Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Egypt. Show all posts

January 21, 2020

Cairo Criminal Court in Abdin convicts former Italian diplomat for antiquities smuggling

Image Credit Left: https://www.radiolfc.net/tag/m-skakal/
Image Credit Right:  Italian Carabiniri
Today the Cairo Criminal Court in Abdin convicted Cav. Ladislav Otakar Skakal, the former honorary consul of Italy in Luxor, in absentia.  In doing so the courts sentenced the former diplomat to 15 years imprisonment for the smuggling of Egyptian antiquities out of Egypt.  

The Egyptian authorities had previously requested that Skakal's name be placed on INTERPOL's Red notice in connection with his involvement in the smuggling of some 21,855 artifacts from the port of Alexandria.  These objects had been discovered inside a diplomatic shipping container, of the type used to transport household goods, sent through the port of Salerno in May 2017.  

Prosecutors in Egypt had produced evidence in the court case that Skakal was actively involved in the smuggling of the artifacts, which had been seized from inside a diplomatic container shipped in his own name.  The court also found cause to believe that Skakal had worked in agreement with an official of the shipping and packaging company responsible for shipping his container, specifically with a view of exploiting the privileges of his honorary office to illegally export artefacts from the country of Egypt, without informing the government and with the help of accomplices working inside Egypt.

Cav. Ladislav Otakar Skakal's whereabouts are currently not known. He was last known to have returned to Rome.  The mandate of the former honorary consul expired in 2014 and since then, Skakal has no longer had ties to the Italian embassy in Cairo. 

January 20, 2020

Conference: Violated National Heritage: Theft, Trafficking and Restitution

The Society for the History of Collecting together with the V & A Museum present the following event. 

Event:  Violated National Heritage: Theft, Trafficking and Restitution
Location: Victoria and Albert Museum
Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre
Cromwell Road
London SW7 2RL
United Kingdom
Date: 17 March 2020
Time: 16:00 – 20:30 GMT
Ticketing:  £0.00 for Students, £13.52 for professionals



Have you ever wondered how ancient art from countries such as Egypt, Greece and Rome came to fill European and American museums? And how did national Pacific collections come into being? This conference, with a dynamic list of international speakers, will address how collecting has developed since the 16th century, and how, over the centuries, it has been regulated, even circumvented in various ways. It will also look beyond the boundaries of legal trade of art and artefacts to consider how the criminal orbit operates, how heritage-rich countries confront the trafficking of their patrimony and how museums are involved in such debates.

This conference will not tackle the Parthenon marbles debate nor war booty, but it will raise issues around patrimony laws, looting, trafficking, faking provenance and money laundering. Presentations on particular historical contexts will be followed by talks focusing on the contemporary situation, including the policing and voluntary restitution versus surrender of objects as the result of investigative evidence. Trafficking takes many forms and may include forgeries in order to satisfy demand. Both source and receiving countries have sharpened their laws, policing and prosecutions.

This conference is aimed not only at students but also art world and museum professionals, indeed at anyone interested to hear the latest information, much of which is unpublished, and to learn more about the realities behind these key issues.

Programme:

Vernon Rapley (Director of Cultural Heritage Protection and Security) & Laura Jones (Cultural Heritage Preservation Lead): The V&A’s Culture in Crisis Programme;

Barbara Furlotti (The Courtauld), on the Roman Antiquities Market during the Renaissance;

Hilke Thode Arora, Keeper Oceanic collections (Museum Fünf Kontinente, Munich), on Pacific ‘gifts’;

Eleni Vassilika, Former museum director (Hildesheim and Turin), on the operations of placing illicit Egyptian antiquities in museums;

Christos Tsirogiannis, Assoc. Prof. and AIAS-COFUND Research Fellow, Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Aarhus, formerly at the Archaeological Unit at Cambridge, as well as the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Greek Police Art Squad, on recent restitutions to Greece;

Omniya Abdel Barr, V&A researcher and project director for the documentation of Mamluk patrimony in Cairo, on the theft of elements from mosques (minbar);

Ian Richardson, Registrar for Treasure Trove (The British Museum), on how the TTAct functions;

Roland Foord, Senior Partner, Stephenson Harwood LLP, on procedures for restitution.

The day will end with a Drinks Reception.

Registration Link:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/violated-national-heritage-theft-trafficking-and-restitution-tickets-89083947485?aff=affiliate1

Trial begins with the testimony of witnesses in the case against Raouf Boutros Ghali, while Egypt continues to seek the arrest of Italy’s former honorary consul in Luxor, Ladislav Otakar Skakal

Image Credit Al Dostor News
During a court hearing on Sunday, January 19, the Cairo Criminal Court of Abdin, headed by Counselor Mohamed Ali Mostafa El-Feky, began hearing the first of witness testimony in the trial against Raouf Boutros Ghali and others on various charges related to the smuggling of Egyptian antiquities into Europe.  During that hearing the Egyptian prosecution layed out its investigation into the case into the smuggling of 21,855 Egyptian artifacts which had earlier been seized by Italian authorities. 

Holding passports for Italy and San Marino, the defendant, Raouf Boutros Ghali, has been held in custody as a flight risk since his original arrest, February 14, 2019 and was seen held in a caged dock during throughout sunday's proceedings.  While his trial is underway, the Egypt's Prosecutor General, Nabil Sadek had previously requested precautionary custody pending the conclusion of his trial for his alleged involvement in the the scheme to illegally export Egyptian heritage in contradiction of the country's laws.  

In total some 21,660 coins along with 195 artifacts were seized, some of which include 151 miniature figurines made of faience, 11 pottery vessels, 5 mummy masks, some gold-plated, 3 islamic era ceramic tiles, 2 canopic jar heads, two wooden decorative objects, and a wooden sarcophagus. 



In statements given to the court via council the defendant Mr. Raouf Boutros Ghali confirmed he would be fighting the charges against him and represented that he had inherited the exported pieces from his grandfather, Boutros Ghali Pasha, the first Coptic Prime Minister from 1908 to 1910.  It should be noted that the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) is the institution entrusted with the protection of the Egyptian heritage in accordance with article 8 of the Antiquities Protection Act of Law No. 117 of 1983 which states:

Anyone owns any archaeological object in accordance with the provisions of this Law must notify the Council of such object within six months starting from the beginning of March 2010 provided that such persons are required to preserve such objects until the Council registers it.
Early, on May 25, 2018, Shaaban Abdel Gawad, who heads up Egypt's antiquities repatriation department within the Ministry of Antiquities, confirmed that while the Egyptian authorities had deemed the artifacts to be authentic but the objects did not appear in any of the country's antiquities registries. 

On Saturday, the prosecution also underlined its September 17, 2019 demand for the rapid arrest of Italy’s former honorary consul in Luxor,  Ladislav Otakar Skakal. Egyptian authorities had requested that Skakal be placed on INTERPOL's Red notice in connection with his involvement in this case as the ancient objects were discovered inside a diplomatic shipping container, of the type used to transport household goods, when it came through the port of Salerno in May 2017.  

October 8, 2019

Unpacking the investigation into Egypt's 2100 year old looted gold coffin

Shaaban Abdel-Gawad - Head of the Egyptian Department of Repatriation
Image Credit: Egyptian Department of Repatriation,
Ministry of Antiquities-Arab Republic of Egypt
Last week the controversially purchased, ancient gold mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, was formally restituted to the Arab Republic of Egypt.  The plundered late Ptolemaic era antiquity had been purchased by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art for €3.5m in 2017, following protracted negotiations with Paris-based art dealer Christophe Kunicki, and his partner Richard Semper.  The restitution was made after it came to light that the sellers had purportedly supplied their buyers with fabricated ownership records and falsified export documents attesting to the object's legitimacy.  Documents, it should be said, which the museum's buyers accepted, despite marked incongruencies and factual errors.

Last winter, with sufficient tangible evidence that the delicate cartonnage coffin had been smuggled out of Egypt recently, HSI New York and the D.A.’s Office sought, obtained, and executed a search warrant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where they seized the antiquity pending the outcome of their completed investigation.  The New York warrant was issued on the basis that under the State's criminal law, barring the expiration of the statute of limitations, or application of the laches doctrine, the Metropolitan Museum of Art could not have obtained clear title unless the present-day possessor's title could be traced to someone with whom the original owner, in this case Egypt, had voluntarily entrusted the art.

The seizure was executed at The Met on February 15, 2019, and concluded one chapter in a lengthy and ongoing investigation, conducted jointly with law enforcement and heritage partners in the United States, Egypt, Germany, and France.  On the US side, the investigation was coordinated via the New York District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., and overseen by New York Assistant D.A. Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel and Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit.  Working on the case for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (HSI) were Special Agents Brent Easter and Robert Mancene.  The Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt for its part, provided evidence in the case and petitioned for the antiquity's return.

Left: U.S. Homeland Security Investigations special-agent-in-charge Peter Fitzhugh. Center Left: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Shoukry. Center: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Center Right: Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos. Right: Antiquities Trafficking Analyst, Apsara Iyer. Image Credit NYDA's Office
While the seizure of a prestigious golden coffin, purchased by the largest art museum in the United States, may have shocked the general public, it is not the first time that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has run afoul in its purchase of high-value tainted objects for their collection that were later determined to have been stolen or looted.  Presented with credible and demonstrable evidence that the Egyptian coffin had been recently smuggled out of Egypt, in contravention of the country's cultural heritage laws, the museum quickly moved to cooperate with law enforcement, cutting short its successful exhibition of the Egyptian mummiform coffin and relinquishing their centerpiece artifact to the authorities for restitution.  Daniel Weiss, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, apologized to Egypt and indicated the museum had been the victim of fraud and an unwitting participant in the illegal trade of antiquities.

At the hand-over ceremony, New York District Attorney Cyrus Roberts Vance Jr., issued a statement indicating that the gilded antiquity is "just one of of hundreds of antiquities stolen by the same multi-national trafficking ring."  As of now, prosecutors have not announced charges against any of the actors they have identified in the smuggling case and the investigation is still ongoing.

Yet the story of this grand jury investigation into antiquities traffickers began long before the prestigious golden coffin found its way into the Egyptian Collection at the largest art museum in the United States. 

Information now cleared for disclosure through officials at New York's DA's office demonstrates that their office's Antiquities Trafficking U\nit began conducting an exhaustive international investigation into an illicit trafficking ring as early as 2013, following up on leads tied to individuals known to be working in the Middle East and Europe.  The focus of the investigation in New York centered on the movement of stolen and looted artifacts which transited into or through its jurisdiction, i.e., specifically New York County.

Material seized or relinquished voluntarily to the authorities during the course of this operation came from a variety of known and undisclosed sources. As a result of this evidence and investigation the New York DA's office has been able to successfully illustrate critical connections to, and between several suspects who, it is alleged, willingly facilitated the smuggling of antiquities, from Middle Eastern source countries for a share of the illegal profits.  It should be noted that while antiquities are looted from archaeological sites across the world, incidences of theft in areas of armed conflict are frequently more prevalent due to the lack of security, as was the case with this antiquity in Egypt.

Evidence related to this investigation included digital records of email correspondence which served to establish connections between suspected looters trading freely with middlemen smugglers and corrupt art dealers transacting in illicit material.  As part of the cache of evidence the DA's office also obtained financial transaction records and export documents along with photographs and videos, some of which show dirty and damaged antiquities, shortly after their immediate discovery.

Some of these photographs depict antiquities scattered on the ground. Other showed objects wrapped in newspapers, or lying on the floor in dimly lit rooms or hiding places.  Six of these images, attached to emails exchanged between suspects involved in the smuggling conspiracy, would prove integral to the coffin's restitution and were already evidence in the case long before the mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh arrived at the Met.

These photos were exchanged directly or indirectly between an initial looting suspect, a suspect in Germany and the Paris dealer the gilded coffin was shopped to.  Four of the images showed the priceless object in a newly looted state, still dirt-encrusted and laid out on top of a blanket.

Why do looters take incriminating photographs of freshly looted antiquities? 

In the underbelly of the illicit art market, authenticity brings a higher premium  than legitimacy.   Antiquities dating back a thousand years, broken into pieces, or still encrusted in soil, demonstrating the tell-tale signs of having been freshly unearthed, can be golden to a looter and enticing to the would-be unscrupulous buyer.  Antiquities depicted in such a sullied state demonstrate graphically that the object being flogged won't (usually) have an incriminating photo elsewhere, tucked away in some national ministry or museum archive.

Nor will a photo of a freshly looted antiquity raise any eyebrows during the standard sale vetting procedures which require stolen property checks with art loss databases which will have no record of the previously unknown object.  This allows those who trade in illicit antiquities to fabricate a back story that an object has been tucked away for decades in a private collection, effectively whitening the object's collection history so that it can more easily be sold on the ancient art market, at least in countries with less restrictive laws regarding the timeline of the and the rights of the unknowing good faith purchaser.

Most importantly photographic imagery of looted objects serves as visual proof to the buyer that what the seller is trying to peddle is likely to be (but not always) authentic.   And in the age of data plans and cell phones, looters are now known to snap videos of objects, even while they still rest in situ.  Passing recordings between one another, videos such as the one ARCA has archived below, serve as a record of the early stages of a looter's discovery.  Images such as these can demonstrate an  antiquity's authenticity and first steps of passage, even before it is extracted from a find site.


Start dirty but end clean (at least in appearance)...

In reconstructing the events surrounding the illegal exportation of the Egyptian mummiform coffin, researchers first had to try and trace a likely find spot for the object.  The elaborately decorated surface of the mummiform coffin depicts scenes and inscriptions, painted in thick gesso relief, to guide Nedjemankh on his journey from death to eternal life as a transfigured spirit.  Nedjemankh, was a high-ranking priest of an ancient ram-god Heryshaf, or Hershef, (Egyptian Ḥry-š=f) whose ancient cult was centered in Herakleopolis Magna, now Ihnasiyyah al-Madinah.  This location sits on the west bank of the Nile near Beni Suef, approximately 115 km south of Cairo and 120 km north of the Minya region.

In accordance with Egyptian funerary tradition of the period, the gold coffin and its now lost mummified occupant would have likely been placed in a sealed tomb, either within a burial niche or an outer sarcophagus.  Burial places for the elite that served Herakleopolis Magna during the period from the Old to Middle Kingdoms tended to be large rock-cut tombs created in the distant east bank sites of Sheikh Said and Deir el-Bersha, in the Minya Governorate in Upper Egypt.

Both of these areas have been subject to antiquities plunder, sometimes even by violent means.  As late as 2016 two guards, A'srāwy Kāmel Jād and Ali Khalaf Shāker, patrolling the tombs of Deir el-Bersha were killed when unknown assailants opened fire at them while at the site to loot archaeological material.  But in the case of the mummiform coffin, the looting seems to have taken place earlier, likely during the Arab Spring of 2011, in the midst of Egypt's political upheaval and the revolutionary period which toppled former president Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak.

Analysis of digital evidence: an increasingly important tool for solving crimes and preparing court cases

Looking to solidifying the object's illicit origin,s and the time frame for its theft, investigators worked to reconstruct the initial passage of the object's timeline with evidence obtained from the suspects' correspondence. Using the six photographs taken of the mummiform coffin and later shared between the suspected tomb pillagers, middlemen and dealers, forensic analysis of the image files allowed the DA's office to establish a timetable for when each of the photos were taken, purportedly by the freelance graverobbers or their associates.  That research concluded that each of the six photographs were snapped in either October or November 2011.  That same photo analysis geolocated where the the photographs were taken, inside Egypt. 

This evidence serves to contradict the manufactured export documentation produced by the coffin's launderers.  Works of fiction in their own right, and with striking inaccuracies and contradictions that should have been identified during the museum's due diligence process, the white-washed export documents fraudulently claimed that the sarcophagus once belonged to the Cairo merchant Habib Tawadros who purportedly sold the gilded coffin to a "Mme. Chatz" in Switzerland.

After passing from Egypt the investigation revealed that the coffin spent some time under the control of a known middleman operating in the United Arab Emirates, where the coffin was shipped after leaving Egypt and spent some time before moving on to Germany.  The coffin was then shipped from the UAE to Germany where it underwent restoration before ultimately passing on to Paris where it was viewed in person on December 2016 for consideration by Diana Craig Patch, the Lila Acheson Wallace Curator in Charge of the Department of Egyptian Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Image Credit: Ministry of Antiquities-Arab Republic of Egypt
Despite a thorough paper trail which details precisely whose hands the object passed through, there is little information, that can been revealed to the public at this time, which identifies the specific shipment methodology the smugglers used to enable the object's the illegal transboundary movements and to circumvent the objects identification when crossing various borders on its journey from the source country of Egypt through to its final European 'destination, the upscale ancient art market of Paris.

The UAE-based suspect alleged to have been involved in this transaction was already well known to illicit trafficking researchers, as the gilded coffin was not the first plundered antiquity with fraudulent documentation the middleman dealer has been connected with.  In 2008 the Iranian trader, based in Sharjah, exported a limestone head of the Assyrian king Sargon II, declaring that the object was originally from Turkey. In 2010, US Customs inspected a package transiting through Newark International Airport which the dealer had shipped sent via FedEx. That package contained five ancient Egyptian objects dating from 343 B.C., or the Late Period, to 2081 B.C., during the Middle Kingdom on route to Holyland Numismatics in the US.   Again, in this case, the dealer had listed the country of manufacture as Turkey.  In 2011, 1\\\he also exported a statue thought to represent either the goddess Demeter or her daughter Persephone, of the type only produced in Cyrenaica, ancient Libya. As with each of the previous cases, each time the dealer fraudulently issued misdeclarations, he listed the country of origin as Turkey, for objects originating from war torn countries in the Middle East though it remains unclear as to why he chose to do.

This Sharjah suspect in turn shipped the coffin on to two suspects in Germany who facilitated details of the transaction with Paris-based art dealer Christophe Kunicki, and his partner Richard Semper while the object underwent cleaning and restoration.

Thoughts on the museum's level of due diligence

In examining the provenance of the coffin, it is discouraging to note that the export documentation alone, should have given everyone who handled the object and its subsequent purchase pause, that is if they were acting in good faith and are innocent of any level of collusion.  At no point did anyone, the Sharjah dealer, the Germany-based conservator and intermediaries, Christophe Kunicki, Richard Semper, Curator Diana Patch or anyone else in the administration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art seriously question why the variously supplied export certificates, and their French and German translations, listed the issuing authority as "the Arab Republic of Egypt" and not as the "United Arab Republic".

From February 21, 1958 until the September 28, 1961 coup d’état, Egypt and Syria were a sovereign, if short lived, union known officially as the "United Arab Republic". All license applications, shipper's export declarations or export permissions would have referred to the country during this time period as the United Arab Republic (the U.A.R.) and would likely also have specified the regional territory referred to, ergo, the United Arab Republic, (Egypt Region) or the United Arab Republic (Syria Region), whichever would have been applicable to the article being shipped.  Furthermore Egypt retained the name "United Arab Republic" even after Syria's departure from the union, using it as its official name through 1971.

While I don't fault the museum's staff for their innate lack of knowledge of geography and Middle Eastern political alliances, I do fault them for not having even tried to inform themselves given the enormous price tag of this purchase, let alone the possibility that they might (again) be facilitating looting by accepting fabricated documents so readily.  A simple, proactive cross check of history books, at any point during their due diligence process, would have alerted any of the non-colluding parties that something might be afoul with the coffin's exportation documents.  That one single cross-check could have prompted appropriate law enforcement authorities to act more quickly, and would have saved the Met considerable embarrassment, as well as acquisition cash. 

Likewise, as a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), one of the museum world’s most influential professional organizations, the Met is required to abide by AAMD acquisition guidelines.  These guidelines set standards by which member museums should go about conducting due diligence when acquiring archaeological material and ancient art.

Section III A of these guidelines specifically state:

A. Member museums should thoroughly research the ownership history of a Work prior to its acquisition, including making a rigorous effort to obtain accurate written documentation with respect to its history, including import and export documents. 


Left: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Center: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Hassan Shoukry. Right: U.S. Homeland Security Investigations special-agent-in-charge Peter Fitzhugh. Image Credit NYDA's Office
Lessons learned and food for future purchasing thought

A statement from the ICOM International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods states:

“It is important that museums, libraries, archives and art dealers continue to be able to develop their collections. Nevertheless, they should ensure that their collections are built up in accordance with universally recognised moral principles. They must take precautions to ensure that they acquire or borrow only ethically acceptable items and reject items that might have been looted or illegally exported.”

Failure to have engaged in serious due diligence of this artifact caused the Metropolitan Museum of Art to suffer by their own hands.  Likewise, the eye-popping prices the museum continues to pay for suspect artifacts exacerbates the difficulties already faced by customs and law enforcement agencies in deterring the illegal trade of ancient art.

Going forward, it might be worthwhile for the Met to consider enforcing a standard which requires its staff to sign off on a document testifying that they have strongly adhered to the AAMD guidelines and ICOM's suggestions before signing any million dollar checks for acquisitions.  Failing to carry out their required duties, the museum would then have sufficient recourse for termination.

This lack of sympathy was echoed by Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent in Charge of HSI New York during the coffin's restitution ceremony, who said: 

“The high profit business of smuggling and trafficking antiquities has been around for centuries....but it is the responsibility of a buyer to confirm the proper provenance of a piece of art or antiquity."

In conclusion, prosecutors have not (yet) announced charges against any antiquities traffickers. After seven years of investigation the coffin is at last on public display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in the suburbs of Cairo until it shifts to the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), which is expected to open in 2020.  When it does, the GEM will be the largest museum dedicated to a single civilization.  I can't think of a better place for Egyptians to learn about Nedjemankh, his life in ancient Egypt.

By:  Lynda Albertson

September 17, 2019

Egyptian prosecutor requests that former honorary consul of Italy be placed on INTERPOL’s red notice list

Image Credit: https://www.radiolfc.net/tag/m-skakal/
Today, Egyptian Attorney General Nabil Ahmed Sadek ordered the arrest of Italy's former honorary consul in Luxor, Cav. Ladislav Otakar Skakal and requested that his name be placed on INTERPOL's Red notice in connection with his involvement in smuggling 21,855 artifacts from the port of Alexandria.  The objects were discovered inside a diplomatic shipping container, of the type used to transport household goods, sent through the port of Salerno in May 2017.  The mandate of the former honorary consul expired in 2014. Since then, Otakar has no longer had ties to the Italian embassy in Cairo. 

On May 25, 2018 Shaaban Abdel Gawad, who heads up Egypt's antiquities repatriation department within the Ministry of Antiquities, confirmed that the Egyptian authorities had deemed the artifacts to be authentic but the objects did not appear in any of the country's antiquities registries.  This meant that the ancient objects in the container, dating from the Predynastic to the Ptolemaic, as well as the Islamic era, had not been stolen from any known museum collection, but were likely the unrecorded finds of clandestine excavations of archaeological sites, possibly from the area near the Nile Rover city of Minya in Upper Egypt, 250 kilometers south of Cairo.  The objects were restituted to The Arab Republic of Egypt on  July 30, 2018.

Widely known as INTERPOL, the International Criminal Police Organization's colour-coded "Notices" are law enforcement communication tools used to enable INTERPOL's 194 member countries to share alerts and requests for information worldwide on missing persons, criminal activity and criminals who are believed to have fled to other jurisdictions to try to evade justice. Created to enhance worldwide police cooperation, a Yellow notice is an alert to help locate missing persons.  A Red notice is effectively a request by a member country to other countries asking for help in locating and making a provisional arrest pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action on a person wanted in a criminal matter.  No country however is obliged to act on the notice and INTERPOL itself recognizes that "each member country decides for itself what legal value to give a red notice within their borders".


Raouf Boutros Ghali who holds passports from Italy and San Marino, is the brother of the former Egyptian Minister of Finance, Youssef Botros Ghaly whose served in that role under then President Hosni Mubarak from 2004 to 2011.  He is also the nephew of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1992 to December 1996 who died in 2016.  

The Egyptian Public Prosecutor also ordered the search of the Italian defendant's residence in Cairo as well as his bank's safe deposit box.  In carrying out this search warrant, other artifacts belonging to the Egyptian civilization were subsequently seized.  

July 5, 2019

The value of a boy king in the form of the ancient Egyptian god Amen: All Sales Final

Engraving of Christie's auction Rome, "The Microcosm of London" (1808)
As the start of Christie's Exceptional Auction began on Thursday evening, the auctioneer present made an clipped announcement.  Those bidding on Lot 110, the 3000 year old Egyptian quartzite head of Tutankhamun portrayed as the god Amun, had to be registered bidders, a codicil she did not apply to other individuals bidding on remaining lots on offer last night.  Quickly, in less time than it takes a grim-faced Brit to drink a cup of tea, Christie's sold one off one of the most controversial items to pass through its doors.

The hammer price for the Egyptian head, a neat £4 million plus buyer’s premium, relevant fees. 

But this is not the only time that the firm has refused urgent appeals from source countries and concerned parties to remove items from auction.   

In one 2009 incident China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) protested the sale of a group of bronze animal heads, which once adorned a water clock fountain in the Chinese emperor's Summer Palace. These Chinese zodiac sculptures, on sale at Christie's in Paris, were part of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé.  As the auction's presale advertising began to gather momentum, it was announced that the bronzes had been plundered during the Second Opium War which pitted the United Kingdom and the French Empire against the Qing dynasty of China in 1860. 

Hinting that the failure to withdraw the objects would have “serious effects” on Christie’s interests in the pronounced concerns, the source country applied pressure for the object's restitution. When that failed to achieve any desired results, a motion was formally filed through the Association for the Protection of Chinese Art in Europe (APACE) backed by a group of signatories hoping to block the sale through legal action via through the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris. 

Unfortunately in that case, basing their decision on  French law, there were no legal measure available to the source country, so the legal case went nowhere as French law, based on Napoleonic law,  allows a purchaser to obtain valid title to stolen cultural property if said purchaser acted in good faith and exercised due diligence. Given the length of time between plunder and sale, it was determined that Pierre Bergé, as well as those who owned the artworks before him, had each acted in good faith when purchasing the Chinese booty.

Left with no other option but to buy back their own art back, Chinese art dealer Cai Mingchao purchased the statues during the auction pledging to pay some € 28,000,000 and then sabotaged the sale by refusing to pay.  Later he admitted that he had placed his bid solely “to disrupt the sale of the items.”

The fact that registered buyers now sign agreements obligating specific responsibilities when they bid appears to be the reason for Christie's announcement requiring that all bidders on Lot 110, the Egyptian disputed antiquity, be formally registered.  By doing so, it thwarted any possibility of patriotism getting in the way of payment.

In the end, Christie's made a tidy sum off of Egypt's sorrow.  By ignoring Egypt's request for information as to the object's legitimacy, it also proves that their sensitivity to a source nation's plunder and looting is far more shallow, than their client's incredibly deep pockets.

By:  Lynda Albertson



July 3, 2019

Questions for Christie's with regards to its upcoming sale of the Quartzite head of the young pharaoh portrayed as the ancient god Amun

Unpacking some miscellaneous thoughts on the upcoming Christie's sale.

@ChristiesInc does the name Heinz Herzer sound any alarms?  

What valid paperwork does the auction house in their possession which would substantiates that the quartzite head of the young pharaoh portrayed as the ancient god Amun, left Egypt legally?

Has anyone provided the auction house with shipping, storage, customs, or insurance records of any kind documenting when and how the quartzite head left Egypt, or when and how it arrived in Munich or elsewhere during its travels?


Looking over your Resandro Head Fact Sheet the first thing that draws my eyes was not the head's innate beauty but rather it once being in the possession of a specific Munich dealer, Heinz Herzer.  As a firm champion of Italy's right to the return of  the statue known as The Victorious Youth, also known as The Getty Bronze or Atleta di Fano I am all to familiar with the fact that the very illegal, proven illicitly exported statue was acquired by Heinz Herzer in 1971.  Herzer even created a publicly traded fund called Artemis S.A., specializing in art works just to sell the bronze to either Thomas Hoving, the former Director of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.or John Paul Getty for his California Museum.  


But before the statue’s sale to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Herzer’s Munich firm removed the corrosion and incrustations covering the bronze statue, meaning Herzer had knowledge of the statue’s existence during the earliest periods of its clandestine movements. 

Image Credit:  Jiri Fril
Evidence presented by the Italian state at the Tribunal in Pesaro, Italy and later at the Appellate and Supreme Court demonstrate that Artemis was created ad hoc, with the specific purpose of managing the exportation and subsequent purchase of this valuable, but illicitly smuggled statue.  As most will remember, Italy's Appellate Court, followed by its Supreme Court, ultimately affirmed that this statue was clandestinely removed from Italian territory and has issued an order for restitution of their bronze. 


But back to the Quartzite head.  Christie's documentation state that Prince William of Thurn and Taxis owned the sculpture in the 1960s and sold it to Josef Messina, the owner of Galeria Kokorian & Co., Vienna, between 1973 and 1974.  


Best I can see Galerie Kokorian & Co KG, located at Spiegelgasse 19, 1010 Wien, Austria seems to be a discretely modest paintings gallery.  An unusual place to have an Egyptian statue of this significance to say the least. 


Let's also talk about the prince for a minute.  His full name was Wilhelm Alexander Lamoral Erich Maria Josef Ignatius Von Loyola Franciscus Von Assisi Benedictus Cyrillus Quirinus.  He lived from  1919-2004.  

As a general rule, as Live Science journalist Owen Jarus stated, the prince often went by the name "Willy".  Digging through records you can find some things listed in this diminutive name which includes some generalized information about his life including his debutante ball work but nothing at all on his collecting Egyptian antiquities.  Closest he ever appears to have gotten to Italy was a brif stay in Morocco after the second World War.

There is even a strange mention of some former actress who swears that she was secretly married to him.  Her name is Ilona Medveczky.   Yet I find absolutely no mention of an art collection containing Egyptian artifacts. 

Even his grave seems to me to be a modest one....so again, I would question if he was wealthy enough to have had an important, yet for all intents and purposes, unknown, ancient art collection.  

His neice, Daria Maria Gabriele Prinzessin von Thurn und Taxis was born on 6 March 1962. She is the daughter of Franz von Assisi Prinz von Thurn und Taxis (the prince's brother) and Mafalda Theresia Franziska Josepha Maria Prinzessin von Thurn und Taxis.  She told the Live Science journalist she didn't recall her uncle having such a piece in their collection. 

Interestingly though, I find nothing linking no official sons or daughters to the prince within official peerage documents.   I did find a "Viktor" is, who is referred to in the Live Science article as Willie's son.  He lives in Vienna and goes by the simplified name of Viktor Thurn Und Taxis and manages a Vienna film company called  VTT Film Service.   Who is mother was and why he is not listed on the noble roster is a mystery to be untangled though. 

Further digging I see that the three branches of the von Thurn und Taxis family: the German, Czech and the Austrian have little or no love lost for one another.  The German branch seems to be the very very wealthy one and extremely put out by the Czech branch of the tree going so far as to file at least one lawsuit against its relatives across the border. 


But let's not stray too far from the activities of Heinz Herzer and other dealers of interesting repute in the recent past that make me speculate about the legitimacy of this stone head.   Herzer's appears to have been associated with French dealer Christophe Kunicki, who was involved in the questionable acquisition of the looted Egyptian B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh.  

Herzer's name is also connected with Serop Simonian, an art dealer of Armenian origin, born in Egypt and a resident in Germany.  Simonian's involvement in the Nedgemankh case makes for some interesting court document reading, as does the notoriety he gained with the controversy over the disputed fake/authentic Artemidorus papyrus, which sold for €2.75 million to the Compagnia San Paolo Art Foundation in Italy in 2004. 


Herzer and Serop's names both come up alongside the French dealer Christophe Kunicki via Pierre Bergé & Associés in the provenance of a 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes, which Kunicki sold to the Metropolitan Museum in 2014. This object's provenance also connects with the same Egyptian middleman, and was purportedly purchased Feb 1969 by Uwe Schnell from Heinz Herzer Gallery in Munich.


Which brings us back to Hertzer’s name in Christies Auction of a quartzite head of the young pharaoh, which portrays him as the ancient god Amun.  Lot 110, is set to be auctioned in London tomorrow in Sale 17042 on 4 July 2019.


Yet despite statements made by noble family members that they have no recollection of the object, the potential purchaser (as well as Egyptian authorities apparently) are supposed to accept the auction house’s word that due diligence has been properly and sufficiently conducted without being privy to any of the documentation Christie's used to made their determination that this stone head is fit for sale. 


Where is the paperwork provided to the auction house which fully and clearly confirms that this antiquity left Egypt legally and was once truly part of a collection of Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis?
Image Credit of Egyptian Law
Courtesy of ICOM Red List for Egypt.
If this antiquity was removed legally from its country of origin, before the effective date of Egypt’s applicable patrimony law, the seller of the object should be able to provide something tangible to substantiate that export date.


In its statements to the Press, officials from Christie's have stated "It is hugely important to establish recent ownership and legal right to sell which we have clearly done. We would not offer for sale any object where there was concern over ownership or export."

In the interest of transparency, and good faith, and with Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities making diplomatic demarches to INTERPOL, UNESCO, ICOM, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as asking Christie’s directly to provide any concrete information on the object's validity for sale on the London market, shouldn't tomorrow's pending auction be postponed until such time as the Egyptian authorities have been given the opportunity to satisfactorily review any and all related documentation that Christie's had at its disposal when making its claim that this object is licit and not illicit?   

By:  Lynda Albertson

June 28, 2019

Interview with Shaaban Abdel-Gawad - Head of the Egyptian Department of Repatriation

Shaaban Abdel-Gawad
By Edgar Tijhuis 

When a civil war starts in a country, everyone and everything pays a price, including heritage.  In response to this ARCA initiated its Minerva Scholarship in 2015 in order to allow heritage professionals from the conflict countries of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen to train with us as a means of analysing criminal behavior which affect the security of movable cultural heritage during times of conflict.  This ARCA scholarship has allowed participants from Middle East source countries to come to Amelia for ten weeks and to learn from ARCA instructors as well as share their experiences with other heritage peers.  Minerva scholar's time in Italy also serves to build capacity between source and market country experts as they also on hand to share their own very valuable insight and experience in protecting their country's heritage, oftentimes under extremely difficult conditions.  

This year, in 2019, with funding obtained through a successful crowdfunding campaign, ARCA has been able to extend its Minerva scholarship initiative to an important post-conflict country, Egypt. During our 11th year of producing training programs we are pleased to have welcomed Shaaban Abdel-Gawad, as our first Minerva scholar from Cairo. To hear more about him, and his plans during his time in Italy, I sat down with him at one of the local coffee bars in Amelia, right in front of the old Medieval gate, which overlooks some of the city's Neolithic walls which circle the old town in order to ask him a few questions about his work and career.


Can you tell me something about your work in Egypt?

In Egypt, I am the head of the antiquities repatriation department. The department was founded in 2002 and I have been the department's head for the last four years. Since the start in 2002 over 10.000 pieces have been repatriated, most of them in the last four years. We work in different ways to achieve these results and to protect our heritage as best as possible. First of all, we collaborate with the authorities in market countries, for example through bilateral agreements like the 2010 agreement with Switzerland concerning the illicit import and transit of antiquities.  Also through the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the United States, the first of its kind for the US with a Middle Eastern country. Under these agreements and other bilateral and formal agreements we have also collaborated with Italy, France, Switzerland, Spain, and the UAE, and when objects are seized abroad, we check all documents and decide what can and should be done.


Images of the sarcophagus recovered from Kuwait in 2018
Furthermore, we have several officers who systematically scan all planned sales of all major auction houses, online platforms like Ebay, Facebook and other channels that can be used to sell antiquities these days.  Online we find many fakes, but between all the fakes, there are also real antiquities that are sold illegally. An example of this is the case of the relic that was recently offered for sale at a London auction. The relic — a tablet carved with the cartouche of King Amenhotep I — has been recovered by Egypt, after the websites of international auction halls were scoured.


Can you tell me more about the rules concerning antiquities from Egypt?

Tablet from Saqqara recovered from Switzerland
Well, one needs to go back in time a bit to at least 1911. * In that year the first Egyptian law on antiquities was adopted. It said, among other things, that foreign excavation missions could take half of the excavated objects out of Egypt. In 1951, a new law was adopted. ** Under this law export licences were required for every single object leaving Egypt and unique objects were never allowed to leave the country. Finally, in 1983 the current antiquities law was introduced. Under this law, antiquities cannot be exported anymore from Egypt.***

The coffin of Nedjemankh is a gilded ancient Egyptian coffin
from the late Ptolemaic Period (First Century B.C.E) .
Are there any recent examples of repatriation of antiquities to Egypt? 

There are many and I will mention a few. After the relic in London in January of this year, we had the case of the gold-sheathed coffin from the 1st century BC. It was recovered in the United States where it had become part of the collection of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. According to a statement by the museum which purchased the coffin, inscribed with the name Nedjemankh, a priest of the ram-god Heryshef, in July 2017. Per the investigative work of the Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, the museum learned that it had received a false ownership history, fraudulent statements, and fake documentation, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license for the coffin. The museum handed the coffin over to the authorities after evidence showed that it was looted from Egypt in 2011.

In February of this year, another case was handled by Shaaban. Egypt’s embassy in Amsterdam received a 2500-2000 B.C.E Pharaonic limestone statue of a standing man with hieroglyphic marks on the right arm.  The object had been consigned to an auction house in the Netherlands and was scheduled to be sold at the European Fine Art Fair in Amsterdam.  The Ministry of Antiquities, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, succeeded in proving Egypt’s ownership of the archaeological piece and its illegal removal from the Saqqara area of Egypt sometime in the 1990s.

This month, in an important case which is still developing, the Egyptian authorities are working to stop the auction of a quartzite sculpture of Tutankhamun through Christie’s auction house in London.  This important piece is scheduled to go up for bidding in early July and the Egyptian authorities have raised concerns that the object may have been stolen, possibly from Karnak, an extraordinary complex developed over more than 1,000 years ago made up of sanctuaries, temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings near Luxor. 

While it remains uncertain whether the Egyptian authorities will be able to successfully claim the object back, Shaaban and his team are diligently pursuing leads and have pointedly asked the auction house to provide the Egyptian authorities with all of the documentation they were given by the consignor in furtherance of the sale.

So far Christie's has continued to state the object is legitimate but has withheld the requested documentation.

Tablet recovered from Australia
How did you hear about ARCA and the Minerva Scholarship? 

When I was in Sudan for an UNESCO workshop Effective implementation of the 1970 Convention for the prevention of illicit traffic of cultural property and of the UNESCO 2015 Recommendation on museums and collections in the Cluster countries I met Samer Abdel Ghafour. Samer completed the ARCA program in 2015 as a Minerva scholar from Syria before moving on to consult with the UNESCO Secretariat within the Section for Movable Heritage and Museums, at the Unit for the 1970 Convention. So I applied and in the end was chosen to come to Italy.

From Cairo to Amelia, that must be a big change….

Yes, it surely is. Cairo is a city with around 20 million inhabitants and Amelia a little town. But actually, I grew up in a village in Egypt and worked a lot at archaeological sites outside the cities. Italian life is Mediterranean, and in many ways similar to our culture in Egypt. The people in Amelia are very friendly and welcoming, and they ‘talk with their hands’ like we do in Egypt. There is even an Egyptian shop in Amelia! Furthermore, I enjoy the company of the ARCA staff and my fellow participants in the program, who come from all over the world. I think it’s great that this special town was chosen to host the program.

Do you see any similarities between Italy and Egypt? 

Yes, there are some interesting parallels between our countries. While we are both source countries of antiquities, we also play a role in educating other countries. We have helped countries like Libya, Uzbekistan, China, Yemen and Iraq to deal with the problem of antiquities looting. And we have seized objects from Italy in Egypt, as well as objects from several other countries that went through Egypt as a transit country.

What do you expect to learn during the program? 

I expect to learn how other countries work in this field, learn more about the laws regulating the antiquities trade and establish an international network for the future.

Ancient model of a boat, 2000 BC, recovered from Italy
More about Minerva Scholarships….

ARCA's Minerva scholarship is set aside to equip source country professionals with the knowledge and tools needed to build or improve heritage protection capacity at their home institutions and to advance the education of future generations. Scholarships are awarded through an open, merit-based competition, subject to available funding.

Accepted candidates must be able to speak and write, in English, at a university level proficiency. Those who do not, cannot be considered as all courses are taught in English. Beneficiaries of the Minerva will be granted a full tuition waiver to ARCA’s intensive professional development postgraduate program which runs annually in Amelia, Italy.

For further information about this multidisciplinary program and/or to request a prospectus/Minerva application form please if you are from a conflict or post conflict country, please write to us in English at education @ artcrimeresearch.org.

* Finalized on 12/6/1912 Law nr. 14 established that all antiquities found in Egypt belonged to the State, and forbade the selling of them, unless they were already part of a collection or coming from legal excavations, recognised by the State.  This law prohibited the export of antiquities from Egypt to other countries, except through a special license which only the Antiquities Department was entitled to grant or withhold.  This article further stipulated that any antiquity, illicitly removed from the territory was subject to seizure and confiscation. 

**Finalized on 31/10/51 Law nr. 215 amended by laws nr. 529 of 1953 and nr. 24 of 1965 enacted provisions which made penalties harsher for the theft and smuggling of antiquities. The law prohibited taking antiquities out of Egypt unless there were multiple items similar to them, and then solely with the approval of the Department of Antiquities, who meeting by a committee formed of museum personnel in the presence of a representative of the department of customs, could issued a license approving an object's exportation.  Failure to have obtained such a license implies that the antiquity in question was stolen or smuggled from Egypt.

***Enacted 06/08/1983 Law nr. 117 of 1983, emended in 2003 abolished completely all export of antiquities outside of Egypt.


Edgar Tijhuis is Academic Director at ARCA and visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Since 2009, Edgar Tijhuis has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program

February 20, 2019

Egypt-Italy Antiquities Smuggling Case: Detention extended for Raouf Boutros Ghali


As reported on February 14, 2019 Egypt's Prosecutor General, Nabil Sadek, previously ordered 15 days of precautionary custody pending an investigation for Raouf Boutros Ghali for his alleged involvement in the trafficking of 23,000 ancient bronze and silver coins and 195 archaeological finds from Egypt to Italy which were seized by Italian authorities in Salerno in 2017. 

Yesterday, the Egyptian government, via the third chamber of the Cairo Criminal Court, led by Counselor Mohamed Mahmoud El Shorbagy met for a preliminary hearing.  During that judicial session the court decided to extended the defendant's detention for 45 days in order to allow more time for a detailed investigation into the alleged offense.   





February 18, 2019

Arrests made in charges of smuggling Egyptian antiquities in diplomatic bags to Italy


On March 14, 2018 Italy's Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, better known as the Carabinieri T.P.C., informed the Egyptian embassy in Rome that during a routine customs inspection in May 2017, law enforcement officials from the TPC, in collaboration with the officials of the Customs Agency and the local Superintendency, had seized a reported 23,700 archaeological finds, all of which were believed to have come from ancient Egypt. The stash had been discovered inside a diplomatic shipping container, sent through the port of Salerno of the type used to transport household goods.


The Italian authorities shared that information with their Egyptian colleagues, including photos of the seized artefacts and promised to provide further clarification regarding the date and place of shipment, as well as details on the sender and the receiver, as soon as it was possible, when the disclosure wouldn't hamper their ongoing investigation.  To determine the objects' authenticity, the Egyptian authorities formed a specialized committee to examine pictures of the seized objects and to ensure that the artifacts were authentic.  If they were, their next step was to try to understand where they came from.


When the news of the antiquities seizure hit the press wires, little information was released to the public.  It was only stated that the haul came from a shipment of items belonging to an unnamed diplomat.  As tensions grew between the two states, on May 24, 2018, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry made a formal announcement,  denying that the seized container belonged to anyone affiliated with the Egyptian embassy or authorities in Italy.

On May 25, 2018 Shaaban Abdel Gawad, who heads up Egypt's antiquities repatriation department within the Ministry of Antiquities, confirmed that the Egyptian authorities had deemed the artifacts to be authentic but the objects did not appear in any of the country's registries.  This meant that the ancient objects, dating from the Predynastic to the Ptolemaic, as well as the Islamic era, had not been stolen from any known museum collection, and likely were the unrecorded finds of clandestine excavations of archaeological sites in Egypt.

The objects were believed to have come from an area on the edge of the western desert in the Minya province, located in central Egypt, 250 km south of Cairo.  This artifact rich area is known to have ancient catacombs that date back to the late pharaonic period, which spans from 664 to 332 BCE.  The area has also been the subject to plunder and looting, which intensified after the country's revolution in 2011.

This confirmation by the Egyptian authorities put to rest early speculation in the press that these objects might have come from the Sinai region, an area where jihadist groups affiliated to ISIS had spread.  After the artefacts' authenticity was confirmed, the General Prosecutor's Office in Cairo sent letters rogatory to Italy requesting formal assistance in early June 2018.


On June 27, 2018 at the headquarters of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Salerno, Dr. Corrado Lembo and the Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, returned  a total of circa 23,000 ancient bronze and silver coins and 195 archaeological finds, including funerary masks decorated in gold, a sarcophagus, a "Boat of the Dead" with 40 oarsmen, amphorae, pectoral paintings, wooden sculptures, bronzes, and ushabti statuettes.  These items were handed over to Egyptian Ambassador, HE Hesham Badr, Professor Mohamed Ezzat, Senior Coordinator at the International Cooperation Administration of the General Prosecutor's Office, and Professor Moustafa Waziry, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities for the Republic of Egypt.  


On February 14, 2019 Egypt's Prosecutor General, Nabil Sadek, ordered 15 days of precautionary custody pending investigation for Raouf Boutros Ghali for his alleged involvement in the trafficking of the Egyptian artifacts which had been seized in Salerno.  Raouf Boutros Ghali, who holds passports from Italy and San Marino, is the brother of the former Egyptian Minister of Finance, Youssef Botros Ghaly whose served in that role under then President Hosni Mubarak from 2004 to 2011.  He is also the nephew of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1992 to December 1996 who died in 2016. The Boutros-Ghali family are Coptic Christians with deep roots in Egypt's old aristocracy.


The prosecutor general in Egypt has also ordered the freezing assets attributed to the former honorary consul of Italy in Luxor, Cav. Ladislav Otakar Skakal.  Skakal, who now lives in Rome, is believed to have been the unnamed Italian diplomat whose name was attributed to the seized cargo.  Egyptian authorities have also placed financial constraints on the liquidation of assets on Medhat Michel Girgis Salib, and his wife Sahar Zaki Ragheb. Egyptian news articles state that Salib is the owner of a shipping company.