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January 31, 2021

Sometimes restitution is a little like putting lipstick on a pig

Left: Steve Green and the Controversial Coptic Galatians fragment
first offered on eBay in 2012 by Yakup Ekşioğlu.
Right: Douglas Latchford and the two plinths with the broken feet of ancient sandstone statues looted from the Prasat Chen temple complex in Koh Ker

Last week we have seen two eye-popping notices of "voluntary" restitution of  ancient artefacts and papyri framents believed to have been plundered from their respective countries of origin.

In one instance, an article by Tom Mashberg, written for the New York Times on January 29th reported that Julia Ellen Latchford Copleston a/k/a Nawapan Kriangsak, has agreed to relinquish a total of 125 artefacts to Cambodia which had been acquired by her father, controversial antiquities dealer Douglas A.J. Latchford, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak.”  Prior to his death, Latchford's handling of suspect material from Cambodia, Thailand and India resulted in the US government filing a 26-page indictment via the Department of Justice's U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York on 27 November 2019.  This case, unfortunately, concluded in advance of any possible legal ruling against the Thailand-based dealer, who died on 2 August 2020 before the bulk of the evidence gathered in the federal case against him could be heard in court. 

The second announcement, delivered two days earlier by Steve Green, Chairman of the Museum of the Bible, was more discreetly posted on the museum's website and highlighted the return of a number of questionable acquisitions which have been discussed with some regularity on  ARCA's blog as well as in greater detail on Faces & Voices, a specialist blog by Papyrologist and ancient historian Roberta Mazza.  Mazza has more articles about the Green's acquisitions than I can link to, so I recommend our readership take some time exploring them all but perhaps starting here with one where she questions (again) the ever-changing provenance story surrounding the P.Sapph.Obbink fragment purportedly sold through a private sale treaty by Christie’s.  

In Green's press announcement, he states that as of 7 January 2021, the Washington DC-based museum had transferred control of the fine art storage facility that housed the 5,000 Egyptian items to the U.S. government as part of "a voluntary administrative process."   Unfortunately, the philanthropic founder of the museum has said very little about whether or not his museum will be more forthcoming about exactly whom the museum paid when purchasing the 8,106 clay objects with suspect or no provenance from the Republic of Iraq or the approximately 5,000 papyri fragments and accompanying mummy cartonnage which also came with suspect or no provenance from the Arab Republic of Egypt.  All we know is that these objects are now, finally, going home.  And while that is a great success for the countries they were taken from, it tells us practically nil about the men who engaged in their sale and profited from these same countries' exploitation.  

At the end of their announcement, the Museum of the Bible's Chairman stated that going forward they would continue to look for ways to "partner with The Iraq Museum, The Coptic Museum, and other institutions, to provide assistance with preserving and celebrating the rich cultural histories of those countries and many others."  I truly doubt, given the circumstances, that the Egyptian government will be taking Mr. Green up on this proposal. 

Museum of the Bible Press Release
Screenshot Date:27 January 2021

And so the litigation in these matters, at least as it relates to Iraq and Egypt, appear to be drawing to a close.  

With the flourish of pens in the plump fingers of lawyers, these carefully-timed, and responsibility-for-wrong-doing-absent restitutions by members of the wealthy Houses of Latchford and Green are released to the public without the impediment of contradiction.   Sanitised proclamations which imply good deeds done under trying circumstances, but which impart little about the actual motivations of their delayed generosity.  

Most of us, who have been closely following these events can speculate as to the pressure points behind the disputants' seemingly magnanimous handovers and come away with our own conclusions, but our speculation will never give us their complete stories.  It is reasonable to assume that these individuals, and/or their museum, were motivated, in whole or in part, by a desire to put an end to a publically embarrassing chapter to their respective family's cultural heritage acquisition histories, but their decisions should not be read as merely repentant.  

In relinquishing these artefacts to Cambodia, Egypt and Iraq, the Latchfords and Greens seek to mitigate the damages, financial and reputational, that these scandals have caused them.  And with that in mind, their decisions can not simply be seen in a vacuum of attempting to right past wrongs. They are assuredly more strategic than what is within the purview of the public domain. 

Seen through this narrow lens, these very public announcements of voluntary restitution, published in newspapers with large readership or on museum's websites, serve only to cosmetically cover, not correct, the public blemishes their respective criminal investigations have brought to light over the last ten years.  Actions which, when explored more deeply, can be seen as not only embarrassing, or ethically negligent, but potentially criminal, brought about by the direct involvement of staff and family members who should have, or definitely did know, better.  

Despite these joyous restitutions, we cannot ascertain what catalyst, in each of these drawn-out processes of ensuring restorative justice, brought Mr Green and Ms. Copleston to the restitution table.  Usually, in situations like this, written agreements between the parties make it unlikely that anyone will be at legal liberty to openly discuss the negotiations between the aggrieved parties.  In the MotB case, that includes the unspoken details behind the more than three years of back and forth discussions that the museum itself has admitted took place prior to the culmination of this week's announcement. 

Likewise, by bequeathing his 1,000-year-old Khmer Dynasty collection to his daughter, Douglas Latchford left his offspring with more than just $50 million worth of valuable ancient art.   He left her holding a hand grenade with a pulled pin that she doggedly continued to hold some five months after her father's death.  For no matter how magnanimous Copleston's repatriation gestures to Cambodia may seem in print, her waiting this long to relinquish the sculptures begs its own questions as to motivating factors. 

Why would a lawyer such as herself, who by her own statement in the New York Times defensively admitted that her father "started his collection in a very different era" not have advised her ailing father, who was facing prosecution on his death bed, to clear the family name, if not his own, by simply returning the artefacts to Cambodia himself while he was still living?  Or why,  since Latchford's death, has Copleston, not distanced herself from suspicion by voluntarily doing so immediately after any wills for her father were read?

As regards both of these restitutions I would ask these individuals why, with these grand gestures of reconciliation, did neither party turn over the purchase and sale records for these objects.  Something which would truly make reparations as doing so would allow illicit trafficking researchers and law enforcement investigators to trace and return other pieces of history handled by the individuals responsible for engaging in these two unseemly debacles. 

Instead, like with Green's own statement, we get no real responsibility-taking, only precisely worded announcements with appealing attestations which colour their actions as generous acts of voluntary cultural diplomacy.  This despite the fact that there is so much more they could do, aside from simply cutting their losses by relinquishing material. 

In resignation, I understand that decisions like these, come about as the result of complex cultural arbitration.  And I understand that in such circumstances, the party holding the stronger deck of cards in the dispute, might (still) agree to a more palatable dispute resolution outside the courtroom. One which allows the parties involved to avoid a lengthy, expensive, and in some cases, reputationally damaging legal case, but which also assures an alternatively beneficial outcome for all sides. 

And as much as I want to be privy to these closed conversations, it is important to remind myself that Alternative Dispute Resolutions, known as ADRs in cultural property disputes, often carry with them an adherence to mutually agreed-upon confidentiality regarding the agreements signed off on, even when these types of agreements don't "feel" satisfying to those of us not sitting at the negotiating table. 

As someone who works on the identification of illicit antiquities, I want to see individuals, believed to have behaved criminally, brought to justice.  But I must also understand that these types of quieter negotiations do offer aggrieved parties an opportunity for a speedier and less costly resolution than drawn-out, complex, multi-year litigation which of themselves can be more beneficial to harvest countries such as Egypt and Iraq.   Fighting for restitution in the US court system isn't cheap and the costs can be a financial impediment to some foreign governments who haven't the financial means to represent their interests for years on end, or when the application of legal norms to relevant facts, might fail to deliver any justice at all to them as the aggrieved party. 

Another driving factor to remember in these types of agreements, in contrast to legal proceedings, is that out of court settlements enable the parties involved to, on the surface at least, legally protect their reputations. When cases go to court there is normally a winner and a loser.  And with those court decisions, comes very public case records which can serve to outline, in embarrassing red marker detail, the actions of individuals perceived as culpable, or serve as precedent-setting decisions in future illicit trafficking court cases. 

Lastly, as legislation in the art and cultural heritage field is not fully harmonized, there is always the potential risk that the expensive and protracted court case might not achieve a viable cost-benefit outcome.  Like in legal disputes where the value of the returned artefact is less than the country's legal costs in pursuing the case in foreign courts.  Or, as would have been the case in the Museum of the Bible dispute, or the case against Douglas Latchford, where the sheer number of artefacts being contested, if examined individually and concretised in the court's record, might have resulted in fewer objects going home, or greater exposure of the involved parties to subsequent litigation for their perceived roles in further uncovered, questionable transactions.

So, in the end, I have to accept announcements like those made last week which bring objects home but offer no real retribution against those who behaved badly.  This leaves me, and others who have closely followed these cases, asking:

  • Where are the admissions of fault?  
  • Where are the acknowledgements of harm having been done? 
  • Where are the answers we keep asking as to who sold what, to whom, and when?
I close this overly long rant by saying that when I first learned about these upcoming restitutions and read the press releases, I immediately thought that their announcements reminded me of a rhetorical expression from the 1887 compendium of proverbs called The Salt-Cellars by Charles H. Spurgeon, who once wrote:

“A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog.” 

And while I am overjoyed that so many artefacts will finally make their way back to where they rightfully belong, I am in no way fooled that these gestures were magnanimous and selfless, or that in Egypt at least, Ma’at, the goddess of truth and justice, would believe that justice has been well and truly served. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 21, 2021

A striking blow to the prosecution for embezzlement of volumes stolen from the Biblioteca dei Girolamini in Naples.

The Biblioteca dei Girolamini in Naples

In a striking blow to the prosecution, former senator of Forza Italia, Marcello Dell'Utri has been acquitted by judges of the first criminal section of the Court of Naples of complicity in the embezzlement for the appropriation of thirteen volumes stolen from the Biblioteca dei Girolamini in Naples.  The theft was one of the most dramatic thefts ever to hit the rare-book world, with the prosecutor, Michele Fini, Antonella Serio and Ilaria Sasso del Verme having asked for seven years of imprisonment for the ex-politician. 

Law enforcement and Italian prosecutors began investigating the thefts at the historic library in 2012, following an email sent by philologist Filippomaria Pontani to art historian Tomaso Montanari after a disheartening visit to the shuttered library.  In that email, he recounted how the Girolamini, closed to the public for years, was in extreme disarray with numerous books and manuscripts missing. 

As news of the scandal spread, investigations into the situation ultimately led to the arrest of the director of the library, Massimo Marino De Caro, an international forger and swindler welcomed in the sacristies and antechambers of power, who appeared at the head of a network of collaborating actors who facilitated the laundering of stolen  historic books into the rare book market.  To remove proof of the books stolen origins, seals identifying the manuscripts as part of the Girolamini collection were removed or in some cases torn out altogether,  leaving telltale bite marks on the sacrificed pages. 

De Caro was ultimately sentenced to seven years in prison, the same penalty the Italian prosecutors had been asked for Dell’Utri.  De Caro was also convicted in additional judicial proceedings for the theft of a dozen volumes in the Abbey of Montecassino, the Observatory Ximeniano in Florence and from within the library collection of the Ministry of Agriculture.

With the help of this network of middlemen, book dealers and book conservators De Caro had been able to successfully steal thousands of books, some of which were acquired by, or gifted to, his Sicilian patron, Marcello Dell’Utri.   Yet, throughout the Girolamini investigation, the ex senator has proclaimed that he was unaware of the illegitimate origins of these historical volumes. In total, the former politician would ultimately surrender more than a dozen volumes traced to the Girolamini including:

De rebus gestis by Antonio Carafa

In hoc volumine haec... by Capitolinus et al., Aldina edition, printed in Venice in 1519 

Artificium perorandi by Giordano Bruno, 1612 "Clavis artis Iullianae" by Johann Heinrich Alsted, 1609 

De Principe by Leon Battista Alberti, 1520 

Panegyricus Philippo V Hispaniarum by Giovan Battista Vico, 1702 

Lu vivu mortu effettu di lu piccatu di la carni by Antonino Damiano, 1734 

La luce massonica. Visione di un confratello del p. Cristoforo by MGL of 1886 

L’asino d’oro by Lucio Apuleio filosofo platonico by Apuleius, 1665 

De optimo principe dialogus by Giovanni Bernardo Gualandi, c1561 

Trattato del governo de principi by Saint Thomas Aquinas, c 1577 

Petri Pauli Vergerij Iustinopolitani by Pietro Paolo Vergerio the Elder, 1526 

Leo Baptista De Albertis Florentius De Princepe by Leon Battista Alberti, 1520

➣and Utopia by Thomas Moore, 1518. The latter of which Dell'Utri did not return as he was unable to find it. 

But this case was not Dell'Utri's only brush with the law.  Apart from the bibliophile's passion for collecting rare books and incunabla, the ex politician and friend of Silvio Berlusconi has been found guilty of tax fraud, false accounting, and complicity in conspiracy with the Sicilian Mafia.   The last charge of which was upheld by the  Court of Cassation on 9 May 2014.  As part of that decision, and after exhausting appeals, the third criminal section of Palermo's Appellate Court declared Dell'Utri a fugitive and he was detained in Lebanon at a luxury hotel on an International Arrest Warrent a month later. 

Afterward, Dell'Utri was extradited back to Italy.  There he served 4 years in prison before being released to house arrest to serve out the remaining portion of his sentence, due to a substantial heart condition. 

In April 2018 Dell’Utri was again sentenced to 12 years in prison in the court of first instance, for undermining the state, via his involvement in the Trattativa Stato-Mafia, the negotiation between important Italian functionaries and Cosa Nostra members, that began after the period of the 1992 and 1993 terror attacks by the Sicilian Mafia.  His lawyers appealed that decision in March 2019 to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg because he was allegedly illegally tried twice on the same facts and once acquitted

In closing this week's chapter on the library thefts, the judges of the first criminal section, chaired by Francesco Pellecchia, accepted the defence's arguements as made Dell’Utri's lawyers Claudio Botti and Francesco Centonze, showing that at least where books and manuscripts are concerned, Dell’Utri is still made of teflon. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 20, 2021

Restitution: Belgian authorities hand over a 1st century BCE Roman statue stolen from Rome in 2011

Today, authorities from the General Directorate of the Economic Inspection of the SPF Economie in Belgium turned over a lifesize 1st century BCE Roman statue of a man to officers from the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.  The seizure, and subsequent restitution, come at the conclusion of an investigation conducted by Belgium's Economic Inspectorate, in cooperation with the Brussels public prosecutor's office.

Stolen during a theft in Rome in 2011, this headless 2000-year-old Roman marble togatus was located in a Brussels' gallery by the Carabinieri TPC and was then determined to be on consignment by an individual already on the radar of the Italian authorities.  According to the report given by the Belgian authorities, the sculpture's restitution is the first result of a series of investigations linked to fraud in the art market, which are currently being carried out by the Economic Inspectorate under the aegis of the Brussels judicial authorities.  It also shows how law enforcement in multiple jurisdictions can, and are, actively working together to investigate and combat cross-border thefts and trafficking of art and antiquities. 

As the Belgian authorities indicated this is just the first of a series of investigations. And given the frequency illicit antiquities continue to penetrate the legitimate art market, frequently in Brussels' Sablon, embroiling its galleries and their owners in the repetitive drama of plausible deniability, it might be wise for dealers to take a look at their consignment practices.   Being complacent when handling stolen and illegally-exported (illicit) antiquities, is never good for one's reputation, even if the items are accepted in good faith.   It would behove dealers to be more stringent when accepting works of art from potential consignors, not only to ensure that they are not support organized criminal enterprise through the illicit antiquities trade but also so their client's don't lose faith in their expertise and ability to satisfactorily vet the artefacts they recommend to their clientele. 

Likewise, the prudent purchaser should do their own homework, carefully vetting the trophy works that they wish to purchase for their collections. In cross-checking all of the accompanying documentation, they should ask themselves, the gallery and where applicable the consignor

  • Does your toga-wearing headless man have an export license? 
  • Does his documentation look authentic? 
  • Might the license be falsified?  
  • Is the country of origin falsified? 
  • Does the country of export match with the country of the object's origin?  
  • Does the object have a known find spot?   
  • How far back can the chain of ownership be demonstrated? 
  • and lastly, are there any other red flags like "property of an anonymous Swiss collector"?

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 19, 2021

Recovery: "Salvator Mundi", stolen from the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore, is recovered by Italy's Polizia di Stato

A lesser-known 15th-century version of the contentious "Salvator Mundi", most likely painted towards the end of the second decade of the sixteenth century by a Lombard artist and a follower of Leonardo's style of the second Milanese period (1508-1513), has been recovered on Saturday by the Crimes Against the Heritage Section of the Naples Flying Squad of the Polizia di Stato.  The painting was discovered behind a wardrobe in a private residence in Ponticelli, an eastern suburb of Naples.  The 36-year-old owner of the apartment has been taken into custody for the offence of receiving stolen goods.  

The panel painting was probably originally purchased by Giovan Antonio Muscettola, advisor to Charles V and his ambassador to the papal court, while on diplomatic missions to the north, perhaps in Milan.  It was then likely originally placed in the family chapel inside the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in the heart of Naples in the lower Decumano known as Spaccanapoli.   

Some news reports indicate that the painting was stolen two years ago, however, the prosecutor of the Republic of Naples Giovanni Melillo, gave different details as to the mysterious disappearance of the painting during a meeting with the press at the Aula Vadalà of the IV Mobile Department of the State Police in Naples.

Prior to the artwork's theft, the "Salvator Mundi" was stored in the Hall of Sacred Furniture, in a church reliquary, protected by a large sturdy cabinet originally intended for the convent's treasure.  To access the painting, one would need a key, yet the latching mechanism to the cabinet showed no signs of forced entry and had not been opened since March 2020, at the start of the city's Covid-19 emergency.  

Mellilo believes that the theft was a targeted raid, saying "Whoever took it wanted that painting and it may be a plausible conjecture that it was a commissioned theft by an organization dedicated to the international art trade".  Pictured in the video below, you can see the painting, the outside of the reliquary and the "Salvator Mundi" with its simple frame, being hung, one hopes in a temporary location,  yesterday.  

The basilica where the painting hangs was built by the will of Charles II of Naples between 1283 and 1324 and contains one of the largest convent complexes in the city.   Built by the Angevins, San Domenico Maggiore served as the Aragonese royal church and its monastery was once the original seat of the University of Naples. where Saint Thomas Aquinas studied.  

It has not yet been ascertained if the owner of the apartment was the author of the Bascilia's theft.  According to Alfredo Fabbrocini of the Naples law enforcement division, the arrestee gave "little credible information on how he came into possession of the painting" and told the officers "I found it at a flea market."

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 11, 2021

Monday, January 11, 2021 - , No comments

New Zealand Police want help in finding the owners of recovered stolen artworks

Image Credit:  Waikato Police

Law enforcement authorities with the Waikato Police have posted photos of numerous artworks to their Facebook page which officers believe were taken during a spate of burglaries from properties around the Waihi Beach and Coromandel area at the western end of the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand's North Island. 

Image Credit:  Waikato Police

ARCA's readers are encouraged to make a report online at if you recognize any of these artworks or artists in these photographs.  If you have any information and are regionally located in New Zealand you can also call 24/7 on the Police Non-Emergency Reporting number, 105.

 on their Facebook page today which they believed were stolen in burglaries over the past several months.

January 5, 2021

Israel's Antiquities Authority's Robbery Prevention Unit take three people into custody for questioning on suspicion of dealing in illicit antiquities.

Image Credit - Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority

Three people, believed to be involved in an illegal antiquities trading network, have been taken into custody as the result of an extensive investigation in Israel.  All three individuals are said to be residents of Gush Dan, the densely populated region surrounding the city of Tel-Aviv and have been under surveillance for suspicion of trafficking, illegal possession of antiquities, as well as possible instances of fraud and money laundering.  Amir Ganor, the director of the Antiquities Authority's Robbery Prevention Unit told Israeli newspapers that this is one of the "most significant operations carried out in the country against illegal trade in antiquities" involving some €2.5 million worth of ancient art. 

During the past several months, the fraud unit in the Tel Aviv district has conducted a joint undercover investigation, in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority and the country's Tax Authority.  Yesterday, in the early morning, law enforcement announced that they had conducted search warrants on the apartments of the three unnamed suspects, in warehouses and at a gallery in Tel Aviv.

Law enforcement officers recovered ancient objects and coins most of which dates from the 3rd century BCE through the 11th century CE.  The objects are believed to have been removed from their context during clandestine excavations throughout the Mediterranean basin and North Africa and include Red-figure and Black-figure attic pottery from Ancient Greece and Italy, as well as jugs, vases, coins from the Seleucid Hellenistic period, jewellery, statues, and figurines.  Officers also recovered decorated sarcophagus lids, painted wooden boxes, and objects created with faience from Egypt. 

Despite their stunning recovery, the Israel Antiquities Authority has stated that their investigation is just now getting started.   The country will be reaching out to art and antiquities enforcement counterparts in other countries to discuss the origins and perhaps movements of the objects before their arrival to Israel. 

Two of the suspects have been listed in open source reports as a 70-year-old gallery owner and his 40-year-old son though other article sources indicate that none of the detainees were licensed traders in ancient art though some of the suspects were in contact with licensed dealers.  The third suspect has been described as being a 40-year-old resident of the city of Holon, located 10 km outside the Tel Aviv metropolis.   

All three men were brought in for questioning at the offices of the fraud unit in the Tel Aviv district.  Carrying out illegal excavations at antiquities sites in Israel without a license constitutes a severe violation of the country's patrimony law.  If convicted as such, culprits can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

Operación Nongreta brings in three gun runners and uncovers one suspect's "museum" of Nazi-themed objects

Image Credit: Guardia Civil

Arrested in a complex multinational police action code-named Operación Nongreta one of three gun runners arrested in Spain at the end of December has been found to have maintained a "museum" of Nazi-themed objects, alongside a substantial arsenal of weapons and ammunition.

Within the framework of the year-long Nongreta operation, involving the Information Office (UCE3) of Spain's Civil Guard, with the support of the Bundeskriminalamt, (the German Federal Criminal Police Office, BKA), the Andalusian Area Information Section, the USECIC and the GEDEX of the Málaga Command, and members of the GAR and the Servicio Cinológico, law enforcement successfully dismantled an arms trafficking group known to be dealing with drug trafficking cells working the Costa del Sol and Campo de Gibraltar regions in the south of Spain.   

The operation, born out of a noticeable uptick in murders carried out during drug-related crimes committed on the Costa del Sol in the final stretch of 2019 using modified assault rifles, resulted in the arrested of three key actors - two German citizens and one British, who have each been charged with participation in an organized crime group, storing and trafficking of arms and ammunition, drug trafficking, and use of forged documents.  The arms traffickers are believed to have been in operation for at least three years, operating a sophisticated scheme which funnelled weaponry obtained from Eastern Europian countries, with access to the old Soviet arsenals, to drug traffickers in need of weaponry active in southern Spain. 

In breaking up the ring, investigators focused their attention on a seventy-year-old German citizen, a former gunsmith living in Coín on the pretext of being a simple foreign retiree. Through exchanges of information with Germany's Bundeskriminalamt, Spanish authorities were informed that the suspect had spent four years in prison for the illegal modification of weapons and also had a current outstanding European Arrest Warrant (EAW), after an arsenal was tied to him in a Hannover case in 2019.  In that case, a family member has already been sentenced to prison for their involvement.

In a subsequent search of this suspect's home in Coín, the Civil Guard, with the assistance of a firearm-sniffing K-9, found a sophisticated hidden workshop, complete with complex machinery, which tapped into the city's electrical grid in order to operate a milling lathe, column drills, a hydraulic press and a blueing oven, the latter used after erasing the serial numbers to restore the barrels of the weapons to almost mint condition.  This would make the weapons almost untraceable, and therefore a perfect weapon of choice in the clandestine arms market.

It was here that the suspect would modify weapons such as the Zastava M70, (Застава М70), a standard-issue domestic folding-stock Kalashnikov variant once used by the Yugoslav People's Army in 1970.  Short and easily concealable under a coat or loose jacket, the weapons are perfect for drug factions engaged in quick hits when fighting over competing turf.  The weapons had been purchased from collectors in Eastern Europe disassembled and were modified in the Spain workshop for resale. The second suspect, also a German citizen, is believed to have been responsible for the storage and concealment of the weapons in a rented warehouse. 

Image Credit: Guardia Civil

The Third Reich memorabilia was identified in a second suspect's home in Alhaurín el Grandes, a town located in the province of Málaga on the north side of the Sierra de Mijas.  There, the police found tables, shelves and display cases jammed with Nazi memorabilia including a portrait bust of Adolf Hitler, SS Uniforms, helmets, stick pins, insignias, medals, flags, and armbands of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, many of which were emblazoned in some way with a swastika or the Nazi eagle.

After a search of the suspect's home, officers moved on to a safe house he rented on the outskirts of the municipality.  It is in that rented warehouse where authorities uncovered an arsenal ready for sale.  There, law enforcement seized 160 firearms made up of 121 short weapons, 22 assault rifles and 8 submachine guns.  Along with the arms, officers recovered 9,967 rounds of ammunition of different calibres, eight silencers, 273 magazines, a grenade, and a kilo and a half of military explosives. 

Spanish newspapers have identified the holder of the Nazi memorabilia and the warehouse as a 54-year-old German named Tilo Kränzler, who publically claimed to be "the grandson of the real driver of the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler" during an interview which can be found on the Radio Platja d'Aro program "Enigma Report." He is also known to have saught connections with a Spanish far-right group.

In addition to his involvement with arms selling, the Kränzler sold olive oil on eBay, and operated a stall which sold military and Nazi paraphernalia as well as T-shirts with the face of the Swedish activist and environmentalist Greta Thunberg with the label “persona Non Greta.” It was this play on words that became the code name for the UCE 3 of the Civil Guard's Operación Nongreta.

The third lead suspect is a British national who also resided in Coín, who acted as the group's intermediary in the sale between the arms dealers, taking a cut of the profits for the arms sold to drug traffickers working the Costa del Sol and Campo de Gibraltar.  Previously arrested for drug trafficking, this UK individual also using fake passports to hide his identity, several of which were recovered by law enforcement during the operation.

At the search of the British suspect's home, the Civil Guard recovered a pistol with its serial number erased and more than 1,200 rounds of ammunition. 

For now, the Court of Instruction of Coín has ordered that the three remain in custody pending trial while the hashish drug traffickers who operate in the Campo de Gibraltar area and to a large part of the mafias that have faced each other for years in Málaga's Costa del Sol will have a bit of difficulty stocking up on their firearms.

Image Credit: Guardia Civil

January 4, 2021

Monday, January 04, 2021 - No comments

Another sentencing for Congolese Activist Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza

On 22 October 2020 Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza entered the Musée du Louvre in Paris and after a brief stroll through the Pavillon des Sessions, where the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum collection is exhibited made the latest in a string of protests regarding colonial-period acquisitions in French museum collections. 

During the disruption, Diyabanza began by making a live-streamed speech stating he was taking back "what was stolen and plundered from us… to take back what was pillaged from Africa".  Like in his previous demonstrations, his protest then crossed the lines of legality when the activist lifted an 18th-century Ana deo figure of the Nage people and began walking through the museum with it. 

Ironically, the artefact Diyabanza then carried a short distance through the museum's gallery, hugged to his chest as if carrying a child, represents the tutelar spirits of a clan house, and comes from Flores Island in Eastern Indonesia, not from Africa.  The activist was then intercepted first by a chastising museum patron and shortly thereafter by security from the Musée du Louvre who detained the activist until police could take him into custody.

For this latest escapade, Diyabanza was sentenced by the Paris court to 5,000 euros in fines, including 2,000 euros in favour of the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac which had loaned the artwork to the Louvre.  He was also handed a  suspended prison sentence of 4 months all of which he plans to appeal. 

Diyabanza began his demonstrations during the summer of 2020 and on 13 June entered the Musée du Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac in Paris and removed a 19th-century Chadian funerary pole from its display, arguing the object was originally stolen from Africa by French colonisers.  Initially accused of attempted theft, he was convicted of aggravated theft, after describing his actions as a protest against colonial looting, not a theft, knowing he would be stopped. In this incident, he was acquitted by a Marseille court and received a fine of €1,000.

On 30 July 2020 Diyabanza was again arrested for taking a ceremonial ivory spear from its display at the Musée Colonial de Marseille founded by Dr. Édouard Marie Heckel but was later acquitted of the charges related to the incident.

On 10 September 2020 Diyabanza visited the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal in the Netherlands and picked up a Congolese statue and marched the statue out of the museum.  The museum staff did not interfere with the demonstration in order to prevent any possible damage to the statue and allowed the group to leave the museum having already notified the Dutch police, who were waiting outside to apprehend the protestors

In early October Diyabanza also visited the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) in Antwerp and symbolically removed a painting from the 100X Congo exhibition before realizing it was a contemporary and not colonial-period work.

Image Credit: Mwazulu Diyabanza Siwa Lemba official Facebook Page

Conference: "Orphan artworks / Œuvres orphelines

Conference Dates:
4-5 February 2020

Conference Location:
Online (visioconférence)

Conference Fees:
Free with registration

French and English (with simultaneous translation)

Covering the provenance, legality, and responsible stewardship of what is referred to as an "orphan object", i.e., artefacts in circulation within the art market or within existing collections which are determined to have inadequate provenance.

Registration for this online conference is open and a PDF copy of the programme and speakers is available from the Centre Universitaire du Droit de l'Art, headquartered at the University of Geneva, via this link.