December 24, 2019

Journalist Karl E. Meyer has died at 91.

Third-generation journalist Karl E. Meyer has died at the age of 91. Long before the general public became aware of the chicanery in the art world, Meyer, a longtime foreign correspondent and editorial writer at The Washington Post and The New York Times and the Editor of the World Policy Journal, was calling them to task.  

In 1974 his book The Plundered Past: The Story of the Illegal International Traffic in Works of Art was one of the earliest accounts of the rapacious plundering of antiquities brought about by the insatious appetites of dealers collectors and museums.  In his book he criticised many in the art world, including those in prominent positions at important museums and institutions for their acquisitive over ethical tendencies, calling to task the professed patrons and protectors of the art world. 

His old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting, combined with scholarly sensibilities and reportorial enthusiasm made all of his books about heritage accessible.

Speaking about the importance of the past Meyer wrote: 


Meyer is survived by his third wife, whom he married in 1989, and by three children from his second marriage, Ernest, Heather and Jonathan Meyer, three granddaughters and his sister, Susan L. Meyer.

December 21, 2019

Mysterious Museum Theft Recovery. The long-missing shield gifted to Italy's General Garibaldi has been recovered in Rome.


This week, officers from the operational department of Italy's Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale and the Rome Gianicolense Station have recovered an important ornamental bronze shield.  The object,  gifted as a sign of gratitude to Giuseppe Garibaldi by the citizens of Sicily in May 1878 was donated to Rome by Garibaldi and first kept in the Capitoline Museum.  Later it was transferred to the National Museum of the Risorgimento located inside the Palazzo del Vittoriano (the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument) complex, where at some point, it disappeared from the collection approximately twenty years ago. 

Giuseppe Garibaldi
Spanning some 118 centimeters in diameter, the shield was no small thing for a thief or disgruntled employee to have walked off with undetected.  Crafted by Antonio Ximenes, the shield weighs in at close to 50 kilograms.  Intricately decorated, it  illustrates eight engraved allegorical groups which bear the coat of arms of Italy's most important cities.  At the shield's center, the easily recognizable shield boss, or umbo, depicts a likeness of Garibaldi himself. Even more identifiable, the entire shield was etched with a laurel wreath where the names of all 1089 "Mille di Marsala" were engraved.

Given how recognizable this Italian patriot and soldier of the Risorgimento was, and how well published the shield is, having been the subject  of engravings and detailed in various exhibition documents, fencing the historic object after its theft
from the museum would have likely drawn considerable attention.  Instead, the shield simply vanished without a trace, only to resurface in the news as having been located in the private residence of a yet unnamed "Rome architect".  

Given that the squad is usually quick to name individuals involved in theft or in receiving stolen goods when it comes to thefts of Italy's cultural patrimony, it will be interesting to see if the public prosecutors name who this Rome architect is.   Moreover it is really very difficult to believe that whoever "owned" the object, they were not aware of its illegal origin.  




December 20, 2019

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seizes a female funerary statue previously on sale on the online website Live Auctioneers


Tuesday, December 17, 2019 agents with the United States Department of Homeland Security - HSI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized a female funerary statue previously listed for sale last April for an estimated Estimation 500.000-800.000 USD on the online website Live Auctioneers.  The statue, advertised at: https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/70314848_an-important-life-size-greek-marble-figure-of-a-female  was listed as Lot 0032.  In its description, the dealers had stated that the statue was "an impressive Greek marble three quarter life-size figure of a veiled woman, likely among a handful  [of] available Greek figures for sale."  

While the auction page for this antiquity has since been removed, the heavy 400 pound statue of a Greek funerary deity from the Hellenistic period, has been identified as having come from Cyrenaica, in present-day Libya, a source nation not mentioned in the description given by the sellers.  This area of the North African country has been the subject of accelerating pillage for more than a decade, sometimes in support of financing criminal groups.  Frequently this plunder destroys irreplaceable archaeological data. 

For years the Security Directorate of Shahhat, in Libya's eastern coastal region, has tried to foil the attempts of individuals threatening to tamper with, loot, or destroy antiquities from the ruins of the ancient Greek and Roman city, Cyrene.  But given rampant urban encroachment and the lack of uniform security within Libya's complicated political terrain following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Cyrenaica's rich archaeological heritage remains vastly underprotected, a fact often overlooked by the media amid its focus of ISIS looting and iconoclasm in Syria and Iraq. 

Veiled marble sculptures such as the one seized in New York City are not found in Greece.  They are only found in the ancient Greek cemeteries of the ancient cities of Cyrenaica, the area along the eastern coastal region of what is today modern Libya. These uniquely stylized funerary decorations are easily identifiable as their distinctive styling is not found in any other part of the Classical world.  The alone makes it off concern that the dealers elected to refer to the piece as solely "Greek". 

Following the statues identification, concern over the object's pending sale on the ancient art market was widely publicized by the Archaeology Information Network (ArchaeologyIN) through their Archaeology in Libya social media network.  Drawing the public's attention to the fact that plundered Libyan artifacts are regularly appearing on the licit market, the grass roots activist group included a link to the dealer's auction which identified the sellers as Aphrodite Gallery, an online branch of Aphrodite Ancient Art.  Both of these ancient art enterprises are owned and/or operated by Jamal and Jad Rifai.

The object's provenance on the online sales site was listed as:

"Ex. Swiss private collection, from the 1980's, with import document and Art Loss Register certificate."   But the export license? 


A 2008 cached version of the Aphrodite Ancient Art website (now taken down) stated: 




Previous notes on Facebook, also now removed, once indicated that the brick and mortar gallery of Aphrodite Ancient Art opened in Manhattan in May 2012 after operating virtually as far back as 2007.  This date coincides with data captured by the Wayback Machine which maintains archives of some of the company's web pages dating as far back as 2008.  In contrast, the LinkedIn profile of one of the company's principles states that he has been part of the ancient art market in New York operating as Aphrodite Ancient Art since 1999. 

The seizure of this funerary statue was taken into consideration based on initial research conducted by individuals working with the Federation of Archaeological Missions in Libya, including Vincent Michel and Morgan Belzic (French Mission), Oliva Menozzi (Italian missions), Susan Kane (US Missions), as well as other unnamed colleagues.  Formal requests for assistance from the Libyan authorities came from Dr. Ahmed H. Abdalkariem, Chairmen of the Department of Antiquities (DOA) in Libya, in coordination with the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Libyan embassy who worked jointly with the US Federal and local law enforcement authorities.  

According Morgan Belzic, at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art and Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, illicit funerary sculptures from the Cyrenaica region of Libya have passed through the ancient art market with increasing frequency since the start of political unrest in the region. This uptick in sales volume for Greek artifacts plundered from Libya coincides with the suspension, or reduction, of many state services within the country, including those for heritage protection and management,  without which there has been an increase in criminal activity as well as sometimes aggressive pillaging of archaeological sites.  Belzic's conflict antiquities research has centered on the proceeds from the illicit trafficking of objects from the Cyrenaica region which benefit directly the criminal groups who organize the smuggling of looted antiquities out of Libya, selling on to intermediaries and art merchants in both the US and Europe. 

But could the dealer have known that the statue was illicit? 

Given its distinct style, it seems unlikely that the sellers of this important artifact would not have been able to identify that this statue came from the areas surrounding the ancient Greek cemeteries of the ancient cities of Cyrenaica.  Knowing that, the purported "Ex. Swiss private collection, from the 1980's" and the lack of export documentation of Libya fails to hold water. 

The cultural heritage of Libya is protected by both its national laws as well as by multilateral agreements and international instruments.  The 1951 Constitution grants the government control of the country’s antiquities, archaeological sites, and museums. Law Number 11 on Antiquities, Archaeological Sites, and Museums (1953) further obligates the state to protect cultural heritage in peace and wartime and prohibits damage to and illegal trade of cultural property, including exports. Law Number 2 of 1983 and Law Number 3 of 1994 have similar provisions. The latter names the Department of Antiquities (DOA) as the expert authority responsible for management, organization, care and protection of antiquities, museums, manuscripts, ancient cities, and historic localities and buildings.

The current governing document is the Constitutional Declaration, adopted by the National Transitional Council on August 3, 2011, which reinforces that Libya’s legal framework for cultural preservation has remained largely unchanged to date. International agreements to which Libya is a State Party also remain in effect such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Nature and Extent of Art Market for Archaeological and Ethnological Material from Libya

On June 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of State published notification in the Federal Register of the receipt of a request from the Government of Libya to the Government of the United States of America requesting import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Libya representing its prehistoric through Ottoman Era heritage.

In their request it was outlined that the United States is a major market, perhaps the single largest market, for sales of archaeological material from Libya. and that between approximately 2007 and 2014, nearly fifteen sculptures based on stylistic composition and other criteria identified as coming from Libya, and known to have come from Cyrene (some documented from the excavation storerooms; others undocumented) have been sold through the ancient art market in the United States or by US based companies operating virtually.

On December 5, 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection placed import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Libya to assist in combating the illicit trafficking from the region.  

December 12, 2019

The mysteries of the mysteriously appearing Klimt


Painted by the Austrian secessionist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), the only known “double” artwork created by the artist, "Portrait of a Lady," was discovered missing from the Galleria d'Arte Moderna Ricci Oddi, on February 22, 1997.  The painting's disappearance was strange, the frame for the artwork was found on the roof of the building, along with a potential fingerprint from one of the culprits, and yet, the Carabinieri estimated that the artwork was too large to have been pushed or pulled through the gallery roof skylight, so why was it found there?

Despite many leads, and talks with a local art thief who claimed he had stolen the original painting while it still hung in the gallery, replacing it with a duplicate,  the painting remained missing for almost 23 years. That is until it was found on the same grounds from which it disappeared.  

During routine gardening, the artwork was found nestled inside a small metal cubby, attached the side of the gallery, in a location previously covered with ivy.  The fact that the painting appears to be in good condition, despite the humid environment makes in unlikely that it remained stashed in this hidden location for the duration the artwork has been missing. 



Once part of a large collection of artworks, amassed and donated to the city of Piacenza by a local noble, and art aficionado Giuseppe Ricci Oddi (1868-1937) in the early 20th century, the Klimt had been on display at the former Convent of San Siro in Piacenza and was in preparation for a temporary move to a new location near Piacenza’s City Hall while its home gallery underwent renovations.  It was during this period of movement that the original, or if the purported thief is to be believed, his copy of the artwork went missing.  

Adding possible credibility to the informant's statements regarding a faked version of the artwork, on 1 April 1997, border police working on the Italian/French border at Ventimiglia intercepted a package addressed to the former Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi which contained a high quality forgery of the artwork. Why someone would be sending the disgraced former PM, a fugitive since 1994 in Tunisia, protected by Ben Ali's government was unclear. 

Prior to its removal from the Galleria d'arte moderna Ricci Oddi the artwork had drawn considerable attention thanks to the sharp eyes of a young Italian woman named Claudia Maga.  She was the first to notice that the Piacenza artwork bore a close similarity to a second known Klimt artwork depicting an almost identical woman glancing over her left shoulder. That matching painting had not been seen since 1912 and the similarity of the two subjects portrayed, led scholars to consider whether or not "Portrait of a Young Lady" and "Portrait of a Lady" might in fact be one and the same.  

Yet, the Piacenza painting has some marked differences. The missing 1912 portrait depicted the woman with a hat and scarf, while the Italian-based portrait did not.  Proffering that perhaps the artist had reworked the first in favor of the latter, analytical studies were made using x-radiography at a local hospital which made it possible to examine the layers beneath the surface and to reveal more information about the composition beneath the portrait. These tests proved Maga's hunch was correct, yet why Klimt chose to rework the painting remained subject to speculation. 

For now, the recovered artwork will undergo authentication, to determine of the painting found in the outer walls of the gallery is the missing artwork stolen more than two decades ago.  If it is, the next question will be where and with whom it really was for the bulk of the almost twenty-three years it was missing. 

December 11, 2019

Wednesday, December 11, 2019 - , No comments

2nd Brazilian Conference on Law & Art


Date:  20-22 May 2020
Event: The Second Brazilian Conference on Law & Art 
Location:  João Pessoa, Brazil 

In its second edition, the biennial (#2cbda) conference will gather the legal community that intervenes in the Brazilian art and cultural heritage sectors in order to debate with important international specialists. 

The general theme of the 2020 edition will be “50th Anniversary of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and 25th Anniversary of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention”.

This event will cover topics such as copyright; legal iconography; due diligence; concept of artist and artwork; protection of archaeological and underwater cultural heritages; museum law; cooperation, restitution and repatriation of cultural property; climate change, sea level rise and cultural heritage; international arbitration; police cooperation; the role of trusts and freeports in cultural heritage law; protection of the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples; digital art, its definition and preservation; restitution of holocaust-era assets; looted art in times of War; succession of states and cultural heritage; organised crime, terrorism and cultural heritage; anti-money laundering (AML) measures in the art market; circulation of cultural property; forgery, international tax & customs law; auction houses law; monuments and memorials as reparations of human rights violations and monument-toppling.

For further information please contact the event organizers by email  at: 
Email: mfilho@tce.pb.gov.br 
Whatsapp: +55 83 99954 0086.

November 27, 2019

"Hold on to your hat": Antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak”

Looted Cambodian art for sale by Douglas Latchford
Image Credit:  US DOJ
In a case being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Feinstein, in the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit, prominent 88-year-old British art collector and dealer Douglas A.J. Latchford has been indicted in the US Federal Court of the Southern District of New York.  The charges against the Bangkok-based dealer include "wire fraud, smuggling, conspiracy and related charges pertaining to his trafficking in stolen and looted Cambodian antiquities."

Latchford in his home standing next to
a Chola period (880 - 1279) Somaskanda from Tamil Nadu
For 50 years Latchford has been considered one of the world’s leading authorities on Asian Art, and at one point was believed to be the biggest single contributor to the National Museum of Cambodia, one of the very countries outlined in the indictment unsealed today at the US Federal Courthouse in Manhattan.  According to the prosecution, Latchford is believed to have been a major stakeholder, acting as a cross-border conduit in an multi-billion dollar cultural property network which trafficked in plundered artifacts from Southeast Asia to some of the most important galleries, auction houses, and museums in the western world charging him with conspiracy to smuggle, false import statements, wire fraud, and the illicit transport and sale of stolen cultural property.

According to the US indictment it is alleged that "from at least in or about 2000, up to and including at least in or about 2012, Latchford engaged in a fraudulent scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market, including to dealers and buyers in the United States."

The statue of warrior Duryodhana, which once graced the cover of Sotheby’s Asia Week catalog was returned to Cambodia.  In situ, this warrior was one of two matching statues facing each other in a rendition of the great Hindu epic the Mahabharata. 
Included in that list of fraudulent activity is involvement in the illicit removal and sale of the Angkorian sandstone statues stolen from Prasat Chen, the most northern sanctuary in the remote Koh Ker temple complex in Northern Cambodia.  Koh Ker (Khmer: ប្រាសាទកោះកេរ្ដិ៍) sits 120 kilometres northeast of Siem Reap and was briefly the capital of the Khmer kingdom from 928 to 944 CE.

In 2012, Latchford was already identified in a civil lawsuit, as a middleman in the trafficking of looted Khmer sculptures from “an organized looting network” and said to have conspired with the London auction house Spink & Son Ltd., to obtain false export permits for the sandstone temple antiquities.

Some of the incriminating evidence against the dealer related to charges against him include a brazenly written email sent on/about April 23, 2007, which leaves little to no  doubt about the dealer's level of direct involvement and knowledge in transnational criminal activity against cultural artifacts.  Attached to this email was a photograph of a freshly (and clandestinely) excavated standing Buddha statue, still covered in dirt.  In that email, Latchford is reported as having written "Hold on to your hat, just been offered this 56 cm Angkor Borei Buddha, just excavated, which looks fantastic. It’s still across the border, but WOW.”

It should be noted that by 1996, Cambodia had already enacted its overarching Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage, which criminalizes both the unauthorized excavation, looting, and unauthorized export of antiquities, defining "movable cultural property found by chance" to be public property. This law, known colloquially as "the 1996 Law" remains in effect and is the relevant governing law, supported by a number of decrees, sub-decrees, and regulations.  Cambodia further demonstrates its determination to protect its cultural heritage by being a signatory to the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (joined 1962); the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import (joined 1972); the World Heritage Convention (joined 1991); the Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (joined 2002), and the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (joined 2007).

As part of the present indictment Latchford is also alleged to have created "false letters of provenance and false invoices" misrepresenting the nature, age, country of origin, and/or the value  of an antiquity in order to conceal the illicit nature of the objects he brokered.  It should also be mentioned that he is also mentioned obliquely, though not directly named, as Co-Conspirator #1, in the criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan district attorney against Nancy Wiener, and several co-conspirators in December 2016.

In that New York criminal complaint co-conspirator #1 (Latchford)

  • allegedly is an antiquities dealer based in London and Bangkok
  • allegedly entered into an agreement with Nancy Wiener to purchase and sell a looted Baphuon Shiva from Cambodia, dated to the 11th Century C.E
  • allegedly shipped the Baphuon Shiva to London to be “cleaned, put together, and mounted.”
  • allegedly sold Nancy Wiener a bronze Buddha sitting on a throne of Naga stolen from Thailand or Cambodia, dated to the 10th Century C.E.
  • allegedly falsified provenance along with Nancy Wiener and Co-conspirator 2 for the bronze Buddha sitting on a throne of Naga stolen from Thailand or Cambodia, dated to the 10th Century C.E.
  • allegedly is a male 
  • allegedly admitted in email that he gave Co-Conspirator #2 bronze statues in exchange for false letters of provenance
  • allegedly purchased the Krishna Dancing on Kaliya from Subhash Kapoor
  • allegedly colluded with Nancy Wiener to create appraisal report for the Krishna Dancing on Kaliya 
Evidence collected in both cases illustrate a textbook formula of how looted antiquities are laundered onto the licit art market through poor controls and a lack of ethics and transparency among the major dealers working at the highest levels of the ancient art market.

Note: the charges contained in the US indictment are merely accusations and the defendant should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  For now Latchford, in purportedly poor health, remains at large in Bangkok, though it should be noted that the USA & Thailand signed an agreement on December 14, 1983 in which Article 2 permits extradition for any offense punishable under the laws of both States by imprisonment for more than one year.  By unsealing this indictment, it seems that the US intends to bring Latchford to the US, despite his reported ill health, to stand trial.

In conclusion, ARCA has elected to transcribe the entire SD/NY statement below, to make it searchable by future scholars conducting open source research on known/suspected traffickers.

----------


Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Peter C. Fitzhugh, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced today the unsealing of an indictment charging antiquities dealer DOUGLAS LATCHFORD, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak”— with wire fraud, smuggling, conspiracy and related charges pertaining to his trafficking in stolen and looted Cambodian antiquities.  LATCHFORD remains at large, residing in Thailand.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As alleged, LATCHFORD built a career out of the smuggling and illicit sale of priceless Cambodian antiquities, often straight from archeological sites, in the international art market. This prosecution sends a clear message to the art market and to those who profit from the illegal trafficking of cultural treasures: the United States and the Southern District of New York will use every legal tool to stop the plundering of cultural heritage.”

HSI Special Agent in Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh said:  “The theft and trafficking of cultural property and priceless national treasures is a global concern. Historical artifacts are living sources of knowledge, objects of worships, and symbols of hope that must be safe guarded for future generations.  Through the investigative efforts of HSI special agents, three stolen artifacts from Cambodia and another from India, valued at a total of $750,000, were successfully recovered and will be returned to their rightful homeland.  In addition, an alleged major player in a multi-billion dollar cultural property transnational criminal network was identified and revealed.   Working hand in hand with our partners at the United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, HSI will not waiver in its commitment to stopping the illicit distribution of cultural property, both domestically and abroad.”

According to the allegations in the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:

Background on Looting of Cambodian Antiquities

From the mid-1960s until the early 1990s, Cambodia experienced continuous civil unrest and regular outbreaks of civil war.  During these times of extreme unrest, Cambodian archeological sites from the ancient Khmer Empire, such as Angkor Wat and Koh Ker, suffered serious damage and widespread looting. This looting was widely publicized and well-known to participants in the international art market.

Looted artifacts usually entered the international art market through an organized looting network.  Local looters, often working with local military personnel, would remove statues and architectural elements from their original locations, sometimes breaking and damaging the antiquities in the process of excavation and transportation. The antiquities would be transported to the Cambodia-Thailand border and transferred to Thai brokers, who would in turn transport them to dealers of Khmer artifacts located in Thailand, particularly Bangkok. These dealers would sell the artifacts to local or international customers, who would either retain the pieces or sell them on the international art market. Widespread looting of ancient Khmer and Cambodian antiquities continued into the 1990s.

The Scheme to Sell Looted Cambodian Antiquities

At all times relevant to this Indictment, DOUGLAS LATCHFORD, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak,” the defendant, was a prominent collector and dealer in Southeast Asian art and antiquities, in particular, ancient Cambodian art. Starting in or about the early 1970s, LATCHFORD supplied major auction houses, art dealers, and museums around the world, including in the United States, with Cambodian antiquities from the ancient Khmer Empire. LATCHFORD, a dual citizen of Thailand and the United Kingdom, maintained residences in Bangkok and London.

From at least in or about 2000, up to and including at least in or about 2012, LATCHFORD engaged in a fraudulent scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market, including to dealers and buyers in the United States. As part of that scheme, in order to conceal that LATCHFORD’s antiquities were the product of looting, unauthorized excavation, and illicit smuggling, and to encourage sales and increase the value of his merchandise, LATCHFORD created and caused the creation of false provenance for the antiquities he was selling. In the context of art and antiquities, provenance refers to records and other evidence documenting the origin and history of ownership of an object. In particular, LATCHFORD misrepresented the provenance of Cambodian antiquities in letters, emails, invoices, and other communications. As part of the scheme, LATCHFORD also falsified invoices and related shipping documents to facilitate the international shipment of the antiquities to dealers and buyers, and to avoid restrictions on the importation of Khmer antiquities into the United States.

Beginning in or about the early 1970s, LATCHFORD regularly supplied an auction house based in the United Kingdom (“Auction House-1”) with looted Khmer antiquities, including from the archeological site of Koh Ker in Cambodia. LATCHFORD conspired with representatives of Auction House-1 and others to conceal the real provenance of looted Khmer antiquities and to create false export licenses and documentation. Many of the antiquities that LATCHFORD consigned to Auction House-1 were eventually sold to museums and collectors in the United States.  In or about 2011, an auction house in New York (“Auction House-2”) offered for sale one of the Koh Ker statutes that LATCHFORD had originally supplied to Auction House-1, a stone guardian figure called the “Duryodhana.” During the course of preparing to sell the Duryodhana in or about 2010, Auction House-2 asked LATCHFORD and a scholar closely associated with LATCHFORD (the “Scholar”) to help trace the provenance of the Duryodhana back to the early 1970s. LATCHFORD falsely stated to Auction House-2 that he had the Duryodhana in London in 1970, and that he had consigned it with Auction House-1 in 1975; whereas in truth and in fact LATCHFORD had exported the Duryodhana from Cambodia in or about 1972. About a month later, LATCHFORD changed his story, telling Auction House-2, in substance and in part, that he had never owned the Duryodhana. Around the same time that LATCHFORD falsely denied owning the Duryodhana, the Scholar warned LATCHFORD in an email, “I think maybe you shouldn’t be known to have been associated with the Koh Ker Guardian figures[.] . . . Let’s fudge a little, and just put the blame squarely on [Auction House-1] .  .  .  .”

Over the course of his lengthy career, LATCHFORD continued to act as a conduit for recently looted Cambodian antiquities. LATCHFORD advertised purportedly newly discovered and excavated pieces for sale to trusted associates, including a Manhattan-based dealer in Southeast Asian art (the “Dealer”). For example, on or about August 12, 2005, LATCHFORD emailed the Dealer photographs of a bronze seated Buddha, visibly covered in earth. Latchford explained that the photographs showed the statute “before cleaning” by a restorer, and “[w]hen it was found they took off most of the mud, or as it was, a sandy soil, it was found near Sra Srang, the lake in front of Banteay Kedi, right in the Angkor [Wat] Complex.”  Similarly, on or about March 13, 2006, LATCHFORD sent the Dealer an email labeled “PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL -------- FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.” The email contained a photograph of a bronze head. LATCHFORD explained that the head “was recently found around the site of the Angkor Borei group in the N E of Cambodia, in the Preah Vihar area. They are looking for the body, no luck so far, all they have found last week were two land mines !! What price would you be interested in buying it at? let me know as I will have to bargain for it.”  On or about April 23, 2007, LATCHFORD sent the Dealer another email, attaching a photograph of a standing Buddha statute that appears to be covered in dirt. LATCHFORD wrote, “Hold on to your hat, just been offered this 56 cm Angkor Borei Buddha, just excavated, which looks fantastic. It’s still across the border, but WOW.”

In order to facilitate the sale and international transportation of the antiquities to buyers and to conceal that the antiquities were looted, LATCHFORD, created false letters of provenance and false invoices, including letters of provenance purporting to have been drafted by a particular art collector (the “False Collector”). For example, in or about 2000, LATCHFORD sold a 12th Century stone Khmer sculpture to a museum in Colorado (the “Colorado Museum”). LATCHFORD informed the Colorado Museum that he had purchased the piece from the False Collector in June 1999, and provided the Colorado Museum with a letter of provenance purportedly from the False Collector as part of the sale.  However, LATCHFORD also supplied the Colorado Museum with records indicating that the statute was transported from LATCHFORD’s residence in Bangkok to London in 1994, long before he claimed to have purchased it from the False Collector.  The False Collector died in or about 2001. Thereafter, LATCHFORD continued to provide numerous provenance letters purportedly provided by the False Collector, while claiming, falsely, that the False Collector was still alive.

On other occasions, LATCHFORD directed third parties to create false provenance documents and false invoices for him.  For example, in or about September 2005, LATCHFORD sold the Dealer a 12th Century Angkor Wat-style standing Buddha statue for $90,000. LATCHFORD told the Dealer that the Buddha “needs to be cleaned, as there is surface corrosion and earth still on it,” indicia of recent excavation. LATCHFORD arranged to ship the Buddha from Bangkok to an “antique consultant/collector” in Singapore (the “Singapore Collector”), and from Singapore to the Dealer’s gallery in Manhattan. LATCHFORD instructed the Singapore Collector to “re-invoice[]” the Buddha on the Collector’s letterhead, “mentioning it has been in your collection for the past 12 years.” The Singapore Collector followed LATCHFORD’s instructions, creating a new, false invoice and letter of provenance stating that the Buddha had been in the Singapore Collector’s private collection in Singapore for the last 12 years, omitting any mention of LATCHFORD, and falsely describing the statute as a “17th C. Bronze Standing Figure from Laos.” The Singapore Collector then shipped the Buddha with the false invoice and false provenance to the Dealer in Manhattan.

As part of the scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities in the United States, from at least in or about 2005 up to and including in or about 2011, LATCHFORD supplied false information to the United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) regarding the antiquities he imported into the United States for resale. In particular, LATCHFORD’s false invoices misstated the nature, age, country of origin, and/or value of the Cambodian antiquities. LATCHFORD misrepresented the country of origin and the age of the goods in particular in order to conceal that they were looted antiquities, and to avoid an embargo on the importation into the United States of Khmer antiquities exported from Cambodia after 1999. Frequently, LATCHFORD listed the “country of origin” as “Great Britain” or “Laos,” rather than Cambodia, and often described the objects as “figures” from the 17th or 18th century.

*                      *                      *




November 18, 2019

At least 120 pieces of papyri appear to be missing from the Egypt Exploration Society collection

 Papyrus from the EES Collection
Graeco-Roman Memoir 103/Oxyrhynchus Papyri LXXXII
In continuing their internal investigation surrounding the illegal sale of papyri from their collection, The Egypt Exploration Society (EES) has issued a statement to members of Society at the Annual Gathering Meeting (AGM) which took place on 16th November 2019.  During that meeting, they indicated that it has determined that at least 120 pieces of papyri from Oxyrhynchus appear to be missing, from the EES collection, almost all from a specific group of folders.  

The EES collection is estimated to hold some half a million fragments so reviewing what is missing may take a considerable amount of time.  Previously it was announced that 13 of the missing pieces were determined to be in the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.  An additional 6 fragments were located with a collector, Andrew Stimer in California.

This is the first time that the EES has mentioned that they are cooperating with the University of Oxford and the police to try to determine how papyri from their collection were illicitly sold on the art market. 

The EES stated that while the police investigation is in progress, they will not comment further "but will report on developments as and when it is possible."

Carabinieri, EUROPOL , EUROJUST investigation, code named: "Achea"

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TP
NOTE: This article has been updated after the conclusion of the press conference. 

Today at 10:30, the Carabinieri Provincial Command of Crotone, a port city in Calabria, southern Italy, and the region's Public Prosecutor held a press conference to announce the results of a multicountry operation into the illicit trafficking of antiquities which feeds the clandestine market for ancient art.  This after having carried out an order for the application of precautionary measures, issued by the Judge of the Crotone Court, at the request of the local Public Prosecutor who coordinated the investigations.

Begun in 2017 and carried out in coordination with EUROPOL and EUROJUST, the investigation, named "Achea" after the first Hellenic population, involved 350 officers from Italy, France, Germany, Serbia, and the United Kingdom working together to reconstruct an entire criminal chain of actors responsible for the illegal exportation of archaeological material from the areas around Crotone to market countries in Europe.

Image Credit:  Europol
Inside Italy, searches were carried out by the Carabinieri Provincial Commands of Bari, Benevento, Bolzano, Caserta, Catania, Catanzaro, Cosenza, Crotone, Ferrara, Frosinone, Latina, Matera, Milan, Perugia, Potenza, Ravenna, Reggio Calabria, Rome, Siena, Terni, Viterbo as well as with the support of the 8th Carabinieri Core of Vibo Valentia and the helicopter squadron "Cacciatori di Calabria".  Outside Italy's borders, additional searches were conducted by the French Central Police Office for the fight against the international traffic of Cultural Heritage (OCBC -  (Office central de lutte contre le trafic de biens culturels) in France, the German Bavarian LKA (Bayerisches Landeskriminalamt) in Germany, the Serbian Criminal Investigations Directorate in Serbia and the Metropolitan Police (New Scotland Yard) of London in the UK.  According to a EUROPOL statement the Europol Analysis Project FURTUM supported the investigation by coordinating information exchanges, holding operational meetings, preparing the action day and providing analytical support in Italy.

Image Credit:  Europol
The network of criminal actors included a structured group of tombaroli, fences and intermediaries involved in moving illicit antiquities from archaeological sites in and around Crotone, where one of the most important and best known sanctuaries of Magna Graecia is located.  Source locations preyed upon by the squad include the public archaeological sites of Apollo Aleo at Cirò Marina, Capo Colonna, Castiglione di Paludi in the Municipality of Paludi, as well as unmapped areas near Cosentino and Cerasello.  The looters also dug on private lands in the province of Crotone and Cosenza.

During the press conference, it was stated that the criminal group associated with this action appeared to be well organized and had an entrepreneurial approach to structuring their criminal association. As the result of surveillance and wiretaps law enforcement officers were able to determine the top management of the organization, who directed and controlled the activity of the lower members of the association.  They also determined who planned the individual shipments, identified the places of interest for plunder, and worked to prevent, or at least minimize the risk of detection by the police.

Image Credit:  Europol
In Italy searches were conducted against a total of 80 individuals.  In italy, two were taken into custody and 23 have others been reportedly placed under house arrest upon the request of the public prosecutor.  The coinvolved overseas have not been named. 


Held in Custody
Giorgio Salvatore Pucci, from Cirò Marina who was already named in a previous investigation. 
Alessandro Giovinazzi, from Scandale

Released under house arrest
Alfiero Angelucci, from Trevi
Antonio Camardo, from Pisticci,
Giuseppe Caputo,from Dugenta
Sebastiano Castagnino, from Petilia Policastro
Enrico Cocchi, from Castano Primo
Francesco Comito, from Rocca di Neto 
Simone Esposito, from Rocca di Neto
Giuseppe Gallo, from Strongoli
Raffaele Gualtieri, from Isola Capo Rizzuto 
Domenico Guareri, from Isola Capo Rizzuto
Vittorio Kuckiewicz, from Fermo
Franco Lanzi, a numismatic expert from Norcia
Leonardo Lecce from Crotone,
Raffaele Malena, from Cirò Marina, (also named in previous antiquities investigation)
Marco Godano Otranto, from Crotone,
Renato Peroni, from Magnago
Santo Perri, from Sersale
Vincenzo Petrocca, from Isola Capo Rizzuto,
Aldo Picozzi, from Castano Primo
Domenico Riolo, from Scandale
Dino Sprovieri from Cirò Marina

4 others unnamed individuals have been arrested are domiciled abroad

Initial reports state that some of the individuals involved in the criminal conspiracy communicated with one another using a codified language and in some cases accessed archaeological finds using a backhoe, drones, and sophisticated metal detectors from Minelab, despite the fact that the use of metal detectors is completely prohibited in Calabria.


Some of the artifacts recovered include terracotta vases and oil lamps, terracotta plates, fibulas and pieces of ancient jewelry, some dating to the IV and III century BCE.

Italy's Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini gave a statement regarding the investigation saying "Thanks to sophisticated investigative techniques and the collaboration of Europol and the competent foreign police forces, in Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Serbia, the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage has completed with a vast operation to counter the illicit trafficking of archaeological finds from Calabria to Northern Italy and abroad has been successful, recovering thousands of goods and seizing materials used for clandestine excavations, an operation that once again demonstrates the excellence of the Carabinieri Command which has been operating since 1969 in defense of the Italian cultural heritage."


Unfortunately this is not the first time Crotone has been the focal point of such a blitz.  From 2014 until January 2017 an investigation coordinated by the Public Prosecutor of Crotone through Procurator dott. Giuseppe Capoccia and the Deputy Dr. Luisiana Di Vittorio, and conducted by the Police of the Cultural Heritage Protection Center of Cosenza followed up on a number of clandestine excavations conducted in archaeological sites in the areas surrounding Crotone area. While that investigation also served to identify many of the actors of a diffuse and well-structured criminal association it seems that one group dismantled simply made room for another.


November 17, 2019

Recovered: Ring once owned by Irish poet and playwright Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde


Note:  This article has been revised to include an interview with Arthur Brand at the closure of this article: 

Engraved with Greek lettering, a gold ring donated by the Irish poet and playwright Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde has been recovered. The author 
Albumen Photo of Oscar Wilde, 1882
by Napoleon Sarony
National Portrait Gallery NPG P24
of scintillating essays and The Picture of Dorian Gray donated the ring to his second alma mater, the University of Oxford, in 1876.  A place where, looking back on his life Wilde reflected pivotally in a letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas that "the two great turning points in my life were when my father sent me to Oxford and when Society sent me to prison." ('De Profundis' — O. W.).  It was the young lord's father who brought about Wilde's spectacular fall from grace.

Wilde read Classics as an undergraduate at Oxford from 1874 to 1878. His ring was once displayed in a butterfly case alongside the  "Magdalen" papyrus, three pieces of a manuscript donated by Reverend Charles B. Huleatt.  The ring disappeared from Magdalen College on May 2, 2002 in the early morning hours when Eamonn Andrews A.K.A. Anderson, a former Magdalen cleaner and handyman broke into the college, stole whiskey from the college bar and then impulsively made off with the 18-carat gold friendship ring and two rowing medals: the 1910 Henley Royal Regatta Grand Challenge Cup medal and a 1932 silver and bronze medal presented to RFG Sarell in 1932. 

The "Old Library" of Magdalen College in Oxford.
When forensic evidence quickly linked the thief to the crime, Andrews confessed, telling police during his interrogation that he had sold the ring and medals to a London scrap metal dealer for just £150.  Andrews was subsequently sentenced to two years incarceration for this offense, yet despite a modest reward, the 18-carat gold literary artifact seemed lost, and would remain missing for 17 years. 

But Wilde's famous ring was too important and too valuable to be melted down, something the fence Andrews delivered the ring to evidently knew.  Collaborating with London based Hungarian-born antiquities dealer William Thomas Veres, a dealer with a less than pristine background written about often on this blog, Arthur Brand, a Dutch private investigator worked credible leads which led to the eventual recovery of the author's ring. 

Brand's informant (or informants) led him to explore details of the famous April 2015 London heist at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company.  That multi-million pound heist took place over the four-day Easter and Passover holidays and was carried out by a gang of mostly elderly robbers, in what some believe was to be their swan song burglary before retiring for good. 

During this heist some of the culprits dressed as gas repair men as they drilled away for hours before eventually boring their way through a 50 centimeter wall to gain access the storage facility, while bypassing the main door.  Once through the wall, the team of burglars ransacked a total of 73 safety boxes containing gold jewellery, precious and semi precious stones, documents and cash. 

Destroyed safety deposit boxes at
Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company after the 2015 burglary
Following up on leads London's Metropolitan Police would eventually arrest ten suspects.  Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company never recovered and went into liquidation. Ultimately eight career criminals involved in the dramatic heist would be sentenced for their involvement.  

John "Kenny" Collins pled guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and initially sentenced to a seven-year prison term and pay a total of £27.5 million or face another seven years in jail. 

Hugh Doyle was found guilty of concealing, converting or transferring criminal property and was sentenced to 21 months in prison, suspended for two years. 

Daniel Jones pled guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and initially sentenced to a seven-year prison term and pay a total of £27.5 million or face another seven years in jail. 

William Lincoln was found guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary and one count of conspiracy to conceal, convert or transfer criminal property and was sentenced to a seven-year prison term. 

Terry Perkins pled guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary and  initially sentenced to a seven-year prison term and to pay a total of £27.5 million or face another seven years in jail but died one week after the ruling.  

Brian Reader was sentenced to a six years and three months prison term and to pay a total of £27.5 million or face another seven years in jail. 

Michael Seed was found guilty of burglary and conspiracy to burgle and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. 

Carl Wood was found guilty of conspiracy to commit burglary and one count of conspiracy to conceal, convert or transfer criminal property and was sentenced to a six-year prison term. 

Jon Harbinson was found not guilty and discharged.  

Paul Reader was never charged.

Of the £14 million in loot taken during the Hatton Garden burglary only a fraction of the stolen property, approximately £4,3 million, was ever recovered. Yet whispers from not so literary criminal informants with knowledge of the London heist's haul spoke of one of the items grabbed in the burglary:  

...a Victorian gold ring inscribed with what they thought was Russian text.   

For now details about Brand's recovery are limited due to the nature of the investigation, though this is not the first time that the name of the London art merchant William Veres has been connected to the Dutch investigator's recoveries, as Mr. Brand openly admits when interviewed. 

In November 2018 Veres was connected to Brand in the recovery of a 6th century byzantine mosaic of Saint Mark which once decorated the apse of the church of Panaya Kanakaria in Lythrangomi, Northern Cyprus. Veres' name also came up a second time in January 2019, connected to Brand's recovery of two 7th century limestone reliefs which originally adorned the church of Santa Maria de Lara.  

When asked about the London dealer's motives for helping, Mr Brand stated first and foremost, that Mr. Veres is never paid for the assistance he gives on these cases.  Secondly he stated that though he [Veres] has had encounters with the law in the past, Brand believes that these assists might help the dealer in cleaning up his reputation.  Lastly, Brand stated that you cannot recover stolen art with the help of the Salvation Army, and underscored "all my investigations, including this one, are conducted with the local police authorities full knowledge and are completely legal in the eyes of the law."

When asked about George Crump, who Brand states facilitated in this investigation, the private investigator stated that Crump is "an honest man who knows the London criminal world thanks to his late uncle, a former owner of a casino."  Brant also indicated that Crump's uncle died decades ago but that the nephew still knows his late Uncle's old friends and was therefore "the best person to discreetly inquire as to where the ring might be located, and indeed he succeeded."

The story of this recovery has been filmed by a Dutch film crew and will be aired as part of a documentary in the Summer of 2020.  For now Oscar Wilde's ring is is set to go on display, Wednesday December 4th during a ceremony at the University of Oxford. 

Culprits Identified in the theft at the Museo Civico Archeologico in Castiglion Fiorentino


Proving that museum theft is a bad idea, the Carabinieri and the local municipal police force have identified two culprits, aged 20 and 23 responsible for breaking in the Museo Civico Archeologico in Castiglion Fiorentino with a crow bar during the early morning hours of November 9th.  

Analyzing CCTV surveillance footage, which captured the culprits lighting their way to the stash using their cell phones, as well as images in the city's historic center, investigators were able to hone in on two individuals responsible for the burglary in just four days.  After that, they questioned the suspects about their whereabouts at the time of the theft.

After contradicting one another, and eventually breaking under the stress, the 23 year old, listed only by his initials as "SM" quickly confessed, soon after followed by his accomplice.   Later, the pair led the authorities to the spot in Valle di Chio, a valley in the municipality of Castiglion Fiorentino, where the 61 mostly bronze and silver objects had been buried at the foot of a tree, along the banks of a stream for later retrieval. 

As is sometimes the predictable case in thefts of this nature, one of the two accomplices had once worked at the museum. A second irrefutable bit of evidence, the GPS location data from the cell phones they carried at the time of the theft.  With this law enforcement can conclusively pinpoint their locations at the time the alarm system sounded.  

In the famous words of Forrest Gump:  "Stupid is as stupid does."


By:  Vittoria Ricci

November 15, 2019

Revisiting the case of the marble head of Alexander the Great as Helios, the Sun God

Sotheby's Website Screen Capture
taken 24 July 2018
This week journalist John Russell, of Courthouse News Service, reported that the attorney representing Safani Gallery Inc., in New York has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to block the application for turnover request for a marble antiquity seized by the Manhattan District Attorney.  In their complaint Safani Gallery Inc., wholly owned by Alan Safani, is seeking a trial by jury for the return of an Augustan Age marble head of Alexander the Great as Helios, the Sun God, or damages for the losses it believes it has incurred, from the Italian Republic.  On page 15 of that complaint, Safani through their council asks for a ruling by jury for either the return of the marble sculpture or the full fair-market value of the Head of Alexander, plus legal expenses and interest.

In its complaint Safani Gallery also represents that it was given express representations and warranties of the authenticity, ownership, export licensing, and other attributes of the provenance for the marble head from Foundation, Classical Galleries. Ltd., which sold the New York gallery the antiquity. The complaint also states that by seizing the sculpture, Italy seeks to receive a benefit, including the expropriation of the gallery's property for Italy's own use and gain, to which the country has no claim, interest, or right.

To provide background on this case, Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel in the Office of New York County District, through Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., submitted an Application for Turnover on 23 July 2018 in support of an order pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law §450.10 (Consol. 2017) and N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law §690.55 (Consol. 2017) requesting the transfer of this antiquity, seized pursuant to a previously executed search warrant, from the custody of the court, to the custody of Italy.

Under order of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, the marble head of Alexander the Great had been seized at Safani Gallery  on 22 February 2018.  As a result of that seizure, the object was taken into evidence as part of a state investigation seeking to demonstrate the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree.  That seizure was carried out based on evidence provided by the Italian authorities that the object had been stolen and illegally exported from the country of origin in contravention of Italy’s cultural heritage law (No 364/1909).

Looking across the remains of the Basilica Aemilia
towards the Severan Arch,
the Tabularium, and the Modern Senate House
Image Credit: B. Dolan
In terms of its history, the NY District Attorney court documents set out that the head was discovered during excavations of the Basilica Aemilia, located on the Via Sacra.  This is the ancient road between the Capitoline Hill and Rome's Colosseum, located within the Roman Forum. While little remains of the Basilica Aemilia today, its presence in the form is documented by Rome historian Pliny the Elder as being one of the three most beautiful elements on the site alongside the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Peace.


The contested marble head was discovered at some point during Italian research excavations carried out by Professor Giacomo Boni and later by Professor Alfonso Bartoli, who conducted archaeological surveys of the Palatine Hill in Rome between 1899 and 1939.  Written documentation from these explorations suggest that the head was once part of the “Statues of Parthian Barbarians” which are believed to have adorned the Basilica Aemilia.  As such, these objects represent a valuable testimony to the art and architecture decorating buildings in the Forum during the Augustan Age.

After 20 BCE Roman art often portrayed the people of the Empire and during its restoration in 14 BCE, Augustus chose to line the Basilica with a series of Parthian figurines, perhaps to humiliate the ancient foreign enemy of Rome.  Representing individuals from the Parthian Empire (also known as the Arsacid Empire), these human likenesses depicted the conquered Parthians as representatives of the Orbis Alter, subjects of Rome not considered to be part of the “civilised” world.  Stylistically, they differ from representations we have from the same time period of people from the Orbis Romanus which makes this statue grouping particularly identifiable.

Correlating statue from the Basilica Aemilia
According to New York court documents, the Italian Soprintendenza alle Antichità Palatino e Foro Romano began keeping archival ambrotype photographic documentation of the objects it discovered during these excavations beginning in 1908.  This method of documentation most likely came about as a result of the country having instituted regional "Superintendencies" in 1907 on the basis of law no 386 dated 27 June 1907.   Prior to that, Italy lacked a strong national framework to encompass cultural heritage laws and regulations, and the area's cultural heritage was protected by the individual laws and decrees inherited from the many states and kingdoms that formerly made up Italy prior to it unification.

To archive the excavation finds from the Roman Forum, the city's cultural authorities placed the smaller antiquities discovered during this excavation upon a table in the Museo Forense cloister for cataloging.   The objects were then photographed against a dark background to aid in their identification and documentation.

Italy's archival records from this period document an image of the Head of Alexander, taken after its initial excavation, resting alone on this table in the aforementioned cloister.  The location where this image was taken is confirmed via a second image photographed in the same cloister of additional excavation finds from the Basilica Aemilia excavation which depicts objects photographed on the same table, but taken from a wider angle which allows the viewer to see the architectural elements from the cloister.  Based on these photographic records, the contested head of Alexander the Great is believed to have been discovered during the second phase of excavations which began after 1909, one year after the superintendency began using this type of photographic imagery for this excavation.

An ambrotype is an early form of photography dating to the 1850s which, in many ways, is a more cumbersome antique equivalent to the modern day slide, with the exception being the photograph was created by way of a fragile glass negative.  To preserve them, ambrotypes are generally stored in cases called a casket or union case and in single envelopes which require special care given their fragility. 

Sample ambrotype photo in its union case.
To date the find period for this object it must be remembered that the Italian authorities also have no contradicting written entries or alternative photographic archival documentation of any marble head finds, Alexander the Great or otherwise, from the Basilica Aemilia excavations related to the Barbarian statues prior to 1909.  All records of this marble head date from 1909 and points thereafter.

It is important to note that Professors Bartoli and Boni began their explorations in the zone of the Basilica Aemilia, where the head has been reported to have been excavated, in September 1909.  This time period, discussed at length in the State of New York's Application for Turnover, is documented in the archaeological record and demonstrates that in all likelihood, the marble head was found after September 1909 when excavations at the Basilica resumed.  Possibly more precisely, the first written documentation of marble sculptural heads of this type being found at the Basilica Aemilia were documented in  Bartoli's excavation journal in March and June 1910.  

This dating is critical to this restitution case in so much as Italy's Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage (No 364/1909) was made into law less than three months earlier, on 20 June 1909.  According to that law, there is a presumption of State ownership for all archaeological objects discovered after the law's implementation, unless the Italian cultural ministry acknowledges that the object does not have a cultural interest.  Given the importance of the Roman Forum excavations, it is not likely that the newly established Superintendency responsible for Rome would have categorized the symbolic head of Alexander the Great, from a site as important as the Basilica Aemilia, within the Forum Romanum,  as insignificant.

History tells us though that records for the marble head notated "perduta" (Italian for the word "lost") in November of 1960, when a review of the photographic negative of the Head of Alexander, inventory number 5862, no longer could be matched with a correlating object within the state's collection inventories.  Yet, at the time of this notation, there was no evidence to indicate that the object, or a second, also notated missing antiquity, had been stolen.  It is for this reason perhaps that the object was not archived within Italy's Leonardo database, the Italian state's archive for stolen art and antiquities.

But where was the object bought and sold before ultimately being located by the Italians? 

While the documentation of this object's collection history is spartan, we know that on 22 November 1974 the head of Alexander sold for a mere $650, having been consigned by the Hagop Kevorkian fund to Sotheby Parke Bernet. Sotheby’s Auction House acquired Parke Bernet Galleries in 1964 and adopted the name Sotheby Parke Bernet throughout the 1970s.  Today, that auction house is now known simply as Sotheby’s.  The buyer at this time was listed only as "Altertum Ltd."

Sometime after that date, the object was then purportedly purchased by Professor Oikonomides who indicated to others that he purchased the object while vacationing in Cairo, Egypt sometime between 1984 and 1986.  The object was then bequeathed to Dr. Miller by Oikonomides when he passed away in 1988.

Sotheby's Website Screen Capture
taken 24 July 2018
On 08 December 2011 the object then sold at Sotheby's for a second time, during Sotheby’s Egyptian, Classical and Western Asiatic Antiquities sale .

At the time of this second auction, the purported provenance for the object was listed as:

Hagop Kevorkian (1872-1962), New York, most likely acquired prior to World War II
The Hagop Kevorkian Fund (Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, November 22nd, 1974, no. 317, illus.)
A.N. Oikonomides, Chicago

At the time of this transaction, there was very little in the way of documentation to confirm the provenance narrative.  Despite this, the marble head sold to a then unidentified buyer for $92,500 USD.

In May 2017, the head of Alexander surfaced once again, but on the other side of the Atlantic.  This time the ancient marble head went up for sale in the United Kingdom, having once been in the possession of former Qatari culture minister and cousin of the current ruler of the oil-rich Arab country, Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Ali Al-Thani.  Before his death in 2014 Sheikh Saud Al-Thani was believed to have been the world's richest art collector.

Through Classical Galleries Limited, UK the Sheikh’s foundation in turn sold the head of Alexander to Alan Safani of Safani Gallery for $152,625 on 20 June 2017.

Object Identified by the Italians

Safani Gallery Booth - TEFAF 2018
Image Credit: L. Albertson
By an amazing bit of serendipity, on 19 February 2018, Dr. Patrizia Fortini, Director and Coordinator of the Archaeological Site of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill chanced upon an art fair advertisement which featured a photo of the stolen head in a publication for the upcoming 2018 fine arts fair known as TEFAF.  In the dealer's documentation, a photograph of the head had been included highlighting Safani Gallery's offerings for the upcoming Maastricht sale due to be held in the Netherlands, 10-18 March 2018.  Fortini determined that the photo in the advertisement and the old archival documentation photo of the head in the Museo Forense’s cloister were of the same object.

That same day, 19 February 2018, Fortini contacted the Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage a informed them of her suspicions.  On February 20, 2018, the Carabinieri likewise notified the New York authorities of Dr. Fortini's concerns.  Two days later, on February 22, 2019, a formal theft report had been filed with the Italian authorities and Lieutenant Colonel Nicola Candido, Commander of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Rome, formally notified Matthew Bogdanos at the New York District Attorney's office that the Head of Alexander was “stolen from the L'Antiquarium Forense in Rome (Italy) - an Archaeological Site that belongs to the Italian State,” and that “the Italian Republic has never issued a state-approved license for the exportation of the [Head] from Italy; and has never transferred the ownership of the [Head] from Italy to any third party.”  These statements and the accompanying evidence gathered in relation to the assertion resulted in the seizure of the sculpture from Safani Gallery.

Statute of Limitations and Clear Title

Under New York law, barring the expiration of the statute of limitations or application of the laches doctrine, one cannot obtain title from a thief unless the present-day possessor's title can be traced to someone with whom the original owner voluntarily entrusted the art.  As clear title is not possible in the case of this marble head, this leaves Safani and his counsel, David Schoen, to see if they can make their case based on the laches defense.  The purpose of the doctrine of laches is to safeguard the interests of good faith purchasers, in this case of lost/stolen art, by weighing in the balance of competing interest against the owner's diligence in pursuing their claim.   

While delay in pursuing a claim for the head could be considered in the context of laches under New York law, given that the theft occurred at an unknown time so many years ago, it has long been the law of the state of New York that a property owner, having discovered the location of its lost property, cannot unreasonably delay in making their demand upon the person in possession of that property.  As Italy acted within days of its identification that its "lost" item was in fact stolen, this course of legal action doesn't seem to be a viable route for retaining the object in question.

Likewise, as of this date, Safani Gallery hasn't produced any records or bill of sale for any pre-1974 transaction for the Head of Alexander.  Nor are there any records or invoices for the 1974 sale by Sotheby’s to Altertum Ltd., or any export visas or stamp authorizing the Head’s legitimate removal from Italy. Nor are there any records which would confirm a date for which the object was shipped out of the source country, such as a bill of lading or a customs declaration.  This leaves Safani with little tangible evidence to disprove the NYDA's stance that the object was stolen and then illegally removed from Italy.

Despite this, on 14 November 2018 Safani's attorney reported that the New York courts denied the NY DA's Turnover Application

To clarify on the aforementioned tweet by David Schoen, which only presents a portion of the facts,  the judge in this complicated case has stayed the proceeding pending the outcome of the federal case, and ruled that New York does have jurisdiction to resolve ownership disputes of antiquities under PL 450.10, and that he will do so in appropriate cases.

So for now, the court wrangling continues to drag on.

To view the 22 February 2018 Seizure Order, please see here.
To view the 23 July 2018 Application for Turnover, please see here.
To view the 12 November 2019 Safani Complaint, please see here.

By:  Lynda Albertson