January 20, 2018

Only a few clicks away - The adventuresome travels of a deposed King's bedroom

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture  - 20 January 2018
Luxist October 12, 2010 edition
Not all contested works of art are fenced in whispered corners or stealthily traded in darkweb alleyways alongside drugs, stolen data and child exploitation content. Some are sold out in the open; as if waiting for law enforcement, or anyone else for that matter, to take notice or object.  

Some contested objects are even found hiding in plain sight, in places where the public might least expect them: on internet social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr and Yourtube.

To give an example let's take a look at the story of the missing antique bedroom suite once owned by Fārūq ibn Fuʾād, who, once served as the penultimate king of Egypt and the Sudan until he was overthrown in 1952.

The king's 7-piece mercury-gilded mahogany bedroom ensemble was created by 19th century Parisian ébéniste, Antoine Krieger and inspired by Napoleon's household furnishings at the Parisian palace Malmaison.  The austentatious furniture was installed in the royal guest lodge located within the Giza Zoo on the Western bank of the Nile, directly across from Downtown Cairo, in proximity to the Giza pyramids.  According to recent Egyptian newspapers articles, the furniture had purportedly been used by the king and visiting dignitaries while staying as guests at the property during his reign. 

Cairo's 126 year old Giza Zoo, built on the grounds of the summer residence of the Royal Family, was built during the rule of the Viceroy “Khedive Ismail” sometime between 1863 and 1879.  Once one of the world's foremost zoological gardens, the zoo was, at one time, an elegant reminder of days gone past.  In the present it has long since fallen from grace.  

Ravaged by time and neglect, photographs of the Giza Zoo in recent years show the dirtied grounds in disrepair. Animal rights activists cry foul that the animals are neglected by tenders and exploited by zoo visitors taking selfies. At best it can be said that the animals in the zoo are being cared for by under-qualified keepers and in a situation that lacks of proper security measures.

As if to prove that the Giza Zoo's site security is not up to snuff, the disappearance of the king's set of exquisitely crafted furniture from the royal residence went unreported until a visit to the zoo by Egypt's Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Ayman Abu Hadid on September 1, 2013.  During his visit the minister recognized that that the historic set had been replaced with a much cheaper bedroom suite purchased from Egypt's oldest department store.  

But the theft of Fārūq ibn Fuʾād's missing furniture is not as straightforward as that and if it was a theft, it did not occur in 2013. 

Background Research

On October 13, 2010 M.S. Rau Antiques, a rare and important antiques and fine art gallery in New Orleans managed by third-generation owner Bill Rau, posted a photo of the king's bedroom on the company's Facebook timeline happily announcing that the firm (and the king's furniture) had been covered on Luxist.com in connection with their sale. The asking price for the furniture? $985,000.

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
M.S. Rau Antiques also listed the furniture openly on the company's website.  That page however has now been taken down. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018

That same day, perhaps picking up on the online media, Art Fix Daily also published an article indicating that the furniture was being sold by M.S. Rau Antiques. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
A further check of social media shows that M.S. Rau Antiques also posted the king's bedroom suite on Pinterest. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
And the furniture was also blogged about on Blogger, on a page called Brands&Luxury.

The kings furniture was again posted publicly on Flickr on March 9, 2013 by a user purportedly in Cairo, Egypt. 

Image Credit: ARCA Screen Capture
Google Cache 20 January 2018
But even with all this digital visibility the furniture didn't sell.

As a result, the furniture turned up again on another public Facebook post by a user named Beachhouse Jim on July 29, 2015 which seemed to indicate that the furniture was still being offered for sale at M.S. Rau Antiques. 


M.S. Rau Antiques even published a video on Youtube highlighting the sale of the bedroom collection on October 13, 2016. That video can be viewed below. 


The fact that the furniture was on auction at M.S. Rau Antiques is even cited in the footnotes mentioned on the Wikipedia Farouk of Egypt page, but this page also implies, citing a Sun-Herald (Sydney, NSW) article published on Sunday, 31 Jan 1954 that in December 1952, a contract was signed placing the cataloguing, classifying and disposal of a substantial portion of the king's treasures in Sotheby's hands.

How did a King's ransom worth of furniture find its way to a 100 year old antique dealer operating in New Orleans French Quarter?

Some Egyptian news sources are stating that the bedroom disappeared after the wife of one of the ministers, who once stayed at the ex-royal residence, disliked the bedroom and ordered it to be changed and sometime thereafter the pieces disappeared.  Given the Giza Zoo's more recent precarious state, one can almost imagine how easy it would be for a set of antique furniture, estimated to be worth almost $1 million, to be carted off without someone noticing, but the story remains a mystery.  

If the Sotheby's sale of the king's property did take place, as written about in the Australian newspaper, then Sotheby's may have records to show if the bedroom suite was part of the collection of objects sold.   

