January 21, 2020

Cairo Criminal Court in Abdin convicts former Italian diplomat for antiquities smuggling

Image Credit Left: https://www.radiolfc.net/tag/m-skakal/
Image Credit Right:  Italian Carabiniri
Today the Cairo Criminal Court in Abdin convicted Cav. Ladislav Otker Skakal, the former honorary consul of Italy in Luxor, in absentia.  In doing so the courts sentenced the former diplomat to 15 years imprisonment for the smuggling of Egyptian antiquities out of Egypt.  

The Egyptian authorities had previously requested that Skakal's name be placed on INTERPOL's Red notice in connection with his involvement in the smuggling if some 21,855 artifacts from the port of Alexandria.  These objects had been discovered inside a diplomatic shipping container, of the type used to transport household goods, sent through the port of Salerno in May 2017.  

Prosecutors in Egypt had produced evidence in the court case that Skakal was actively involved in the smuggling of the artifacts, which had been seized from inside a diplomatic container shipped in his own name.  The court also found cause to believe that Skakal had worked in agreement with an official of the shipping and packaging company responsible for shipping his container, specifically with a view of exploiting the privileges of his honorary office to illegally export artefacts from the country of Egypt, without informing the government and with the help of accomplices working inside Egypt.

Cav. Ladislav Otker Skakal's whereabouts are currently not known. He was last known to have returned to Rome.  The mandate of the former honorary consul expired in 2014 and since then, Otakar has no longer had ties to the Italian embassy in Cairo. 

Five Masters Paintings, representing the GDR's largest art theft are finally coming home, but where they have been for 40 years and who was responsible for stealing them remains a mystery


With their authenticity confirmed, five old masters paintings, "Portrait of an Old Man" from the Rembrandt workshop (probably Ferdinand Bol), "Country Road with Farm Carts and Cows" by Jan Brueghel the Elder, the "Half-length Portrait of an Unknown Man with a Hat and Gloves" by Frans Hals, "Saint Catherine" by Hans Holbein the Elder, and "Self-portrait with Sunflower" by Anthonis van Dyck, will each go back on display in Gotha, Germany, at the end of January.  The artworks were stolen from the Friedenstein Palace exactly four decades ago. .  

Window where thieves accessed the gallery at the Friedenstein Palace in Gotha
Image credit: Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk
The Dutch master works were stolen on a rainy evening between 13-14 December 1979.  During the burglary, which coincided conveniently with the yet untested installation of a new security system, a thief, or thieves, accessed the west wing of the historic palace using some type of crampons, to climb up a rain gutter attached to the side of the building.  

Gaining entry via a second floor window, ten meters up the palace walls, the culprit(s) then are believed to have hand picked specific paintings, (having left other more valuable works behind) and then lowered the paintings back down the side of the building, before descending themselves and making their getaway through Gothaer Park where the baroque palace is located.   By the time the Gotha Volkspolizei (the city's People's Police) were alerted to the theft at 07:10 on the 14 December 1979, the perpetrators and the paintings were long gone. 

But the crime scene is a puzzle.

While exploring the grounds of the palace, the park and the nearby surrounds, detectives found one crampon of the estimated 12-13 that were likely put into service to scale the building.  Made of a steel alloy that was only used in the West, questions abounded as to why the culprits would methodically removed all the other supportive devices, each weighing approximately 5 kilos,  which would have made carrying the 5 paintings all that more difficult. Was this left evidence meant to lead investigators astray by making it appear that the culprits who planned the theft were outside the GDR (German Democratic Republic)?  Likewise, the broken pane of glass in the entry window was broken in such a way as to have made it highly improbable that the thieves would have gained entry by reaching through the hole created.  There were also no scrapings from the paintings frames in the immediate area near the window and the crime scene appeared to mimic three earlier attempts to break into the museum in a very similar fashion. 

Whatever the motivation, the one successful Gotha art robbery resulted in the largest art crime investigations in the history of the GDR.  Yet, despite the involvement of more than 100 detective officers as well as interviews with more than 1,000 people who lived and worked near the scene of the crime and the surveillance of individuals with connections to the Friedenstein Palace nothing was resolved.  Speculation abounded regarding whether the Stasi were involved and if the artworks had been transported to West Berlin via a truck from a nearby slaughterhouse.

Despite the seemingly thorough dragnet, and with little else to go on, the paintings were eventually listed in the loss catalog of the Schloss Friedenstein Foundation, and added to German the Lost Art database, the INTERPOL database of stolen works of art as well as the Art Loss Register.  But despite the widespread attention and extensive police investigations, the greatest art theft in the history of the GDR remained unsolved. 

