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May 16, 2024

Thursday, May 16, 2024 - , No comments

Rising Threats in the Art Market's Cybersecurity Landscape

While Christie's website continues to state “We apologise that our full website is currently offline” redirecting visitors to a temporary page outside of its own web domain, its auctions have managed to continue at a healthy pace.  Market players have underscored the auction house's fine art of resilience since the May 11th incident which occurred just days before the firms scheduled $840M art mega-auction. 

But while the art world's show must go on, tech security experts and the general public would like a little more information.

In its second cyber attack in less than a year, Christie’s assured its clients that its auctions would proceed, with bidders being able to participate in person, by phone, or through Christie’s Live platform.  But the auction powerhouse released no information regarding what systems had been impacted, just that they were working to resolve the situation with a team of internal and external technology experts to resolve this matter as quickly as possible.  Company CEO Guillaume Cerutti referred to the kerfuffle as a “technology security incident” but said nothing about whether or not financial or other sensitive data tied to Christie’s clientele had been compromised. 

Despite the web outage, Vojtěch Kovařík's
‘Hercules with his head in his hand’
sold for $94,500 on May 15th. 
In July 2023 Zentrust Partners alerted Christie’s to an earlier security breach which included sensitive location metadata being accessible from some uploaded photos.  This oversight is believed to have revealed the exact whereabouts of art owned by a percentage of the auction house’s wealthiest collectors,  potentially compromising their privacy and security by allowing access to data which identified the locations of where artworks had been photographed. Within a month, the auction house had enhanced their cybersecurity measures and offered its affected clients support and guidance on mitigating potential risks resulting from the breach.

In 2014 the Syrian Electronic Army hacked Christie's website, as well as 23 other sites including Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, Ferrari, the Independent, and the Daily Telegraph.  In this instance hackers attacked vulnerable sites accessing the Gigiya CDN and injecting a Javascript code which caused all the sites to display a specific  popup, drawing attention to the group's cause  Not engineered to inflict damage, the disrupters signed off with a postscript saying “PS: We would never attack users or damage systems. It was just a message.”

Its worth recalling that on October 29, 2023 the British Library experienced a technology outage with the library issuing a statement very similar to the one issued this month by Christie's CEO.  In that incident, library management described the incident as “a technology outage.”  

The British Library's incident turned out to be a highly sophisticated and disruptive cyberattack by the Rhysida ransomware group which continues to impact the institution's website, online systems, and services, as well as some onsite services, even today.  Like in the Christie's incident, the library was also forced into the position of having to set up a temporary website.  

The Rhysida ransomware group is believed to have originated from a collective of cybercriminals with extensive experience in malware development and network infiltration. Its ransomeware, debuted in mid 2023 and is distinguished by its advanced evasion techniques. 

To attack vulnerable systems, Rhysida utilises obfuscation methods to avoid detection by traditional antivirus and anti-malware solutions.  It is characterised by its rapid encryption process followed by the deployment of ransom demands.  

To access the system, Rhysida primarily exploits vulnerabilities to the systems through phishing attacks and other social engineering tactics.  Once inside, the malware renders its target's critical data inaccessible. 

Another distinguishing feature of the Rhysida group is their use of double extortion. Beyond encrypting data, they exfiltrate sensitive information and threaten to publish it unless a ransom in cryptocurrency is paid in exchange for the decryption key. The malware’s encryption algorithm is robust, and often leaves compromised victims with no choice but to pay the ransom or face significant data loss.

While the root cause of this recent Christie's outage has not been released, high impact incidences like these highlight vulnerabilities within the digital frameworks of important cultural institutions, as well as high-value asset transaction sites in the art market where customer names, accounts, banking details, and credit card information are ubiquitous to the online bidding process. 

May 12, 2024

When morality stops with one's own favourite coin(s).


Q. Servilius Caepio (M. Junius) Brutus AV Aureus

"When collapse is imminent, the little rodents flee."
~ Pliny the Elder 

Unlike today, the ancient Romans didn’t simply number their calendar days in order from the first of the month to the last. Instead, they counted backward in relation to three days: the calends, nones, and ides.  The ides (from the Latin word īdūs) was the fifteenth day of March, May, July, and October, and the thirteenth day of the other months. 

