Showing posts with label illicit art trade. Show all posts
Showing posts with label illicit art trade. Show all posts

July 30, 2020

Restitution: Lot 448, Christie's


Early last November we wrote a blog post asking Christie's about an interesting polychrome painted 5th century BCE antefix in the form of a dancing maenad.  It had been scheduled to come up for sale in their December 4, 2019 auction and I felt the artefact deserved a closer examination regarding its legitimacy on the ancient art market.  For those who do not know, an anteflix is a decorative upright ornament, used by ancient builders along the eaves of a roof to conceal tile joints.




The provenance of the antefex was listed by Christie's as follows:

Provenance:

While nothing before 1994 was specified in Christie's single-line collection history, we know that before she died Ingrid McAlpine was once the wife of Bruce McAlpine, and for a time, before their divorce, both were proprietors of McAlpine Ancient Art Limited in the UK. 

While not completely identical, the Christie's antefix closely resembles another ancient Etruscan antefix in the form of a maenad and Silenus.  This one once graced the cover of the exhibition catalog "A Passion for Antiquities: Ancient Art from the Collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman" depicted to the left.  

That South Etruscan, 500-475 BCE, polychrome anteflix was purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum from the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection via Robin Symes for a tidy sum of $396,000 and displayed in an exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art back in 1995.  In 2007, that antefix was restituted back to Italy by the J. Paul Getty Museum after a Polaroid photo, recovered during a 1995 police raid on warehouse space rented by Giacomo Medici at Ports Francs & Entrepôts in Geneva, was matched to the artefact in the California museum's collection.

The Christie's auction dancing maenad also closely resembled another pair of suspect polychrome antefixes depicting a maenad and Silenus.  This grouping was once part of the collection of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum.  Like with the J. Paul Getty purchase, an image of one of the Copenhagen antefix and a foot were matched with photos law enforcement seized in the dealer Giacomo Medici's business dossier.  Eventually, as with the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Danes relinquished the pair of objects back to Italy.

Bruce and Ingrid McAlpine's names also comes up with other plundered antiquities later identified as having been laundered through the licit art market and accessioned into the prestigious Museum of Fine Arts in Boston collection.   An Attic black-figured hydria, (no.3) came through McAlpine via Palladion Antike Kunst, a gallery operated by Ursula Becchina, the wife of disgraced dealer Gianfranco Becchina.  The couple's names also appear alongside Robin Symes AND (again) Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman for the donation of an Apulian bell-krater. Both of which were restituted to Italy.

In addition, former Judge Paolo Giorgio Ferri, the Italian judge who worked heavily on these looting cases, showed me a letter, seized by the Italian authorities during their investigations which was written by the staff of Bruce and Ingrid McAlpine Ancient Art Gallery.   This letter, dated 8 July 1986, tied them once again to at least one transaction with Giacomo Medici and Christian Boursaud and referred obliquely to companies the convicted dealer operated through third parties, fronts or pseudonyms. 

All of which lead me to several (more) questions.

Why was Bruce Alpine's name, and the name of his ancient art firm conveniently omitted from the provenance record published by Christie's ahead of the December 4th auction?  
Was this omission an accidental oversight on Christie's part or an elective decision, perhaps as a way to reduce the possibility of the object's previous owners connections to the above mentioned dealers drawing unnecessary attention?    
What collection history did the auction house have, if any, that shows where or with whom this artefact belonged prior to the 1994 McAlpine acquisition date to demonstrate its legitimacy in the ancient art market?

Given that three antefixes depicting satyrs and maenads had already been returned to Italy as coming from clandestine excavations I brought my concerns to other Italian experts collaborating with ARCA, and to experts from the Villa Giulia, the Louvre,  and to the Carabinieri TPC.  Each acknowledged I had a right to be suspicious.

ARCA forensic researchers and a forensic archaeologist affiliated with the Louvre Museum pointed me to examples of molds that have been discovered at Etruscan excavations which also depict maenads and helped with comparison imaging.  Researchers in Rome who worked on the Becchina and Medici case identifications with the Rome courts pointed out similar antefixes from the ancient Etruscan cities of Veii and Falerii Veteres, which are part of Rome's Villa Giulia collection.  Both zones, situated on the southern limits of Etruria, were looted extensively.