Fast Forward to 2018

First reported on December 6, 2019. The paintings popped back on the world's radar in July 2018 when a broker, purporting to be acting on behalf of a group of anonymous heirs, contacted the German politician Knut Kreuch, Lord Mayor of Gotha, and then chairman of the Foundation Schloss Friedenstein Gotha.  Hoping to arrange a buyback for €5.25 million, the intermediary presented the mayor with an implausible story of the artworks' acquisition by the persons he represented.  Despite this, he piqued the mayor's interest when, during a meeting at city hall, he backed his story up by laying out a series of colored photographs depicting the front and the back of the paintings.  As all of previous images taken of the artworks were in black and white, this was the first genuine "proof of life" that the paintings still existed and might still be grouped together in spite of the decades that had passed since their original theft. 

While his negotiations continued, the Mayor contacted the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation. In keeping with the will of that foundation's founder, the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation, serves as a partner to German museums which promotes acquisitions, restorations and exhibitions, as well as with the the return of confiscated works of art to help making them available to the public.   In the past the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation had facilitated the successful return of a still life painting by Balthasar van der Ast (1628) that the Suermondt Ludwig Museum in Aachen lost in the post-war turmoil and an ivory tankard from the Castle Museum. 

It should be noted that the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation never purchases pieces directly from thieves, and in negotiating agreements the Holder has to reveal how they have come to be in possession of the artwork. 

At this point, the EvS began working with the mayor and the holders of the paintings towards an agreement in which the "interim owners" would receive a "moderate allowance or a finder's fee," but if, and only if, the art works of art could be authenticated by the German authorities with the understanding that those who possess purchased goods in good faith (i.e. who don't know that it has been stolen) and that can be reclaimed on the basis of a right in rem (e.g. ownership) of a third party, are afforded protection against claims for return after a 30 year time period.  To date, no information was given publicly as to what the sum of that fee might have been,  and whether or not the fee was delivered. 

After nearly two years of negotiations, on 30 September 2019, the paintings were relinquished voluntarily for authenticity  testing at the Rathgen Research Laboratory at the Staatlichen Museen (State Museums) in Berlin in cooperation with the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation.  Meanwhile, while prosecution against the original thief or thieves was time-barred, the Berlin public prosecutor's office began to apply alternative pressure.  

The State Criminal Police Office (LKA) in Berlin, in cooperation with the federal state agencies concerned, opened an investigation into two individuals from Heidelberg and Jena, then aged 54 and 46, on suspicion of extortion. Given their ages, the two suspects, if found culpable, would only have been intermediaries after the fact, as they would have been too young at the time of the original crime to have been directly involved in the art theft.  Search warrants were also executed by the police on 5 December 2019 at the offices and apartments of three witnesses and two suspects including a lawyer from southern Germany and the residence of a doctor from East Frisia, perhaps looking for evidence which could demonstrate direct collaboration between the thieves and any subsequent handlers.  

What can be ascertained is that the handlers, who alleged they had the pictures in their possession, could not rely on a simple defense of having acquired the artworks in good faith.  The theft of these paintings, as well as the Friedenstein Palace as their legitimate owner, were too well known.

The paintings will formally go back on public display at the Friedenstein Palace on Friday. 

By: Lynda Albertson

When fakes and false provenance go hand in hand.

At the end of this month a German dentist from Neuss will answer to allegations of fraud in the Düsseldorf District Court for allegedly trying to pass off twenty paintings as original works by the artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).  According to German news, the defendant, is alleged to have arranged meetings with art authenticators at the NH Düsseldorf Königsallee hotel, located in one of the main shopping streets and next to the tourist sites in the western german city. 

At that meeting it is alleged that the defendant presented photographs of the artworks to advisors of auction houses, along with fake certificates of authenticity from the Picasso estate.  It is also claimed that he indicated that handwritten notes, attached to the back of the paintings, were purportedly from the artist's son. 

In Germany, the crime of forgery is not charged unless the forgery (in this case the artworks themselves or the letters attached to their backings) were done with the intent to deceive or with the intent to commit an attempted fraud or larceny.  As no sales transactions occurred at the time of the meeting, the dentist most likely cannot be convicted of fraud under the German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch).  For § 263 (Fraud) and/or § 267 (Forgery) to be applicable the public prosecutor would need to prove that the dentist deceived someone with the intent of obtaining for himself or a third person an unlawful material benefit and to prove fraud, specific intent directed at enriching oneself or a third party is required.   Since the meeting was not in furtherance of conducting a sale this would be difficult to prove. 

That said, should it be determined that the dentist knowingly understood the paintings to be fake, and still electively sought appraisals for the misattributed artwork, using another person's personal data, the court may find him guilty of unauthorized exploitation of copyrighted works and/or for the (intentional) use of fake documents. 

Marc Masurovsky returns to Amelia this summer to teach "Provenance Research, Theory and Practice” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection



By Edgar Tijhuis 

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 29 till August 12 in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s professors will be interviewed. In this one, I am speaking with Marc Masurovsky, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project. 

Can you tell us something about your background and work? 

I was born and raised in Paris, France, of American artists, one figurative, the other abstract. I took an early interest in history and especially in the politics and economics of fascism and national socialism. My interest further increased as I was able to work at the Office of Special Investigations in Washington, DC, investigating the past of suspected Axis war criminals who acquired US citizenship. Then I was hooked. My independent research focused on the economics of genocide and the recycling of all kinds of assets looted from Jewish victims and the near-absence of postwar justice against those who executed, abetted and profited from those crimes against humanity. I eventually found myself involved with class action lawsuits against Swiss banks which led, inevitably, to the looted art issue with which I have been associated for the past two decades. I am a co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project and have taught a number of workshops focused exclusively on provenance research as it applies to Nazi/Fascist-era dislocations of Jewish-owned property.

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

I teach one course, provenance research. I view it more as a training than as an academic exercise.

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

I hope that those who take the provenance research workshop, (that’s really what it is), never look at an artistic, cultural, or ritual object, again with the same eyes as they had before they took the course. I want them to become skeptical of everything that they read about the history of those objects and to develop an insatiable curiosity for understanding where those objects come from and the what/where/when/why/how of their pasts by whom and with what.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

Every day is different but a main component of the workshop is to ask questions, remain inquisitive and be able to think outside of the proverbial box.

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

Each participant comes from a very different background and he/she has his/her own unique relationship towards art objects, culture and history. The gift they bring me is their story, and the way they apprehend the topics that we tackle each hour of every day and, hopefully, be part of the transformation that they go through when confronted with evidence, inquiry, and research.

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

There is no real way to get ready but it would help if participants were a bit savvy about the history of modern Europe, the basic dates, times, and places of major events that provoked these displacements of property. Lynn Nicholas, Hector Feliciano, Jonathan Petropoulos, are some of the authors who produced significant monographs on Nazi plunder, but there are also special investigative reports produced in the early 21st century in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Italy, on Nazi looting. HARP's own Plundered Art blog will provide a more argumentative and polemical approach to the issues of plunder and restitution, while suggesting how research can be conducted on objects with dubious pasts.

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

I enjoyed sitting in on Dick Drent’s course because it humbled me on my ignorance of security issues in museums. Perhaps Christos Tsirogiannis’ course would interest me because of his fierce approach towards the art market and his ability to ferret out looted antiquities. But, seriously, I don’t have any favorites out of fairness to the other professors.

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

They should leave their prejudices and assumptions at home and come prepared to be challenged in a small town in central Italy. The structure of the workshop allows them to grow. But they can only grow if they allow themselves to be vulnerable, to listen and to question. The questioning is only credible if it is anchored in evidence. As you know, it’s too easy to say: Why? You need to justify your questions and to challenge based on your own research and be prepared to hear that perhaps you are wrong and be prepared to realize that perhaps you are right. That is part of learning and growing...

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For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about the 2020 postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org 

In addition to the postgraduate program, the provenance course is also offered as stand-alone course. ARCA and the US-based Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) have teamed up to offer its 4th annual stand-alone provenance course which tackles the complex issues of cultural plunder. More information can be found here on our website.

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

January 20, 2020

Conference: Violated National Heritage: Theft, Trafficking and Restitution

The Society for the History of Collecting together with the V & A Museum present the following event. 

Event:  Violated National Heritage: Theft, Trafficking and Restitution
Location: Victoria and Albert Museum
Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre
Cromwell Road
London SW7 2RL
United Kingdom
Date: 17 March 2020
Time: 16:00 – 20:30 GMT
Ticketing:  £0.00 for Students, £13.52 for professionals



Have you ever wondered how ancient art from countries such as Egypt, Greece and Rome came to fill European and American museums? And how did national Pacific collections come into being? This conference, with a dynamic list of international speakers, will address how collecting has developed since the 16th century, and how, over the centuries, it has been regulated, even circumvented in various ways. It will also look beyond the boundaries of legal trade of art and artefacts to consider how the criminal orbit operates, how heritage-rich countries confront the trafficking of their patrimony and how museums are involved in such debates.

