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December 7, 2021

Remembering the 30th Anniversary of the shelling of Dubrovnik

 SENSE Center for Transitional Justice marks one of the most notorious episodes of the intentional destruction of historic monuments of the post-WW2 era

By Helen Walasek

(c) estate of Pavo Urban

December 6 marks the 30th anniversary of the shelling of the Old City of Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in 1991 during the Wars of Yugoslav Succession – one of the most notorious episodes of the intentional destruction of historic monuments in Europe since World War Two. SENSE Center for Transitional Justice in Pula has been running a five-day online campaign to mark the anniversary as part of its continuing programme to remember both the victims and the destruction of the wars. All the films and exhibitions in the campaign can be seen via the SENSE website, as can its seminal website Targeting History and Memory on the destruction of cultural property during the Yugoslav wars and how they featured in the prosecutions of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

During the campaign, running between 4–8 December (but all available online after that), SENSE will broadcast five short films on its YouTube channel, presenting the most important and relevant points from the ICTY trials of Slobodan Milošević, Pavle Strugar and Miodrag Jokić, all indicted for the destruction of cultural and historical heritage in Dubrovnik in 1991. The first explores the reasoning behind the ICTY's prosecutions (or lack of prosecutions) relating to the destruction of the Old Bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar and the National Library in Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

The campaign includes two online exhibitions. The first shows the last photographs made by the young Dubrovnik photographer Pavo Urban, who was killed during the shelling of 6 December 1991 while documenting the heaviest artillery attack on the Old City. The other, Dubrovnik, the Day After, shows the damage caused by the shelling which were introduced as prosecution evidence at the ICTY trials dealing with the crimes against the unmilitarised UNESCO World Heritage site.

Around twenty civil society organizations from Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are participating in the campaign and will be transmitting the content prepared by SENSE on their websites and social media networks.

October 28, 2021

After 130 years, what (limited) cultural property is finally going home to Benin

Sometimes when a country fights for their cultural property it is not about the monetary value, but about its cultural significance. 

Below is a list of the twenty-six objects, referred to as the Béhanzin Treasury, once considered colonial spoils of war, which were taken during the second Franco-Dahomean war, and which are now after legislative action in France, finally going home to Benin.  

These objects will be transferred to the Ouidah Museum of History in Ouidah, Benin, before eventually going to their permanent home at the former location of the royal palaces of Abomey, a UNESCO world heritage site where Benin is building a museum. 

These objects illustrate that not everything worth fighting for has million-dollar pricetags at art auctions and galleries, and that what is of key importance is the very important historical, symbolic and protective value this material culture represents to the Beninese population. 

1. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1893.45.1 - An anthropomorphic statue of King Ghézo;

2. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1893.45.2 - An anthropomorphic statue of King Glèlè;

3. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1893.45.3 - An anthropomorphic statue of King Béhanzin;

4. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1893.45.4 - A door from the royal palace of Abomey;

5. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1893.45.5 - A door of the royal palace of Abomey;

6. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1893.45.6 - A door of the royal palace of Abomey;

7. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1893.45.7 - A door of the royal palace of Abomey;

8. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1893.45.8 - A royal seat;

9. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.1 - A recade (badge of authority) reserved for male soldiers of the blu battalion, composed only of foreigners;

10. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.2 - Royal calabashes scraped and engraved from Abomey, taken at war in the royal palaces;

11. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.3 - A portable altar aseñ hotagati;

12. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.4 - An Aseñ royal ante mortem portable altar of King Béhanzin;

13. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.5 - An Aseñ portable altar of the incomplete royal palace;

14. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.6 - An Aseñ portable altar of the incomplete royal palace;

15. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.7 - The throne of King Glèlè;

16. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.8 - The throne of King Ghézo (long called “Throne of King Béhanzin”);

17. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.9 - An Aseñ hotagati portable altar to the panther, ancestor of the royal families of Porto-Novo, Allada and Abomey;

18. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.10 - Fuseau;

19. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.11 - A loom;

20. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.12 - A pair of soldier's pants;

21. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.13 - A Katakle tripod seat on which the king rested his feet;

22. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.14 - A man's tunic;

23. Inventory number of the musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac: 71.1895.16.15 - A Recade (badge of authority) reserved for male soldiers of the blu battalion, composed only of foreigners;

24. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.16 - A Recade reserved for male soldiers of the blu battalion, composed only of foreigners;

25. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.17 - An Aseñ portable altar of the incomplete royal palace;

26. Inventory number of the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum: 71.1895.16.18 - A leather bag.

130 years for a pair of pants and a tunic, or a wooden thrown.  Let that sink in for a moment when you try to "value" an object in the future. 

October 14, 2021

Caveat Venditor takeaways during the guilty pleas of New York ancient art dealers

New York-based ancient art dealer Mehrdad Sadigh, AKA Michael Sadigh, who had operated Sadigh Gallery out of the Jewelry Building (Buchman and Fox: 1910) on 5th avenue for decades before his August 2021 arrest, has appeared in the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan this week and entered his guilty plea.

At the time of his arrest, on August 6th,  Sadigh's warrant listed a host of alleged crimes including:

  • Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, Penal Law §190.65 (1)(b),
  • Two counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, Penal Law §155.35(1)
  • Two counts of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree, Penal Law §170.25
  • Two counts of Forgery in the Second Degree, Penal Law §170.10(1)
  • Two counts of Criminal Simulation, Penal Law §170.45(2) and Conspiracy to commit the same crimes as defined under Penal Law 105.05(1)
Details regarding why these charges were brought can be viewed in our earlier article here.

Just over two months later, on 12 October 2021, the controversial dealer admitted defeat, making no further protestations about the legitimacy of his business transactions.  In what may have been the fasted cultural property crime judicial cycle in New York history,  Sadigh plead guilty Tuesday to seven felony counts including Grand Larceny in the Third Degree and Forgery in the Second Degree. 

Interestingly, the dealer also gave damning statements showing just how easily he manipulated the underinformed buying public, duping them into purchase modern reproductions he stoically insisted were ancient.  Driven by financial greed Sadigh admitted, “over the course of three decades I have sold thousands of fraudulent antiquities to countless unsuspecting collectors.” 

Sadigh also admitted to manipulating his gallery's satisfaction ratings on ratings platforms, by having contacts post false positive reviews as well as hiring a specialised reputational defence firm to manipulate Google's ratings so that negative comments from bilked clients complaining about their purchases or that Sadigh Gallery was a font of fakery were harder for the average Joe to find. 

In our previous article, we posited the assembly-line nature of Sadigh's fakes, which he admitted to in his court hearing.  The dealer openly admitted that he aged modern reproductions to make them appear plausibly authentic, by adding layers of paint, grime, and chemicals to their surfaces. 

Having been caught red-handed and having admitted to crimes that stretched for decades, the Manhattan District Attorney's office, through their Antiquities Trafficking Unit, filed what some might see as a relatively lenient sentencing memorandum.  Citing Sadigh as a first offender, the District Attorney's Office recommended five years probation and a ban on businesses related to the antiquities or reproductions trade.  