The fact that M.S. Rau Antiques as not responded to the now brewing public outrage to provide evidence of the chain of ownership of the room until it has reached New Orleans and has taken down the sal,  leaves this question of how the firm acquired the objects and from whom, open for further investigation. 

It does seem curious though that despite this material being a Google/Social Media search away, the fact that the furniture appears to have been with M.S. Rau from at least 2010 has not come out in the major news reports so far. 

By:  Lynda Albertson 

Hobby Lobby turns over more artifacts to federal prosecutors in New York

Image Credit:  US Dept of Justice
According to documents released by the US Federal authorities, officials affiliated with Hobby Lobby, the American craft-supply mega-chain, have relinquished another 245 ancient cylinder seals (in some articles it has been misquoted that the forfeiture included cuneiform tablets), originating from ancient Mesopotamia, to a storage facility within the Eastern District of New York on Wednesday, January 17, 2018. 

According to the letter signed by United States Attorney Richard Donoghue and Assistant U.S. Attorney Karin Orenstein, the forfeited items, from the zone of modern day Iraq 

“constitute merchandise that was introduced or attempted to be introduced into the United States contrary to law, and are therefore subject to seizure and forfeiture to the United States, in accordance with 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c)(1)(A),”

This new forfeiture was done by way of an earlier settlement and decree of forfeiture between the the United States of America and Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., dating to June 29, 2017 related to "The United States of America v. Approximately Four Hundred Fifty (450) Ancient Cuneiform Tablets; and Approximately Three Thousand (3,000) Ancient-Clay Bullae"

As noted in documents related to that civil forfeiture agreement, Hobby Lobby president, and evangelical benefactor, Steve Green, through his designated buyers, began building a substantial private collection of antiquities in anticipation of the opening the the Green-sponsored $800 million, eight-story Museum of the Bible,  which later opened this past November.

According to the Museum of the Bible website, the Green's purchased their first biblical object in November 2009.   Since that time, their private collection has grown to an accelerated rate to an estimated 40,000 objects which includes Dead Sea Scroll fragments, biblical papyri, rare biblical texts and manuscripts, cuneiform tablets, Torah scrolls, and rare printed Bibles.  

On one of the Green's authorised purchasing trips in July 2010 to the UAE, in which Green himself attended, Hobby Lobby negotiated the purchase of
"5,548 distinct artifacts: 1,500 cuneiform tablets, 500 cuneiform bricks, 3,000 clay bullae, 35 clay envelope seals, 13 extra-large cuneiform tablets and 500 stone cylinder seals." [page eight]
paying $1.6 million despite the lack of accompanying legitimate paperwork and the likely plundered origin of the artifacts.  The procured antiquities were then shipped to the purchaser in multiple shipments via Federal Express to Oklahoma City to various different destination addresses affiliated with Hobby Lobby and its subsidiaries.  

Five of these shipments, however, were intercepted in transit between January 3rd and January 5th 2011 and were found to have been falsely labeled as "Ceramic Tiles" or "Tiles (Sample)" [pages 13-14] misidentifying the contents of the packages so that the  artifacts instead appeared to be simply arts and crafts items.

As the importation of cultural property into the United States in violation of a foreign country’s patrimony law (in this case Iraq) violates the National Stolen Property Act, codified at Title 18, United States Code, Section 2314, et seq. the objects were seized by federal authorities and an investigation was initiated. 

As an outcome of that US Federal investigation, Hobby Lobby agreed to hand over 5,548 smuggled artifacts in July 2017 and the firm was heavily criticized by both academics and the general public for supporting the illicit trade through its unethical purchase of antiquities.



The June 2017 stipulation of settlement between Hobby Lobby and the United States stated that:
"in the event that any of the Artifacts not included in the Defendants in rem were to “come into [Hobby Lobby’s] physical custody or control, whether inside or outside of the United States, [then] Hobby Lobby will immediately notify the Office and arrange for such Artifacts to be delivered to a place to be designated by the [United States] at Hobby Lobby’s sole expense." [page eight]
Where are the remaining 1709 objects Hobby Lobby has agreed to hand over? 

In 2017, according to documentation filed with the US Federal Courts in July 2017, Hobby Lobby relinquished 3,594 clay bullae, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets and other Near Eastern artifacts out of a total of over 5,500 documented in the same purchase. This weeks additional 2018 forfeiture of 245 cylinder seals brings the total number of artefacts relinquished to date by Hobby Lobby to only 3,839 objects.  

Equally important, when will the Museum of the Bible answer scholars who have been posing questions for several years about the provenance and authenticity of additional key objects which remain part of, or are on display at the newly opened Museum of the Bible.  

One of these, a Galations coptic papyrus fragment, was once on sale in 2012 via a dubious seller on eBay before being spotted at the Green’s Vatican exhibit Verbum Domini II in 2014.  Until now, despite numerous requests from University of Manchester scholar Roberta Mazza dating as far back as 2014,  the Museum of the Bible has declined all requests to clarify how and from whom this trafficked fragment and ca. 1,000 papyrus fragments and the other Egyptian objects in the collection were acquired.