But this post isn't about Roman calendars but rather how one rare coin, a Q. Servilius Caepio (M. Junius) Brutus AV Aureus, known as the Eid Mar Coin saw the rise and fall of one of the UK's numismatic titans for their known handling of unprovenanced coins and for having created fictitious collecting histories. 

Word on the coin collecting street, in late April, was that Roma Numismatics Ltd's April 25th E-Sale would be their last.  This chatter was being fuelled in part by the London-based firm's puzzling habit of changing bank accounts for wires as well as for the larger than the norm sales of Athenian tetradrachms and various other coins sold in their last two auctions.  Likewise, three Roma Numismatics staffers, Gil Southwood, Joe Hazell, Svetlana Egorova resigned from the firm and took up new positions with Andreas Afeldt's The Coin Cabinet. Others remaining stated they were open for new opportunities. 

While some speculated that the firm was experiencing financial difficulties, their publicaly available amended 2022 Statement of Financial Position listed their total assets, less current liabilities as totalling £10,988,553.  Despite this, by the start of the month, the writing was on the proverbial wall.  Letters had gone out to Roma Numismatics consignors telling them to collect their coins by the 17th as the firm would cease trading on May 24th.  For the present, their website remains active, but their sales calendar stops with their last April auction (and also makes no mention of their pending demise).

For background, on 10 January 2023 the director of the firm, Richard Beale was arrested in New York after being named in a New York criminal complaint alongside Italian coin dealer Italo Vecchi.  Beale was charged with making false statements, punishable as a class A misdemeanor pursuant to section 210.45 of the Penal Law.  At the same  time Vecchi was listed as working with Roma Numismatics as a consultant specialist who frequently consigned coins for sale in the firm's auctions. 

By August 14, 2023, in a courtroom session at the New York Supreme Criminal Court, Richard Beale had pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and three counts of criminal possession of stolen property.  In making his plea the company's owner also made two incriminating admissions.

Beale confessed and acknowledged his awareness that the provenances of the Alexander the Great decadrachms sold earlier by his firm were falsified at the time of their sale, with the intention of concealing their origins from the Gaza Hoard.  This despite the fact that he had been challenged by the producers of a BBC documentary regarding the false provenances listed on Roma Numismatics' auction site.

In total 19 of these, formerly very rare, Alexander decadrachms were sold - 11 of them via Roma Numismatics - with the provenance of the coins listed as either "from a private Canadian collection" or "ex-private European collection" many of which appear to have been traced to another problematic Roma Numismatics associate Salem Alshdaifat, a sometimes Canada based Jordanian. 

Alshdaifat, once based in Michigan has had his own run-in with the US authorities and was charged in U.S. v. Khouli et al. CR.11-340, (E.D.N.Y) .

Court records also indicated that Beale entered into a sales agreement with Vecchi in 2015, to purchase the extremely rare Eid Mar coin, minted in 42 BCE to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March and that the pair had traveled to Munich, where they exchanged €450,000 in cash for the rare coin despite its lack of provenance paperwork or any form of legitimising documentation.

More recently it seems, with the looming closing of this enterprise and Beale's plea agreement, some of his firm's clients who previously closed their eyes to the origins of some of their purchases are getting nervous.  Other complain that Roma Numismatics' once upon a time guarantee on the absolute authenticity of all Lots sold, stating "There is no expiration to this guarantee" are realising instead there is, in fact, an expiration date to the fanciful phrasing of the Bidder's Terms and Conditions. 

Where Beale himself will go after the firms closing is unclear. Perhaps he will pen a Bruce McNall-type autobiography. "Fun While It Lasted" was a great read. And despite being written 20 years ago, the book showed the hubris of tricksters who have, and apparently still do, profit largely from the laundering and sale of illicit material.

By Lynda Albertson

May 5, 2024

Celebrating our 13th year of academic conferences addressing art and antiquities crimes, ARCA will host its summer interdisciplinary art crime conference the weekend of June 21-23, 2024.

Conference Date:
June 21-23, 2024
Location: Amelia, Italy

Celebrating our 13th year of academic conferences addressing art and antiquities crimes, ARCA will host its summer interdisciplinary art crime conference the weekend of June 21-23, 2024.

Known as the Amelia Conference, the Association's weekend-long event aims to facilitate a critical appraisal of art crimes and the protection of art and cultural heritage and brings together researchers and academics, police, and individuals from many of the allied professions that interact with the art market, coming together to discuss issues of common concern. 

This conference is an annual ARCA event, held in the historic city of Amelia, in the heart of Italy's Umbria region where ARCA also plays host to its Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.

The conference includes a weekend full of multidisciplinary panel sessions, and plenty of time to meet others who are working towards the protection and recovery of cultural heritage.

Confirmed Presentations (additional names will be added as speakers confirm)

The Victimization of Art
Catherine P. Foster
Partner, Argus Cultural Property Consultants, Washington DC
Timothy Carpenter
Managing Director, Argus Cultural Property Consultants, Washington DC

Where’s the Loot
Colonel Andrew Scott Dejesse
US Army CENTCOM CCJ5, Program Director, Strategic Initiatives Group, Amarillo
Marc Masurovsky, M.A.
Co-founder Holocaust Art Restitution Project, Washington DC

The European Union's CULTNET
Christine Casteels
Project Manager EU CULTNET
Member Driver team EMPACT CSE
Federal Judicial Police DJSOC - Belgium

Revealing Entangled Art Markets and Problematic Art Provenance through the Stendahl Art Galleries Records
Kylie King, M.A.
Pre-Hispanic Art Provenance Initiative, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

Repatriation in Two Acts: Identifying & Recovering Stolen Pages of 16th Century American Theatrical History
K.T. Newton, J.D.
Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Philadephia

Exploring Art Crime in Canada: Uncovering the Norval Morrisseau Forgery Ring
Lauren Elyse Gowler, LL.M. Candidate
Queen Mary University of London; The Institute of Art & Law, London

The Other Genocide of the Twentieth Century: Unique Challenges Facing Armenian Art Restitution
Madison A. King, MLitt, J.D., Litigation Attorney
Kolar and Associates, A Law Corporation, Los Angeles

Fighting Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Goods: RITHMS SNA-based Platform as an Innovative Tool to Dismantle Criminal Networks
Michela De Bernardin, Ph.D., Post-doc
Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Venice

Interactions between Switzerland and EU’s Cultural Heritage Regulation against Illicit Trafficking in a Borderless Area. Latest Developments and Remaining Vulnerabilities
Katharina Nothnagel-Vivas, Ph.D. Candidate
King Juan Carlos University, Madrid

Strengthening international cooperation in the fight against illicit trafficking. How have things changed in the last decade in terms of international cooperation?"
Charlotte Chambers-Farah, LL.M.
Art Loss Register, London

Making Sense of Fair Use in a Post-Warhol World
Judith B. Prowda, Esq.
Partner, Stropheus Art Law, New York

Offende Principle and Aesthetic Judgment in (Street) Writing
Maria Di Maggio, Ph.D. Candidate in Criminal Law - Dipartimento Jonico in Sistemi Giuridici ed Economici del Mediterraneo - Università degli Studi di Bari “Aldo Moro”, Bari

New Frontiers in Art Crime Encroaching on Old Borders: Protecting Artistic Innovation in the Digital Age
Cinnamon Stephens, J.D.
Owner, Kunst Mitos Consulting, Amsterdam
Fred Van de Walle, M.A.
Marine archaeological conservator, Switzerland

Ritratto di Gentiluomo con berretto nero: A Case Study on The Intersection of the Art Market and Cultural Heritage Protection
Serena Sancataldo, Ph.D. Candidate
Team member of the UNESCO Chair on Business Integrity and Crime Prevention in Art and Antiquities Market, University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli, Criminal Law Department, Caserta

Explaining Money Laundering in the Art Market to a Jury: My Turn to Be on the Witness Stand
Jane Levine, J.D.
Partner and Co-founder Art Risk Group, New York

Smuggling across the ocean: Loschi’s Christ bearing the Cross in the Gardner Museum
Francesca Romana Gregori, Ph.D. Candidate
Università degli Studi di Milano Statale

To register for this event, please go to our Eventbrite page located here.

Conference Networking Events

Saturday and Sunday's conference sessions include complimentary morning and afternoon coffee breaks, with coffee, juices and light pastries or afternoon hors d'oeuvres to allow time for networking. 

Friday, June 21st - Casablanca themed Icebreaker Cocktail "Cena" at the Country House Monastero le Grazie  
NB: To attend this event, please select the correct registration payment option during your conference registration.

ARCA will open its conference weekend with this relaxing icebreaker cocktail at the Country House Monastero le Grazie, an enchanting centuries-old Cistercian monastery adjacent to the Church and Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie, built in 1300.  This unique conference venue is located in the hamlet of Foce, just a few kilometers outside the centro storico of Amelia and will also play host to Saturday's Gala Dinner. 

Saturday, June 22nd- Cloister Buffet Luncheon in the centro storico of Amelia**
Saturday, June 22nd - Italian Slow Food Conference Dinner at Il Ristoro del Priore, Country House Monastero le Grazie  (Please RSVP by 15 June 2024). **
Sunday, June 23rd - Cloister Buffet Luncheon - in the centro storico of Amelia**

** Ticketing to the optional Gala Dinner and Conference Lunches can be paid for directly at the conference venues:

Please note: The Amelia Conference has sold out in 2019 and 2023.  We recommend that those interested in attending reserve their tickets in advance to ensure availability.   Seating is limited and fire-safety prevention rules prevent us from overbooking.

If you have any questions regarding this conference, please contact the ARCA conference organisation team at:

italy.conference [at]

May 3, 2024

Carabinieri Command: Safeguarding Italy's Cultural Heritage for 55 years

Fifty-five years ago today, on May 3, 1969, a crucial chapter in the protection of Italy's rich cultural heritage was written with the establishment of the special department of the Arma dei Carabinieri known as the "Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Artistico." Since its inception, this unit has been entrusted with the vital task of safeguarding and protecting the nation's artistic legacy. Over the decades, it has evolved into the esteemed "Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage," earning recognition both nationally and internationally for its unwavering dedication and exemplary work.

At the core of its operations lies a commitment to investigative, informational, and analytical functions aimed at combatting the illicit trafficking of cultural artefacts. Central to its success is the utilisation of the Leonardo Database of illicitly stolen cultural heritage, the largest repository of its kind globally. This database, containing comprehensive information on assets, primarily of Italian origin, and serves as a powerful tool in the ongoing efforts to locate and repatriate stolen treasures.

Moreover, the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage extends its expertise and support to other law enforcement agencies, fostering collaboration and synergy in the fight against cultural crime. Its partnership with the Ministero della Cultura ensures a comprehensive and coordinated approach to preserving Italy's cultural legacy for future generations.

As we commemorate their milestone, we salute the men and women of the TPC for their tireless efforts in protecting their country's cultural heritage. Their dedication serves as a model in the ongoing battle against the illicit trade in cultural property and affirms Italy's commitment to preserving its cultural identity.

May 2, 2024

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected the J. Paul Getty Museum’s appeal and upholds the decision issued by Italian authorities on the recovery of the “Victorious Youth”

Image Credit: S. King

Today on May 2, 2024 the First Section of the European Court of Human Rights, also known as the Strasbourg Court, (ECHR - Cour européenne des droits de l'homme) rejected the J. Paul Getty Museum’s appeal and entered a ruling in the case of The J. Paul Getty Trust and Others v. Italy (Application no. 35271/19) upholding the decision issued by Italian authorities aimed at the recovery of the bronze statue, “Victorious Youth” (also referred to as the “Athlete of Fano” or the “Lysippus of Fano”), dating to the classical period. This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, though it may be subject to editorial revision.