This conference will not tackle the Parthenon marbles debate nor war booty, but it will raise issues around patrimony laws, looting, trafficking, faking provenance and money laundering. Presentations on particular historical contexts will be followed by talks focusing on the contemporary situation, including the policing and voluntary restitution versus surrender of objects as the result of investigative evidence. Trafficking takes many forms and may include forgeries in order to satisfy demand. Both source and receiving countries have sharpened their laws, policing and prosecutions.

This conference is aimed not only at students but also art world and museum professionals, indeed at anyone interested to hear the latest information, much of which is unpublished, and to learn more about the realities behind these key issues.

Programme:

Vernon Rapley (Director of Cultural Heritage Protection and Security) & Laura Jones (Cultural Heritage Preservation Lead): The V&A’s Culture in Crisis Programme;

Barbara Furlotti (The Courtauld), on the Roman Antiquities Market during the Renaissance;

Hilke Thode Arora, Keeper Oceanic collections (Museum Fünf Kontinente, Munich), on Pacific ‘gifts’;

Eleni Vassilika, Former museum director (Hildesheim and Turin), on the operations of placing illicit Egyptian antiquities in museums;

Christos Tsirogiannis, Assoc. Prof. and AIAS-COFUND Research Fellow, Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Aarhus, formerly at the Archaeological Unit at Cambridge, as well as the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Greek Police Art Squad, on recent restitutions to Greece;

Omniya Abdel Barr, V&A researcher and project director for the documentation of Mamluk patrimony in Cairo, on the theft of elements from mosques (minbar);

Ian Richardson, Registrar for Treasure Trove (The British Museum), on how the TTAct functions;

Roland Foord, Senior Partner, Stephenson Harwood LLP, on procedures for restitution.

The day will end with a Drinks Reception.

Registration Link:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/violated-national-heritage-theft-trafficking-and-restitution-tickets-89083947485?aff=affiliate1

Trial begins with the testimony of witnesses in the case against Raouf Boutros Ghali, while Egypt continues to seek the arrest of Italy’s former honorary consul in Luxor, Ladislav Otakar Skakal

Image Credit Al Dostor News
During a court hearing on Sunday, January 19, the Cairo Criminal Court of Abdin, headed by Counselor Mohamed Ali Mostafa El-Feky, began hearing the first of witness testimony in the trial against Raouf Boutros Ghali and others on various charges related to the smuggling of Egyptian antiquities into Europe.  During that hearing the Egyptian prosecution layed out its investigation into the case into the smuggling of 21,855 Egyptian artifacts which had earlier been seized by Italian authorities. 

Holding passports for Italy and San Marino, the defendant, Raouf Boutros Ghali, has been held in custody as a flight risk since his original arrest, February 14, 2019 and was seen held in a caged dock during throughout sunday's proceedings.  While his trial is underway, the Egypt's Prosecutor General, Nabil Sadek had previously requested precautionary custody pending the conclusion of his trial for his alleged involvement in the the scheme to illegally export Egyptian heritage in contradiction of the country's laws.  

In total some 21,660 coins along with 195 artifacts were seized, some of which include 151 miniature figurines made of faience, 11 pottery vessels, 5 mummy masks, some gold-plated, 3 islamic era ceramic tiles, 2 canopic jar heads, two wooden decorative objects, and a wooden sarcophagus. 



In statements given to the court via council the defendant Mr. Raouf Boutros Ghali confirmed he would be fighting the charges against him and represented that he had inherited the exported pieces from his grandfather, Boutros Ghali Pasha, the first Coptic Prime Minister from 1908 to 1910.  It should be noted that the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) is the institution entrusted with the protection of the Egyptian heritage in accordance with article 8 of the Antiquities Protection Act of Law No. 117 of 1983 which states:

Anyone owns any archaeological object in accordance with the provisions of this Law must notify the Council of such object within six months starting from the beginning of March 2010 provided that such persons are required to preserve such objects until the Council registers it.
Early, on May 25, 2018, Shaaban Abdel Gawad, who heads up Egypt's antiquities repatriation department within the Ministry of Antiquities, confirmed that while the Egyptian authorities had deemed the artifacts to be authentic but the objects did not appear in any of the country's antiquities registries. 

On Saturday, the prosecution also underlined its September 17, 2019 demand for the rapid arrest of Italy’s former honorary consul in Luxor,  Ladislav Otakar Skakal. Egyptian authorities had requested that Skakal be placed on INTERPOL's Red notice in connection with his involvement in this case as the ancient objects were discovered inside a diplomatic shipping container, of the type used to transport household goods, when it came through the port of Salerno in May 2017.  

