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March 12, 2013

Nominations for ARCA's 2013 Art Policing and Recovery Award

Here are this year's three nominees for ARCA's 2013 Art Policing and Recovery Award which usually goes to a police officer, investigator, or lawyer.  Past winners have included: Vernon Rapley (2009), Charlie Hill (2010), Paolo Giorgio Ferri (2011), and Ernst Schöller (2012). 

Colonel Mathew Bogdanos, United States Marine Corps Reserves, Senior Investigative Counsel, Assistant District Attorney New York, investigated the looting from the Baghdad Museum and organized the security of it during the Iraq conflict. Colonel Bogdanos left active duty in the Marines in 1988 to join the New York County District Attorney's Office. Remaining in the Marine Corps Reserves in the 1990s, he led a counter-narcotics operation on the Mexican border and served in Desert Storm, South Korea, Lithuania, Guyana, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kosovo.
Losing his apartment near the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, he joined a counter-terrorism task force in Afghanistan, where he received a Bronze Star for actions against al-Qaeda. He then served in the Horn of Africa and three tours in Iraq—leading the investigation into the looting of Iraq’s National Museum—before deploying again to Afghanistan in 2009. Exposing the link between antiquities trafficking and terrorist financing, and presenting those findings to the United Nations, Interpol, British Parliament, and the Peace Palace in The Hague, he received a National Humanities Medal from President Bush for his work recovering more than 6,000 of Iraq's treasures in eight countries.  He holds a classics degree from Bucknell University; law degree and master’s in Classics from Columbia University; and master’s in Strategic Studies from the Army War College. Returning to the DA’s Office in October 2010, he continues the hunt for stolen antiquities. All royalties from his book, Thieves of Baghdad, are donated to The Iraq Museum.
Sharon Cohen Levin, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, has been instrumental in securing the return of innumerable antiquities and other cultural property to foreign governments, and artworks and other cultural property to the families of Holocaust victims from whom they had been looted or subjected to forced sale by the Nazis.  In 2010, Ms. Levin's office resolved the case of United States v. Portrait of Wally with the Leopold Museum in Vienna.  This case, involved the Estate of Lea Bondi Jaray and lasted over ten years that resulted in: payment of 19 million dollars to the Estate (reflecting at least the full value of the painting); an exhibit of the painting at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, before it returned to the Leopold Museum, and permanent signage to accompany the painting at the Leopold Museum and anywhere else in the world where it is exhibited, which sets forth in both English and German the true provenance of the painting and the legacy of Lea Bondi Jaray. The Wally case is credited with focusing the world's attention on the problem of Nazi-looted art.
In the past six years, the Southern District of New York has forfeited nearly $6 billion in crime proceeds. Ms. Levin pioneered the use of federal forfeiture laws to recover and return stolen art and cultural heritage property. The SDNY Asset Forfeiture Unit has initiated dozens of proceedings under the forfeiture laws -- seizing and returning artwork and cultural property to the persons and nations who rightfully own them.  Notable examples include the forfeiture and repatriation of stolen paintings by Lavinia Fontana, Jean Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein, Serge Poliakoff, Anton Graff and Winslow Homer; drawings by Rembrandt and Duhrer; an Etruscan bronze statute dated circa 490 B.C.; an antique gold platter dated circa 450 B.C.; a rare Mexican manuscript; a medieval carved wood panel which was originally inside the historic Great Mosque in Dvrigi; an Ancient Hebrew Bible owned by the Jewish Community of Vienna and stolen during the Holocaust and most recently, a Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton looted from the Gobi desert in Mongolia.
Christos Tsirogiannis is a forensic archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, completing his Ph.D thesis on the International Illicit Antiquities Network (“Unravelling the International Illicit Antiquities Network through the Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides archive and its international implications”). As a Reserve Officer of the Greek Army, he discovered two Archaic period settlements and a Classical period cemetery, for which he has been decorated with the Army Commendation Award (2003). For several years Tsirogiannis was the only archaeologist working for the Greek Police Art Squad in his native Athens and he remains actively involved in tracing stolen antiquities from both his native country and Italy. Roughly three times a year he will spot an object, perhaps a vase or a sculpture , that has come on to the art market with something about its provenance which serves to make him suspicious. Once alerted to the possibility that an illegally traded item may be about to change hands, he has used his experience to investigate auction houses and galleries, museums and private collections around the world making comparisons between evidence included in confiscated archives by police and judicial authorities. If, at that point, he reveals a trail that suggests the illicit origin of an antiquity, he contacts the relevant authorities of the robbed country.
Tsirogiannis, took his first degree in Archaeology and History of Art at the University of Athens and began his career as an archaeologist working for the Greek Ministry of Culture.  One morning in August 2004 he reported that his world changed when he got a phone call from the headquarters of the Athens police asking him to accompany them on a raid of a monastery where antiquities without any collecting history had been found. The Greek judicial system found the monks innocent – but it was a clearly problematic case that opened his eyes to the problems of trafficking. While in Greece, Tsirogiannis continued to work for the police as an unpaid volunteer, frequently escorting authorities on raids throughout Greece and identifying looted antiquities, while keeping his day job at the Ministry of Culture.  When his work with the police grew, he was offered a post with the Ministry of Justice. As an expert trusted by the authorities, he was directly involved in a series of high-profile investigations by specialist teams from the Greek and Italian police, researching archives of looted objects that had made their way along a clandestine network of looters, middlemen, famous auction houses and high-profile dealers working closely with top collectors.  The most notorious of these raids was that on the Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides summer residence in the Cyclades, where the authorities found an archive of professional photographs that recorded numerous looted and smuggled antiquities from nearly all the world’s ancient civilizations.