The appeal had been lodged with the Court against the Italian Republic under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by the J. Paul Getty Trust and fourteen American nationals (“the applicants”) on 28 June 2019 made up of:

The J. Paul Getty Trust
Megan Brody Chernin
James Bash Cuno
Bruce Wall Dunlevie
Catharine Drew Dilpin Faust
Frances Daly Fergusson
Maria Denise Hummer-Tuttle
Pamela Joyner
Paul Omer Leclerc
David Li Lee 
Robert Whitney Lovelace
Thelma Esther Melendez de Santa Ana
Neil Leon Rudenstine
Ronald Paul Spogli

The J. Paul Getty Trust and the members of its board of trustees (“the trustees”) alleged that the adoption of the confiscation order constituted a violation of their right to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions, as guaranteed by Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. They further complained of the risk of being deprived of that right if the Italian authorities succeeded in obtaining recognition and enforcement of the confiscation in the United States of America (US), where the bronze is exhibited, at the Getty Villa in Malibu, California. 

The judicial authorities in Italy had already ruled the the Statue of the Victorius Youth was protected by Italian cultural heritage and customs law, had been unlawfully exported from Italy and then negligently purchased by the Trust despite the absence of an export licence and repeated attempts by the Italian authorities to recover it.

In making the ruling announced this morning, the European Court Chamber, composed of:

Marko Bošnjak, President
Alena Poláčková, 
Krzysztof Wojtyczek, 
Lətif Hüseynov,
Ivana Jelić,
Gilberto Felici, 
Raffaele Sabato, 
and Ilse Freiwirth, Section Registrar,

deliberated in private on 19 March 2024, delivering their judgment today.

In their 92 page ruling on 2 May 2024 the court issued its ruling stating it:

1. Upholds, unanimously, the Government’s objection to the standing of the members of the first applicant’s board of trustees and declares that they have no standing to lodge the present application;

The J. Paul Getty Trust and Others v. Italy Judgement

2. Holds, unanimously, that there is no need to rule on whether the new members of the first applicant’s board of trustees have standing to pursue the present application;

3. Dismisses, by a majority, the other preliminary objections raised by the Government and declares, by a majority, the complaint under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 admissible;

4. Holds, unanimously, that there has been no violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention.

Each of the parties were notified in writing on 2 May 2024, pursuant to Rule 77 §§ 2 and 3 of the Rules of Court, signed by Ilse Freiwirth as Registrar and Marko Bošnjak  as President.

In accordance with Article 45 § 2 of the Convention and Rule 74 § 2 of the Rules of Court, the separate opinion of Judge Wojtyczek was annexed to their judgment.

It should be noted that in accordance with the provisions of Articles 43 and 44 of the Convention, this Chamber judgment is not final. Within three months from the date of its delivery, any party may request the referral of the case to the Grand Chamber of the Court. In such a case, a panel of five judges determines whether the case merits further examination.  Should this occur, the Grand Chamber will seize
the case and will issue a final judgment. 

If the referral request is rejected, the Chamber judgment will become final on the date of the Grand Chamber rejection.

April 26, 2024

Georgia's Prosecutor Pursues Criminal Charges Against Four Nationals in Book Theft Investigation

Yesterday Bakur Abuladze, First Deputy Prosecutor General of Georgia announced the arrest of four individuals in the Eastern European country on charges of stealing rare 19th century books from national and university libraries in the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia , France, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Switzerland.    The arrests were born out of transnational crime group operation involving law enforcement officers from France, Germany, Lithuania and Switzerland, with coordination assistance via Europol and Eurojust.  Searching aparments and places of sale a large amount of cash and hundreds of books, many with their library watermarks evident,  were recovered, including a 19th-century French-language book allegedly stolen from the National Library of Paris

According to yesterday's announcements, between 2022 and 2023 this network of  accomplices visited libraries across Europe, gaining access to collections using fake IDs with fictitious names and surnames.  Having obtained access to collection material, they then exchanged rare book editions, primarily centring on Russian classics, in particular, books by Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol which they then substituted with makeshift counterfeits selling the books onward in Russia. 

Along with the financial motive for the crime,  journalists have speculated on a  political motive, where in the large-scale operation was incentivised by buyers seeking to return literary relics to Russia.  For now this theory is just that. 

April 23, 2024

When a money launderer's art collection comes up for auction

Photo Credit ANP

Once upon a time, the individual pictured above, Jan-Dirk Paarlberg had a prominent place in the Quote 500, with a fortune according to business publications that at its peak reached 280 million euros.  A buyer and seller of works of art, his collection is said to have included works on canvas and paper by Marc Chagall, Claude Monet, Kees van Dongen, Pierre Bonnard, Karel Appel, Pablo Picasso, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, to name a few, as well a at least one sculpture, a statue by Feranando Botero. 

Forty-one objects from his collection have been consigned for auction and will be sold off today (and tomorrow) at Sotheby's Modern and Contemporary Art auction in Paris. 

To show the interesting way the legal art market documents artwork ownership, shielding potential buyers from distasteful facts in publicly available auction records, its worth looking at one Paarlberg-owned painting.  This hotly contested (for unrelated reasons) Portrait of Jeanne, c 1901, was painted by French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  Its sales advertisement makes no mention of Paarlberg in its provenance, only mentioning that the painting's last owner purchased the work from Kunsthandel Frans Jacobs in Amsterdam.  

Instead this oil on canvas artwork, with a presales estimate of 500,000 - 700,000 EUR, lists an innocuous phrase in the text of the sale's page, which discretely states:  Sale on behalf of the Dutch State.

But who is Jan-Dirk Paarlberg and why are his purchases and this upcoming sale interesting to ARCA?

Paarlberg was the man behind the Euromast in Rotterdam, the restaurants of the Oyster Group and the co-owner of the Merwede Group, which owns a large part of the retail properties in Amsterdam's PC Hooftstraat and on Rotterdam's Lijnbaan.  He also had homes scattered in New York (at the historic Dakota), as well as in London, Portugal, and France, in addition to historic real estate in the Netherlands.  

That is until the real estate magnate's empire collapsed. 

Dutch authorities implicated Paarlberg in a money laundering scheme involving 17 million euros tied to the notorious Dutch penose underworld figure, Willem Frederik Holleeder.  That legal entanglement marked a stark contrast to Paarlberg's previous stature, and underscores the intricate intersections of wealth, power, and criminal influence, and the art that we see in circulation in the art world.  In this instance,  it is not the art itself which is criminal, but the laundered money possibly used for its purchase. 

Money, in part, it was determined by the courts, which had been extorted by Willem Holleeder from Willem Endstra.  Another prominent Dutch real estate developer, known as the "banker of the underworld," Endstra was assassinated by hitmen in 2004.  His death underscored the ruthlessness of Holleeder's organisation and its reign of terror, as well as Paarlberg's role in the perilous consequences of money laundering when it crosses paths with organised crime.

In testimony given on 19 April 2010, Jan-Dirk Paarlberg described some of his more suspicious art transactions.  Speaking under oath, in the the Haarlem court, the former wealthy resident of the Maarssen castle Ridderhofstad Bolenstein described how he rounded up eight important artworks from his home, including the statue by Feranando Botero, a painting by Marc Chagall, a canvas by Claude Monet and five works by painter Kees van Dongen, and placed them all in his jeep before driving them to a Belgian dealer where he exchanged the objects for large denomination bills totalling of 8.5 million guilders (roughly 4.5 million euros). 

Paarlberg was extremely vague on details, claiming he couldn't recall exactly which artworks he had sold, nor could he produce evidence of the pieces having ever been in his collection. He claimed he handed everything over to the dealer in Belgium for the new owner, having not saving purchase receipts, shipping documents, or even a single photograph which depicted the works which had once graced his properties. 

Fourteen years ago, at the time of this testimony, Paarlberg's statements were met with skepticism.  Art professionals argued about the feasibility of transporting a heavy Botero sculpture in his jeep, how Paarlberg had failed to use an art shipper, and even questioned the overly large cash sum he claimed to have been received as being excessive relative the value of the artworks and the two intermediaries.  But given what we know about the underworld, and as “traditional” money laundering vehicles, such as real estate, became less attractive to criminals, (given their immovability) one has to wonder if this event could have gone down as the property baron described?

Fast forward to today.  We now know and accept that art money laundering – often at inflated prices – to disguise the origins of illegally-obtained funds in order to reintroduce them into the legitimate economy, is in fact a thing.  So much so that the FATF includes “cultural objects” in its sector-specific guidance as a potential vehicle to launder funds, or to finance organised crime, terrorist groups, or their related activities. 

But none of this seems to be getting much coverage in Modern and Contemporary art market publications, nor with regards to today's sale, which, by the way, involves some 41 artworks seized by the Dutch authorities from Paarlberg's estate. 

Who are the Penose?

While most of us have heard of Italy's 'Ndrangheta from Calabria, the Cosa Nostra from Sicily, and the Camorra based in Campania, few people outside of the Netherlands have heard of the Penose. Coming from Bargoens, a form of Dutch slang, the name is traditionally used to describe networks predominantly headed by ethnic Dutch crime lords, mostly known to operate in the underworld of Amsterdam, but also in other big cities in the Netherlands such as The Hague, Rotterdam or Eindhoven.  

In addition to money laundering, members of the Penose have been associated with and convicted of activities such as drug trafficking, armed robbery, chop shops, illegal gambling, illegal slot machine vending, and, lest we forget, even contract killing. 

To be clear, having been seized by the Dutch state, the proceeds from these upcoming auctions of Paarlberg's paintings won't support organised crime. But let them serve as an illustration that it is just as important to know who the names and backgrounds of former artwork owners are, as it is to know the names and backgrounds of the individuals who have sold work of art you are interested in.

Happy shopping, don't let the tricksters get ya. 

By Lynda Albertson

April 20, 2024

Christ Church Picture Gallery painting by Baroque painter Salvator Rosa recovered in Romania

On 19 April 2024 Christ Church, a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England, announced the recovery of one of three stolen paintings, A Rocky Coast, with Soldiers Studying a Plan by the Italian Baroque painter Salvator Rosa.  This painting, along with two other Baroque Period artworks, had been stolen, by three masked accomplices, from the Christ Church Picture Gallery at around 11pm on Saturday, 14 March 2020

This first painting has been recovered outside of the United Kingdom, in Romania after law enforcement officers in the country were contacted by a man who was said to be in possession of Rosa's historic landscape.  When questioned by police, he admitted to having sold the other two stolen artworks onward, both of which had been on display at Christ Church since 1768.  

According to Romanian news sites, the restituted painting was handed over to the judicial authorities in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the end of March this year. 

The two remaining stolen art works are:

Oil on Canvas, circa 1616
H 91 x W 55 cm
Accession number: JBS 246

Oil on Canvas, circa 1580
H 75.5 x W 64 cm
Accession number: JBS 180

Both of these paintings are believed to be in circulation still. 

For now the unnamed man is being treated as a witness by Romanian authorities and has not been arrested.   The case continues in the United Kingdom with Thames Valley Police as well as with Romanian investigators working closely with the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust), the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) and Romanian judiciary. 

The Christ Church Picture Gallery is known for its impressive collection of Old Masters paintings and drawings, with an emphasis on Italian art from the 14th to the 18th century. Works in the museum also include paintings and drawings by Titian, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Dürer, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens and Tintoretto, many of which were donated by General John Guise (1682/1683–1765) in the eighteenth century. Guise is known to have donated some 200 artworks to the college in furtherance of its art education programming. 

Thames Valley Police are appealing for witnesses who may have seen or heard anything suspicious in the immediate area of the Christ Church Picture Gallery or elsewhere on St. Aldates or High Street on the night of the theft or who might have leads regarding the artworks' handlers.  Officers can be contacted by calling the non-emergency number 101, or making a report online using the reference 43200087031.  Individuals who wish to remain anonymous can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.