But I was running out of time and without a smoking gun photo of the object in a looted state, I was also running out of evidence and leads.

I watched the days tick down until the item went up for auction and then sold, in just under two minutes of bidding.  Frustrated, and thinking this little lady was lost for the present, I filed my research away, hoping that down the road she might reappear and that by that point the Carabinieri, MiBACT or I might have more evidence, enough to build upon to make a case for restitution.

Surprisingly, BVLGARI, the Italian luxury brand came to the aid of its country and one frustrated antiquities researcher.  They too had been watching the auction and knew of our efforts to try and bring our girl home. Unbeknownst to me the jewelry firm had purchased the antefix, and then working through cultural diplomacy channels, donated it, through the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, to the Italian State and to the Villa Giulia specifically.

Looking back, with a view from the client's side of the equation:

When one wants to bid at an auction at Christie's, over the telephone, or online, a buyer has to prove that he or she is legitimate. To do so they must email the auction house a digital photo or PDF scan of a valid photo ID (eg. Driver’s Licence, Passport), and a proof of address.  For this proof, they will accept a recent utility bill or bank statement or corporate documents.  With these verifiable and valid documents, the auction house then trusts the potential buyer enough to open up an account in his or her name.

But Christie's seemed to need much less convincing paperwork before accepting the antefix of the dancing maenad for consignment.  Having reviewed the provenance paperwork for this antiquity, this antiquity came with only two, not very convincing documents, one of which had no dates whatsoever.

Those were:

1.) An undated document, which Christie's referred to as a "McAlpine stock card" for stock No. 2/114 noting a vendor in the name of ‘Kuhn’ of a "Terracotta antefix in the form of an akrotère."  

As mentioned above, an antefix, which comes from the Latin word antefigere, (to fasten before), is an architectural fixture which caps then end tiles of a tiled roof.

An akarotère is an architectural ornament placed on a flat pedestal called a plinth and is an ornamental sculpture or pedestal such as the one to the right. These sit above the pediment of a Classical temple and do not extend from the ends of roof tiles.  I also failed to find any Akarotères that picture a dancing maenad.

2.) An 8 February 1994 pricing document with no company names listed anywhere, which listed 15 carefully redacted artworks and one final artefact at the very bottom which listing item  2/156 as "an Antefix with musician, height 40 cm" with a list price of $35,000.

As with the first document, this second is puzzling.  The height of the listed object is slightly off, the stock number doesn't match, and the price indicated is three times higher than the antefix at Christie's sold for. And while the paper is dated 1994 in keeping with Christie's stated provenance, this document by no means shows that the document references the McAlpine's acquisition as it lists no company the purchase was made through and seems merely to be an price listing from some unidentified entity.  The visible item's description is also a bit puzzling.  While the Christie's maenad does depict her carrying a crotalum (a kind of clapper) in her right hand, it would be a stretch to call her a musician. Even if she could be described as a musician, generally speaking if you know the word antefix, its reasonable to assume you would be familiar with their depictions in history.  Why use the word pairing "with musician" instead of using "of a musician" or "of a maenad"?

This was all the documentation Christie's needed to consider an object valid for sale to a willing buyer?

They should be ashamed of themselves. 

Yet, at least we have a somewhat happy ending BVLGARI's donation.  Despite being auctioned and despite a long delay due to the COVID pandemic,she's finally home, and today, at 4pm, at a formal restitution ceremony, this lovely dancing lady took her place with her companions, in the Etruscan exhibition Colors of the Etruscans** at Rome's Centrale Montemartini.  



On the left the antefix as offered for sale by Christies. On the right the antefix at the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia. This antefix was found in 1937 in Veii, in the course of regular excavations of the Soprintendenza at the Etruscan sanctuary of Campetti North: a site previously looted by tombaroli. It seems evident that both antefixes were cast from the same mould and decorated in the same workshop. Therefore, most probably were originally part of the decoration of a single building.


On hand for the restitution celebration were:

Claudio Parisi Presicce, Capitoline Superintendency for Cultural Heritage -Director of Archaeological and Historical - Artistic Museums

Valentino Nizzo, Director of the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia

Margherita Eichberg, ABAP Superintendent for the Metropolitan area of Rome, the Province of Viterbo and Southern Etruria

Sara Neri, Direzione Generale Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio (Service IV, Circulation)

Lt. Col.. Nicola Candido, Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage

Leonardo Bochicchio, Daniele F. Maras, curators of the exhibition


I for one am glad she's home, and to also have been a part of her journey.  She's travelled a long way, from the Etruscan city of Veii, to London, and back home again.  May her bare feet forever dance on Italian soil.

By:  Lynda Albertson

** This exhibition will be open at the Centrale Montemartini museum through 01 November 2020.

July 7, 2020

Ashraf Omar Eldarir, A US Citizen, indicted for smuggling Egyptian antiquities


The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (HSI) - Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities (CPAA) unit within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has formally released information related to an antiquities trafficking investigation underway in the Eastern District of New York.  The case involves Ashraf Omar Eldarir, a US Citizen residing in Brooklyn who has been charged with smuggling Egyptian antiquities into the United States.

Stopped on 22 January 2020 upon arrival to John F. Kennedy International Airport from overseas, Eldarir provided US Customs and Border Protection authorities at the U.S. port of entry with a CBP declaration form, the double-sided slip of paper everyone entering the US must complete and hand over to  U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon arrival declaring the value of the goods they are bringing in from overseas.  On this form, Eldarir declared that he was only carrying merchandise and agricultural products valued at $300.  Instead, upon inspection of his belonging by CBP personnel, Eldarir was found to be transporting three suitcases full of bubble and foam-wrapped packages.

When unwrapped for further inspection by border patrol agents, the packages were found to contain 590 ancient artifacts, some of which still had adhering sand and soil, a signal which betrays their having been recently excavated.  Questioned by the authorities about the contents of his luggage, Eldarir was unable to produce any documentation which would show that he had obtained authorization from the Egyptian authorities for the exportation of the objects he was transporting.

As a result, Eldarir was subsequently arrested on 28 February 2020 and charged in the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, on two counts of smuggling, under Title 18 U.S. Code § 545, 2 and 3551 et seq. According to the U.S. Department of Justice indictment, the first charge of smuggling is related to the aforementioned January 2020 seizure.   The second charge us related to an earlier trip, on 18 April 2019, where the defendant is alleged to have smuggled a single artefact from Egypt.

If convicted of one, or both charges, Eldarir will face a penalty of up to 20 years in prison for each count.   The United States will also seek forfeiture of the following antiquities in accordance with: (a) Title 18, United States Code, Section 982(a)(2)(B):

  • forty-one (41) ancient Egyptian gold artifacts;
  • nineteen (19) ancient coins;
  • two (2) Greco-Roman rings;
  • thirty-one (31) ancient Egyptian talismans (Ptolemaic period);
  • fourteen (14) ancient beads;
  • twenty-six (26) ancient Egyptian wooden figures;
  • four hundred (400) ancient Egyptian faience ushabtis;
  • three (3) ancient Egyptian wooden panels with painted figures;
  • one ( I ) ancient Egyptian large stone face;
  • two (2) Egyptian wooden masks;
  • two (2) Egyptian stone panels with hieroglyphics; 
  • three (3) ancient Egyptian canopic jar lids;
  • two (2) ancient Greco-Roman stela;
  • one (1) ancient Greco-Roman terracotta headless torso with robes;
  • seven (7) ancient Greco-Roman terracotta statues; 
  • three (3) ancient Egyptian large terracotta vases; 
  • two (2) Egyptian smalIterracotta vases;
  • two (2) Egyptian alabaster artifacts;
  • two (2) ancient Egyptian Osiris headpieces/crowns; 
  • twenty-six (26) ancient Greco-Roman oil lamps; 
  • one (1) Greco-Roman terracotta pilgrim's flask;
  • one (1) ancient Egyptian polychrome relief.
How long Mr. Eldarir has been at this remains to be disclosed. But these pieces are just the tip of a growing iceberg.  


On 1 May 2013 it seems that Eldarir sold four Egyptian limestone relief fragments for Wahibrenebahet through Bonhams in London for €31,766 claiming they were from his personal collection, inherited through his grandfather who was a friend of Prince of Egypt Omar Tosson.  Curious as to what proof of export he showed then. 


He also sold a Limestone Relief Fragment for £28,750 via Alexander Biesbroek.  Same provenance, same question as to what proof of export Mr. Biesbroek or his buyer reviewed. 





And that's not all, there's more to come.  

Caveat Emptor

My suggestion is for every ancient art dealer or collector who has a piece with Eldarir provenance (and likely nothing to prove its legitimacy aside from its laundering) should really consider contacting HSI's Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities (CPAA) unit.  They know how to google things as well as I do, and contacting them first might save you from embarrassing seizures, and no one wants that now. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

June 12, 2019

A look at art crime through the eyes of some of ARCA's 2019 postgraduate participants

By Alexander Taylor, ARCA 2019 Participant 

Alexandra is a paintings conservator and a George Alexander Foundation Fellow which supports a range of fellowship opportunities for secondary, vocational students and post-graduates through leading national organisations. Her blog, ‘The Art of Value’, seeks to track her personal trajectory through the arena of art crime and cultural heritage protection.


The Road to Salvation

The XVI canto of Homer’s Iliad describes a touching episode of the Trojan War: the death of Sarpedon, son of Zeus and the king of the Lycians. This epic scene majestically drapes the surface of the infamous Euphronios krater, stolen in the ‘70s from one of Cerveteri’s necropolis’ and reappearing years later on the squeaky-clean shelf of a New York museum. Here marks the moment when the vase first set foot on the road to salvation.

The story began with the illegal excavation of an Etruscan tomb in the area of ​​Greppe Sant'Angelo in the municipality of Cerveteri. When the tombaroli (tomb robbers) pulled the vase out of the ground they must have known they’d struck gold. The krater, large enough to hold seven galleons of liquid, was “thrown” by the potter Euxitheos and then decorated exquisitely by the painter Euphronios. Let me digress: Euphronios is one of two or three of the greatest masters in Greek vase painting. ‘His works are so rare that the last important piece before this one had been unearthed as long ago as 1840’[1]. Todeschini and Watson quote art historian Hovers in the following grandiloquent statement, ‘To call [the vase] an artifact is like referring to the Sistine Ceiling as a painting.’ 

A significant find? Uh, yes.

Having done the deed the tombaroli then got in touch with an important American merchant, the result of their exchange being 125 million lire – no questions asked [2]. The monstrous trail of fictitious provenance documentation grew tenfold as the Euphronios krater journeyed from Cerveteri to America via an extensive array of dealers and restorers to mega-rich middlemen and some say red-handed museum officials. Here it underwent a number of unsuccessful sales before a scholar, who proposed himself as an intermediary for selling to the New York museum, generously took care of “the problem”. The vase sold for an extravagant US$1 million, the first time such a price was paid for an antiquity.[3] It was only when one of the tombaroli caught wind of the sale, realised he’d been slighted, and turned whistleblower by alerting the appropriate authorities that the subsequent Carabinieri investigation gained momentum.

If anyone is interested in this story and has not yet read The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, I suggest you get online and purchase a copy now. Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini have compiled a narrative that analyses the art market and its main players in all their multi-faceted, devastating glory. Each chapter reads like a journalistic article, thoroughly well researched and compelling, and together they interlock to present a tightly composed chain of events that unravel the workings of a well-oiled art crime machine. It is deliciously composed – I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in the underground antiquities market.

At this point you may be wondering how the “underground antiquities market” functions within Australia, or indeed how Australian legislation handles offences relating to art crime when compared to the Italians and their Carabinieri. Art crime covers ‘forgery and fraud, theft and extortion, money laundering, and document and identity fraud’ and yet Australia has no specialist art and cultural property investigation unit that deals with this rather expansive and complex “grey-area” in law [4]. Imagine coming across an otherwise reputable art dealer who is in the process of selling an ancient rock art tool that you know has come out of the Kimberley’s illegally. You can’t get in touch with an Australian “art fraud squad” because there isn’t one. So whom do you turn to?

To handle cases of art looting, loss and theft, Australians have to operate through one of nine different authorities, for example the Federal and State Police Services, the Interpol National Bureau, Austac & etc. These authorities are responsible for the investigation of crime, in its entirety, and thus operate with a combination of statute and common law. Traditional modes for investigation, such as interviewing the witnesses or obtaining statements, become ‘ineffective’ in cases of art crime because the investigatory trail ‘tends to lack documentary evidence, which conventional fraud inquiries rely upon’[5]. Hopefully I haven’t bored you with the details, but I believe it’s important that you know where we stand.

Let’s conclude today’s post with a round-trip back to the Euphronios krater. On Wednesday the 5th of June, we took a class excursion into Rome for the L’Arte Di Salvare L’Arte exhibition at the Quirinal Palace. We were told the krater was on display here, amongst a number of other salvaged Italian heirlooms. Not quite comprehending the wonders promised, I felt my jaw drop rather comically upon entering the first room. We’d just walked into a trove of repatriated treasures. Stumbling past the only complete Capitoline Triad, stolen from the Tenuta dell’Inviolata in 1992; and the Il giardiniere by Vincent Van Gogh, stolen in 1998 from the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome; I came face to face with the pair of fourth century marble griffins, stolen from the tomb of Ascoli Satriano in 1976. The last time I saw this artefact was in a Polaroid photograph taken by the tombaroli, a shot that evidently showed the griffins stuffed haphazardly into the boot of a car – still encrusted with the residue of their recent earthy bed.

Alexander Taylor listening to Fabrizio Rossi on the illicit excavation of
La Triade Capitolina
And, wide-eyed, we rounded the corner and arrived at the Euphronios krater standing stoically to the left in a room full of salvaged Etruscan relics.


The moment has been rather difficult to translate into words, so instead I’ll post a couple of pictures that best represent my impression of the matter. The image below depicts the “big fish”; the man who orchestrated the whole dirty, shameful transaction – from tombaroli to middlemen to the museum in New York – whilst plying his trade comfortably in Corridor 17 at the Geneva Freeport. Here he stands triumphantly in front of an airtight American enclosure that houses the Euphronios krater in a land far, far away from the tomb it was looted from. The second has me standing with an even bigger grin on my face, a grin that comes from knowing full well that whatever this “big fish” instigated back in the 70s the krater eventually made its way back home, leaving behind a shattered reputation and an open, gaping hole in the criminal art market.

To read more of Alex's musings on the art world, please visit her blog, The Art of Value

______________________________

[1] Watson P., Todeschini C. (2006), The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, Public Affairs, United States, p. ix.

[2] Ministry per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (2019), L’Arte di Salvare L’Arte. Frammenti di Storia d’Italia, museum pamphlet, Palazzo del Quirinale, Roma.

[3] Watson P., Todeschini C. (2006), The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, Public Affairs, United States, p. ix.

[4] James M (2000), ‘Art Crime’ in Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, Australia, p. 1.

[5] James M 2000, ‘Art Crime’ in Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, Australia, p. 4.

February 13, 2019

Looted artworks returned to Italy via voluntary forfeiture via Christie's auction house in London


In a memorable act of rare collaboration, Italian officials have announced “the first case of such close co-operation between Italy and a private auction house” in which a number of illegally obtained and trafficked antiquities, the proceeds of clandestine excavations between the 1960s and the 1980s, were voluntarily restituted to the Italian authorities. 

In a handover event held at Italy's Embassy in London, twelve antiquities and one document were ceremoniously returned, some of which had been placed up for auction in 2014 and 2015 and which were withdrawn from sale after being determined as questionable.  Attended by Alberto Bonisoli, the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities,  Raffaele Trombetta, the Italian ambassador to London, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli of Italy's Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the CEO of Christie's Guillaume Cerutti and the auction house's Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Brooks, this event represents a much needed step forward in art market's cooperation with the Italian authorities and a welcomes step towards collaboratively working with one another towards the restitution of looted objects.

The antiquities returned are: 


A marble fragment whose theft from a sarcophagus from the Catacombs of St Callixtus, on the Appian Way in Rome was reported in 1982. 


A 6th -5th century BCE Etruscan terracotta antefix used to capthe terminus of covering tiles on ancient roofs.

Its original provenance when listed in sale 10372 as Lot 102 was "Property from a London Collection
Provenance:   Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9 December 1985, lot 273, when acquired by the present owner."


Five (5) 4th century BCE Apulian Gnathian-ware plates.


A 350-330 BCE red-figure Apulian hydria believed to be attributed to a follower of the Snub-Nose or Varrese painter.

Its original provenance when listed in sale 10372 as Lot 108 was "Property from a London Collection


A 2nd century CE Roman capitol.


A Roman marble relief depicting a Satyr with Maenad stolen from the gardens of Villa Borghese in 1985.


A 14th century promissory folio from an illuminated manuscript by the Doge Andrea Dandolo and the ducal councilors.


A 4th century BCE red-figure Faliscan stamnos vase used to store liquids.

At the ceremony, attendees underscored that the art market's ethical codes need enhancement and that greater due diligence is needed to ensure the legitimacy of objects before accepting them for sale.  With over 1 million two hundred thousand stolen objects and about 700 thousand images of stolen and looted art, the Carabinieri's Leonardo database, the largest stolen art database in the world, is a good place to start when auction houses such as Christie's consider accepting them on consignment.

During the event Christie's staff indicated that the antiquities had been acquired in the past in good faith.   Three of these however did not pass the smell test in 2014 and 2015 when they originally accepted for consignment and were placed up for auction.   All three were later withdrawn when they were identified as having passed through the hands of well known Italian dealers who have consistently been linked to trafficked antiquities.  Without the required, verifiable title, export documentation or collection history these objects had no place on the legitimate art market. 


Auction houses are not the only parties that need to be diligent when evaluating antiquities, especially when considering objects which appear to have emerged on the open market without substantiated collection histories.

Ancient art collectors should realise that their buying power and unharnessed demand for archaeological material, absent transparent ethical acquisition documentation, serves to incentivise those facing economic hardship to participate in, or tacitly condone, the looting of archaeological sites, by which illicit material enters the licit market.

If collectors in market buying nations such as the United States and UK refused to purchase undocumented artifacts, then the supply chain incentives for looting historic sites, which by proxy funds criminal enterprise, diminish.

By:  Lynda Albertson

October 10, 2018

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


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


Resident of Belpasso, Italy
Palmino Pietro Signorello, 66

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

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

Resident of Mazzè, Italy
Salvatore Pappalardo, 55

Residents of Paternò, Italy
Luigi Signorello, 34

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

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

Resident of Strongoli, Italy
Luigi La Croce, 62

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

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

Lawyers for the accused are:

Ivan Bellanti
Angelo Cafà
Paolo Di Caro
Davide Limoncello
Ignazio Valenza

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

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

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

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

August 8, 2018

Sicilian judges reject appeal made by William Veres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 6, 2018

More details on Operation Demetra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Veres

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

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

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

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

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 4, 2018

Operation Demetra: The Trafficking of Sicilian Archaeological Treasures

Image Credit: Carabinieri TPC

Updated 13:00 GMT+1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are:

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

By:  Lynda Albertson

June 10, 2018

Syria has ratified the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.

The smashed face of a statue found on the floor of the Palmyra museum in the Syrian city of Tadmur, Homs Governate,  March 31, 2016. Image Credit - Joseph Eid
To address the ongoing issue of illicit trafficking of Syrian cultural property, the country has now ratified the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects.   Adopted on 24 June 1995, representatives of over seventy states met in Rome with an ambitious goal aimed at harmonizing the rules of private law of various states parties affecting the restitution and return of cultural objects between states party to the Convention to their country of origin. 

The aim of UNIDROIT (is clearly stated in Paragraph 4 of its preamble.  That that is: to contribute effectively to the fight against the illicit trade in cultural objects by establishing common, minimal legal rules for the restitution and return of cultural objects between contracting states with the objective of improving the preservation and protection of cultural heritage.  

At present, including Syria, there are now forty-three states party signatories to the Convention. 

With Syria's deposit of the instrument of accession to the UNIDROIT Convention of 1995 at the Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) on 27 April 2018, the UNIDROIT Convention will enter into force for the Syrian Arab Republic on 1 October 2018.

The full text of the Convention is available here.

Extracted from the UNIDROIT website:


For years, many middle eastern countries failed to consider ratification of UNIDROIT working under the false assumption that the initiative for the Convention on the protection of cultural property was a manoeuvre by “art importing” countries to weaken the UNESCO Convention. Others (wrongly) misinterpreted the nature of the agreement as an extension of the UNESCO Convention at the behest of the “exporting” States.   The reality is quite different as Marina Schneider, Senior Legal Officer and Treaty Depositary explains.  In trainings conducted throughout the globe, Ms. Schneider explains that it was at UNESCO’s request that UNIDROIT (International Institute for the Unification of Private Law) took up the matter of illicit traffic in cultural movables given the enormous complexity of legislation as it relates to the phenomenon of illicit trafficking. 

For a “live” status map of the Signatory and State parties to the UNIDROIT Convention please see the UNIDROIT website here: https://www.unidroit.org/status-cp?id=1769
The ratification of the UNIDROIT convention will allow Syria to fight more effectively, together with other signatory States, against theft, import, export and illegal transfer of ownership of its cultural patrimony.   Let's hope Iraq will sign on next. 

January 31, 2018

ICOM releases its newest Red List for the country of Yemen in New York today


For decades, ICOM – the International Council of Museums has continued its fight against illicit traffic in cultural goods with the publication of its Red Lists of endangered cultural assets.  These lists, which are extremely effective reference tools, illustrate endangered categories of archaeological objects and works of art from specific geographic regions that have a greater potential for being traded illegally.

Produced as a handy-sized, illustrated poster, each Red List help customs authorities, law enforcement agencies, auction houses, museums, dealers and other parties of the importance identify the general types of archaeological, ethnographic, religious and historic objects likely to be looted from cultural sites, stolen from museums and religious institutions, and subject to illicit trafficking.

To date ICOM has created 17 Red Lists for:

Afghanistan (2007), Africa (2000), Cambodia (2009), Central America and Mexico (2010), China (2010), Colombia (2010), the Dominican Republic (2013), Egypt (2011), Haiti (2010), Iraq (2003, updated in 2015), Latin America (2003), Libya (2015), Peru (2007), Syria (2013), West Africa (2016) and as of today, Yemen (2018). 

According to France Desmarais, the creator of the Yemen Red List, "Seven of these Red Lists were classified as "Emergency" Red Lists because they concern countries whose movable heritage had suddenly been placed at risk, either due to a natural disaster (as in the case of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010) or armed conflict (Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Mali and Yemen)."

The Lists are available in English, French, the language(s) of the source country, and as interest requires, languages in countries with a potential for being transit points for illicit trafficking. 

The Emergency Red List of Cultural Objects at Risk – Yemen will be officially presented at the Metropolitan Museum in New York today at 5:00 p.m. The event will take place in the presence of museum and heritage professionals, government and law enforcement representatives and members of the press. 

ICOM President Suay Aksoy and Director of Programmes and Partnerships France Desmarais, who developed the Yemen Red List, will officially represent the organisation on this occasion and will introduce the Red List to the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the United Nations H.E. Ambassador Khaled Hussein Alyemany as well as to other attendees. Daniel H. Weiss, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Metropolitan Museum will speak on behalf of the Met’s continued support of ICOM’s mission promote awareness on the categories of objects most at risk of being illicitly trafficked.

The Emergency Red List of Cultural Objects at Risk – Yemen is one of several Red Lists which have been produced and distributed by ICOM with the support of the United States Cultural Heritage Center.  On hand for the event representing the US Government will be Jennifer Zimdahl Galt, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Produced with the scientific contribution of international experts and museums from Yemen, the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany, ICOM's new Yemen Red List identifies categories of Yemeni objects which may be in high demand on the art and antiquities market and which are vulnerable to being looted, stolen or illegally exported, especially given the unrest caused by the ongoing conflict. 

Doing the Right Thing

If you are a collector ARCA strongly encourages you to pay close attention to the provenance and legal documentation of any objects you purchase from  Yemen,  paying special attention to the types of objects which appear on ICOM's Yemen Red List

January 15, 2018

IDs from the archives in the Michael Steinhardt and Phoenix Ancient Art seizures

Image Credits:
Left - Symes Archive, Middle - New York DA, Right - Symes Archiv,

Earlier today ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis of matches that he has made from the confiscated archives of Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides which are related to the recent antiquities seizures made by the state of New York law enforcement authorities earlier this month.

Identifications made from these archives, confiscated by the Italian authorities (with the cooperation of the French and Swiss) and Greek police and judicial authorities, have already facilitated numerous repatriations of antiquities which have passed through the hands of traffickers whose networks are known to have plundered objects from Italy and Greece.

Of the 16 artifacts reported as seized by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office from the home and office of retired hedge-fund billionaire Michael Steinhardt and Phoenix Ancient Art, an ancient art gallery co-owned by Hicham Aboutaam in New York City, Tsirogiannis has tied 9 objects conclusively to photos in all three archives.  Several others objects might be a match, but the DA's publically released photos have been taken from differing angels or opposite sides of the objects so they remain to be confirmed.

The object at the top of this article, a Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies, seized from Michael Steinhardt's property,  matches 5 images from the archive of British former antiquities dealer Robin Symes, all of which depict the vessel from various sides.


The Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl;
the Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion;
the Corinthian Bull’s Head;
the Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head;
and the Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African;
--were each purchased by Steinhardt in either 2009 or 2011.

These 5 objects along with the Rhodian Seated Monkey seized at Phoenix Ancient Art each match photographs found in the archive of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

The Apulian Rhyton for libations in the form of a Head of an African listed in the warrant appears in a photocopied photo in the archive of antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina.

It should be noted that in the joined composite image of the archive photos above, each of the six antiquities have been photographed by someone using the same light-colored hessian (burlap) material as a neutral background.  This could indicate that the antiquities where photographed by a singular individual once the objects arrived under Medici's control. Alternatively, it could mean that the ancient objects have been photographed by a singular individual who then shopped the objects, directly or indirectly, through illicit channels to Medici, who in turn, kept the photographs in his archive as part of his inventory recordkeeping.

As demonstrated by this case, each of these dealer's inventory photos provide valuable insight into the illicit trade in antiquities and which when combined, includes thousands of ancient objects from all over the world.  Many of these objects, those without documented collection histories, likely passed through the hands of smugglers, middlemen, and antiquities dealers who "laundered” the illicit objects onto the licit market.

It would be interesting to know, from the antiquities buyer's perspective, how many private investors of ancient art, having knowingly or unknowingly purchased illicit antiquities in the past, later decide to facilitate a second round of laundering themselves, by culling the object from their collection and reselling the hot object on to another collector.  By intentionally failing to disclose the name of a known tainted dealer, these antiquities collectors avoid having to take any responsibility for the fact that they too have now become players in the game.

While staying mum further facilitates the laundering of illicit antiquities, this option may be seen as far easier to collectors who have invested large sums into their collections than admitting they purchased something, unwisely or intentionally, with a less than pristine provenance pedigree.  To admit to having bought something that potentially could be looted might bring about the loss of value to the asset.  Furthermore by confirming that the antiquity has an illicit background as verified in archives like those of these traffickers, would then render the object worthless on the licit art market.  Worse still, it is likely that their antiquity would then be subject to seizure and repatriation.

By: Lynda Albertson