgraced ancient art dealer arrested in Europe and later extradited.  Kapoor is currently in Indian custody in the high security block of Tiruchirapalli Central Prison in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.  There he awaits trial on criminal cases for illegally exporting idols and artefacts from plundered temples.

On 08 July 2019, the Manhattan District Attorney's office followed suit with the Indian government and filed their own formal criminal charges against Kapoor and seven other co-conspirators.  In the court's documentation,  the well organized smuggling ring is believed to have smuggled $145 USD million worth of objects out of India and in to market countries in an operation believed to have lasted for as long as thirty years. Arrest warrants have been issued for all eight defendants on a total of 213 Counts, ranging from grand larceny to criminal possession of stolen property.  


The co-conspirators listed in the July New York Criminal Complaint for Subhash Kapoor et al are: 

Sanjeeve Asokan - Asokan was arrested and charged as a co defendant to Kapoor in India in March 2009.  According to details outlined in the Indian criminal complaint Subhash Chandra Kapoor vs Inspector of Police, para 3., Asokan's involvement in the illicit trafficking ring extended to driving with individual looters to particular villages in Tamil Nadu in order to identify temples which were vulnerable to theft.  Having identified accessible antiquities ripe for the taking, it is alleged that Asokan then supplied the stolen artworks to Kapoor in the United States.  Shipping the loot in staggered shipments from India to lesson the impact of possibly losing an entire shipment should there be a customs seizure.  While awaiting trial in India Asokan is being detained since 25 March 2009 under the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders and Slum-Grabbers (Act 14 of 1982).  As a co-conspirator in the New York case he has been charged with 21 Counts including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree (9 Counts), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (10 Counts), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Third Degree (1 Count), and one Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.

Dean Dayal (also spelled Deen Dayal) - IAs earli as 2016 HSI special agents worked with Tamil Nadu law enforcement authorities to arrest Dayal, and other trafficking co-conspirators in Chennai, India.  As a result of that investigation Dayal was implicated as being one of the principles on the ground behind the actual thefts at targeted temples.  In New York Dayal now faces a total of 5 Counts including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (4 Counts) and one count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.

Ranjeet Kanwar (now well known as "Shantoo") - Kanwar was named in an earlier criminal complaint in Manhattan Criminal Court, signed by Special Agent Brenton Easter of the Department of Homeland Security against New York art dealer Nancy Wiener. According to statements by a former employee of Kapoor, Kanwar was one of Subhash Kapoor's alleged suppliers of stolen antiquities.  His name appears on a computer disk file folder that contained at least three pictures of  looted Seated Buddha #1 found at the Sofia Bros. Storage, in New York County, a storage facility rented by Subhash Kapoor. Kanwar faces a total of 4 Counts in New York including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree (1 Count), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (2 Counts), and one Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.

Vallabh Prakash - In November 2016 authorities in Indian reopened a then 11-year-old case with the help of HSI special agents, which served to identify the smugglers of the now repatriated religious stone idol of Vriddhachlam Ardhanari. Vallabh Prakash and his son, two antique dealers in Mumbai, operated Indo-Nepal Art Centre, a gallery which offered the stolen Ardhanari to Subhash Kapoor and who together smuggled the statue into the United States. Kapoor later sold this idol with false paperwork to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2004.  Father and Son were arrested in India in November 2017. Vallabh Prakash now faces a total of 11 Counts in New York including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (10 Counts) and one Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.

Aditya Prakash - As mentioned above in November 2016 authorities in Indian reopened a then 11-year-old case with the help of HSI special agents, which served to identify the smugglers of the now repatriated religious stone idol of Vriddhachlam Ardhanari. The son of Vallabh Prakash, Aditya Prakash, was co-proprietor of the Indo-Nepal Art Centre along with his father.  Arrested together with his father in 2017 several cases are still pending against the duo in Nellai, Palavur and Viruddhachalam. It is believed that many of the stolen idols from the temples in Tamil Nadu were smuggled through the involvement of this family, including 13 idols from the Sri Narambunatha Swamy Temple, Pazhavoor in Tirunelveli district on the Tirunelveli-Kanniyakumari border.  Aditya Prakash faces an additional 11 Counts in New York including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (10 Counts) and one Count of Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree.



Subhash Kapoor himself is listed in a total of 86 Counts in the recent New York charging document.  His charges include Grand Larceny in the First Degree (1 Count), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree (16 Counts), Grand Larceny in the Second Degree (13 Counts), Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree (50 Counts), Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (1 Count) Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Third Degree (3 Counts), Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree (1 Count) and one Count of Scheme and Defraud in the First Degree.

Before Kapoor's arrest on 30 October 2011 at Frankfurt International Airport for the charges he faces in India and his subsequent extradition from Germany to India on 14 July 2012, the influential dealer was widely feted in New York art circles.  In connection with his business, he maintained contacts around the globe, in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Bangkok, Bangladesh, Dubai, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan, with several of his associates implicated in shipping and selling stolen objects supplied with fake provenance to hide their illicit origin. At the height of his operation, Kapoor personally visited Tamil Nadu frequently which underscores the intimacy of the collector-dealer-smuggler-looter network as it relates to these cases.

Reflective of and similar to the recent restitution, Kapoor's name has already been tied to looted antiquities from Andhra Pradesh, the zone where the limestone railing returned via the UK originates from.  In 2016, a 3rd century CE stone panel, illegally exported from India, originating from the Satavahana-era Buddhist Complex of Chandavaram. was also returned to India by the National Gallery of Australia.  In that instance, the museum stated that it had been duped into purchasing the carving from Kapoor’s Art of the Past gallery for $595,000 USD in 2005 after the dealer provided themuseum with falsified provenance documentation indicating that the object had left the country of origin before the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.  That object was later clearly identified as having been stolen from the Chandavaram site museum in 2001.


Terracotta Rattle in the form of a Yaksha 
Metropolitan Museum Accession Number: 1990.309
Likely as a result of the increased pressure by grassroots organizations such as India Pride Project and law enforcement and prosecutors pressing formal charges against actors in the US, UK and India, two museums in the United States are finally taking action in evaluating the ethics of retaining prized antiquities within their collections, which are likely tied to Kapoor's illegal activities. According to an article in the New York Times, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has at least 15 antiquities known to be directly or indirectly associated with Subhash Kapoor which have been acquired after 1990.

The first, the terracotta rattle pictured at left in the form of yakshas (male nature spirit), dates to the 1st Century BCE Shunga period, comes from the archaeological site of Chandraketugarh in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is documented in the Met's collection with no other provenance aside from a passing mention that it was purchased from Kapoor's now shuttered Madison Avenue gallery, Art of the Past.

At the time of Kapoor's arrest in Europe, the Met's management and curatorial staff showed little interest whatsoever in reviewing the legitimacy of the Kapoor linked pieces within their collection.  This despite the spartan provenance which accompanied many of his objects and the fact that it has been proven in other instances that the network falsified provenance documentation.

Now, perhaps in hindsight, and in the wake of recent embarrassing seizures, including an Egyptian mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, an Italian Bell-Krater by Python and a Lebanese marble head of a bull it seems that the Met has finally decided it might be prudent to rethink its stance on some of its art acquisitions from India.

Image Credit:  S. Vijay Kumar
Via Twitter 8 February 2019
Likewise on 20 August 2019 it was finally announced that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art had come round to deaccessioning its own contested Buddha.  First identified by India Pride Project in February 2018 and related to the same theft as the restituted Nalanda Buddha identified at Maastricht's TEFAF in 2018, LACMA had, until recently, resisted acknowledging that the bronze in their collection was stolen 58 years ago.  This despite the fact that the bronze was matched via an image India Pride Project had obtained of 14 objects stolen from the Nalanda Archaeological Museum of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Nalanda, Bihar, India in 1961.  Despite this overwhelming evidence, it took almost a year and a half of pressuring the museum,  pursuing India’s claim, for LACMA to decide to deaccession the stolen bonze.

All too often, even when faced with proof of illicit origin, museums weigh the rarity or price of their acquisition above the ethical responsibility of voluntarily restituting objects found to have passed through the illicit market.  When they do, they overlook the cumulative cultural cost of lost art to poorer and more vulnerable source countries such as, in this case, India.  It is critical to remember that each and every object stolen or looted, whether or not the statute of limitations has expired, presents a loss to the source nation's cultural patrimony, and when there are many objects plundered, as can be seen within this one trafficking network, each of these losses has a cumulative negative effect.