While some of the general public are angry that the prosecutor didn't recommend jail time, given that he has likely ripped off hundreds or thousands of people, others have commented that they were happy that the dealer was selling fakes rather than plundering actual archaeological sites to fill his client's burgeoning demands. 

Here at ARCA were are more sanguine. 

In less than one month we have had two members of the antiquities trade finally, and publically, take the opaque wrappings off of the business practices which go on within the antiquities trade, showing that they are not as pristine or above board, as years of paid art market lobbying has attempted to whitewash.  This was also made clear in statements of wrongdoing made at the end of September by ancient art dealer Nancy Weiner,  at her own sentencing hearing, who on openly admitted to buying antiquities from Douglas Latchford knowing they had been looted and who told the court “these false provenances were meant to facilitate the sale of these objects by obscuring the fact of their illegal export.”

For now, these folks both look forward to life sentences of looking over their shoulders, considering just how many people they have swindled.  Caveat venditor, Mr. Sadigh and Ms. Weiner, caveat venditor. 

September 27, 2021

Three convictions and one acquittal, the number of museum thefts Nils Menara, AKA Nils M., has been charged with.

Nils Menara, AKA Nils M., has been sentenced to 8 years in prison by the Lelystad court in the Netherlands for the theft of two artworks:

Vincent Van Gogh's 1882  painting Parish garden in Nuenen stolen from the Singer Laren Museum on 30 March 2020

Dutch Golden Age master Frans Hals' 1626 painting  Two Laughing Boys taken from the Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden Museum in Leerdam on 26 August 2020.

Neither painting has been recovered.  

Menara was also convicted for possession of a firearm and a large amount of hard drugs and was described by the court as an "incorrigible, calculating criminal".  In making their case, prosecutors had noted Menara's DNA presence at both crime scenes, and one the basis that the modus operandi from both thefts, as well as others in the past. 

The fact that Menara was tripped up by his own DNA is either ironic or just plain stupid, given that in 2009 Dutch police tracked the thief and an accomplice through DNA traces left on a crowbar and bolt cutters, at the scene of a 2009 museum burglary at the Stadsmuseum IJsselstein in the Netherlands.  There, burglars stole six landscape paintings from the 17th and 19th centuries, including works by Jan van Goyen and Willem Roelofs.  In that case Menara was acquitted.  Despite the DNA traces, the judge cited that this evidence alone was insufficient because the tools could also have been touched elsewhere.

Perhaps emboldened by shaking the charges relating to the Stadsmuseum IJsselstein, three years later in 2012 Menara violently entered the Gouda museum using semtex explosives blasting through the museum's front door.   In less than five minutes, he made off with a gilded silver monstrance created in 1662 by Johannes Boogeart which had been on loan to the museum from the parish of St. Anthony of Padua, fleeing the scene on a motorbike.  Adding insult to injury, debris from the explosion pierced a painting by Ferdinand Bol and another work of art.

This time though, Menara's luck didn't hold.  A short while after, Dutch Police tied him to the blowing up an ATM with explosives, which helped them in obtaining a warrant to tap his phone, which gave the police the much-needed evidence which tied him directly to the Gouda Museum burglary.   

In June 2013 the investigation department of the Central Netherlands police, working on the Eiffel investigation into a series of explosions and ram raids at jewellers caught suspects Nils Menara and Erik P., on tape relating to two criminal events, one of which was a conversation about explosives and the other the 2012 Gouda museum theft.  The pair also talked about the Schiphol Airport diamond robbery in 2005, to the great frustration of the police and judicial authorities as the suspects had been previously arrested for this, but then released due to lack of evidence.

Upon his arrest for the Gouda Museum burglary, Menara was found to have heavy weapons, ammunition, money and drugs in his house. 

Thankfully, this time, his charges stick and on 5 February 2016 Menara was sentenced by the court in Utrecht to six years in prison for the robbery at the Gouda museum, two years less than the sentence requested by the Public Prosecution Service. 

In January 2017 seven more suspects were arrested in Amsterdam and Valencia, Spain with the help of a lucky break involving the Nils Menara wiretap.

Despite all this, it appears that Menara's stint in prison hasn't deterred him from a life of crime and remains mum as to who he handed the artworks over to. 

September 22, 2021

How many bags of cocaine could a Monet buy?

Back this summer shots were fired by one of two suspects fleeing the scene of an attempted theft of Claude Monet's painting De Voorzaan en de Westerhem at the Zaans Museum in the Netherlands.   Yesterday, in an unexpected turn of events, one of the two suspects turned himself over to the Noord-Holland police.

More surprising still, this suspect, listed as Henk B in Dutch news services, appears to be Henk Bieslijn, the Dutch national who was previously sentenced on 26 July 2004 to four years in jail, along with his coconspirator Octave Durham, for their roles in an earlier museum burglary which nabbed Vincent Van Gogh's Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen and View of the Sea at Scheveningen. 

While both culprits were convicted and served out their prison sentences, the two Van Gogh's, stolen from the Van Gogh Museum on 7 December  2002 remained in the hands of the Italian underworld.  Both paintings were eventually recovered in 2016 in Castellammare di Stabia, in the Bay of Naples, where they had been stored by their purchaser, Raffaele Imperiale.  Imperiale is the Camorra affiliated crime boss of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan who was arrested in August in Dubai and is awaiting extradition.

Imperiale is alleged to have given up the Van Gogh paintings to the Italian authorities in exchange for a lower prison sentence.  Given Henk B's connections to organised crime, it seems reasonable to speculate that had this attempted theft of the Monet been successful, the French artist's painting too would likely have been brokered to members of the underworld. 

For now, it remains to be seen what Henk Bieslijn knows, what his motives were and if he will cooperate with the Dutch police.

September 3, 2021

Norwegian police seize artefacts from the Martin Schøyen collection

Weekly Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet has reported that members of the Norwegian Economic Crimes Unit, working in coordination with the Økokrim police, confiscated approximately 100 antiquities from the extensive collection of Martin Schøyen which Iraqi authorities believe were illicitly removed from their country.  

This seizure comes following a request for assistance by the Republic of Iraq in October 2019 asking both the Ministry of Culture and the Økokrim authorities for assistance regarding 762 artefacts, including 654 incantation bowls with inscriptions written in Jewish Aramaic, the language of late antique Mesopotamia’s Jews, known to be part of the Martin Schøyen collection and which were purportedly exported from Jordan in 1988.

Among other artefacts, Schøyen's manuscripts collection in Oslo, which also warrants attention, has been reported to consist of "7597 items, of which 1052 papyri and ostraka from Ptolemaic to Arabic age"  as well as hundreds of controversial cuneiform tablets from Iraq which were in circulation in London during the 1990s. 

Many of the objects in the Schøyen collection were purchased through the now-deceased Jordanian dealer Ghassan Tamim Al-Rihani.  Commenting on why not all of the 762 contested artefacts objects were confiscated,  Maria Bache Dahl, acting public prosecutor at Økokrim stated:

"We have information that indicates that a number of the wanted objects are outside Norway."

In the past, suspect Iraqi objects in circulation in the ancient art market attributed to sales conducted by the Al Rihani family frequently made their way into the Martin Schøyen collection.  These objects were purportedly all exported from Jordan to the United Kingdom on the basis of a single Jordanian export license, dated 19 September 1988.  Research conducted by some provenance researchers believe this document to possibly be inauthentic.  

Even if the export document is legitimate, as has been attested, even by some Jordanian authorities, it only serves to authorize the export of material from Jordan.  The 1988 document does not serve as the original legal authority for the licit export of material originating in other countries, including Iraq.  It should be noted that other artefacts, purportedly as vaguely attributed to this invoice, also ended up with the Green Collection and the family's sponsored Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.  These were also subject of restitution claims by the Republic of Iraq in the United States. 

A certified translation of the Jordanian export document, made by an obscure copy shop and dated 12 October 1992, four years after the Arabic document was issued states as follows:

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Ministry of Culture & Natural Heritage
Department of Antiquities
Amman- Jordan

No. 12/1/2034
Date: 19/9/1988

Mr. Ghassan Tameem Al Rihani
An ex-authorized Antiquity Merchant
P.O. Box 9763

I would like to inform you about the approval of the Public Department of Antiquities to transfer the ownership of 2000 (Two thousand) various pottery utensils and 50 (fifty) various stone pieces as shown in the attached pictures, to your daughter May Ghassan Rihani currently residing in London and hereby giving you an exit permit to take them out of the country. 
Truly Yours

Director General
Public Department of Antiquities.

In a previous UK inquiry, when questioned about the legitimacy of a grouping of his incantation bowls loaned to UCL in London, Schøyen noted that he had not kept any of the importation papers or a series of poor quality photos associated with his sales purchase.  This “plausible denial” is a technique ARCA frequently records with regularity among dealers and or collectors of ancient art without substantiative legitimate provenance.  The individual in question affirms that they had the documentation or they saw the documentation at one time in the past, but in the subsequent years, said documents, were they to be export licenses, bills of sale, ownership letters or shipping documents failed to be retained with the object in question. 

In the transcript of an Al Jazeera documentary,  Iraqi authorities, via a confidential informant, believe Al Rihani received Iraqi artefacts smuggled out of North Iraq sometime around 1991, shipped through intermediaries from Amman Airport to Al Rihani in London.

Exhibit MS 2340 - The Schoyen collection. This cuneiform tablet is the oldest Sumerian record of musical writing and dates to 2600 BCE. 
The tablet is the description of 23 types of harps

Due to the broad wording of the original 1988 invoice, Ghassan Al Rihani may have simply reused the export document repeatedly, to substantiate additional illicit material in circulation in London and elsewhere.  Hundreds of artefacts that passed through this family's hands were then purchased by Martin Schøyen directly, some of which have been sold onward and were not retained by Schøyen in the long term. 

For those that want to learn more about the controversies of this collection, I suggest reading scholars Christopher Prescott and Josephine Munch Rasmussen 2020 article ‘Exploring the “Cozy Cabal of Academics, Dealers and Collectors.”  Another excellent reference is the Biography of P.Oxy. 15.1780 by Roberta Mazza of the University of Manchester from Volume 52 of the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists. 

In the meanwhile, one might want to look more cautiously at the provenance of eighty pieces Schøyen consigned to Bloomsbury Auctions for their July 2020 auction "The History of Western Script: A Selection from The Schøyen Collection" and to two earlier sales including the 60 manuscripts, among them papyri sold via Sotheby's Western Manuscripts S/O auction on 10 July 2012, & Christie's, The History of Western Script: Important Antiquities and Manuscripts from the Schøyen Collection, auction on 10 July 2019.

By:  Lynda Albertson

Al-Dustour, Mahmoud Krishan. 2017. ‘تجار التحف الشرقية يلوحون بإغلاق متاجرهم’., 23 October 2017.

Balter, Michael. 2007a. ‘University Suppresses Report on Provenance of Iraqi Antiquities’. Science 318 (5850): 554–55.

———. 2007b. ‘University Suppresses Report on Provenance of Iraqi Antiquities’. SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone (blog). 4 November 2007.

George, Andrew R. 2007. ‘The civilizing of Ea-Enkidu : an unusual tablet of the Babylonian Gilgameš epic’. Revue d’assyriologie et d’archeologie orientale Vol. 101 (1): 59–80.

George, Andrew R., and Miguel Civil. 2011. Cuneiform Royal Inscriptions and Related Texts in the Schøyen Collection. Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology, v. 17. Bethesda, Md: CDL Press.

Hall, Richard. 2019. ‘Inside the Hunt for Iraq’s Looted Treasures’. The Independent. 10 July 2019.

Helle, Birk Tjeldflaat. ‘Norsk Mangemillionær Nekter å Gi Oldtidsskatter Til Irak’., 28 October 2019.

Henze, Matthias, ed. 2011. Hazon Gabriel: New Readings of the Gabriel Revelation. Society of Biblical Literature. Early Judaism and Its Literature, no. 29. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.

Klawans, Jonathan. 2019. Heresy, Forgery, Novelty: Condemning, Denying, and Asserting Innovation in Ancient Judaism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mazza, Roberta. ‘Papyri, Ethics, and Economics: A Biography of P.Oxy. 15.1780 (P 39)’. The Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 52 (2015): 113–42.

Mellgren, Doug. 2002. ‘Manuscript Collector Thrills to Discoveries’. Los Angeles Times, 22 September 2002.

‘Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis | Comprehensive Research & Reference for U.S. Coinage’. n.d. Accessed 23 May 2020a.

‘Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis | Comprehensive Research & Reference for U.S. Coinage’. ———. n.d. Accessed 23 May 2020b.

Morgenbladet. ‘Økokrim med stor aksjon mot norsk samler’. Accessed 3 September 2021.

Prescott, Christopher, and Josephine Munch Rasmussen. 2020. ‘Exploring the “Cozy Cabal of Academics, Dealers and Collectors” through the Schøyen Collection’. Heritage, Special Issue: Art and Antiquities Crime, 2020 (February): 68–97.

Rutz, Matthew, and Morag M. Kersel, eds. 2014. Archaeologies of Text: Archaeology, Technology and Ethics. Joukowsky Institute Publication 6. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

‘The Schoyen Collection’. n.d. The Schoyen Collection. Accessed 25 May 2020.

Thrope, Samuel. ‘What Should Be Done with the Magic Bowls of Jewish Babylonia?’ Aeon Essays, 24 May 2016.

jouserjo. n.d. ‘خبير الآثار الأردني تميم الريحاني ل”جلنار”: والدي كان أهم خبير آثار في العالم وشهاداته معتمدة في أمريكا وبريطانيا وسويسرا | | جلنار الإخباري’. Accessed 26 May 2020.

Six members of the Remmo family are formally indicted in Dresden for connection to the 2019 Grünes Gewölbe burglary

Yesterday an indictment was filed at the state court in Dresden, Germany formally charging six individuals, aged 22-27 with serious gang theft and arson for their alleged involvement in the 25 November 2019 burglary of the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe in German) museum within Dresden Castle in Saxony. In that dramatic incident, a precision coordinated team of thieves pried open iron bars to access the museum through a window and smashed open exhibition cases using an axe to make off with an outstanding cache of historic jewellery.  Objects taken during the theft  include the 49-carat Dresden White Diamond, the diamond-laden breast star of the Polish Order of the White Eagle, a 16-carat diamond hat clasp, a diamond epaulette, and a diamond-studded hilt containing nine large and 770 smaller diamonds, as well as its jewel-encrusted scabbard.  The historic pieces have been valued at almost 113.8 million euros.

Three suspects, from the Remmo Arabische Großfamilie clan, Wissam Remmo, Rabih Remmo, and Bashir Remmo, were arrested during a raid last Autumn which proved almost as sensational as the theft itself.   Carried out on 17 November 2020, special forces from the federal government and the states of Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia spread out to search some 18 properties in several districts, arresting the three suspects and hoping to recover all or part of the stolen jewels.  Wassim was arrested in his car in Berlin while Rabih and Bashir were picked up when police stormed apartments in the densely populated suburbs of Neukölln and Berlin-Kreuzberg. While cell phones, computers, clothing and some drugs were seized during the massive manhunt, none of the stolen museum's stolen jewellery was recovered.

On 14 December 2020 and 18 May 2021 twin cousins Mohamed Remmo and Abdul Majed Remmo were also placed in handcuffs.  By summer, law enforcement officers in Saxony also arrested a sixth suspect, Ahmed Remmo on 19 August 2021 at an apartment in Berlin-Treptow.  

Two of the six men accused in the break-in into the Green Vault, Wissam Remmo and Ahmed Remmo, are the same perpetrators who had already been convicted for their roles in the 27 March 2017 Bode Museum theft.  In that incident, members of the same crime family and an unrelated accomplice orchestrated and carried out the theft of a 100-kilogram gold coin called the "Big Maple Leaf" valued at 3.75 million euros.  Despite having been sentenced to 54 months and fined €3.3 million for that theft, Wissam Remmo and Ahmed Remmo had remained at liberty in the German capital while they appealed their sentences.

Ironically, two days following the breaking at the Green Vault, Wassim Remmo had been stopped while driving to the Erlangen district court.  Inside the vehicle, inspection officers noted balaclavas, gloves, a crowbar and a hammer drill.  For now, four other suspects are still wanted for questioning related to aiding and abetting, as CCTV footage seems to indicate that the individuals may have been spying on the museum in the lead-up to the November 2019 break-in.

If convicted in the Dresden Regional Court, the six suspects face prison sentences ranging from 10 or 15 years, given that two of the suspects were 22 years old at the time of their alleged involvement in the museum burglary. 

Meanwhile, another court case also got underway for another member of the Remmo clan. Muhamed Remo (31), father of three and nephew of clan boss Issa Remmo (55) was in court yesterday answering to charges related to the February 2021 armed robbery and assault on a money transport vehicle.  In that case, four men posing as garbage workers made off with 648,500 euros.  Muhamed was arrested when his DNA was matched to evidence left on a witness's sweater.  Since his arrest, he has confessed to his role in the heist admitting that his cut for the robbery was 70,000 euros and that his drippy nose, which proved his undoing, stemmed from his cocaine consumption. 

September 1, 2021

New York Exhibition Review - Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art

by Aubrey Catrone, Proper Provenance, LLC

The Jewish Museum’s current exhibition Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art is dedicated to the art objects coveted by some of history’s greatest villains: the Nazi regime. Walking into the museum lobby on a cloudy Saturday afternoon (admission is free on the Jewish Sabbath), I found myself at the end of a long line awaiting entry into the exhibition space.  Surrounded by groups of all ages and backgrounds, we waited in an orderly fashion, taunted by the glimpse of a large Franz Marc canvas hanging just beyond the glass doors.

As a provenance researcher by trade, my intrigue was piqued long before I walked through the museum doors: in their review for The Guardian, Jordan Hoffman wrote, “rarely does one walk away from a gallery with a spinning head, thinking of the life led by the paintings, drawings and objects themselves.” And, Ariella Burdick’s Financial Times review argued, “this is not a show about how art is made but about how it’s kept and passed from hand to hand. Material things are haunted by their accumulated history, acquiring emotional freight along the way.”

Image Credit: Jewish Museum

Once granted entry into the exhibition space, the dramatically lit gallery introduces viewers to the idea of an artwork’s biography, not just its creator, but the journey the physical item takes throughout its existence from creation to owners, to looters, to restitution. Following the trajectory of curation, visitors are given a preliminary introduction to the destruction and sacrifice that arose from the Nazi’s systematic plunder of cultural objects. The wall texts and audio guide address topics ranging from the experiences of “degenerate” artist’s to Rose Valland’s valiant efforts working for the Nazis at the Jeu de Paume to the Jewish Museum’s own role in safeguarding the orphaned Judaica of the Danzig Collection. 

In support of this narrative, many of the artworks on display are presented with wall texts that offer a paragraph of art historical analysis followed by a brief description of how the artwork was looted and restituted. Other items on display, such as August Sander’s photographic portraits of his Jewish neighbors seeking to escape persecution, and a concentration camp ledger recording the names of thousands who perished at the hands of the Nazis.  This sobering reminder of the context of this exhibition adds an extra layer of gravitas to the exhibited art objects.  Of the 3478 human beings recorded in this single ledger, only 11 survived. Viewers are not just reading fantastical stories or art historical analyses. They are witnessing the afterlife of the attempted annihilation of Jewish culture and faith. 

For some paintings, such as Henri Matisse’s Girl in Yellow and Blue with Guitar (1939) and Daisies (1939), the journey was short and bitter. Both paintings were stolen by Nazis from famed French-Jewish art dealer Paul Rosenberg’s Bordeaux bank vault and were earmarked for Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring’s personal collection. The wall text indicates that the saga concluded “following the war, both were returned to Rosenberg and were later sold.” Other paintings, such as Max Pechstein’s Landscape (Nudes in a Landscape) (1912), were lost for decades, forgotten amidst dusty basements before resurfacing in institutional collections. Pechstein’s Landscape was restituted to the heirs of Hugo Simon, a German-Jewish banker, this year (2021!), evidencing the ongoing battle against Nazi plunder.

Max Pechstein’s Landscape (Nudes in a Landscape), 1912

The exhibition culminates with a display of contemporary works by artists Maria Eichhorn, Hadar Gad, Dor Guex, and Lisa Oppenheim. Each of the aforementioned artists seeks to shed light on the enduring legacy and ramifications of Nazi plundering while simultaneously shedding light on restitution efforts. Maria Eichhorn even put together a dossier of philosopher Hannah Arendt’s field reports, memoranda, and other primary documents from her time as an emissary for Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc. (JCR). This dossier offers a documented view into the restitution efforts that took place in the wake of the Second World War. Visitors are encouraged to take a copy of the dossier with them. The unassuming booklet serves as a tangible record of plunder to take with them back into the real world.  

Image Credit: Aubrey Catrone

 Overall, the Jewish Museum exhibition offers a broad overview of an issue that is often sensationalized by the mainstream media. Afterlives draws viewers into a world of beautiful and sacred objects that were pulled from their owners and subsequently destroyed or traded by those in power. I had hoped that the exhibition would shed more light on the arduousness of restitution cases or even provenance research itself.  An untold number of art objects remain missing. The laws governing clean title vary from country to country (i.e., rightful ownership). And, there is no universal standard in place for conducting provenance research or due diligence. It can be a long and tedious process to follow the path of an artwork that someone has disrupted or tried to erase. However, I hope that each individual who visits this exhibition is left with a greater understanding of the work that has been done in this field and the work that is left to be completed.

* Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art is on view at the Jewish Museum in New York until 9 January 2022

Additional Image Credits: 
Image 1: Installation view of Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art, August 20, 2021-January 9, 2022, the Jewish Museum, NY. Photo by Steven Paneccasio 

Image 2: Max Pechstein, Landscape (Nudes in a Landscape), 1912, oil on canvas, 71 x 80 cm, Photo by Philippe Migeat.

Image 3: A dossier in the city. Photo of Maria Eichhorn’s Hannah Arendt: Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Field Reports, Memoranda, Etc., 2021.

August 27, 2021

The lifestyles of Cocainenomics: Dubai Police release video footage of Raffaele Imperiale and announce the arrest of another fugitive Raffaele Mauriello

The General Department of Criminal Investigation of the Dubai Police has released a somewhat dramatic video that shows the capture and arrest of fugitive Raffaele Imperiale, the Camorra affiliated boss of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan which supplied cocaine to Amato and Scarpa, who, years back and already on the run in Dubai, admitted to purchasing two stolen Van Gogh paintings and to his illegal operations in letters to the Italian prosecuting authorities.  Sentenced in absentia, Imperiale is known to have continued working in the illegal drug trade, even after his conviction and despite being named as a fugitive wanted for prosecution in a 27 January 2016 red list notice. 

Living under the assumed name, Antonio Rocco, mafia boss Imperiale continued to meet and transact underworld business with affiliates of his crime syndicate in various locations in the UAE city.  Video images of his arrest released by the Dubai police attest that the Italian drug lord was using a Federation of Russia driving license and passport, as at least one means of staying below law enforcement radar.  

Scenes in the three-minute video released by police give us a sanitised look at policework in the UAE, as well as a voyeur's peep show inside Imperiale's Dubai digs, complete with luxury cars, a villa, duffle bags containing hundreds of dollars, and boxes of unopened phones, which may have been used to impede wiretaps.  One of the most bizarre images on the film was a rather ironic Avengers artwork hanging on Imperiale's wall.  Hanging next to an elevator, the painting or poster depicts a maniacally grinning Pablo Escobar, recreating the Colombian narcoterrorist's mug shot photo by Colombia's Cárcel del Distrito Judicial de Medellín during Escobar's years of Argento O Piombo. The irony here is not lost as it was with the use of bribes (silver) with a not-so-subtle threat of violence (lead), that allowed the Medellín Cartel drug lord to pump an endless supply of cocaine into the market while remaining free from justice for as long as he did. 

Major General Khalil Ibrahim Al Mansouri, Assistant Commander-in-Chief for Criminal Investigation Affairs at the Dubai Police, told UAE news services that police had also arrested fellow Camorrista Raffaele Mauriello, also known as 'o Chiatto', another prominent member of the Amato-Pagano clan.  Like Imperiale, 31-year-old Mauriello, was a fugitive on the run from Italian justice for almost three years.  

Wanted in connection with charges of murder as well as drug trafficking, Mauriello was apprehended in Dubai on 14 August, following closely on investigations coordinated by the Public Prosecutor of Naples, led by Giovanni Melillo, and conducted by the Mobile Squad of the Naples Police Headquarters, led by Alfredo Fabbrocini, with the support of the Central Operational Service of the State Police.

Imperiale's clansman was identified by law enforcement authorities in Italy as having been involved in two mob hits during the violent Third Scampia feud, which resulted in the murders of Fabio Cafasso, killed in Scampia in 2011, and the double murder of Andrea Castello and Antonio Ruggiero, each killed one day after each other in Casandrino in 2014.  Prior to their arrest, Imperiale and Mauriello had been under close surveillance by Dubai investigators from the General Department of Criminal Investigation, aided by analysts working at the Dubai Police Criminal Data Analysis Centre and the “Oyoon” AI Surveillance Programme. The Oyoon (Eyes) project is part of the Dubai 2021 plan to enhance the emirate’s global position in terms of providing a safer living experience for all its (legal) citizens, residents and visitors.

August 26, 2021

The curious case of Sadigh Gallery and the long-time coming arrest of its owner

In April 2019 the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum cancelled the opening of its Rosetta Stone exhibit after University of Iowa Associate Professor Bjorn Anderson wrote to them about his concerns that 90 of the 125 objects in the exhibit appeared to be “either definite or very likely fakes.”  The questionable items had been purchased by Marty Martin, the CEO of the Origins Museum Institute via Mehrdad Sadigh, also known as Michael Sadigh, a New York-based antiquities dealer who has operated Sadigh Gallery out of the Jewelry Building (Buchman and Fox: 1910) on 5th avenue for decades.

This month, Sadigh, an Iranian immigrant, purportedly from Luristan with a family tree of antiquities merchants, was arrested by law enforcement acting on a State warrant in connection with charges involving his business where it is alleged that the founder of Sadigh Galler was directly involved in counterfeiting thousands of faux antiquities on the premises of his gallery which he then sold to customers. 

Sadigh, whose website has now been taken down, (don't worry, there are lots of saved pages and catalogues in various archives), reportedly began selling ancient art at the age of 17.  According to his Linkedin profile, which was still active as of today, he started his business by mail-order and ultimately opened his bricks-and-mortar gallery in Manhattan in 1982.  In the beginning, he sometimes collaborated with Joel Malter and his pieces were, for the most part, considered to be authentic. 

But, as the years marched forward, Mehrdad Sadigh became something of a pariah among his fellow ancient art dealers, as well as among schnookered collectors.  Type his name, or the name of Sadigh Gallery into Google and the search engine will spit out a long list of cautionary Buyer Beware stories, many written by frustrated art collectors who poured their money into pieces later determined to be faked. Dealers and seasoned collectors advise ingenious new collectors to avoid purchases from the gallery directly, and the purchase of objects once handled by the gallery. 

One 2015 complaint, from a defrauded buyer, is almost prescient.  It outlines how Mehrdad Sadigh came to his home and refunded the collector his money when the purchases through Sadigh Gallery were discovered to be modern copies.  The commenter gave a warning, to novice shoppers, that up until then, no one had sued the dealer, and stating that the Manhattan DA had not (yet) investigated the problematic dealer for fraud.  

Image Credit: ARCA Screenshot July 2015

In fact, up until recently, Sadigh Gallery's "no hassle" return policy for any customer who complained that an object was fake, has helped protect the dealer from a barrage of lawsuits that might have otherwise have been filed, requiring him to testify under oath as to the authenticity and provenance of the objects his gallery sold.  When clients complain, Sadigh simply reassumes the offending item, opens his chequebook and refunds the dissatisfied purchaser without a fuss.  What he hasn't done though, is go back and refund all the uninformed and unsuspecting buyers who have not yet ascertained that they too have been duped.

Frustrated, the collecting community lashed out, taking shots at the scurrilous gallery owner all over the internet.  Buyers wrote complaints about his activity to the Better Business Bureau.  They documented negative experiences on Trip Advisor, and saved damning images to Pinterest boards highlighting the variety of alleged fakes sold as authentic.  They compiled Rip-Off Reports, and even created a YouTube channel replete with dramatic music highlighting the numerous problems with the gallery's merchandise.  One of these videos was even memorialised on the website of ICOM's Observatory for Illicit Traffic.

ARCA's own research documents Sadigh's supply chain via shipping container manifests.  Two of these, picked at random, illustrate that in 2007 Sadigh's imported a container containing 214 "Statues Handycraft" and in 2017 another container with 42 "Statues, Stone Panels, Wooden Panels, Wooden Decoration box".  Neither shipment, as one would suspect from a purported antiquities dealer, describe the imports' contents as anything actually ancient.  Nor has ARCA identified any common handicraft replicas identified as such being sold through Sadigh Gallery's regular inventory. 

By 2013 things began to be charged.  A petition was started by Sadigh's customers and collecting advocates, which garnered more than 150 signatures from individuals complaining about the dealer himself or outlining their personal sales experiences with Sadigh Gallery.  Dr. Erin Thompson, who frequently outs suspect material on Twitter, lampooned one of Sadigh's more distasteful sales items, a purportedly ancient Egyptian mummified penis.  Noted as Item 45170 in one of the gallery's catalogues, it is listed both as "Ptolemaic" and "real and lifelike" and can be had for the bargain price of $7,500.

Outraged comment after outraged comment, in various social media groups, as well as on the aforementioned petition, dealers, collectors, academics and art crime researchers spoke out about objects being sold by Sadigh, which all too frequently, turned out to be nothing but cheap tourist tat.  Some items, shipped from Sadigh's gallery with Certificates of Authenticity and signed by the owner, even included translations of inscriptions, which, when presented to knowledgeable experts, have been proven to be fake and their translations problematic.  

Sumerian scholars complain that some artefacts listed as Sumerian, once depicted on the gallery's website, are not actually written in Sumerian, or anything that even resembles that ancient language.  Cuneiform scholars, in turn, reviewing cylinder seals, have reported that the writing on some suspect pieces is nothing short of nonsensical gibberish.  Others have reported that some Egyptian objects and their accompanying translations have simply been copied from authentic, published museum pieces.

With that said, by 2021, and at 60 years of age, it is no longer possible to believe that this antiquarian, who has been in the ancient art business for all of his adult life, can still be genuinely ignorant about the authenticity of the material culture he earns a well-paid livelihood from.  The very fact that Sadigh hasn't reconciled his business model after so many complaints, over so many years, and despite having to make repeated refunds to numerous dissatisfied collectors when objects prove to be inauthentic, suggests actionable negligence, not a beginners incompetence.  Or, if the state charges that the New York authorities have filed stick, a demonstratable intent to deceive and to actively and voluntarily commit fraud.

Based on their investigation and on a formal affidavit filed by Special Agent Christopher Rommeney with the Department of Homeland Security - Homeland Security Investigations, Judge Ruth Pickholz, of the Supreme Court of the State of New York authorised a search and seizure warrant on 30 July 2021, to be executed at Sadigh's New York gallery.  Shortly thereafter, a warrant for the arrest of Mehrdad Sadigh was signed on 4 August 2021 in reference to a nine-count indictment, filed by New York District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., charging him with:

  • One count of a Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, Penal Law §190.65 (1)(b),
  • Two counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, Penal Law §155.35(1)
  • Two counts of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree, Penal Law  §170.25
  • Two Counts of Forgery in the Second Degree, Penal Law §170.10(1)
  • Two Counts of Criminal Simulation, Penal Law §170.45(2) and Conspiracy to commit the same crimes as defined under Penal Law 105.05(1)
Sadigh was arrested without incident and had his gallery searched on 6 August 2021.  Once on the premises, officers involved in executing the search warrant found what appears to be a fully functional fabrication studio, which appears to have been used to transform and age simple, modern-day replicas into "ancient" artefacts. 

In photos taken during that search, released by the District Attorney's Office in New York,  a series of statuettes are lined up ready for alteration.  One, I have enlarged and highlighted with an arrow showing its placement on the bottom shelf in Sadigh's work studio. 

Image Credit: District Attorney's Office New York - Manhattan

The object in the DA's photo closely resembles Item 54149 in Sadigh Gallery's Early Spring 2020 catalogue.   In the catalogue that object is listed as Ptolemaic, 305-30 BC Carved limestone Ruler, with cartouches on the side and the back pillar.  At the time the catalogue was published Mehrdad Sadigh was selling the doctored Carved limestone Ruler statuette on sale for $1,250.   Its regular list price was $2,500.

Image Credit: Sadigh Gallery's Early Spring 2020 catalogue

In another of the DA's photos, also taken in Sadigh's workrooms, we can see a series of plastic tubs, at least one of which appears to contain what looks to be very fine brown sand.  This tub sits directly beside a scan of Grumbacher spray varnish.  This type of sealant is generally used to protect artwork from environmental damage, not seal in dirt and grime.  Normally one tries to apply a final coat of varnish in spaces where airborne dust particles can be avoided.  This makes this can's proximity to the sand bins as well as a nearby sieve also containing a brown substance, and two darkened Q-tips all the more suspect.

Image Credit: District Attorney's Office New York - Manhattan

Add to that, law enforcement officers also took photos of panel saws, hack saws, a Dewalt air compressor (possibly used for painting), and what looks to be a bench grinder.  All of which were found in the shop of a man who has never professed to be an artisan, and who has never acted as an artefact's conservator, leaving little room for speculation as to what actually was going on in the back of the Sadigh house. 

Image Credit: District Attorney's Office New York - Manhattan

Adding further controversy is the sheer number of US Postal Service spec sized cartons and bins found throughout the workspace.  This gives some hint as to the potential volume of sales Sadigh Gallery may have had.  It also makes me wonder if this gallery owner might also be charged with federal Mail Fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1341.

Image Credit: District Attorney's Office New York - Manhattan

For now, Sadigh has been released on his own recognizance by the State authorities.  In granting his release pending trial, Judge Pickholz ordered Sadigh to surrender his passport and obtain a lawyer.  I think he is going to need one.  

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 19, 2021

No longer a teflon don, Raffaele Imperiale has been arrested in Dubai and is awaiting extradition

In October 2019 the US Drug Enforcement Administration sent documents to the Dutch police documenting a 2017 meeting between drug traffickers held at the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai.  Those in attendance at this convocation are believed to control one of the world's fifty largest drug cartels, holding a virtual monopoly over all Peruvian cocaine and controlling approximately one third of Europe's total cocaine trade. 

The men in attendance included:

  • Raffaele Imperiale, a convicted narco boss to the Camorra and a fugitive from justice on Italy's most wanted list since 2016, 
  • Ridouan Taghi, the alleged head of the Mocro Mafia, a Dutch-Moroccan criminal organisation, 
  • Daniel Kinahan, named in Dublin’s High Court as a senior fugure in the Kinahan cartel, a group involved in attempting to ship €35m of cocaine disguised as charcoal from South America Republic of Ireland in July,
  • and Edin Gačanin, a Bosnian drug trafficker who purportedly heads up the Balkan Tito and Dino Cartel which has a strong footprint in Dubai as well as the Netherlands.

On 19 December 2019 Ridouan Taghi was the first of the four to hear the clang of a cell door.  Expelled from the United Arab Emirates as an undesirable foreigner at the request of the authorities in Dubai, Taghi is currently being held at Nieuw Vosseveld, a maximum-security prison in Vught, as his court case proceeds in the Morengo trail. The Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security believe Taghi to be the head of a major cocaine smuggling operation and to have had a hand in at least 11 gangland-related murders as well as a series of attempted murders, one of which, the assassination of journalist Peter R. de Vries, may have been ordered after Taghi was already in custody.

Raffaele Imperiale's arrest, announced officially today, but which actually occurred on the 4th of August, should make Kinahan and Gačanin nervous. 

Imperiale was arrested by Dubai law enforcement authorities, as officers in the Emirates coordinated their actions with Italian investigations initiated by the Naples Public Prosecutor's Office and entrusted to the city's G.I.C.O. (Organized Crime Investigation Group), the Mobile Squad of the Naples Police Headquarters, the Central Services of the Guardia di Finanza and Italy's State Police.  Externally,  international judicial cooperation involved coordination with Italy's Ministry of Justice working closely with the International Police Cooperation Service, Interpol and Europol for the multi-nation police action.

A long term boss who came up in the drug trafficking trade working with the Naples-based Camorra-affiliated Amato-Pagano clan, Raffaele Imperiale, who has lived in Dubai since 2010, is known on ARCA's blog for having purchased two stolen Van Gogh paintings: View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884 - 1885, taken during a brazen nighttime theft at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on December 7, 2002.  

In 2016, as if to underscore his wealth, as well as his sense of impunity while sitting comfortable in Dubai, Imperiale wrote a six-page written statement/confession which he then sent from the UAE to Naples prosecutors, Vincenza Marra, Stefania Castaldi and Maurizio De Marco, along with the deputy prosecutor Filippo Beatrice and the prosecutor of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate, Maria Vittoria De Simone.   In his lengthy missive, Imperiale implied that he had decided to collaborate with justice by agreeing to give up his "treasure" to the state and outlining various aspects of his organization's early involvement in the drug trade.  In an extract of that letter, Imperiale says:

In addition to giving up the location of the stolen paintings, Imperiale's property, which would later be confiscated, included thirteen terraced villas in Terracina, as well as twelve villas in Giugliano, five of which were, ironically, subleased out to NATO under a shell corporation.  In addition to the real estate, Imperiale jokingly added that he planned to leave the Italian state with a fleet of expensive cars: 

"to be allocated to law enforcement agencies for the fight against organized crime."  

While the stolen Van Goghs were successfully recovered in September 2016 in a villa occupied by Imperiale's parents in Castellamare di Stabia, it would be less than a year later, when the DEA had intel on the 2017 meeting held at the Dubai five-star hotel.  Imperiale was still in the business of underworld dealing and banked on the fact that no extradition treaty between Italy and the UAE had been entered into force. Despite his letter to the Italian prosecutors, he displayed no real intent at leaving behind a criminal career build on the multinational trade in illegal drugs.

If anything, with two of his Dubai-based cartel friends, Taghi and Kinahan, settling down in the country with him, Imperiale seemed to have upped his game in the gulf,  even as the Italian courts sentenced him in abstensia to 18 years behind bars for drug trafficking and money laundering [19 January 2017].

In April 2019, still on the lam in Dubai, Imperiale's sentence of 18 years in prison was reduced to less than half that, purportedly because of a miscalculation by the Italian sentencing judge, given that the fugitive don had "voluntarily" relinquished twenty million euros in assets (the value of the Van Goghs excluded).  

More recently, investigators have evidence that seems to show that Raffaele Imperiale had a business relationship with a brutal enforcer working for the Mocro Mafia in their brutal turf war; a Chilean criminal by the name of Richard Eduardo Riquelme Vega, who was arrested in Santiago in December 2017 after arriving from Dubai and extradited to the Netherlands.  Vega, known as "El Rico" (the rich one) is believed to be responsible for the beheading of Nabil Amzieb, whose severed head was left in front Café Fayrouz in Amsterdam in 2016.

Since then, Vega has been convicted of operating an assassination ring and laundering the proceeds of crime.  It was from "El Rico" Vega's phone that investigators extracted a video that showed the enforcer with Imperiale and Daniel Kinahan together in Dubai as well as a large number of encrypted messages between the South American and Ridouan, among others, in which there is said to have been communication about the liquidation of rivals. 

Gathering evidence in their investigation into Vega's role in the Mocro organisation, law enforcement officers were also able to retrieve encrypted messages between Vega and Imperiale.  In one conversation it is alleged that the pair discussed business in Amsterdam. In another, how to eliminate an inconvenient rival broker in Dubai.

In the meanwhile, the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in criminal matters between the Government of the Italian Republic and the Government of the United Arab Emirates, done in Abu Dhabi on 16 September 2015 and the extradition treaty between the governments of Italy and the UAE, moved forward. Ultimately, and after ratification was authorized by law n. 125 of October11, 2018, the bilateral agreements entered into force on April 17, 2019.

For now, it's unclear if additional criminal charges will be filed against Imperiale in Italy, aside from the ones he has already been convicted and sentenced for.   It does seem likely, that as law enforcement compare evidence in connection to these mult-nation investigations that new charges, in addition to his previous Italian convictions, may likely be on Imperiale's horizon. 

Until then, today's press release, issued by the delegation of the Public Prosecutor of Naples, shows us that Imperiale's carefree life of drug and art crime has finally come to a halt, as the Italian Ministry of Justice has announced that it is finalizing the agreements to complete his extradition procedure.

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 15, 2021

Monet (almost) stolen and shots fired at the Zaans Museum in Zaandam, Netherlands.

Update: 16 August 2021:  14:00 CEST

The Zaans Museum has confirmed that the artwork targeted by thieves was 'De Voorzaan en de Westerhem, painted by Monet and is currently off display while it is being examined for damages.

Shots were fired by suspects fleeing on a stolen black motorcycle or scooter during an attempted theft of a Monet painting this morning at the Zaans Museum in Zaandam, Netherlands. 

During the incident, which occurred at around half-past ten, one culprit attempted to flee the museum carrying the painting from inside the museum.  Upon exiting with the artwork, a bystander attempted to halt the thief's progress by pulling on the robber as he mounted the back of a black motorbike being driven by an accomplice.  During the incident, shots were apparently fired but no one appears to have been injured.  Equally lucky, during the scuffle, the thief released the painting in order to quickly flee the scene. 

While the police have not yet arrested any suspects, their black get-away vehicle was found abandoned on the Zuiderweg in nearby Wijdewormer and will be examined for clues. 

De Voorzaan en de Westerhem, 1871 by Claude Monet 

In 2015 the Zaans Museum purchased 'De Voorzaan en de Westerhem, painted by Monet during the Franco-Prussian War. Monet arrived in Zaandam with his wife Camille Doncieux and their young son, Jean in June 1871 after having stayed in London for almost a year.   Once there he spent four months in Zaandam with his wife and child in 1871 and painting some 25 known paintings, as well as 6 sketches, mostly of the region's scenery and windmills, as well as boats sailing on the Zaan river.  

At the time of 'De Voorzaan en de Westerhem's purchase, the painting, was considered to be the most expensive artwork ever purchased by the Zaans, and was made possible with funds from Vereniging Rembrandt (thanks in part to its BankGiro Loterij Aankoopfonds and its Claude Monet Fund), the Municipality of Zaanstad, the Honig-Laan Fund, Dr. MJ van Toorn and L. Scholten Foundation,  Ir. PM Duyvisfonds, VSBfonds, Koninklijke Ahold, Jacob Heijn Holding BV, BredeNHofstichting, Rabobank Zaanstreek and Monet Foundation in Zaandam.

Only the third museum in the Netherlands to have a Monet produced in Zaandam in its collection. The others are in the Van Gogh Museum and at the Kröller-Müller.  For now, no information has been released by the museum, confirming if the Zanns' Monet was the target and whether the artwork removed from the museum suffered damage during its less than gentle handling by the would-be thieves. 

August 7, 2021

Sothebys, Inc. Fine Art Auctions Miami and Thut et al

On August 3, 2021, Sotheby's filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York against Frédéric Thut, Bettina Von Marnitz Thut, and Fine Art Auctions Miami (FAAM LLC).  Their suit alleges that in October 2016 Bettina Von Marnitz Thut consigned three pieces to the New York auction house, attributed to Swiss artist Diego Giacometti, (the brother of famed sculptor-painter Alberto Giacometti) who died in July 1985.  

Those pieces were:

In furtherance of their sale it is alleged that Bettina Von Marnitz Thut provided Sotheby's with three letters attesting to the objects' provenance; two of which were purportedly written by now-deceased individuals. The pieces were subsequently sold at a Sotheby's private sale on 15 November 2016, bringing a total sum of $1,135,000.

One of the provenance letters is purportedly from Pierre Matisse, the son of French artist Henri Émile Benoît Matisse.  Pierre Matisse was a French-American art dealer prior to his death in 1989. The second provenance letter is purportedly from James Lord, an acclaimed American memoirist and intimate of Alberto Giacometti and Pablo Picasso.  A friend of many Paris-based artists, Lord's biographies provides us with a vivid picture of the artists and artistic movements in Montparnasse, Paris in the vibrant period after World War II.  The final letter is purportedly from French fashion designer, Serge Matta, a friend and enthusiastic collector of works by the artist Diego Giacometti. 

A review of FAAM's 27 October 2014 catalogue shows a provenance for all three artworks prior to their consignment to Sotheby's.  In this catalogue, the pieces are said to have been commissioned from Diego Giacometti for the decoration of Serge Matta's property at Milly la Foret.

On three more occasions in 2017, in October, March, and April, Bettina Von Marnitz Thut went on to consign three additional works attributed to Diego Giacometti to Sotheby's. 

In October, Applique au oiseau à Trois Branches, (ca. 1968); 
in March, Hanging Lantern (n.a.); 
and in April, La Promenade des Amis (ca. 1976). 

For each of these additional pieces Von Marntiz Thut used nearly identical provenance documents.  Like with the previous auction, the popular pieces quickly sold, bringing in a total of $1,171,000 combined.

But by December 2018, one of the unnamed purchasers of the Thut-Sotheby's Giacometti pieces began to doubts their authenticity, and retained the assistance of Denis Vincenot, a French inspector previously with the Service Regional de Police Judiciaire, who is a specialist in organized crime, art theft, and fraud.

Through his dogged pursuit of alleged traffickers in fake metal sculpture, Denis Vincenot is considered by many to be an authority on the bronze sculpture and furniture of Diego Giacometti and led a series of lengthy investigations into fake Giacometti’s in the early 1990s.  Through his efforts, the law enforcement investigator uncovered numerous replicas sold as authentic originals between 1986 and 1992.  Based on his knowledge and lengthy experience, Vincenot judged the Sotheby's buyer’s Giacomettis, purchased in two separate lots, to not be authentic works by the artist Diego Giacometti.  

Having received Vincenot's condemning opinion, the purchaser reached out to Sotheby's, who themselves hired a hand-writing expert to take a second look at the provided letters used to vet the original consignments.  Their expert, in turn came to the conclusion, as the 2021 Sotheby's lawsuit alleges, that the letters provided by Bettina von Marnitz were forgeries, "written by the same hand."

Having come to this conclusion, Sotheby’s in turn notified Frédéric and Bettina von Marnitz Thut of their findings in April 2019 and requested that they or FAAM reminburse them.   Having failed to accomplished this, the New York auction house filed suit in US Federal Court this month. 

But this pending litigation is not the first time FAAM or its owner Frédéric Thut has drawn unwanted attention.

In February 2013 FAAM almost auctioned a 2012 mural by the street artist Banksy depicting an urchin child at a sewing machine assembling a bunting of Union Jack patches.  This artwork, painted on the side wall of a Poundland store in Wood Green, London, was surreptitiously removed that same month, creating immediate outrage within the local community. 

"Slave Labor" by the Artist known as Banksy, 2012

Later, in September 2015 Frédéric Thut approached, André Cardenas, the son of famed Cuban sculptor Agustín Cárdenas to authenticate a substantial grouping of artworks purportedly by his father which Thut claimed had resurfaced in Cuba in the last year and which had been ammassed by the artist's sister-in-law.  André Cardenas had previously managed the authentications of his father's artworks at well-known auction houses including Sotheby's and Christie's.  Agustín Cárdenas died in Havana, Cuba in 2001 and is buried at the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

After examining the works, André Cardenas questioned the validity of some of the offerings which were lacking in paperwork, as well as the claim that the artist's sister-in-law had been harboring these pieces.   Cardenas recommended that Frédéric Thut not go through with their sale. The questionable pieces were also discredited by members of the artist's family, including the artist's first wife, as well as a number of his longtime friends, both from Cuba and Paris, as well as other individuals, familiar with the artist's oeuvre.

FAAM Catalogue
November 2015
Despite this, in mid November 2015 FAAM decided to publish the entire Agustín Cárdenas collection, including the suspect pieces, in their sales catalogue in advance of their November 30th auction.  On the day of the auction, and despite the very loud objections by André Cardenas, who had arrived with his attorney, FAAM, proceeded to sell the contested pieces.  

Thut was later quoted regarding the Cardenas, pieces saying: