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December 31, 2022

ARCA looks back on art and crime in the year 2022

Debris covering stairs inside the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theatre following a March 16, 2022, bombing in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Image Credit AP - Alexei Alexandrov

As the year comes to a close, it's time to highlight (some) of the losses, and a few of the successes from the year 2022 before we look ahead to what 2023 will bring.  

In 2022 we witnessed Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, taking thousands of lives and creating a tragic humanitarian crisis.  One symbol of both heritage and human loss was the airstrike upon the historic Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theatre in Mariupol, a cultural landmark where hundreds of people had been sheltering as a result of the city's siege.  The theatre strike serves as painful testimony to the cost of war and the painfully permanent scale of destruction to the Ukrainian port city and ints inhabitants, as Russia's primary target in Ukraine's southeastern region of Donbas.  

Evidence collected by the AP estimates that as many as 600 civilians may have died as a result of the theatre's March 16th double airstrike, which placed this cultural institution directly in the crosshairs of the conflict.  This despite the centre's obvious civilian character and the fact that the displaced individuals who sought refuge there had plainly marked the pavement, in front of each entrance to the structure, with the word дети (children), written in Cyrillic and could be seen cooking daily meals outside.  

Five days later and just a few blocks away, Russia's bombardment also heavily damaged the Kuindzhi Art Museum, dedicated to the life and work of local realist painter Arkhip Kuindzhi.  Kuindzhi’s works were not in the museum at that time,  however, the fate of other artworks in the museum remains difficult to ascertain. 

It total UNESCO has documented 64 damaged or destroyed sites of historical and/or artistic interest in the Donetsk Region alone

Elsewhere in the Ukraine, some 400 kilometres away, artworks from the Kherson Fine Arts Museum's collection were stolen between October 30 and November 3 just prior to Russia's forced withdrawal from the city. Photos shared later on Facebook showed dozens of paintings from the plundered museum stacked along a wall inside the  Tsentral'nyy Muzey Tavridy, the Crimean history museum in Simferopol, Crimea. 

As of December 23rd, throughout Ukraine, again according to UNESCO, the agency has verified damage at 102 religious sites, 18 museums, 81 buildings of historical and/or artistic interest, 19 monuments, and 11 libraries.

Outside Ukraine, two themes for 2022 are museums, and those in charge of them, behaving badly, and crime doesn't pay. 

In the US, investigators from the New York District Attorney's Office in Manhattan, issued three separate search warrants on the Metropolitan Museum of Art which resulted in the seizure and return of 27 antiquities to their countries of origin—21 to Italy and 6 to Egypt.  

On the West Coast, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles saw its hand forced by the same East Coast prosecutor, following an ongoing criminal investigation by DANY.  That investigation resulted in the California museum relinquishing, post-seizure, its looted group of life-size terracotta figures known as Orpheus and the Sirens back to Italy. 

Things were no quieter for museums over in Europe and the Middle East, where over the summer, France saw its former director of the Musée du Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez and archaeologist-curator Jean-Francois Charnier formally charged for “complicity“ in having facilitated $50 million in acquisitions of illicit material by the Louvre Abu Dhabi, connected to investigations of suspect antiquities dealers Roben Dib (currently in French custody) and Germany-based dealer Serop Simonian.

As legal investigations usually take several years to unfold in France, Martinez and Charnier have been released under judicial supervision while a ruling of the examining chamber is expected in the new year, which some say, may see these preliminary charges dropped.

Dealers who behaved badly include Inigo Philbrick who received an 84 month prison sentence in May in connection with a multi-year scheme to defraud various collectors and business entities in order to finance his art business.

Eighty year old Raffaele Monticelli, a man considered by various Italian prosecutors to be one of the biggest middle-tier traffickers of archaeological finds in Europe, died in October.  Still active in smuggling illicit material out of Italy, he had only recently returned home to Taranto following the conclusion of a short prison sentence involving a looted helmet in circulation in the Netherlands. 

Also in the Netherlands, the Dutch appeals court confirmed the 8 year prison sentence in July for 59 year old Nils Menara, a professional burglar known on the street as 'Gauwtje' for his role in the thefts of two paintings, The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring (1884), by Vincent van Gogh, and Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer by Frans Hals.  The two paintings, worth $20 million are still missing. 

In France, the 33rd criminal chamber of the Paris Judicial Tribunal held a decision in October in a case where Egypt requested the restitution of Egyptian antiquities within a criminal proceeding against Didier Wormser, who was accused of dealing stolen cultural property from the Saqqara necropolis. The director of the Star of Ishtar gallery, was given a three-year suspended prison sentence. 

In India, November saw disgraced antiques dealer Subhash Kapoor convicted of burglary and the illegal export of 19 antique idols during his first completed trial to date, held in the town of Kumbakonam in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.   With more court cases to follow, Kapoor was handed a 10-Year jail sentence for this first conviction.  The judge also imposed sentences on Kapoor's accomplices: Sanjivi Asokan, Marichamy, Packiya Kumar, Sri Ram alias Ulagu and Parthiban. 

In happier news, the last month of the 2022, marked the month where German police successfully recovered 31 of the priceless 18th-century jewellery pieces stolen from  the Royal Palace that houses the historic Green Vault (Gruenes Gewoelbe) in Dresden in 2019.   

Let's hope 2023 is a year of recoveries, more successful prosecutions and an end to conflicts. 

December 17, 2022

Recovered: (Some) of the Jewels Stolen in the November 25, 2019 Green Vault Burglary at Dresden's Residenzschloss.

On 25 November 2019, burglars entered the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe in German) museum within Dresden Castle in Saxony, Germany and smashed open exhibition cases using an axe. In only a few minutes, the precision coordinated team of thieves slipped away with an outstanding cache of jewellery, including 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 epaulet, and a diamond-studded hilt containing nine large and 770 smaller diamonds, as well as its jewel-encrusted scabbard.  

Despite having torching the motor vehicle used in the getaway to any destroy evidence they may have theft behind in its interior, clues surrounding the spectacular art theft, lead German authorities to investigate the purchase of SIM cards by members of a clan known to have been involved in a series of criminal offenses which eventually resulted in the arrest of several members of the Remmo clan, one of the grandfamilies of Lebanese-Kurdish descent who immigrated to Germany during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. 

Members of this clan have been criminally conspicuous, gaining reputations for trafficking, racketeering and robbery, some of which have been spectacular in their execution. Their complicated family ties and property ownership structures, have made it possible for the tightly knit groups to launder money - and sometimes, but not in this case, have made it considerably more difficult for investigators to entangle who is involved and in what capacity. 

Today, during a press conference held by the Ministry of the Interior of Saxony, jointly with the Dresden Public Prosecutor's Office and Police, German officials announced that between December 16th and 17th, the Dresden public prosecutor, Soko Epaulette and the LKA Sachsen seized 31 of the stolen Green Vault jewels in Berlin  Several of the pieces appeared to be complete including the hat decoration (heron tail) and the breast star of the Polish Order of the White Eagle from the diamond set. 

The items recovered will now go before specialists from the Dresden State Art Collections to ensure their authenticity and completeness.  The epaulette with the "Saxon White" that was damaged during the theft and the large breast bow of Queen Amalie Auguste remain missing.

On September 2, 2021, six members of the Remmo family were formally indicted in Dresden for 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.

Wissam Remmo, Rabih Remmo, and Bashir Remmo, were arrested in 2020.  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. 

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

German authorities have stated that the jewellery was recovered following ongoing negotiations with defence counsel for members of the Remmo clan. While information pertaining to what plea deal, if any, has been agreed upon regarding the charges faced by the six defendants, a followup hearing  is scheduled for Tuesday, December 20th, 2022. 

Previously, members of the Remmo clan were charged and sentenced in another audacious heist, which took place at the Bode Museum.  In that theft, the thieves made off with a 100 kilo gold coin on 27 March 2017 which has never been recovered and is believed to have been melted down

In July 2018 the Berlin public prosecutor's office and the state criminal police provisionally seized 77 properties, including apartments, houses and land belonging to members of the "Lebanese" Kurdish extended family "Remmo" worth an estimated 9.3 million euros.  These seizures were based on evidence that the properties was likely purchased with proceeds from crime using new rules under the German Criminal Code (StGB) and Criminal Procedural Order (StPO) enacted 1 July 2017.  Modelled after Italy's own organised crime laws on property seizure,  where the state may order the seizure of property that a person of interest is able to dispose of when the value of the property is disproportionate to the person’s declared income or economic activity, Germany's new law regulates the recovery of criminal proceeds and serves to effectively confiscate illegal proceeds from offenders or third beneficiaries who can be tied to proceeds from criminal transactions. 

According to an earlier article by Der Spiegel it is estimated that while that clans make up just four percent of Berlin's inhabitants, 20 percent of suspects in organized crime cases belong to one of the city's well-known clan groups.  The trio arrested this week have been charged with serious gang theft and arson.  

To learn more about the structure of the Berlin clan groups, German readers can read Ralph Ghadban's Arabische Clans: Die unterschätzte Gefahr.  Ghadban, who has spoken out about the criminal machinations of the Arabische Großfamilie clans which dominate Berlin's underworld, is now under permanent police protection, for his criticism of the clans and the power of the Lebanese mafia in Europe. 

November 2, 2022

A lighter than we had hoped [but not unanticipated] sentence for Subhash Kapoor


Arrested while on business in Cologne, Germany on October 30, 2011, after a years-long investigation code named Operation Hidden Idol that ultimately resulted in the issuance of an INTERPOL Red Notice, Subhash Kapoor, the former New York gallerist who once operated Art of the Past, has (at last) been convicted in Tamil Nadu's Kumbakonam court, in the first of several cases against him. 

Extradited from Germany to India, to face charges in a case registered in with the Udayarpalayam police station, Kapoor was handed over by the German authorities to the Idol Wing of the CID police in Chennai on July 13, 2012.  Appearing before the court the next day,  Kapoor pled not guilty to charges relating to the theft of idols from Varadaraja Perumal temple in the state's Ariyalur district.  

Afterward, he was remanded into judicial custody by the Judicial Magistrate, Jayankondam in Ariyalur, and would remain in custody for the next decade, held at Trichy Central Prison in Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, while his case proceeded through the judicial process.  While there, other idol theft cases piled up against him; in Vikramangalam, in Veeravanallur, in Palvoor and in Virudhachalam, as well as abroad in the United States and Germany.

Yesterday, the disgraced owner of the New York gallery, Art of the Past was found guilty and sentenced by Chief Judicial Magistrate D Shanmuga Priya under:

IPC penal code section 411 (dishonestly receiving stolen property) carrying with it a three year prison sentence plus a fine. 

IPC penal code section 413 (receives or deals in property which he knows or has reason to believe to be stolen property) carrying with it a three year prison sentence plus a fine. 

IPC penal code section 120 b (criminal conspiracy) carrying with it a seven year prison sentence plus a fine. *

Other co-conspirators in this case also had sentences handed down.

Sanjivi Asokan, AKA Sanjeevi Asokan, AKA Sanjeeve Asokan, received a two year sentence and fine for violation of IPC penal code section 465 (forgery), a two year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 468 (forgery, for the purpose of cheating), a two year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 471 (use of forged material) a one year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 414 (concealing or disposing of stolen property), and a seven year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 120 b (criminal conspiracy).*

Marichamy received a seven year sentence and fine for violation of IPC penal code section 457 (lurking house trespass by night, or house-breaking by night), a three year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 380 (theft of a building) and a seven year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 120 b (criminal conspiracy).*

Packiya Kumar received a two year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 465 (forgery), a two year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 468 (forgery, for the purpose of cheating), a two year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 471 (use of forged material), a three year sentence and fine IPC penal code section 411 (receiving stolen property), a three year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 414 (concealing or disposing of stolen property), and a seven year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 120 b (criminal conspiracy).*

Sri Ram AKA Ulagu received a seven year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 457 (lurking house trespass by night, or house-breaking by night), a three year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 380 (theft of a building) and a seven year sentence and fine  for IPC penal code section 120 b (criminal conspiracy).*

Parthiban received a seven year sentence and fine for IPC penal code section 457 (lurking house trespass by night, or house-breaking by night), three years for IPC penal code section 380 (theft of a building) and seven years for IPC penal code section 120 b (criminal conspiracy).* 

It should be noted that in the United States, the New York District Attorney's Office in Manhattan filed extradition paperwork for Kapoor in July 2020 after charging him with 86 felony counts for allegedly looting $145 million in antiquities over the last 30 years. 

Last month, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. returned 307 antiquities to India, valued at nearly $4 million. Of those, 235 of those were pursuant to his Office’s investigation of Kapoor.  Five of his co-defendants, in the US court case have already been convicted in the United States. 

To get a look at some of the pieces returned to India handled by members of Kapoor's network, please see our earlier blog post on daylight sentences, reconceiving restitutions and the hard work it takes to restitute pieces to their countries of origin.

*NB: Some of these sentences may run concurrently. 

October 20, 2022

Reconceiving Restitutions - A look at the work (and one worker) behind the sensational restitutions accomplished by the New York District Attorney's office in Manhattan

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdonos and four of the ATU's analysts

Trigger Warning:  This is probably going to be the longest article ever written on ARCA's Art Crime blog.  

Stolen cultural objects should be returned to their owners.  

This concept seems straightforwardly simple, and certainly isn't novel.  The duty to prosecute criminals and return stolen property, obtained in violation of the law, goes far back in time.  In some cases, even farther back in history than the very artefacts we passionately advocate for the restitution of.

The concept of punishments for thieves was already written into the 20th century BCE.  

The earliest artefacts known to us outlining a compilation of legal rules and punishments is written in Akkadian.   Unearthed in 1945 and 1947, at Tell Abū Harmal in the outskirts of Baghdad, the two parallel copies of the Eshnunna Law Code outline a historic structure to everyday legal matters and the nature and treatment of criminals, as well as the application of sanctions in the Old-Babylonian kingdom of Eshnunna.  These inscribed cuneiform tablets detail the type of punishments to be meted out for criminal offenses in the second millennium BCE.  

Get caught stealing in broad daylight?  The penalty for the offender was pecuniary (5 siqlu of silver) and one hopes at least a few scathing looks from members of the community.  But stealing something under the cloak of darkness or the selling of stolen goods was considered a serious crime (grand larceny) and this level of wrongdoing could cost the pilferer his, or her, life. 

Nowadays, in the United States and in most of Europe, individuals convicted of cultural property thievery receive only "daylight" sentences.  Regularly, they amount to probation, or probation with fines of varying sizes.

It's only been quite recently where we have seen a divergence of this rule, with New Yorker Michael Steinhardt's first-of-its-kind, lifetime ban on the further acquisition of antiquities.  More often than not, antiquities plunderers die of old age before an aggrieved society gets to see them face justice in the courts.  Still others deftly zig and zag past numerous discrepancies in national laws, or statutes of limitations, and avoid convictions altogether, as slippery as a sizzling pat of butter sliding in a cultural property legislation frying pan.  

Regularly, the criminal handlers that are formally charged for dealing in purloined antiquities, plead out, and never face a jury of their peers.  Instead, their courtroom presentations before judges follow closely on years-long discussions, between defence counsel and prosecutor, where both sides hammer out cooperation agreements whereby the indicted individual coughs up sufficient intelligence to convince the prosecutor to make a recommendation to the judge for a lighter sentence when the value of their cooperation is considered “substantial.” 

When folks like these appear before the court and enter their guilty pleas, their carefully worded, public-facing, contrite confessions are not an extemporary admission of wrongdoing.  And although written up in newspapers as seemingly so, these admissions (seldom) carry with them any genuine or profound sense of remorse toward the aggrieved societies their businesses robbed.  

Instead, their guilty plea confessions are well-scripted lines in a passion play, crafted by counsel and designed to relay to the judge that the indicted individual is admitting their guilt voluntarily.  In making their plea, the defendant has consulted with their attorney and acknowledges that they willingly give up important constitutional rights, including their right to a trial by jury, the right to testify or not testify, and the privilege against self-incrimination (meaning the right to not reveal information about criminal acts that they may have committed).

In “accepting responsibility” for their actions these formerly upstanding members of the art market, are banking on leniency, based on earlier assistance agreements, while acknowledging that they are prepared to accept the recommendation of the prosecutor (or in Federal cases the judge) as to the sentence or other disposition of the case.

The formulaic style of ARCA's restitution articles (which hold true for the majority of newspapers as well).

Usually, when stolen or plundered cultural property returns home, ARCA writes an article on said restitution in what can be seen as a fairly predictable format.  One that repeats itself, more or less, regardless of where the object was stolen from, when or where it was recovered, and detailing its send-off back to whence it came. 

In drafting our articles, we comfort ourselves that justice in the form of restitution, has, at least in some way, been served.  Then we move on to creating a headline that specifies exactly what is going home and to whom.  

We generally open our story with a photo of the object, or objects, and as best we can, move quickly on to giving credit to the prosecutor or prosecutors, law-enforcement agents, governmental officials, non-governmental organisations, legal experts, academic professionals, and citizen activists whose efforts were involved, naming those directly involved by name when we can and by the agency when for investigative reasons we can't.  

We also take some time to thank the ministry workers, politicians, and law enforcement agencies who represent the receiving source country, as well as their own stakeholder institutions.  These are the people who work on the other side of the seizure equation, and their involvement is often just as critical. 

After thanking the "good guys" and adding a few photos of the pomp and circumstance which inevitably accompanies a handover ceremony, we move on to the artwork's storytelling, being sure not to interfere with any additional ongoing investigations, but hopefully illustrating why it's important for these historical objects to go home. 

We then spend some time connecting the places the object originated from, when the artefact was likely uprooted from its find-spot, and as best we can, illustrating whose hands we have confirmed that the artefact has passed through.  This story-weaving serves twofold. It helps, we hope, bring the artefact, and the people who made it, to life, and to perhaps illustrate the circuitous routes these pieces take as they are laundered over and over again to make them appear reasonably legitimate to buyers.  In crafting this part of our article, we try where we can, to emphasise the loss to  aggrieved societies, and to illustrate that in some cases these are not simply beautiful sculptures, but also sacred idols to some religious groups or grave goods from someone's grandfather's grandfather's grandfather's grandfather whose burial place shouldn't be plundered.

Lastly, we usually close our articles with a bit of scolding, a reminder if you will, to collectors and dealers about the necessity of conducting and not overlooking due diligence.  We hope that in doing so, we as writers apply subtle pressure on art market actors to try and do better.  We also hope that our articles leave a connect-the-dots trail of negative publicity breadcrumbs of who knowingly did what and during what time period, so that lessor-informed buyers and researchers might find these missives when googling some of the art market's problem children. 

But on to the real point of this blog takes a village, no really.

While restitution articles regularly lament the loss of moveable culture to the source country or society, and spend time focusing on the artefact's cultural significance, we don't often drill down into giving anything beyond cursory credit to the people who make recovery their life's work.  If names get mentioned, it's because they are the ones handed out to journalists via formal press releases, and listed as the important actors and agencies involved.  And it is this very naming, which does not necessarily weigh who did what or over how many hours, named or unnamed, that hardly ever gets expressed in the cultural diplomacy restitution equation. 

Some of the people who work on antiquities trafficking evidence are underpaid, relative their talents, and some are not paid at all.  Both work to sift through the "noise" of available data to find sufficient evidence which meets the threshold of the legal framework of the country where the suspect artwork or antiquity has been identified.  Many of these dedicated folks are truly not in it for the glory of having their names up in lights, but because they have a deep and abiding belief that these artefacts can, and should, go home.

To emphasise this, I have chosen to focus the rest of this article on just one of these team players, whose job it is to sift through both the chaff and the grain of all the available information surrounding a suspect object.  One of the people who assists in determining what constitutes direct or circumstantial evidence in proving a crime. 

In doing so I want to emphasise that what these individuals accomplish is every bit as important, and in some cases more so, that just visualising a match between a looter photo and a matching object in circulation on the art market or in a museum or private collection.  Identifications are absolutely critical and necessary, but they are just one single part of each investigation. And while such IDs are persuasive evidence, one would be remiss to think that the identification alone is sufficient when building a case for seizure and, one hopes, eventual restitution. 

So, let's talk about just one of those people who deserves our thanks.

Apsara Iyer, Yale class of '16 onsite at Machu Picchu

I met Apsara Iyer, for the first time in September 2012, at University College London's Archaeology and Economic Development conference. Back then, long before she joined the Manhattan DA's Antiquities Trafficking Unit, she was a surprisingly enthusiastic and well-informed freshman at Yale University working on her Bachelors, and already thinking more expansively about the right to culture than most undergrads her age. 

As one of the conference's early career panelists, I was taken in by her enthusiasm for preservation, as well as her sincerity.  I listened with interest, as she knowledgeably spoke of spending time the previous summer in the Andes Mountains, above the Urubamba River valley and the impact of archaeological tourism on the indigenous Machiguenga communities in Peru.

Over a coffee during a break in the conference, we talked about folklore and the ancient traditions Señor de Tetecaca, Ullantaytampu and Machu Pikchu in the Valle Sagrado de los Incas and I laughed when I learned that she had successfully managed, at just 17 years of age, to get interviews from people in one of the most biodiverse places in the world.  Interviews which ultimately would shape the backbone of her presentation. 

Admiring her chutzpah, I'd later learn that her interest in historic preservation extended even farther back.  In high school Apsara had helped bury two time capsules on the grounds R.S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, stuffing them with snippets from life in 2010, some whimsical and some bitter.  Two selected "artefacts" that struck me particularly were the BP gift card which served as a bitter reminder of the devastation caused by the Deepwater Horizon spill.  Equally poignant, were the two opposing news editorials on New York City's proposed Cordoba House, back then referred to by Islamophobes as the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

By her sophomore year at Yale, Ms. Iyer had already been bitten by the art market research bug, and I had to smile when she dropped me an email telling me that she was exploring the local valuations of heritage in Cusco, Peru, and Udaipur, India in comparison to auction data and that she planned to spend the following summer doing independent research on antiquities trafficking.  Although we didn't stay in close touch, I wasn't surprised to learn that after her MPhil, she had joined Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdano's team as an Antiquities Trafficking Unit analyst. 

And as glorious as that sounds, more often than not it isn't.  

Forensic analysts at the Manhattan ATU work long hours and they have to be adept fact and hypothesis sifters.  For every single artefact brought to the attention of their office as suspect, it's folks on the team like Ms. Ayer that ensure that an object's case file has sufficiently concretised evidence which can allow for its seizure under New York law.  And the amount of time it takes to make that happen should not be underestimated.   Sometimes though, when analysts dig deep enough, their labours pull together an enormous quantity of disparate threads and intel, helping the Manhattan office to identify other tainted pieces, and that's how complex, multinational, networks are eventually dismantled and that's why the DA's office is good at what they do.

Why do DANY press releases lead with numbers and price tags? 

Because investigations like these cost money, full stop.  It's important for prosecutorial offices, ministries, and law enforcement agencies to substantiate the fruits of their labour in terms of the number of objects returned, relative their value and demonstrating impact to communities.  Those higher up in the accounting of who-spends-how-much-and-doing-what food chain want stats which can justify the person-hours allocated in pursuit of these investigations. Press announcements have neither the space for, or an interest in drilling down into how many hours, or how many hands, took part in the process to achieve said results.

With pressing deadlines to be the first to report on a seizure or a restitution, heritage journalists also neglect that effort, and hours consumed by researchers, both inside and outside of law enforcement agencies.  Instead, we favour the stories of the objects themselves and the people they belong to, in our efforts to demonstrate that heritage crime is not as "victimless" as some would like one to assume.  At best, and somewhat haphazardly, we make room in our articles for a cursory outline of the steadfast researchers who combed through evidence in order to help combat this type of criminal enterprise. 

So, given that this week Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., has announced the return of 307 (more) antiquities valued at nearly $4 million to the people of India I'd like to do a little speculative math.  Bearing in mind that my calculations here are just my own working hypothesis, based upon the minimum amount of time I would estimate an antiquities analyst at the ATU may have put in when working on a single suspect object. 

Let's assume, conservatively, Apsara Iyer, or any of the another of the New York District Attorney's Office's ATU analysts has worked the following hours on one of the objects listed in Alvin Bragg's recent press release on their office's restitutions to India. 

1 day to coordinate identifications and communications with external experts;
2 days to track down and fact check all known provenance relating to when this piece appeared for the first time in circulation;
1/2 day to analyse the visual and or digital content/meta data of looter photos; 
1/2 day to analyse written correspondence between the handlers related to this object;
4 days to sift through all the direct and circumstantial evidence on this piece and organise a case file;
2 days to confer with lead counsel to work out strategies and to answer any additional unanswered questions;
1 day to write up and document all credible evidence, applicable under New York law, which can be used to request seizure or towards bringing criminal charges.

Total = 10 days x 8 hours per day or 80 hours per object. 
80 hours per object x 307 objects = 24,560 work hours 

Effort estimations like this can never satisfactorily be conveyed in a one page press release celebrating the return of stolen property.  Though they can, and should be thought about, discussed, conveyed and appreciated when digesting these grand success stories.   As it is this proven time and effort expenditure, which is every bit as critical to these restitutions as having the legal instruments in place which are favourable in a specific jurisdiction. 

So, while the formulaic nature of art restitution articles will hardly ever drill down to any level of who contributed what and over how many hours, this unspoken reality is still worth everyone being cognisant of.  Obviously, we still need evidentiary photos which demonstrate an artefact it its plundered state, but we also need dedication and analyses if these pieces are to become the success stories we all want them to be.  

I hope in the future, in reading ARCA's blog posts on who owns the past, instead of only focusing on the criminal actors, the opportunists, the bona fide owners and the higher ups that head the restitution teams, we also spend a bit more time acknowledging the work of the rank and file.  Sure, they sometimes get their picture taken at that all important restitution ceremony, but it's important for us to remember that they often have a more personal relationship with the artefact that is going home than most of the folks shaking congratulatory hands and smiling. 

To close, I'd like you to look at just some of the objects Apsara Iyer has worked on during her time with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, not in terms of their quantity, but individually as each has its own story to tell.  Perhaps, as you pause over each photo thinking about the quantity of plunder these countries have been subjected to, you will also reconceive restitutions, recognising the roles and contributions of everyone who plays a part in the massive effort to analyse, investigate and combat this type of cultural property crime.  

 By:  Lynda Albertson