Showing posts with label forfeiture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label forfeiture. Show all posts

February 16, 2011

St. Louis Art Museum Sues the United States to Preclude a Forfeiture

The Ka-Nefer-Nefer Mask, acquired in 1998
 by the St. Louis Art Museum
The St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM) has sued the federal government to preclude it from initiating a forfeiture claim against the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask. The museum was approached in January by several U.S. attorneys in January, who indicated an intention to bring a forfeiture action against the mask. Civil forfeiture was the legal mechanism under which the Portrait of Wally litigation and subsequent settlement emerged. It is a powerful tool for claimants, which uses the resources of the federal government, and a favorable burden of proof, to pursue claims for objects which may have been looted or stolen.

But in this case, rather than waiting for the forfeiture action, the museum has decided to try to preclude a suit by the U.S. attorneys, arguing that from December-January of 2005-06, the U.S. was a party to several communications regarding questions with respect to the history of the mask. They use as examples, posts and emails sent by Ton Cremers, of the Museum Security Network. He sent at least two emails to Bonnie Magness-Gardiner of the FBI, INTERPOL, as well as James McAndrew at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Museum's complaint quotes emails from Cremers, which were published on the Museum Security Network:
  1. “So I should think that if the Egyptian Government lodged a complaint or request with the USA Government and the FBI Crime Team (to which I am copying this), then the Museum would be obliged to answer the questions.”
  2. “The FBI is just waiting for Egypt to file a complaint. A [sic] soon as Egypt files a complaint [sic] the FBI is expected to act.”
  3. “Maarten Raven, a Dutch archaeologist, saw the mask in the Saqqara and is VERY positive that the mask in the SLAM [Museum] is the same as . . .the one stolen in Saqqara . . . .
The SLAM argues in the complaint that the relevant U.S. government officials had knowledge of the potential claim over five years ago, and the five-year statute of limitations period has expired under 19 U.S.C. § 1621. A court will decide whether these emails, and queries the Museum sent to INTERPOL in the 1990's about the mask are sufficient to have given the U.S. government actual or constructive knowledge of the potential claim. The Museum seeks a declaratory judgment under the Tariff Act that the action is barred by the statute of limitations.

September 22, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 - , No comments

Two Forfeited Works Returned to Brazil

"Modern Painting with Yellow Interweave", Roy Lichtenstein
Art crime does not just include the theft of works of art or the looting of antiquities.  The value and portability of works of art make them a very convenient way to launder money as well.
I am quoted in a piece for NPR affiliate WNYC discussing the return of two objects to Brazil. 

This work by Roy Lichtenstein and another work by Joaquin Torres-Garcia were returned to the government of Brazil today during a ceremony in New York (press release).  The works were once owned by the disgraced Brazilian banker Edemar Cid Ferreira who was convicted and sentenced to 21 years in prison in 2006 for financial fraud.

A judge in Brazil ordered Ferreira to surrender his unlawfully-gained assets.  In an attempt to conceal some of these assets, these works were shipped to the Netherlands and then to New York where they were sold to unsuspecting buyers. The paperwork accompanying these works valued them at only $200, while they may be worth as much as $12 million.

This is an example of the use of civil forfeiture in policing the art and antiquities trade.  The "Portrait of Wally" settlement reached earlier this summer was also reached via forfeiture. Forfeiture allows prosecutors to bring a suit against an object which was part of a crime, and all claimants to the object come forward to challenge the forfeiture.  It is a powerful tool for prosecutors, as the burden of proof is far lower than the typical "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard typically involved in prosecutions.  Historically, federal prosecutors have intervened on behalf of origin nations or claimants when they have potential claims. Yet it has also been a useful tool in policing organized and white collar crimes. 
  1. Marlon Bishop, Lichtenstein and Torres GarcĂ­a Paintings On the Way Back to Brazil, WNYC, September 21, 2010, http://culture.wnyc.org/articles/features/2010/sep/21/us-returns-brazilian-art/ (last visited Sep 21, 2010).
  2. Erica Orden, U.S. Returns Valuable Paintings Seized From Ex-Banker to Brazil, wsj.com, September 21, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704129204575506181973997368.html (last visited Sep 21, 2010).