Those working in the black market bank of the fact that many sculptures stolen from small villages are less likely to be reported to the police, and if they are reported, that not much is achieved because little documentation is made outlining the details surrounding the theft or the object itself making it difficult to determine the actors involved.  Thankfully illicit antiquities researchers, and now more often key prosecutors, like those in New York, are willing to consider the evidence collected by diligent researchers and scholars, as well as reviewing the historic records of civil servants, even retired ones, in order to access overlooked details like old photographs and museum records which can sometimes help determine in determining if the provenance provided to contested pieces is fact or fiction.

By:  Lynda Albertson




September 8, 2018

Saturday, September 08, 2018 - , No comments

Repatriation: The Sicán funeral mask finally goes home to Peru

Image Credit: Patricia Balbuena
Ministry of Culture Peru
In a legal battle that has taken 19 years of litigation, Germany's Plenipotentiary of the Free State of Bavaria, Dr. Rolf-Dieter Jungk, has turned over the eighth-century pre Columbian gold Lambayeque (Sicán) funerary mask to the Peruvian Culture Minister, Patricia Balbuena, at the Peruvian embassy in Berlin on Thursday. The priceless mask, made of hammered sheet gold alloy, was confiscated in Wiesbaden in 1999.


Decorative masks such as these have been found in tombs in the Lambayeque region of Peru, near the modern city of Chiclayo. As they lack perforations to see with, or holes to breathe through, they are believed to have been created solely as ornaments for the deceased, and likely covered the faces of high status individuals as part of their burial processes.


According to investigations by the Fiscal Police of Peru, the mask is believed to have been smuggled out of Peru sometime in 1997 and was brought to Germany by Aydin Dikmen. Dikmen was arrested in 1998 for his role in selling looted mosaics from the 6th century church of the Virgin of Kanakaria in the village of Lythrangomi sold on to Peg Goldberg in the United States.  The mask was formally confiscated in 1999 by the INTERPOL Office in Wiesbaden, Germany. 
 
Cover article in El Comercio
June 16, 1998
The case for restitution took years, winding its way through the Regional Court of Munich.  In December 2016, the 6th Civil Chamber issued a sentence ordering the release of the Sican Mask, confiscated by the Munich Prosecutor's Office and authorized its delivery to the Peruvian State.

For more information illustrating the search for recorded cultural goods, stolen, auctioned and repatriated from Peru, please follow the excellent writing at Memoria Robada. 

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

September 12, 2017

Repatriation: United States will return Iraqi Jewish Archive to Iraq in 2018.

Books and documents from the Iraqi Jewish Archive prior to conservation

On May 6, 2003, in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat headquarters, American soldiers from MET (Mobile Exploitation Team) Alpha, led by now-retired Chief Warrant Officer Richard “Monty” Gonzales, found thousands of Jewish communal and religious books in Arabic and Hebrew that appeared to record the life of Iraq's Jewish community  which flourished for over 2,500 years in the region of Babylonia. Unfortunately, the cache of historic items was discovered floating in hip-deep wastewater in the recently-liberated, bomb-damaged headquarters.

Former Chief Warrant Officer Richard Gonzales in waist-deep
sewage water in the basement of Saddam Hussein’s
Mukhabarat headquarters in Baghdad. Image Credit: Richard Gonzales

For emergency assistance in preserving the trove of books, manuscripts and documents, some dating from the mid-sixteenth to late twentieth century, Doris Hamburg, then Director of Preservation Programs at the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) preservation program was contacted by the Coalition Provisional Author­ity in Baghdad.



Hamburg and Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Chief of the Document Conservation Laboratory, in cooperation with the Iraqi officials, recommended freezing the documents as soon as possible as heat and humidity would produce a conservator's worst enemy: mold.  Freezing as a short-term solution is a common method which can quickly stabilize mold infestations until such time as an appropriate treatment to dry out materials can be undertaken.  The ability to freeze documents buys conservators time, allowing fragile material to be preserved until the documents can be sorted with care and worked on in a priority-centric  and carefully informed pace. 

Heeding NARA's advice, those on the ground moved the waterlogged damaged, and by now moldy documents into 27 large steel trunks.  In turn, these 2,700 books and thousands of Jewish paper documents were placed in a requisitioned freezer truck for storage until August 17, 2003 when a deal was struck between NARA and Iraq’s interim government.    

Citing Iraq's Antiquities Law No. 55, Dr Jaber Khalil Ibrahim, Chairman of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage at the Iraqi Ministry of Culture agreed to send the documents to the United States on a temporary basis, to allow NARA to undertake emergency conservation, on the condition that the material would be returned to Iraq within two years.

As their part of the agreement, NARA agreed to cover overhead costs for administrative functions, lab use, storage and utilities.  The US Military provided the security and transport of the archive from Baghdad to the United States where conservation treatment would occur. 

The trunks were brought to BMS Catastrophe (BMS CAT), a freeze drying company in Ft. Worth Texas utilized by NARA which deals with catastrophic damage and where salvage operations on the documents would start in earnest. Cleaning the documents of mold would be a complicated process, as those working with the materials would be required to wear protective suits for their own health and safety. 

Successful recovery of water-damaged archival materials is usually done in one of two ways: evaporation or sublimation, depending on the state of the water before it passes to vapor and escapes from the materials being conserved.  Water in the wet state can evaporate via air drying but this is not always the optimal method of choice. When freeze dried in controlled atmospheric conditions, water in its solid state, ice, will sublimate and can then be removed from the materials while still in its gaseous phase, without passing through the liquid phase. 

Freeze drying in a vacuum chamber was the conservation method of choice for the Iraqi Jewish Archive given the large numbers of waterlogged and damaged books, some of which had water-sensitive inks and coated paper.  It also limited the problems of bleeding and tidelines on the materials and helps to minimize document shrinkage and brittleness. Ultimately, vacuum freeze drying the texts allowed mold, mud, dirt, and dust to be vacuumed from the surface of the material in a controlled manner, so that conservators could focus their attention on reparations of the archive's contents, prioritizing which objects needed treatment first.  

A lengthy process, the archive's preservation at times has been hampered by funding concerns. As the Iraqi Jewish Archive is not a U.S. govern­ment collection, the United States National Archives and Records Administration funds could not be used for the conservation project.  Outside funding, provided by private donors, foundations or indirectly via other government agencies with authority was needed.

Many philanthropic Jewish organizations balked at funding the conservation and cataloguing initiative knowing that it was highly likely that the collection would ultimately be returned to Baghdad and not remain in the United States or Israel. 

In late 2005, $98,000 was allocated via the National Endowment to the the Center for Jewish History who facilitated the second phase of the preservation project.  To establish preservation priorities for Phase II Susan Duhl and conservation technician were contracted to work under the direction of the National Archives to assess and document the condition of the collection. 

Focusing on proper storage, the pair inventoried the material and took digital photographs used to establish a preliminary digital archive and catalogue, which, with language expertise, could then help set priorities as to what documents were in the collection as well as what actually should be preserved first. 

Experts knowledgeable in Levant and Jewish history met in May 2010 and offered recommendations regarding priorities for preservation, access, and to discuss the potential of an online digital archive and exhi­bitions.

In 2011 the US Department of State allocated an additional 2.97 million for was was to be the final phase of the preservation project.  This funding specified that the project was to be completed in 2014, with the objects to be repatriated June 2014. 

On May 14, 2014, Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the US, announced that the Iraqi government had authorized an extension period in which the archive could remain in the United States for a while longer, with key pieces displayed on exhibition.

The four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. is set to expire in September 2018. 

Call it cultural preservation, cultural imperialism, or call it stealing. 

Since the initial transfer of the Iraqi Jewish Archive to the United States, the question of its eventual repatriation to Iraq has been a source of continual contention.  Some argue that Iraq viciously persecuted its Jews and given their displacement, the archive should never be repatriated, belonging instead to the country's displaced jews. 

Others argue that the US is ethically bound to repatriate as they singularly promised the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Author­ity in Baghdad they would do so. 

Speaking to some individuals in Iraq, some feel strongly that the US government intervened solely because of the Jewish nature of the damaged objects.  They resent the special attention this archive received while other important archival documents and rare books belonging to the Iraq National Library and Archive, also impacted by the same type of wastewater flooding, were neglected. [NB the archival materials removed from the INLA were far more extensive than the Jewish documents held by the Mukhabarat and didn't fair as well with regards to preservation]. 

Marc Masurovsky of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project has said that while it appears that the US government is now of a mind to finally return these artifacts to Iraq in 2018, there will be others in clear opposition to that repatriation. 

He writes: 


Sigal Samuel, a self described Iraqi Jew, argues that the archive should go home. 

In a 2014 article in favor of the their return she stated:


On the argument of accessibility by Jewish readers when the artifacts go home Samuel argued:

"I understand that returning the archive to Iraq would make it difficult or impossible for most Jews — particularly Israelis — to safely access it. But even though I myself am saddled with an Israeli name and citizenship, I still don’t think this is an argument for keeping the archive in the U.S. I think it’s an argument for digitization — a process that’s already underway. Or it’s an argument for setting up loans, which would allow the exhibit to be housed permanently in Iraq but travel every few years to this or that Jewish population center.

In digital-age America, we take it for granted that everything we love should be at our fingertips. But relinquishing that luxury sometimes comes with distinct advantages. When it comes to returning this trove to Iraq, the advantages are clear: There, it will serve a vital educational purpose, both for world Jewry and for non-Jewish Iraq."

In a statement to the Jewish Telegraph Service this week, State Department spokesman Pablo Rodriguez said the four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. will expire in September 2018, as will funding for maintaining and transporting the contents of the archive. Outside of a new agreement being drawn up and signed between the Government of Iraq and a temporary host institution or government it looks like the archive is finally going to be repatriated.

Portions of the archive, featuring 23 recovered items and a “behind the scenes” video of the painstaking preservation process will be on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland from October 15, 2017 until January 15, 2018.

Highlights include:

For more details please see:
https://www.ija.archives.gov/
https://www.archives.gov/files/publications/prologue/2013/fall-winter/ija.pdf

October 10, 2016

Carabinieri del Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale to return stolen archaeological finds to Mexico

Mexican Embassy in Rome, Italy
In a ceremony to be held October 11, 2016 at 13:00 at the Mexican Embassy in Rome, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Italy's new Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, in a ceremony to repatriate illicitly trafficked heritage will return twelve archaeological objects to the Mexican authorities via a handover to the country's ambassador to Italy, Signore Juan Jose Guerra Abud, KBE. 

Having succeeding General Mariano Mossa as the head of Italy's specialised Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale this year, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli is not stranger to the nuance of international policing.  With degrees European Studies as well as International Law and Diplomacy the new general has commanded a team of Iraqi police as part of the NATO mission in Iraq and served as the commander of a training department for police in Baghdad.  Closer to home,he has served within the Carabinieri TPC overseeing the its NCO School in Florence.

The twelve pre-Columbian Mesoamerican pieces to be repatriated are from the Mesoamerican Preclassical period (2500 BCC - 200 CE) and the Classical Period (200-1000 CE).  The objects seized included a clay head of votive use portraying a character of high rank, another votive bust with disk-shaped earrings and another sculpture with nose ornamentation.

The antiquities were seized by law enforcement between 2013 and 2016 as the result of three separate investigations coordinated by the prosecutor of the Republic of Palmi (RC), Pesaro and Ascoli Piceno.  Several of the objects were seized during a customs cross-check of two travellers arriving from Mexico via the Reggio di Calabria "Tito Minniti" Airport, also known as the Aeroporto dello Stretto, in southern Calabria.  In a second instance an object had been marketed via "a popular online sales site" where the seller listed the city where the object was currently located and a cellular where he could be reached for further questions.  To verify the authenticity of the objects being sold the Carabinieri TPC worked with experts from the Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini in Rome as objects of this type are often reproductions.


Mexico is a quintessential example of an antiquities-rich “source nation”.  It's a country with an abundance of unprotected archaeological sites that all too often yields artifacts with a commercial value on the art market.  It is also a nation, that despite making great strides, still lacks the economic resources necessary to adequately protect much of the remote cultural patrimony found within its borders. 

In 2013, art market trend watcher Emma Crichton-Miller noted that Paris had superseded New York as "the most dynamic centre for pre-Columbian art globally, attracting collectors mainly from Europe and America, but also Latin America, the Middle East and Asia." This might explain why traffickers importing illicit goods, appreciate Italy's strategic placement on the European mainland. 

The theft and illegal trade of Mexican pre-Columbian antiquities is fed by high demand within the art market, which in turn creates strong incentives for poverty-driven digging.   Individuals and teams of looters dig indiscriminately where opportunity avails, without concern for the objects lost archaeological context.  They then collect and smuggle valuable finds to market countries by whatever channels are available to them.  

What legal instruments are there in Mexico to protect cultural heritage? 

Mexico's heritage law, written January 19, 1934 (Art. 27, Political Constitution of the Republic of Mexico; Law on the Protection and Conservation of Monuments. Typical Towns and Places of National Beauty), established national ownership of all immovable archaeological material in the public domain, and precluded the export of all works of art or antiquities without an export license.  

This law was further refined in 1972 creating new archaeological zones and extending national ownership of the cultural patrimony to private collections and absolutely forbidding the export of pre-Columbian antiquities. The only exception to this strict mandate is in the case of presidentially-approved gifts and exchanges to foreign scientific institutions and foreign governments for diplomacy purposes. 

It is also illegal in Mexico to excavate archaeological sites, even on private land, without the permission of the Mexican government's National Institute of Anthropology and History. 

December 30, 2013

Was the repatriation of a footless 10th century statue to Cambodia this month related to Sotheby's history of selling Khmer pieces with "no published provenance" or "weak" collecting histories?

This month's repatriation of a 10th century footless sandstone statue looted from an archaeological site in Cambodia has a backstory going back a few years. In an academic article published in July 2011, Tess Davis, then assistant director of Heritage Watch, wrote that Sotheby's Auction House had listed 377 Khmer pieces for sale between 1988 and 2010:
Seventy-one percent of the antiquities had no published provenance, or ownership history, meaning they could not be traced to previous collections, exhibitions, sales, or publications. Most of the provenances were weak, such as anonymous private collections, or even prior Sotheby’s sales. None established that any of the artifacts had entered the market legally, that is, that they initially came from archaeological excavations, colonial collections, or the Cambodian state and its institutions. While these statistics are alarming, in and of themselves, fluctuations in the sale of the unprovenanced pieces can also be linked to events that would affect the number of looted antiquities exiting Cambodia and entering the United States. This correlation suggests an illegal origin for much of the Khmer material put on the auction block by Sotheby’s
In the summer of 2011, Jane Levine of Sotheby's objected to Ms. Davis' article and demanded a retraction. About six months later, Cambodia asked that Ms. Levine be removed from a cultural panel based on perceived ethical conflicts.

At the end of February 2012, Tom Mashberg and Ralph Blumenthal wrote in The New York Times ("Mythic Warrior is Captive in Global Art Theft", February 28, 2012) that the Cambodian government had asked the U.S. for help to stop the sale of a reputedly looted 10th century Khmer Koh Ker footless sandstone statue Sotheby's intended to sell in March. This month, almost two years later, an agreement was reached to return the disputed statue, now described as a Duryodhana statue, to Cambodia ("Duryodhana statue from Prasat Chen, Cambodia: "Voluntary" Repatriation by Sotheby's and consigner").

Ms. Davis is now a Researcher in the Scottish Center for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow.

December 13, 2013

Duryodhana statue from Prasat Chen, Cambodia: "Voluntary" Repatriation by Sotheby's and consigner


By Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO



Located 120 kilometres (75 mi) away from Siem Reap and the ancient site of Angkor, Chok Gargyar is often referred to in legal proceedings by its modern name, Koh Ker. The site and its temple complexes once made up the 10th century capital of the Angkorian empire.  It is also one of the most remote and inaccessible temple sites in Cambodia.

The decision to repatriate the Duryodhana Hindu warrior follows the Metropolitan Museum of Art's June 2013 restitution of two life-size sandstone masterworks from the same temple complex.   The two "Kneeling Attendants" had graced the the entrance to the Met’s South East Asian galleries since they opened in 1994.

Throughout the investigation Ms. Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa has maintained that she inherited the statue via her husband’s estate and that he had purchased the statue in good faith in London in 1975.  A copy of the the United States legal complaint can be viewed here.

As part of the Stipulation and Order of Settlement accord signed on Thursday December 12, 2013 by Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, Sotheby's and U.S. federal attorneys, comes the statement that the plaintiffs “voluntarily determined, in the interests of promoting cooperation and collaboration with respect to cultural heritage,” that the object should be returned to Cambodia. Sotheby’s Spokesman, Andrew Gully went on the record to add that “the agreement confirms that Sotheby’s and its client acted properly at all times.”

It is interesting to speculate if this accord was in any way influenced by Aaron M. Freedman who pled guilty this month to six counts of criminal possession of stolen property valued at $35 million.  He was the long term manager of Subhash Kapoor’s art gallery on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. As part of his plea agreement, Freedman has agreed to work with New York and US investigators with their investigation and prosecution of Kapoor who is currently being held in a Chennai jail awaiting trial.