Showing posts with label prosecution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prosecution. Show all posts

November 13, 2013

Gurlitt Art Collection: Paris Match Journalists Find Cornelius Gurlitt in his neighborhood -- just three days after Augsburg prosecutor denies knowing the whereabouts of the target of his tax evasion case

Two photographs credited to Best Image/,
published by the Telegraph online of Cornelius Gurlitt
'seen for the first time in public shopping at a supermarket
 in Munich'. Paris Match photo credits Goran Gajanin. 
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Three days after Bavarian officials denied knowing the whereabouts of Cornelius Gurlitt, two journalists from Paris Match reported and photographed Gurlitt shopping near his flat in Munich ("EXLUSIF. Trésor nazi: Paris Match retrouvé Cornelius Gurlitt"). At a press conference on November 5, Augsburg chief prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz, heading an investigation of suspicion of tax evasion, would not confirm if Gurlitt was even alive.

Paris Match's Berlin Correspondents, David Le Bailly and Denis Trierweiler, wrote they found the "élégante" Gurlitt on Friday, November 8, continuing his habits in the Schwabing district near his apartment. Gurlitt responded to a question from the journalists which they reported in French: "Une approbation qui vient du mauvais côté est la pire des choses qui puisse arriver". Gurlitt's quote, as retold in English by Colin Freeman for the Telegraph ("First pictures of Cornelius Gurlitt, pensioner accused over Nazi-era art stash", November 12), was translated into English as: "Approval that comes from the wrong side is the worst thing that can happen".

Last week, when Bavarian prosecutors held a press conference after revelations in Focus Magazine about a 'Nazi art hoard', Gurlitt's whereabouts were reportedly unknown. As of November 8th, though, it appears he was shopping for groceries and still living in the same flat (or at least the same area) from which Bavarian customs officers took 3 days to remove 1,400 works of art in February 2012 in an investigation related to tax evasion.

The following sources documented Bavarian authorities denial of Gurlitt's residence at the Augsburg press conference (Augsburg is a 35-minute train ride north of Munich):
The mystery around Gurlitt himself, meanwhile, has thickened. The whereabouts of the 80-year-olld are not known, said the customs authorities. When asked by one journalist if Gurlitt was alive, Augsburg chief prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz said he could not comment. "Picasso, Matisse and Dix among works found in Munich's Nazi art stash", Philip Oltermann in Berlin, theguardian, Nov. 5.
Of the whereabouts of Mr. Gurlitt himself, nothing is known, the officials said. Mr. Nemetz said that he had been questioned after the paintings were found, and that investigation under the tax law was continuing. But there was no reason to detain the elderly man, and authorities do not know where he is, Mr. Nemetz said. "German Officials Provide Details on Looted Art Trove," Melissa Eddy, November 5, originally published in The New York Times and since revised.
Senior public prosecutor Reinhard Nemetz said Mr. Gurlitt's current location was unknown to the authorities. Neighbours at Mr. Gurlitt's apartment have reportedly not seen the white-haired 80-year-old -- who has an Austrian passport -- since summer. "Lost Nazi art: Unknown Chagall among paintings in Munich Flat", Louise Barnett, Berlin. November 5.
The paintings were discovered stacked between dirty plates and cans of food past their sell-by date, in the run-down apartment of the reclusive 80-year-old Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of an art collector who was yesterday said to have disappeared without a trace. "He could be anywhere in Germany. We think he may have access to unlimited funds," a Munich customs spokesman said. "Search is on for second cache of art confiscated by the Nazis", Tony Paterson, Berlin, The Independent.

February 12, 2009

The Aggressive Streak in Libraries

Of all the recent positive trends in the book crime arena, maybe none is more heartening than this: libraries are getting aggressive.

Libraries and archives have always taken their role as victim seriously. But most often this meant background work: heroic cataloguing efforts to find out what was missing or research into the value of the stolen items to estimate recovery cost or testimony at trial concerning access gained by the thief. This work was usually done quietly, and at the behest of the prosecution.

That has changed in a big way, and the British Library seems to be the vanguard. (Which may simply be a result of necessity. No other institution has been more profligately and publicly looted by thieves in the past decade.)

In November, the BL filed a civil suit seeking roughly $500,000 in damages from (now jailed) thief/billionaire Farhad Hakimzadeh. The amount approximates what the BL feels the thief stole from them over the course of his years of crime. The suit, which came near the end of the criminal process, might either be an effort to recoup costs from a very rich man or to express displeasure at what looked to be a disappointing criminal sentence.

If it’s the latter, this is getting to be a trend for the BL. And a good one, at that. A couple of years ago, the British Library demonstrated this aggressive streak toward map thief E. Forbes Smiley.

In the American federal system, it’s fairly easy to predict a criminal sentence once a thief has pleaded guilty – the sentencing judge has very little latitude. So when it became clear to the BL that Smiley was not going to be adequately punished for his crimes against them, they offered their own opinion on the matter to the judge.

Hiring former United States Attorney Robert Goldman, an expert at prosecuting art crimes, the BL (through Goldman) submitted their own sentencing memorandum to the judge in the Smiley case. Goldman, using the knowledge of the sentencing procedures he had employed so successfully as a prosecutor, claimed that Smiley deserved more punishment than he was likely going to get.

The BL filing ultimately had very little impact on the Smiley sentence, but it did put the prosecution in the strange position of having to sing the praises of Smiley – to justify its comparatively lenient stance – while at the same time supporting its own sentencing recommendations (which weren’t really that lenient) against the Smiley defense.

So the prosecution, thanks to Goldman and the BL, sometimes came off sounding like the defense in their portrait of Smiley:

In providing credible information regarding those to whom he sold maps, the defendant saved the Government considerable effort and expense in its potential investigation of others, and saved those individuals from potential unwarranted reputational, financial and emotional injury.


During the past year since the time of his initial arrest by local authorities, the defendant approached the effort at recreating his thefts with substantial diligence, pouring [sic] over lists, reviewing microfiche or other images where applicable and otherwise trying to recreate his years of map collecting and thefts. This defendant arrived at the proffers prepared, answered questions directly, acknowledged when his recollection was fuzzy and qualified answer in a reasonable way. From any perspective the defendant has taken tremendous steps toward addressing the wrongs he committed.

It made for a strange pre-sentencing atmosphere, to say the least. Thanks to the work of the prosecution, Smiley ultimately received a substantial sentence: a stiff jail term of three and a half years (which he will serve the lot of; there’s no time off for good behavior in the American federal system) and nearly $2 million for restitution.

While this was less punishment than the BL hoped, the action certainly put thieves – and everyone else – on notice that the library was not going to take these crimes sitting down.

And the British Library isn’t the only cultural heritage institution acting this way.

The Mariners’ Museum, in Newport News, Virginia, filed a 2007 civil suit against its former Director of Archives, Lester Weber, in advance of a criminal case being filed against him. The criminal investigation (which ultimately led to a very satisfactory four year jail term for the thief) was proceeding slowly against Weber, and he had been walking free for six months. So the MM took matters into its own hands and filed the suit in local court.

While the Mariners’ Museum may have been frustrated with the pace of prosecution, Kenyon College, in Gambier, Ohio, was frustrated with the absence of prosecution of serial book thief, and former employee, David Breithaupt. In the years following the attacks of September 11th, 2001, federal criminal prosecution in the United States was not overly concerned with book crimes. So, taking the initiative, Kenyon filed a federal civil suit against Breithaupt. The college won the civil case at a jury trial and was awarded a substantial judgment – which, of course, Breithaupt had no ability to pay. A federal criminal case followed the civil trial, and Breithaupt later spent a year in federal prison for his thefts.

So cultural heritage institutions have recently proven that civil cases can be successful before, after or in lieu of state prosecution of the crimes. And whether these suits are filed with a legitimate expectation of a cash award or merely so that the institution can do something, they send the same message: we do not take theft of our materials lightly.

In each of these cases, the prosecution should be applauded for its efforts in putting the thieves in jail. But criminal filings are not mutually exclusive of civil suits. Our cultural heritage institutions ought not shy away from their own actions.

In light of Mark’s piece (below) on the relative merits of “certainty” versus “severity” in punishment, we might one day have enough evidence to debate the impact of the deterrent effect of criminal and civil cases in tandem versus simply criminal prosecutions.