By:  Lynda Albertson

For more on the collection practices of the Green family and its former associates please see these previous ARCA articles. 


January 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Lynda Albertson

January 13, 2018

INTERPOL's Most Wanted stolen works of art lists

Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit

Every June and December, INTERPOL, the International Criminal Police Organization publishes a poster which highlights key works of art that the law enforcement organization designates as important stolen works of art taken in incidences which have been reported during the previous six months. 

Distributed via all INTERPOL NCBs (National Central Bureaus) biannually to law enforcement agencies worldwide and available to the interested public on the INTERPOL website, their ID tool raises awareness of specific works of art to be watching for.  


Since the publication of INTERPOL's first stolen works of art poster in June 1972, the organization has brought attention to 534 stolen objects; 51 of these  objects have been recovered. 

In addition to the biannual posters, INTERPOL sometimes publishes highlight posters designed to draw attention to serious multi-object thefts of substation value that occur at single locations.  

Recent examples of these include: 


Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit


Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit


Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit


Image Credit INTERPOL - Works of Art Unit
While Ukrainian border guards recovered 17 of the stolen Old Master paintings worth $18.3 million from the Italian museum, other historical objects in Iraq and Syria are still missing. 

January 12, 2018

$10 million reward offered by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum extended indefinitely.


The empty frames still hang on the walls of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  A reminder of the March 18, 1990 theft, where, in 81 minutes, thieves posing as police officers tied up two security guards and made off with 13 works of art. 

The artworks have not been recovered, despite the healthy reward of $10 million dollars originally set to expire at midnight December 31, 2017.

The following are the thirteen stolen works of art which are still missing:

Landscape with an Obelisk by Govert Teuniszoon Flinck (1638)

Cortege aux Environs de Florence by Hilaire German Edgar Degas (c. 1857–1860)

La Sortie de Pesage by Hilaire German Edgar Degas (date unknown)

Program for an Artistic Soirée 1 by Hilaire German Edgar Degas (1884)

Program for an Artistic Soirée 2 by Hilaire German Edgar Degas (1884)

Three Mounted Jockeys by Hilaire German Edgar Degas (c. 1885–1888)

Chez Tortoni by Édouard Manet (c. 1878–1880)

A Lady and Gentleman in Black by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1633)

Self-Portrait by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (c. 1634)

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn  (1633)

The Concert by Johannes Vermeer (c. 1664–1666)

A bronze eagle finial (c. 1813–1814)

An ancient Chinese gu (c. 1200–1100 BCE)
This week, Steve Kidder, President of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum board of trustees, announced that the board has approved an indefinite extension  to the $10 million dollar reward for information leading to the recovery of all 13 works in good condition.



For details on the theft please see the history given at the museum located here.

Anyone with information about the stolen artworks or the investigation should contact the Gardner Museum's Director of Security, Anthony Amore directly at +1.617.278.5114  or write to the museum at:

theft [insert at sign] gardnermuseum.org

Confidentiality and anonymity is guaranteed.  







January 10, 2018

2018 Scholarship: ARCA has 4 conflict country scholarships for its 11 course program in Italy


ARCA has four conflict country scholarships for 2018.  These scholarships cover tuition for the 2018 postgraduate art crime and cultural heritage protection program.

ARCA builds capacity in conflict zone source countries 

In response to scholarly concerns of heritage destruction and looting throughout Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art developed its Minerva Scholarship program so that heritage personnel from these conflict countries could receive specialized training in combatting art crime in furtherance of cultural heritage protection. In place since 2015, these scholarships are geared towards postgraduate level individuals with a background in, or current position within the museum or archaeological field, cultural heritage institutions or universities, who are living and working within their home country.

The Minerva scholarship has been created to equip scholars with the knowledge and tools needed to build the capacity of their home institutions and to advance the education of future generations. Scholarships are awarded through an open, merit-based competition and subject to available funding in 2018. Accepted candidates must be able to speak, write and study in English at a university level proficiency.

Awardees of the Minerva are granted a full tuition waiver to ARCA’s ten-week,  eleven course, intensive professional development postgraduate program in Amelia, Italy for the Summer of 2018

For more details about this scholarship and to request a prospectus and application materials, please click here (you will find our email address at the bottom of the page) and write to us in English for further information. In your email please include a 200-word statement giving us your country of origin, where you currently work and reside, and explaining briefly how the program will benefit you as you move forward within your chosen career.


January 9, 2018

List of 6 (additional) objects and warrant details on objects seized from Phoenix Ancient Art by New York State District Attorney's Office

Copy of search warrant executed at Phoenix Ancient Art in New York can be viewed here.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos also initiated seizures at Phoenix Ancient Art, New York, in connection with an investigation into the purchase of illicitly trafficked antiquities.