January 19, 2020

Flashback Sunday: ARCA's Postgraduate Program: From the eyes of one of our alumni - Part I


I’m not sure whether it makes more sense to say that we’re only halfway through with the ARCA postgraduate program or that we’re already halfway through with the program. On the one hand, we have had the good fortune of hearing from six expert professors and have covered all sorts of ground—academic and professional terrain alike—in the study of art crime: from heritage law to art insurance, from art policing to forgery, and from museum security to war crimes. We’ve practically memorized most of the UNESCO conventions at this point, we’re capable of sketching out the infamous Medici trafficking organigram at the blow of a whistle, and we’re all pretty used to having revenge-fantasy dreams about prosecuting certain museums with less-than acceptable collection ethics and repatriating all of their loot.

On the other hand, however, it feels like we’ve only just arrived in Amelia and that there’s still a whole lot more for us to learn in the coming weeks about cultural heritage protection. We’ve yet to encounter the international art market or art criminology head-on, and we’re not quite sure whether we believe the Spanish or the British are more entitled to Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington. Moreover, we still don’t know how we would actually steal the Ghent Altarpiece or Munch’s The Scream and this makes me wonder: can anyone really fashion him or herself an art crime expert without knowing how to pull off a major museum heist? It’s probably a good thing that we’re only halfway done with the ARCA program, but I’ll share with you what we’ve covered in the courses so far since we are, after all, already halfway finished with the program.  


Following Duncan Chappell’s course our studies shifted from the subject of art law to its not-too-distant relative, art insurance. Dorit Straus, art insurance veteran and board member at AXA Art, served as the instructor for this course. Straus has had a lengthy and exciting career with all sorts of cinematic turns and climaxes. Its major plot twist: Straus began her career studying Near Eastern Archaeology and only later in life migrated into the world of art insurance. For those of us trained in the humanities—which is to say, with little to no background in the fine arts market—Straus guaranteed a convenient point of entry into the study of art insurance. Pairing her formal explanations with fascinating anecdotes, Straus shaped and colored the art insurance industry with remarkable and stunning mastery. By the end of the week Straus had participants map out the entire process of acquiring art insurance coverage in role-play exercises—a form of evaluation that was, I am sure, most entertaining for Dorit herself.

We then heard from private investigator Richard Ellis, the founder of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad. He covered lessons on the dark, seedy underbelly that is the black market and did a solid job explaining the ins and outs of INTERPOL and clarified the issues that police forces deal with in an event of art theft—issues that are quite distinct from the ones that insurers, collectors, or museums address.

One of the recurring lessons that Ellis repeated over and over again was the importance of knowing one’s enemy.  Understanding the motives that animate an episode of art crime, Ellis stressed, is always integral to the investigation process. At the conclusion of his course Ellis held a charming cocktail gathering that was, I would hold, much needed after a tense week studying some pretty serious material.

ARCA founder Noah Charney took the reigns for our next course on forgery. Charney launched his course with an art history lesson in which students were asked to perform visual analysis on a set of Caravaggio paintings. This exercise offered an exciting opportunity for students to truly interface with the very objects that had been broached in previous courses but perhaps not formally or materially addressed. It was a delight to work through Caravaggio’s endlessly fascinating visual puzzles, and Charney’s thorough guidance and insightful explanations proved to be especially useful in our brief art historical investigation. The rest of the week was spent differentiating (conceptually) fakes from forgeries, discussing the psychological profile of art forgers, and reviewing some of the major historical cases that constitute Charney’s sector of the art crime world. With Charney still in town, ARCA held its annual interdisciplinary conference—an exciting three days of panel discussions.

After a weekend of conference talks and cocktail parties ARCA participants met with security pundit Dick Drent. Following 25 years in law enforcement, Drent joined the staff at Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands and continues to provide security advising through his consulting firm. Though Drent’s energy and countenance might feel as formidable and high-stakes as his work, the Dutch professor’s instruction was often light and playful—much like the goofy videos he would screen at the beginning of class too lighten the mood.  This was especially appreciated given his course covers everything from everyday threats in a museum to Active Shooter incidents.

At the end of Drent’s class participants carried out a security audit at a museum. In this exercise we set out to observe surveillance cameras, security guards, museum layouts, fire prevention strategies, smoke detectors, alarm systems, and so on. The exercise gave ARCA participants a unique opportunity to spend a day at a museum not admiring precious artworks but instead observing the very security systems that attempt to protect these objects.

