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September 23, 2020

Some background on Erdal Dere and Faisal Khan and Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd., charged in the SD/New York

"Beloved By Time, Four Millennia of Ancient Art"
Published by Fortuna Fine Arts (2000)

Given the United States Department of Justice announcement that the US Attorney in the Southern District of New York has issued an indictment against Erdal Dere and Faisal Khan charging them with defrauding antiquities buyers and brokers by using false provenances to offer and sell antiquities, we thought it might be worthwhile to review some of the earlier warning signs relating to this gallery and its principals, Salim Dere and his son Erdal Dere, as well as another member of the family. 

4 April 1973
A truck loaded with sand, parked on a side road in Istanbul, is discovered to contain a group of marble fragments later determined to be from the circa 170 CE sarcophagus depicting the twelve labours of the Greek hero Herakles. The artefact had been found in a farmer's field near the ancient metropolis of Perge, a Roman site near Antalya.

Tracking the movements of the truck and the pieces, police pay a visit to the shop of a goldsmith named Aziz Dere. There they discover an additional five fragments from the same sarcophagus, which Aziz Dere and Boris Alexander Musseinko had purportedly purchased for around $7,700.

Aziz Dere, Selim Dere, and Faraç Üzülmez, the father of Fuat Üzülmez, a suspect Munich-based antiquities dealer, were subsequently arrested.

The remains of the sarcophagus depicting the twelve labours of Herakles found in the truck and the pieces found in Aziz Dere's goldsmith's shop were sent to the archaeology museum in Istanbul.

Selim Dere is sentenced to two years in prison for antiquities smuggling in Turkey.

A few years after completing his sentence, Salim Dere migrated to New York, where he would later work in a jewelry store, and then open an antiquities gallery. Aziz Dere, believed to be his cousin, settled in Canada.

Turkish researchers identify artefacts from the same tomb as the 170 CE sarcophagus depicting the twelve labours of Hercules. These are repatriated by the John Paul Getty Museum to Turkey in 1983.

Two pieces from the same tomb group were sold by the Mahboubian Gallery in the United Kingdom to a private collection in Switzerland. Other pieces were located in Kessel, West Germany.

13 June 1984
Statuette of a Man, the moon god is sold to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts by Selim Dere, operating as West Side Jewelry.

As series of frieze blocks were discovered at the Greco-Roman city of Aphrodisias in the Karacasu district of Aydın province during the 1984 excavation season.

Sometime in 1989
Three frieze blocks from the Tiberius portico are stolen from the excavation site at Aphrodisias and smuggled out of Turkey.

5 June 1989
Fortuna Fine Arts LTD is incorporated in New York.

8 September 1989
Selim Dere formally announced the grand opening of Fortuna Fine Arts in New York.

Selim Dere donates a gilt bronze Mirror cover: Venus and Adonis, circa mid–2nd century CE, accession number y1990-48 to the Princeton University Art Museum.

Mr. and Mrs. Selim Dere donate a 6th century BCE Archaic Silver Bracelet, accession number 1991.170.1 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

11 March 1993
One of the stolen frieze blocks of the Tiberius portico, depicting a garland of fruit leaves and flowers wrapping around a young male mask. is put up for sale at the Fortuna Fine Arts Gallery in New York and is identified by Aphrodisias Excavation President Professor Roland R. R. Smith, from NYU who reported his identification to the Turkish Ministry of Culture.

The Turkish authorities notify the US via a law firm representing Turkey in the US. The FBI launches an investigation.

14 April 1993
The relief head of the mythological hero Meleager, belonging to a heavy marble panel depicting a hunting scene, is stolen from the garden of the excavation house at Aphrodisias. The object's inventory number is noted as 80-134.

The relief head of the mythological hero Meleager is published in the INTERPOL newsletter for stolen art.

September 1994
New York University professor Roland R Smith spotted the relief head of the mythological hero Meleager in the window of the Fortuna Fine Arts Gallery. Smith again, promptly notified the Turkish authorities that the Meleager head relief was in the US, they in turn notified the FBI via their US attorney (Herrick).

After 1993/94 Identifications
Responding to a Turkish government request, agents from the New York FBI Art Theft group confiscate the relief head of the mythological hero Meleager and the frieze block from the Tiberius portico, depicting a garland of fruit leaves and flowers wrapping around a young male mask on sale with Fortuna Fine Arts on Madison Avenue.

At the gallery, FBI Special Agents note a mosaic showing the centaur Nessos carrying off Heracles' wife Deianira. 
Mosaic depicting Deianira and the centaur Nessos

Later, while Turkish archaeologists are comparing a photograph taken at Fortuna Galley of this mosaic, they discover by coincidence with another photo of the piece which was found in Nizip, a town near Zeugma, among the color negatives of a local photographer. The current location of this mosaic is unknown.

13 August 1994
After proving that the Aphrodisias frieze block I belonged to Turkey, the artifact was restituted in a ceremony in the US.

14 August 1994
The Aphrodisias frieze block is flown back to Turkey to become part oft he collection at the Aydın Aphrodisias Museum.

24 January 1995
After proving that the head of the mythological hero Meleager belonged to Turkey, the Turkish Culture Minister Timurcin Savas took delivery of the artefact from the United States and it was returned to Turkey.

In relation to a 2001 donation to the Cornell University's Department of Near Eastern Studies suspect Dealer Michel Van Rijn made angry claims on his website that the extensive donation of Babylonian cuneiform tablets from the 4th millennium BCE made by Jonathan Rosen were mainly sourced through Selim Dere and were imported into the United States under false customs documentation. While statements made by Van Rijn, may or may not be self-serving, this claim is worth exploring further to determine its veracity.

The source of the Garsana tablets would become the subject of a 2001 investigation by the Department of Homeland Security where it was noted that the tablets were subsequently appraised at a much higher value, a tactic often used, in making donations to museums in the US.

Selim Dere donates:
  • a Greek bronze coin, accession number 2002.228.3, to Harvard Art Museums' Arthur M. Sackler Museum.
  • a Coin of Ephesos, accession number 2002.228.2, to Harvard Art Museums' Arthur M. Sackler Museum.
  • a relief plaque depicting Nergal, god of the netherworld, circa 1800-1600 BCE, accession number 2002.228.3 to the Princeton University Art Museum.
Erdal Dere and his wife make a small financial donation to the Corning Museum of Glass.

June 2009
The owner of Fortuna Fine Arts was stopped upon arrival at John F Kennedy International Airport following a flight originating in Munich, Germany where he had stated on his entry documentation that he had nothing to declare. Despite that affirmation, a physical examination of his person and luggage uncovered three artifacts: a red intaglio stone, a Byzantine gold pendant, and a terracotta pottery fragment.

All three objects were seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on the basis of 18 U.S.C. § 545 (1982) and 19 U.S.C. § 149 (authorizing penalties for failure to declare articles upon entry into the United States) and authorizing Customs agents to search and seize property imported contrary to U.S. laws).

March 2013
The intaglio and pottery fragment were examined by the Archaeological Director of the Special Superintendent, MiBACT in Rome, Italy, who determined that both objects were of Italian origin and had likely been illegally looted from an archaeological site somewhere in Italy.

30 June 2015
An Etruscan aryballos in the shape of a reclining hare is sold for £950 in London via Rome-based Bertolami Fine Arts through ACR Auctions, an online auction firm used by the Italian auction house.

29 June 2018
At the request of the Manhattan district attorney's office, the Hon. Ellen N. Biben, Administrative Judge of New York County Supreme Court, issued a seizure warrant for the Etruscan terracotta aryballos in the shape of a reclined rabbit now known to be at Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd.

22 September 2020
The Hon. Sarah Netburn - Southern District of New York sets bail for Erdal Dere at  $500,000 bond with one co-signer, secured by residence on 78th Street, with his passport retained by the court. 

Given that the federal authorities have alleged that now defect Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd. (Erdal Dere) and business associate Faisal Khan have been engaging in a years-long scheme to defraud buyers and brokers in the antiquities market by using false provenances and given that Erdal Dere is also charged with aggravated identity theft for his misappropriation of the identities of deceased collectors who were falsely represented to be the prior owners of the antiquities it might be time to drag out "Beloved By Time, Four Millennia of Ancient Art" Published by Fortuna Fine Arts (2000) and other catalogues to see what else might be interesting. 

Archaeology Magazine Archive. ‘A Plundered Past’. News, 2000.
Acar, Özgen. ‘Mosaics and Heads of Statues Plundered from Zeugma’. Culture Without Context, no. 7 (Autumn 2000).
———. ‘Zeugma Plundered Mosaics’. News. Artnet News, 29 August 2000.
Acar, Özgen, and Melik Kaylan. ‘The Turkish Connection. An Investigative Report on the Smuggling of Classical Antiquities.’ Connoisseur, October 1990.
Bertolami Fine Arts – ACR Auctions. ‘ACR Auctions - Auction 17 - Antiquities’. Auction. Bertolami Fine Arts – ACR Auctions, 30 June 2015.
Carrigan, Margaret. ‘Two Manhattan Antiquities Dealers Arrested on Charges of Fraud | The Art Newspaper’. News. The Art Newspaper, 23 September 2020.
‘Countries Demanding That Museums Return Their Antiquities’. Wilson Daily Times, 13 June 1983.
Felch, Jason. ‘Cornell to Return 10,000 Ancient Tablets to Iraq’. Los Angeles Times, 3 November 2013, sec. Entertainment & Arts.
———. ‘The Rosen Connection: Cornell Will Return 10,000 Cuneiform Tablets to Iraq’. Chasing Aphrodite (blog), 3 November 2013.
‘Fortuna Fine Arts Celebrates Gallery Grand Opening’. The Celator 3 3, no. 10 (1989).
Haberleri, Yaşam. ‘Zeugma Evine Dönüyor’. Milliyet, 17 May 2000.
Hardy, Samuel. ‘Antiquities, Drugs and Arms – Organised Crime, Intelligence Operations and Dirty Wars in Turkey and Beyond’. Conflict Antiquities (blog), 9 April 2018.
Harvard. ‘From the Harvard Art Museums’ Collections Coin of Ephesos’. Museum. Harvard Art Museums. Accessed 23 September 2020.
———. ‘From the Harvard Art Museums’ Collections Greek Coin’. Museum. Harvard Art Museums. Accessed 23 September 2020.
Lynda Albertson. ‘Seizure: An Etruscan Hare Aryballos Circa 580-560 B.C.E.’ ARCA Art Crime Blog (blog), 29 June 2018.
Michel van Rijn. ‘Michel van Rijn - Art News  -  Latest Update’, 29 April 2007.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. ‘Statuette of Men, The Moon God’. Museum. ine Arts, Boston. Accessed 23 September 2020.
Özet, M. Aykut, ed. Yitik miras’ın dönüş öyküsü: değişik yollarla yurtdışında çıkarılan, iadesi sağlanan ve halen yurtdısında bulunup iadesi çalışmaları sürdürülen kültür varlıklarımız. T.C. Kültür Bakanlığı yayınları 2908. Ankara: Kültür Bakanlığı Anıtlar ve Müzeler Genel Müdürlüğü Yayını [u.a.], 2003.
Princeton University Art Museum. ‘Mirror Cover: Venus and Adonis (Y1990-48)’. Museum. Princeton University Art Museum. Accessed 23 September 2020.
———. ‘Relief Plaque Depicting Nergal, God of the Netherworld (2002-74)’. Museum. Princeton University Art Museum. Accessed 23 September 2020.
R. Lowry. ‘The Museum Sacking That Wasn’t’., 27 May 2003.
Rym Brahimi. ‘Stolen Ancient Bust to Return to Turkey’. UPI, 23 January 1995.
Smith, R. R. R., and Christopher Ratté. ‘Archaeological Research at Aphrodisias in Caria, 1994’. American Journal of Archaeology 100, no. 1 (1996): 5–33.
‘The Corning Museum of Glass Annual Report 2007’. The Corning Museum of Glass Annual Report. The Corning Museum of Glass, 2007.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ‘Silver Bracelet, Greek, Archaic’. Museum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed 23 September 2020.
Thomas Maier. ‘History as an Endangered Species’. The Baltimore Sun, 29 May 1995.
U.S. Department of Justice. ‘Antiquities Dealers Arrested For Fraud Scheme’. Government. The United States Attorney’s Office - Sothern District of New York, 22 September 2020.


This is an excellent resource for information about Dere, Khan, and Fortuna Fine Arts. I just wanted to add one small correction to the entry for 2001: Rosen's donation of looted cuneiform tablets was accepted by Cornell University's Department of Near Eastern Studies--not the museum, which is the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.

While it may seem a minor point of clarification, the episode highlights the role some academics have played in promoting unprovenanced antiquities, and shows that the already-limited ethical standards for museums may not be recognized within the same institution.

In this case, a Near Eastern Studies professor (David Owen) apparently accepted the donation (and accompanying financial sums for research support, etc.,) without involving the Johnson Museum, and published them despite objections from university peers. Unfortunately, this damaged Cornell's reputation more generally.