The second-generation family business Phoenix Ancient Art has galleries in New York and Geneva. The business was founded by Sleiman Aboutaam in 1968 and is now operated by his sons, Hicham and Ali Aboutaam.  The Aboutaam name comes up frequently on ARCA's blog. 

The search warrants executed at 47 East 66th street resulted in the seizure of the following objects:


A) Rhodian Seated Monkey with missing arms (the “Seated Monkey”)
Period: dating to 580-550 BCE
Measurement: 5.25 inches tall
Valued at: $150,000


B) Attic Female Head Flask (the Female Head Flask”)
Period: dating to 500-490 BCE
Measurement: 5.5 inches tall by 2 inches wide.
Valued at: $80,000


C) Ionian figural vessel representing a Siren (the”Siren Vessel”)
Period: dating to 500-525 BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.
Valued at: $35,000


D) Teano Ware figural representing a Dove (the “Dove”).
Period: dating to 330-300 BCE
Measurement: 4.5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide.
Valued at: $25,000


E) Corinthian figural representing a Ram (the “Ram”) painted with black dots.
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 2 1/8 inches tall by 3 1/8 inches wide
Valued at: $20,000


F) Corinthian figural representing a Sea-Serpent with a human torso and head of a man (the “Sea-Serpent”) painted with black dots.
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 4.5 inches tall by 1.75 inches wide
Valued at: $140,000

In addition to the antiquities, as with the seizures which were executed at Michael Steinhardt's residence and office, the DA's seizure warrant called for the seizure of:

any and all documentation or other evidence related to the appraisal, consignment, sale, possession, transportation, shipping, provenance, importation, exportation, restoration, marketing, or insurance of the listed antiquities, including but not limited to appraisals, insurance policies, agreements, leases, contracts, emails, letters, invoices, receipts, documents, handwritten notes, internal memoranda, photographs, recordings, financial records, address books, date books, calendars, and personal papers;

found in the premises and that constitutes evidence, and tends to demonstrate that the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree was committed.

List of 10 objects and warrant details on objects seized from Manhattan billionaire Michael Steinhardt's home and offices by New York State District Attorney's Office

Copy of search warrant executed at the office of Michael Steinhardt can be viewed here.

Copy of search warrant executed at the New York apartment of Michael Steinhardt can be viewed here.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, in the early morning 6:00 am chill of New York, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos initiated seizures at the office and New York City residence of Michael Steinhardt in connection with an investigation into the purchase of illicitly trafficked antiquities. 

After a series of high-profile raids involving antiquities dealers and ancient art collections owned by private collectors, some of which have been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Manhattan District Attorney's office has shown their resolve in concentrating on deterring the trade in illegal antiquities.  

According to the TEFAF Art Market Report 2017, compiled each year by Dublin-based research and consulting firm Arts Economics, the U.S. represents 29.5% percent of the world’s art market.   Classical antiquities, such as those seized in this month's raids, represent a smaller portion of that figure.

Their Manhattan DA's work, and the collaboration of multiple, mostly unpaid advising research scholars, has resulted in significant repatriations to countries where predation is a problem, including most recently a 4th century B.C.E marble torso, a 6th century BC statue of a Calf Bearer and a Marble head of a bull stolen during the 1970s from Lebanon during the that country's Civil War.

In total since 2012, the Manhattan DA's office has recovered several thousand trafficked antiquities collectively valued at more than $150 million.

The search warrants executed at Michael Steinhardt's home and office resulted in the seizure of the following objects:


A) Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos (the “White-Ground Lekythos”), used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies.  Vessel attributed to the Triglyph Painter and depicts funerary related iconography featuring a woman and a youth.  
Period: approximately 420 BCE.  
Measurement: 18 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.  
Purchased for $380,000 in 2006. 


B) Apulian Rhyton for libations (the “Apulian African Head Flask”) in the shape of the head of an African.  
Period: dating to the 4th century BCE 
Measurement: 7.5 inches tall by 3 inches at base.  
Purchased for $130,000 in 2009. 


C) Italo - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned upwards (the “Italo-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE 
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 5.5 inches long by 2.5 wide. 
Purchased for $25,000 in 2011. 


D) Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head (the “Ionian Ram’s Head”).
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE 
Measurement: 2.5 inches tall by 4.7 wide. 
Purchased for $70,000 in 2009. 


E) Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African (the “Attic African Head Aryballos”).
Period: dating to the 5th century BCE 
Measurement: 4 inches tall.
Purchased for $150,000 on or about December 17, 2009.


F) Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion (the “Corinthian Lion Vessel”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to 600-550 BCE
Measurement: 3.5 wide. 
Purchased for $25,000 on or about November 9, 2011.


G) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl (the “Proto-Corinthian Owl”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.2 wide. 
Purchased for $120,000 on or about October 14, 2009.


H) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned backwards (the “Proto-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.7 wide. 
Purchased for $130,000 on or about October 14, 2009.


I) Corinthian Bull’s Head (the “Corinthian Bull’s Head”). 
Period: dating to 580 BCE
Measurement: 2.2 inches tall by 2.8 wide. 
Purchased for $60,000 on or about October 14, 2009.


j) Bronze Handles (the “Bronze Handles”). 
Period: unknown
Measurement: 6.3 inches tall by 9.4 wide. 
Purchased for $40,000 in 1996.

In addition to the antiquities the DA's seizure warrant called for the seizure of:

any and all computers, as defined by Penal Law  § 156.00(1) or electronic storage devises capable of storing any of the above described property as well as their components and accessories, including, but not limited to, cords, monitors, keyboards, software, programs, disks, zip drives, flash drives, thumb drives, and/or hard drives;

any and all books, manuals, guides, or other documents containing Information about the operation and ownership of a computer, cellular telephone, camera, video recorder, video game console or other electronic storage device present in the target location, including, but not limited to, computer cellular telephone and software user manual;

any and all documentation or other evidence related to the appraisal, consignment, sale, possession, transportation, shipping, provenance, importation, exportation, restoration, marketing, or insurance of the listed antiquities, including but not limited to appraisals, insurance policies, agreements, leases, contracts, emails, letters, invoices, receipts, documents, handwritten notes, internal memoranda, photographs, recordings, financial records, address books, date books, calendars, personal papers, video footage, and stored electronic communications or data, whether recorded in physical documents are stored digitally as information and images contained in computer disks, DC or DVD ROMs, USB drives and hard drives that may be found at the target premises;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which tend to establish Michael Steinhardt’s intent to commit the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree per which tend to establish his state of mind prior to and during the commission of said crime;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which tend to establish (directly or indirectly) Michael Steinhardt’s knowledge that Steinhardt has committed the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree namely the possession of stolen or illicitly trafficked antiquities;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which tend to establish that Michael Steinhardt is a person in the business of buying, selling, or otherwise dealing in property, specifically art and antiquities;

any and all documentation or non-privileged communications indicative of or pertaining to inquiries made by Michael Steinhardt, or the lack thereof, that the persons are entities from whom he obtained any art or antiquities had the legal right to possess said items;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which contain any references to he purchase, and/or sale, and/or possession of looted, stolen, or illegally trafficked antiquities;

any and all documentation tending to identify, and/or connect Michael Steinhardt with accomplices, co-conspirators, possible accomplices and/or witnesses to the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree;

The aforementioned white collar crimes or theft offenses mentioned in the New York search warrant are described below: 

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in First Degree – NY Panel Law 165.54

A person is found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner, and when the value of the value of the stolen property exceeds $1,000,000.

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in Second Degree – NY Penal Law 165.52

A person is found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner, and when the value of the value of the stolen property exceeds $50,000.

There are four legal presumptions associated with New York Penal Law 165.55, the following is the most likely relevant one in this case:


  1. A person who knowingly possesses stolen property is presumed to possess it with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner thereof. This presumption is often referred to as recent exclusive possession.” There has been a tremendous body of case law addressing this presumption which argues for the position that if an accused has had the exclusive possession of stolen property after a theft crime has been perpetrated and there is evidence or circumstances which show an inability to explain where the property came from, a negative inference may in fact be drawn. That inference being that there is a strong likelihood that the accused knew that the property he or she possessed was stolen.
By:  Lynda Albertson

January 8, 2018

Venezuela has returned nearly 200 pre-Columbian stone and ceramic archaeological artifacts to Costa Rica

Image Credit: Ernesto Emilio Villegas Poljak,
Minister of Culture, Venezuela @VillegasPoljak
As a welcome start to 2018 repatriations, Venezuela has returned 196 pre-Columbian stone and ceramic archaeological artifacts to Costa Rica created by the indigenous cultures and peoples who once populated the Americas.

The pieces, some 96 crates in total, weighing in at a whopping 5,000 kilos, had been trafficked illegally.  The repatriated cargo includes two of the incredibly mysterious pre-Columbian spheres sculpted from gabbro, the coarse-grained equivalent of basalt, believed to have been created by the Diquís civilization, as well as pottery, vases, human figurines, zoomorphic ocarinas (musical instruments), and metates (grain-grinding stones).

The ancient cargo arrived to Port Moin in Limón, Costa Rica by boat on Tuesday, January 2, 2018 and concretized Guatemala's promise to return plundered goods, once part of a controversial private collector's extensive collection. 


Found deep in the jungles of Costa Rica, the Las Bolas petrospheres (literally "the balls") of the Diquís civilization date back to the Aguas Buenas Period (300–800 CE) and Chiriquí Period (800–1550 CE).  Some researchers believe the round stone balls, varying in size from a few centimeters to over two meters in diameter, may possibly have served as landmarks, though their exact significance remains uncertain. 

The Las Bolas were discovered in the 1930s when Companía Bananera de Costa Rica, a branch of the United Fruit Company, began clearing portions of the nutrient-rich jungle delta in preparation for banana cultivation.  They are unique to Costa Rica. 


In October 2016, La Nacion published a special report titled "Memoria Robata" which revealed a longstanding network of Costa Rican traffickers supplying the illicit market of global archaeological art.

Beginning in 2014 Venezuela began making significant progress in its fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property. One of the country's most important cases included the seizures of archaeological pieces from Case Männil, also known as the Casa de los Jaguares (the House of the Jaguars), a property which belonged to the alleged Estonian Nazi collaborator Harry Männil. 

After the Second World War, Männil, also known as Harry Mannil Laul, spent most of his life in Latin America, and until a few years before his death resided in Venezuela.  During his lifetime he was considered to be one of Venezuela's powerhouse businessman serving as one of the founders of the country's ACO, C.A., a holding company for an umbrella organization of over eighty companies engaged in a wide variety of industries throughout the country.  

Despite being listed as the 10th most wanted Nazi criminal by the Simon Wiesenthal Center for crimes against jews while working for the political police in 1941–1942 during the German occupation of Estonia, Männil was awarded the Order of the Star of Carabobo and the Order of Francisco de Miranda by the Venezuelan government.

As a philanthropist and art collector, Männil was also owner of one of the world’s largest and most coveted private collections of art.  In 1997 his collection of pre-Columbian art, modern Latin American art, and art of the South American Indigenous people influenced Artnews to list him as one of the 200 most important private collectors in the world. 

Despite that art market accolade, the possession, trade and trafficking of pre-Columbian art has been severely banned in Costa Rica since 1982 and the country's laws state that all discovered historic objects from specific periods must be relinquished into the hands of the state.

Costa Rica's national laws define cultural property as: 

National archaeological heritage in Costa Rica is defined as:

As a result of national law, the National Museum of Costa Rica filed a formal complaint against both Harry Mannil Laul and his son Mikhel Mannil D’Empaire, for the “illegal trade in archaeological property” laying claim to significant portions of the family's collection.

After Mannil passed away on January 11, 2010, Costa Rican authorities raided his farm in San Rafael de Heredia on July 22, 2010 and seized 108 pieces of pre-Columbian art, including fourteen additional Bolas. Officials at that time stated that the pieces had been obtained through illegal purchase which broke the country's law against trafficking in archaeological artifacts.

Pre-Columbian pieces seized in 2010 in the San Rafael de Heredia, Costa Rican
home of Harry Mannil. Image Credit: La Nacion
In 2010 fifty-six pieces of Männil’s collection were seized by the Customs Police and the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Venezuela, when the family tried to export the Pre-Columbian objects to the United States.

In 2014, a second seizure of objects was made, this time at Männil's Caracas home, the Casa de los Jaguares (House of the Jaguars). Archaeologist Marlin Calvo, head of the Department of Protection of Cultural Heritage Museum National, traveled to Caracas and surveyed the historic remains recovered during that raid as well as immovable pieces which remained on the property and determined that many of the pieces were from pre-Columbian cultures and originated in Costa Rica.  This including jaguar metate, whose heads had been decapitated and embedded into masonry walls as decorative elements, lending their name to the collector's residence. 

Image Credit: La Nacion

How Männil exported these pre-Columbian pieces from Costa Rico to Venezuela was not clear. 

Image Credit: Museo Nacional de Costa Rica
The Pre-columbian Chiefdom Settlement where the Stone Spheres Las Bolas of the Diquís in Costa Rica were found was inscribed to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2014.

While legal mechanisms are currently in place to protect Costa Rica's archaeological heritage and to control the traffic in antiquities, the looting of sites by huaqueros (grave robbers, nighthawks) has been and to a lesser extent still is a significant problem which results in the destruction of archaeological evidence and the loss of knowledge about Costa Rica’s past. 

Between 1983 and 2016, 519 complaints of trade, transport and illegal export  in archaeological material were filed in Costa Rica, 386 of which  resulted in seizures.  

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 7, 2018

More on the Manhattan billionaire Michael Steinhardt's whose private collection now faces further seizures


As mentioned previously in ARCA blog posts, Michael Steinhardt has a longstanding record of making astute financial decisions, many of which have led to stellar investment performance earnings totalling in the millions on Wall Street.  Unfortunately his culture capital record for making prudent, informed decisions when purchasing antiquities for his $200 million private art collection continues to raise eyebrows, and in Friday's case secure New York seizure warrants. 

As once-master of the hedge fund universe, Steinhardt has the liquidity to be choosy about his art purchases. With a current net worth estimated at $1.05 billion, according to a 2017 article in Forbes Magazine, as well as almost thirty years of collecting experience, he should be aware of the ethics of acquisition and the problems of acquiring objects through questionable dealers or with insufficient or dubious provenance.

Steinhardt is a member of Christie’s advisory board.  He also has a Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C. gallery named after him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. All this to say that he should be sufficiently well informed about the ethical obligations of responsibly acquiring, managing and disposing of items in his burgeoning art collection.   When not sufficiently informed, his position of affluence and philanthropic influence affords him the ability to reach out to knowledgable art world connections, who could advise him of the regulatory structures in place and the moral economy of purchasing and collecting illicit antiquities should he have any doubts.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos again initiated custody of seven antiquities, prosecutors state were looted from the countries of Greece and Italy.

Purchased in the last twelve years, the ten objects seized in last week's raid are listed as:

A) Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos (the “White-Ground Lekythos”), used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies.  Vessel attributed to the Triglyph Painter and depicts funerary related iconography featuring a woman and a youth.
Period: approximately 420 BCE.
Measurement: 18 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.
Purchased for $380,000 in 2006.

B) Apulian Rhyton for libations (the “Apulian African Head Flask”) in the shape of the head of an African.
Period: dating to the 4th century BCE
Measurement: 7.5 inches tall by 3 inches at base.
Purchased for $130,000 in 2009.

C) Italo - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned upwards (the “Italo-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 5.5 inches long by 2.5 wide.
Purchased for $25,000 in 2011.

D) Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head (the “Ionian Ram’s Head”).
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 2.5 inches tall by 4.7 wide.
Purchased for $70,000 in 2009.

E) Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African (the “Attic African Head Aryballos”).
Period: dating to the 5th century BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall.
Purchased for $150,000 on or about December 17, 2009.

F) Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion (the “Corinthian Lion Vessel”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 600-550 BCE
Measurement: 3.5 wide.
Purchased for $25,000 on or about November 9, 2011.

G) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl (the “Proto-Corinthian Owl”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.2 wide.
Purchased for $120,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

H) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned backwards (the “Proto-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.7 wide.
Purchased for $130,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

I) Corinthian BUll’s Head (the “Corinthian Bull’s Head”).
Period: dating to 580 BCE
Measurement: 2.2 inches tall by 2.8 wide.
Purchased for $60,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

j) Bronze Handles (the “Bronze Handles”).
Period: unknown
Measurement: 3.6 inches tall by 9.4 wide.
Purchased for $40,000 in 1996.

Some of Steinhardt's previous risky antiquities gambles:  


2017
Sidon Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE) 
and 
a 6th century marble torso of a calf bearer

Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE) and
a 6th century BCE marble torso of a calf bearer.

Just last month the US repatriated two Eshamun Sculptures seized from Steinhardt's private collection.  Both pieces found their way onto the international antiquities black market after being stolen during Lebanon's tumultuous civil war.  Before their theft, both antiquities had been excavated at the Temple of Eshmun in 1967 near Sidon in southwestern Lebanon.

In the summer of 2017 Manhattan prosecutors seized the 2,300-year-old marble bull's head while it was on loan from Steinhardt to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Prosecutors and forensic art crime analysts also tied the bull's head to a second Steinhardt purchase, also through Lynda and William Beierwaltes.

The Beierwaltes sold the Sidon Bull's head and the Lamb Carrier torso to Michael Steinhardt in 2010 who later of whom loaned the bull's head antiquity to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  After learning that the marble head was subject to seizure, Steinhardt asked the Beierwaltes to retake possession of the object and compensate him for his purchase.

The Beierwaltes in turn relinquished all ownership claims when the illicit provenance of the objects was solidly made clear.

NOTE: The Beierwaltes were long-term clients of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides at the time of these purchases.

2017
An Anatolian marble female idol of Kiliya type, AKA The Guennol Stargazer

Screenshot from “The Exceptional Sale,” April 2017
Image Credit: Christie’s New York

On April 29, 2017 at the behest of a request by the Turkish authorities and following the interim judgement of the United States District Court, Christie's applied precautionary measures regarding the sale of the 9-inch, 5,000-year-old a rare 3rd millennium BCE idol, likely looted from the Akhisar district of Manisa province in Anatolia.  Turkey's Culture Minister Nabi Avcı told the press at that time that the auction house will abide by the Court's recommendation for a temporary hold on the antiquity while an investigation into the object’s provenance is conducted.

During that time period, the purchaser’s hammer price + buyer's premium bid of $14,471,500 USD was confirmed but not collected.  As a result of the object being contested, the would-be buyer bowed out from the purchase, shortly after the case began being discussed in the international press. 

According to documents, Michael Steinhardt had purchased the Stargazer from Merrin Gallery in August 1993 for under $2 million.  Had the sale not been halted, Steinhardt would have pocketed $12.7 million for the 5,000 year-old Guennol Stargazer, twice the object's pre-sale estimate.

Christie's and Steinhardt issued a motion to quash Turkey's lawsuit.  While the case has not been resolved,  ultimately Turkey's fight for repatriation may hinge on two critical points: whether the country can conclusively show that the piece in question was discovered in Turkey, and whether the nation laid claim to the artifact in a timely fashion, given the length of time Steinhardt had the object in his collection.

2014
A Sardinian Marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture


November 21, 2014 Christos Tsirogiannis identified a $1 million Sardinian marble female idol dating from 2500-2000 B.C.E. scheduled for auction as Lot 85 at Christie's on December 11, 2014 as having been matched with an image he found in the archive of convicted Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt, the Turriga Mother Goddess figure had previously made its way through Harmon Fine Arts and The Merrin Gallery, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of pet food giant Leonard Norman Stern, the object was once displayed, but not photographed, in a "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event in 1990 where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27, 2014 the contested object was pulled from the Christie's auction.  Its current status has not be made public.

2011
United States v. One Triangular Fresco Fragment


April 20, 2011 an incoming parcel was detained in Newark, New Jersey by US Customs and Border Protection authorities.  Inside the package, shipped via the Swiss firm Via Mat Artcare AG, was a fresco fragment which appeared to be a cusp or pediment of an ancient painted tomb from the Necropolis of Andriuolo at Paestum. The shipper was listed as Andrew Baker of Vadus, Lichtenstein.   The consignee was Michael Steinhardt.

Despite the object's obvious Italian origin, the shipment had a customs declaration form which falsified the object's country of origin as Macedonia. The fragment was forfeited to the U.S. government and repatriated to Italy on February 24, 2015.

2007 
(Il)licit Excavations of Maresha Subterranean Complex 57: 
The ‘Heliodorus’ Cave




In early 2007 Michael Steinhardt acquired the so-called Heliodorus Stele from Gil Chaya, an antiquities dealers in Jerusalem, who reportedly is a nephew of the late Shlomo Moussaieff.  Moussaieff once owned one of the largest collections of biblical antiquities in the world, many of which have no verifiable provenance.  After the purchase, Steinhardt and his wife presented the stele to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem as an extended loan. 

The stele contains a magnificent 2nd century BCE Greek inscription which documents a correspondence between the Seleucid king, Seleucus IV (brother of Antiochus IV) to an aide named Heliodorus. Unsurprisingly though, the bottom portion of the stele was missing, leaving a gap in scholarship as well as a tell-tale clue that the stele had likely been looted shortly after its extraction, since its base was missing.  Earlier, during 2005 and 2006 excavations at the Maresha Subterranean Complex 57 at Beit Guvrin National Park three fragments were uncovered that were subsequently identified as matching the bottom edge of Steinhardt's stele.  

These fragments were discovered in a subterranean complex by participants in the Archaeological Seminars Institute "Dig for a Day" program.  The correlation of the fragments' epigraphy and testing of their stone and soil samples from the find site proved conclusively that the fragments were a match completing missing pieces of the stele. 

It was later determined that the stele had been stolen during a robbery at the Beit Guvrin National Park in 2005.  Tel Maresha's head archaeologist, Dr. Ian Stern verified that he remembered arriving on the site on a Sunday morning in 2005 only to find that the cave where the fragments were found, had been “turned upside down,” apparently by looters searching for ancient objects to be sold on the black market.

1995
A fourth century BCE gold phiale


November 9, 1995, U.S. Customs agents seized a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale used for pouring libations from Steinhardt's Fifth Avenue residence on Manhattan's Upper East Side.  The financier appealed the lower court's ruling, only to have the decision of forfeiture affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Despite clear proof that the object was smuggled out of southern Italy, Steinhardt petitioned the lower court's ruling all the way to the United States Supreme Court, in the hopes of retaining the object for his collection. 

The high court found no compelling reason to rehear Steinhardt's case, basing their decision on the basis that the importer had intentionally undervalued the object's worth, transited the object illegally from Sicily to Switzerland, and provided false statements misrepresenting the phiale's country of origin on the object's import documentation. 

The two antiquities dealers involved in the purchase, Robert Haber and William Veres, were each given suspended sentences of one year and ten months imprisonment.  The extent of Steinhardt's culpability though was left vague in the final court filings.  Yet Steinhardt's experience as an art collector and specifically his experience with Haber, with whom he had already purchased some $4-6 million in art objects, raises considerable doubts that his error in purchase could be chalked up to naïveté.  

The fact that the bill of sale from Haber to Steinhardt even stipulated that"if the object is confiscated or impounded by customs agents or a claim is made by any country or governmental agency whatsoever, full compensation will be made immediately to the purchaser" gives the impression that both the collector and his dealer were each fully aware of the potentiality for illegality in the market, possibly with this object specifically.

Each of the aforementioned examples outlined above highlight questionable pedigrees in relation to previous high risk acquisitions made by Steinhardt in relation to his antiquities collection.  Several purchases in fact, overlap with antiquities dealers and middlemen with well known histories of dealing in illicit antiquities.  Each of these purchases demonstrate how little, if any, due diligence was conducted in providing a reasonable assurance that the objects being acquired were not, within the legal statutes of the time, illegally exported from their country of origin.