At the conclusion of Drent’s course we delved headfirst into “Art Crime During War” with Judge Arthur Tompkins. Tompkins’ hefty lesson plans and near-impeccable knowledge of world history made for an information-rich crash course in our study of art crime during conflict. At the outset of his first lesson Tompkins traced the origins of art crime all the way back to the ancient world.

The looting of what might be anachronistically termed “cultural property” often went part and parcel with military combat and imperial campaigns in the ancient world—thus giving birth to the lengthy history of what we now study as art crime. Tompkins then traversed the entire chronology of war—passing through the Middle Ages and early modernity until reaching the late twentieth century—and identified the various renditions of art crime that have plagued nation-states and peoples during times of conflict. By the end of the course participants were asked to submit a paper detailing one particular episode of art crime that took place in the midst of combat. Students wrote about everything from plunders during antiquity to more recent art theft in the Middle East to the destruction of libraries in the American Civil War. 

So there you have it! We have some of the covered vast terrain in the world art crime and are already halfway through this intensive training. I’ll get back to you with more storytelling and info when we’re only a few short steps away from calling ourselves full-on, to-the-core certificate-ready professionals!

By:  Christopher Falcone

January 17, 2020

Marc Balcells comes to Amelia this summer to teach on the criminology of art crimes at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection


By Edgar Tijhuis

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 28 through August 12, 2020 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy.

In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s lecturers will be interviewed. This week I meet professor Marc Balcells, one of the world’s leading scholars on art crime.

Can you tell us something about your background and work?

I am a professor at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and an associate professor at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). I teach criminology and criminal law. I hold degrees in Criminology, Law and Human Sciences, as well as a Masters in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. I also hold a PhD in Criminal Justice. My research focuses mostly around transnational and organized crime, mostly related to cultural heritage crime, among other topics in criminology that I am researching as we speak, such as sexual abuse in the church and cybercrime.

What do you feel is most relevant about your course? 

The course changed drastically last edition. Before, it was all about criminological theory applied to cultural heritage crime. But I felt a responsibility with my students regarding teaching them how to design and conduct good research in this field, always within a criminological angle.  That is, instead of piling up information on any given art crime that will probably be collected from books and newspapers, the course gives participants tools to conduct serious quantitative or qualitative research and learn how to design a research project within the field of cultural heritage crime. Challenging participants to see what serious research they are able to conduct in order to improve our knowledge on this field is essential! And of course, in the meantime participants not only learn about cultural heritage crime but also about criminology and criminological theory, using other crimes as examples of crime in general, as it is one of our everyday realities that we must live with. Last edition we worked with seminal articles and books that explored cultural heritage crime: in 2020 we have more new articles and academic books exploring forgeries, art theft or looting (to name a few) which are important as they can be used by students to see how research is being conducted in this field.

The 2019 class with Marc Balcells..
What do you hope participants will get out of the courses? 

A fascination for a criminological point of view when analyzing cultural heritage crime, as well as an enchantment with the field of criminology and a fascination for the craft of research. Again, it is very important to have a knowledge not only about the existing literature but also on how to produce more research like the one that is being disseminated in conferences and academic journals and books. I do hope to train more and more serious and disciplined researchers in this fascinating field.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

A dialogue between myself and the students. I do ask a lot of questions in order to prompt debate: getting to know what participants think about on different topics is very enriching. But I also like to challenge them and to see how they research art theft, or looting, to name two crimes, by giving them research examples and seeing how they would improve them or simply do things differently. Gathering data on cultural heritage crime is not always easy (on the contrary!) and we researchers struggle finding them: the opinion of the students is always valuable.
The Palgrave Handbook on Art Crime..
While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your course, is there anything that you learn from them in class?

So many things! Go figure: as I said, over the years I gather brilliant insights from students that are original and intelligent. Participants must know that before I became a professor in this degree, I was a student in it: I have sat on both sides of the classroom and, therefore, I do know what is to be a student and what I wanted from a professor when I was studying. I am not only a professor on the ARCA Program but I am a graduate of it! 

I am inquisitive by nature, but much more in class. I love to ask questions and see their points of view. Also, I do love to meet with the participants after classes and enjoy a tea with them while chatting about art crime in general or helping them with their projects.

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

In my case, I would recommend that they read academic research produced by scholars in whichever field of cultural heritage crime they are interested in. I can assure you that they are as fascinating as any other art crime book that is being written by journalists, for example. Therefore, I would recommend they read everything that interests them, but mainly within academia. Right now I am reading the Trafficking Culture’s book Trafficking Culture: New Directions in Researching the Global Market in Illicit  Antiquities, and Hufnagel and Chappell’s The Palgrave Handbook on Art Crime, both new additions to academic literature published in 2019.

Field trips..
What makes the annual ARCA program so unique?

Let’s say it like this: it is the intensity. Where else can you learn so much, working with top experts in this field? It is intensive and complete and, at the same time, it immerses you in the local culture of Amelia! Field trips organized by the program gives participants the in-depth experience needed to grasp most of the subjects discussed in the courses. It is the perfect setting!

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

So many. Since I was once an ARCA participant myself, new courses have developed, and I would love, especially, to attend Professor Christos Tsirogiannis’ course on the hidden market of illicit antiquities. I admire his work and he is a great colleague. He was a great help with my earlier research and I could not be more grateful. He is widely acknowledged as an expert in the field and his media attention and the scope of his work is simply amazing! Again, it is the living proof of what I mentioned in my previous answer. Learning all about antiquities trafficking with Professor Tsirogiannis in Italy is an opportunity not to be missed!

Amelia...
Is there anything you can recommend to future participants of things to do in Amelia or Umbria? 

Come with an open and ready mind. Learn the culture of the place in which you will be living during your summer there. And be ready to learn a lot: work hard and there can be fantastic rewards afterwards. It is a fantastic field and it requires more and more trained minds to work in it!

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

Indeed! We are still good friends after all these years, with my colleagues. We have so many good memories with the locals, the professors, etc: after all, it is a summer-long experience. The food, the setting, the people... everything counts!

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

Sadly, I am always immersed teaching courses at that time and I cannot attend as much as I would like to, but I hope to change this in the near future. I have presented and attended years ago, and it is overwhelming being able to meet colleagues in this field and getting to know their research and the latest advances. These are very intense days: it is not only the conference, but the networking involved, in every single meeting. And of course, some fun to be had too, as the dinners and lunches are always fantastic!

Anything last thoughts? 

I would like to end this interview by saying that I am looking forward, as every year, to meeting our new cohort. I always come back to Amelia and ARCA with a fluttering heart, knowing I will get to meet and get to know new participants, see again some old friends, and spend days teaching and talking about cultural heritage crime.

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org



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

Recovered 'Portrait of a Lady' by Gustav Klimt deemed authentic by Italian Experts.


The painting known as 'Portrait of a Lady' by Gustav Klimt, which was recovered last December, after being discovered hidden in a utilities box attached to the Galleria d'Arte Moderna Ricci Oddi in Piacenza, has been deemed authentic by Italian experts.  During a press conference held today Prosecutor Ornella Chicca told reporters: "It is with no small emotion that I can tell you the work is authentic." 

The painting had been stolen in February 1997. Yet, despite many leads, as well as talks with a local art thief who claimed he had stolen the original while it still hung in the gallery, replacing it with a duplicate, the artwork remained missing for nearly 23 years.   That is until it was found on the very same grounds from which it disappeared.

Recovered: Divān Manuscript containing the poetry collection of Hafez - the 14th century Persian poet of Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran


“Ever since happiness heard your name, 
it has been running through the streets trying to find you.”
--Khwāja Šamsu d-Dīn Muḥammad Hāfez-e Šīrāzī 

Thanks to the ongoing work of private investigators and cooperating law enforcement, family heirs will soon have back a rare centuries-old Persian manuscript collected by their relative.  The 14th century text was stolen from the private possessions of Iranian art collector Djafar Ghazy, who had lived in Neuhausen, in the district of Enz in Baden-Württemberg in Germany until his death at 86 in September 2007.  

While settling the estate of the lifetime bachelor, his remaining heirs discovered documentation attesting to the purchase of a valuable literary collection made up of numerous Persian and Islamic manuscripts.  In addition to sales documents, the family found a detailed computerized list of the items the collector had amassed legitimately over 45 years.  The manuscripts and books themselves however, were nowhere to be found, apparently stolen by someone at some point prior to the elderly engineer's death.  

Turning first to a German private investigator, Erhard Reuther who in turn encouraged the family to file their complain with his former employer, the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office (LKA), the investigation focused in on two caregivers who took an interest in the reclusive man prior to his death.  Upon obtaining a court order in December 2011, the LKA searched the apartment and storage area of "Mohamad K." in the neighborhood of Zamdorf near Munich.  Mohamed had befriended the collector and was known to have met him for coffee and to drive him to and from his doctor appointments.  

At the culprit's home, hidden in bags and suitcases in a storage shed in the basement, law enforcement officers discovered a total of 174 books, drawings and manuscripts, some of them finely illustrated by hand with exacting imagery and fine gold leaf.  The nail on the thief's coffin: the seized objects, matched the computer inventory the collector had maintained, creating a smoking book, if not a smoking gun.  In total, the theft appears to have been worth some three million euros in assets. 

Unfortunately, two important items were not among the stash seized by the German police.  One was a missing 14th century manuscript containing the poetry of Hafez and another was an unnamed text the thief apparently sold through a London auction house for a million British pounds.  Elderly himself, Mohamad K's only alibi was to claim that Ghazy saw him as his son and had given him everything.  The prosecution thought otherwise.  At the conclusion of his trial in Munich District Court the thief was found guilty, but given his advancing age, he was only given a two year suspended sentence.  

After the recovery, two magnificent copies of the Koran, willed by the collector in the form of a letter penned by Ghazy and slipped inside the books' cover, were bequeathed to the Bastan Museum in Tehran. These were then turned over to Abdollah Nekounam Ghadiri, Consul General of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Two other items, an astrological manuscript and a collection of poems by Ali Sirâsî, both from the 17th century, were gifted by the family to the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (the Bavarian State Library) for their assistance in identifying and cataloging the objects in their relative's collection.  The rest of the gentlemen's property was eventually returned to the collector's family in 2016, almost ten years after the collector's death, following a lengthy five-year follow-up to determine if any of the objects in Ghazy's literary collection were of licit origin or stolen.  

Yet from there the trail of the still missing Hafez Divān, went cold. 

It has been estimated that there are at least 1,000 originally transcribed manuscripts of Hafez's poetry in Iran and other parts of the world, though not all represent the poet's complete Divān. The earliest known version is held in the al-Beruni Institute for Oriental Studies collection at the Uzbek Academy of Sciences, in Tashkent, of the Republic of Uzbekistan. It is dated 803 (1400-01) and was copied by Borhān b. Ḡiāsò Kermāni.

Known by his pen name Hafez, Khwāja Šamsu d-Dīn Muḥammad Hāfez-e Šīrāzī, (c. 1320-1389), the poet was a Sufi Muslim honored for his mastery of Persian ghazals, which constitute the bulk of his compendium, Divān.  Believed to be the pinnacle of Persian literature, in literary circles his works are considered to be one of the seven literary wonders of the world and as a writer and poet he has achieved iconic status as a symbol of Persian cultural and literary identity.  

Translated into English for the first time by Sir William Jones in 1771, Western writers and philosophers, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and even Arthur Conan Doyle, each in their own way paid homage to the historic Iranian writer's works.  This despite the fact that the poet's controversial verse covers everything from the hypocrisy of holy men and authorities, to love, and even the consumption of alcohol. 

This is because Hafez's words occupy a particularly hallowed space in Iranian culture, and has for centuries.  Faced with a difficult situation or decision, some Iranians are known to turn the Fal-e Hafez, a cultural tradition which roughly translates to divination via Hafez. As part of this tradition, a reader asks Hafiz, the Lisan al-Gaib, as the voice from the outer world, for his advice at an important juncture or perhaps for guidance during a dilemma in their life. 

Poetry engraved on the marble of the tomb of the great Persian writer Hafez,
Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran
To find where this Persianate manuscript had gone, the relatives of Ghazy also tried their luck by posting advertisements in German newspapers.  In them, they listed a reward of 50,000 euros.  But it wasn't until the end of 2018 when Arthur Brand, a Dutch private investigator specializing in art recovery, received a solid tip through a German art dealer of Iranian origin.  From there the trail began to look promising.

Reward Flyer
Image Credit: Arthur Brand  
Working a series of leads that lead him from Europe to the UK, Brand came to learn that the bound manuscript had been purchased in 2011 while the stolen text was still in Germany.  Acquired by a now deceased dealer, who in turn sold the text to an important collector of Persian ancient manuscripts living in England, the manuscript appeared to have travelled from the UK back to Europe briefly, when its last buyer, confronted with the problematic nature of his purchase, wanted to get his money back.  

Through a series of exchanges Brand was able to convince the collector to relinquish the important manuscript which measures 21 x 13 cm and contains 159 handwritten pages. The words of the poet are delicately transcribed by the prominent scribe Shaykh Mahmud in 867 (1462.3), was was possibly commissioned by the Qara Quyunlu ruler, Pir Budaq to write down the author's words shortly after the poet's death. 

Brand will now transport the rare transcription back to the German authorities, there it will then be returned to Ghazy's heirs. Speaking with Arthur Brand this evening about the forthcoming restitution, the art investigator stated "I would like to give special thanks to William Veres who again was crucial to this objects recovery."  The London based, Hungarian-born antiquities dealer has also provided credible assistance to Brand on the recovery of the ring once owned by Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde.