Showing posts with label New York. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York. Show all posts

August 11, 2020

Dying to get away with it: How one defendant's death may thwart justice for the people of Cambodia, Thailand, and India

Douglas Latchford's Facebook page photo
on 9 November 2017, two years
before he was indicted in the USA
Wire fraud,
smuggling,
conspiracy to commit wire fraud,
conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States,
and entry of goods by means of false statements.

These were the five related charges pertaining to the trafficking in stolen and looted antiquities that art expert Douglas A. J. Latchford, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak” had been charged with in the 26-page indictment unsealed by the Department of Justice's U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York last November.  But since deceased persons cannot be prosecuted, the charges against Latchford will likely be dismissed by the court, once his death certificate, attesting to his demise on 2 August 2020, has been submitted to the court through his defense counsel.

Before the investigation into the smuggling and illicit sale of priceless antiquities from Cambodia, Thailand and India cast a long shadow over Latchford's activities, he was once considered a highly respected sponsor in museum circles, a person above reproach.  As such, his donations to the National Museum of Phnom Penh earned him a knighthood with the Royal Order of Saha Metrey Thnak Thib Badin, by the government of the Kingdom of Cambodia, an honor conferred with an award brooch, pinned primarily on foreigners who have rendered distinguished services to the King and to the people of Cambodia.

Apparently unaware of Latchford's role in plundering, Hab Touch, then Director General of the Department General of Cultural Affairs, now Secretary of State and high representative of Phoeurng Sackona, Minister of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in Cambodia once said of Latchford:

“His gifts are very important because these artifacts teach the Cambodian people about their history...We hope his generosity will set a good example for others.”

Other pieces acquired directly or indirectly through Latchford's network also dotted collections at many important art institutions, where, at the time of their acquisitions, questions of provenance didn't seem to bother the museum's renowned curators.

Latchford is known to have donated at least seven objects to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York including the Kneeling Attendants (restituted), the stone head of a Buddha, and the bronze head of a Shiva, both from the 10th-century Khmer Angkor period.  He also donated four statues to the Denver Art Museum.

Other Latchford pieces found their way through direct or indirect sales and donations to US collections at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, the Denver Art Museum and the Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth.  Yet, Latchford's purported acts of generosity were not just for USA museums' benefit.  His hands also touched objects lent to the Berlin Museum for Ancient Art and to the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam.

By 2012, the tracks of the looters of the tenth-century site of Koh Ker lead repeatedly to Latchford.  Identified in a civil lawsuit as a middleman in the trafficking of looted Khmer sculptures from “an organized looting network,” he was alleged to have conspired with the London auction house Spink & Son Ltd., to obtain false export permits for the temple antiquities he brokered.

Some of the incriminating evidence against the dealer relates to a series of brazenly written emails.  One sent on 23 April 2007,  which left little to no doubt about Latchford's level of direct involvement and knowledge in transnational criminal activity against cultural artifacts.

Douglas Latchford's Facebook
photo on 28 October 2017,
two years before he was
indicted in the USA
In that email, Latchford is reported to have written:

"Hold on to your hat, just been offered this 56 cm Angkor Borei Buddha, just excavated, which looks fantastic. It’s still across the border, but WOW.”

Attached to the same brazen email was a photograph.  It depicted a freshly (and clandestinely) excavated standing Buddha statue, still freshly covered in dirt. 

A Manhattan DA's complaint also asserted that Latchford contrived to traffic in antiquities that coinvolved another ancient art dealer under investigation, Nancy Wiener. Citing another email seized by investigators, Latchford reportedly told Weiner that he would give bronze statues to his colleague Emma C. Bunker, in exchange for false provenance.  Sadly, and as if facilitating the plunder of Cambodia and Thailand were not enough, Latchford is known to have purchased, a Chandrasekara Shiva, a Chola bronze idol, stolen from the Sripuranthan temple in Ariyalur district of Tamil Nadu through another bad actor in the art market, dealer Subash Kapoor,

The same Emma C. Bunker worked closely with Latchford writing three seminal volumes on the art of the Khmer people: “Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art,” “Khmer Gold,” and “Khmer Bronzes.”  Flipping through each of these image-heavy books one can easily understand the pathway to profit involving the plundered and missing cultural patrimony of Cambodia.

Asked in a 2014 interview, who held most of the orphan artworks depicted in the books, Latchford was cagey.  He answered saying they were held by collectors who trusted him to keep their identities confidential, leaving many unanswered questions that this dealer now takes to his grave, as sadly, dead men tell no tales.

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 7, 2020

Ashraf Omar Eldarir, A US Citizen, indicted for smuggling Egyptian antiquities


The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (HSI) - Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities (CPAA) unit within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has formally released information related to an antiquities trafficking investigation underway in the Eastern District of New York.  The case involves Ashraf Omar Eldarir, a US Citizen residing in Brooklyn who has been charged with smuggling Egyptian antiquities into the United States.

Stopped on 22 January 2020 upon arrival to John F. Kennedy International Airport from overseas, Eldarir provided US Customs and Border Protection authorities at the U.S. port of entry with a CBP declaration form, the double-sided slip of paper everyone entering the US must complete and hand over to  U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon arrival declaring the value of the goods they are bringing in from overseas.  On this form, Eldarir declared that he was only carrying merchandise and agricultural products valued at $300.  Instead, upon inspection of his belonging by CBP personnel, Eldarir was found to be transporting three suitcases full of bubble and foam-wrapped packages.

When unwrapped for further inspection by border patrol agents, the packages were found to contain 590 ancient artifacts, some of which still had adhering sand and soil, a signal which betrays their having been recently excavated.  Questioned by the authorities about the contents of his luggage, Eldarir was unable to produce any documentation which would show that he had obtained authorization from the Egyptian authorities for the exportation of the objects he was transporting.

As a result, Eldarir was subsequently arrested on 28 February 2020 and charged in the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, on two counts of smuggling, under Title 18 U.S. Code § 545, 2 and 3551 et seq. According to the U.S. Department of Justice indictment, the first charge of smuggling is related to the aforementioned January 2020 seizure.   The second charge us related to an earlier trip, on 18 April 2019, where the defendant is alleged to have smuggled a single artefact from Egypt.

If convicted of one, or both charges, Eldarir will face a penalty of up to 20 years in prison for each count.   The United States will also seek forfeiture of the following antiquities in accordance with: (a) Title 18, United States Code, Section 982(a)(2)(B):

  • forty-one (41) ancient Egyptian gold artifacts;
  • nineteen (19) ancient coins;
  • two (2) Greco-Roman rings;
  • thirty-one (31) ancient Egyptian talismans (Ptolemaic period);
  • fourteen (14) ancient beads;
  • twenty-six (26) ancient Egyptian wooden figures;
  • four hundred (400) ancient Egyptian faience ushabtis;
  • three (3) ancient Egyptian wooden panels with painted figures;
  • one ( I ) ancient Egyptian large stone face;
  • two (2) Egyptian wooden masks;
  • two (2) Egyptian stone panels with hieroglyphics; 
  • three (3) ancient Egyptian canopic jar lids;
  • two (2) ancient Greco-Roman stela;
  • one (1) ancient Greco-Roman terracotta headless torso with robes;
  • seven (7) ancient Greco-Roman terracotta statues; 
  • three (3) ancient Egyptian large terracotta vases; 
  • two (2) Egyptian smalIterracotta vases;
  • two (2) Egyptian alabaster artifacts;
  • two (2) ancient Egyptian Osiris headpieces/crowns; 
  • twenty-six (26) ancient Greco-Roman oil lamps; 
  • one (1) Greco-Roman terracotta pilgrim's flask;
  • one (1) ancient Egyptian polychrome relief.
How long Mr. Eldarir has been at this remains to be disclosed. But these pieces are just the tip of a growing iceberg.  


On 1 May 2013 it seems that Eldarir sold four Egyptian limestone relief fragments for Wahibrenebahet through Bonhams in London for €31,766 claiming they were from his personal collection, inherited through his grandfather who was a friend of Prince of Egypt Omar Tosson.  Curious as to what proof of export he showed then. 


He also sold a Limestone Relief Fragment for £28,750 via Alexander Biesbroek.  Same provenance, same question as to what proof of export Mr. Biesbroek or his buyer reviewed. 





And that's not all, there's more to come.  

Caveat Emptor

My suggestion is for every ancient art dealer or collector who has a piece with Eldarir provenance (and likely nothing to prove its legitimacy aside from its laundering) should really consider contacting HSI's Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities (CPAA) unit.  They know how to google things as well as I do, and contacting them first might save you from embarrassing seizures, and no one wants that now. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 1, 2020

Auction House Seizure: A Roman marble portrait head of the Emperor Septimius Severus, circa 200 CE seized at Christie's

Image Left:  Christie's Catalogue where the stolen sculpture was identified.
Image Right:  Showroom image of the stolen head of Emperor Septimius Severus

An ancient Roman marble head was seized on the basis of a search warrant requested by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office on June 24th at Christie’s auction house based on evidence provided by the Italian Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, attesting that the portrait bust had been stolen from Italy in on 18 November 1985 before eventually landing in New York.  Taken at gunpoint from the Antiquarium of the Campanian Amphitheatre in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, in the Province of Caserta, situated 25 km north of Naples in southern Italy.  The sculpture depicts Septimius Severus who served as Roman emperor from 193 to 211 CE. 

The antiquity was published in Christie's 28 October 2019 catalogue Faces of the Past - Ancient Sculpture from the Collection of Dr. Anton Pestalozzi which included two pages describing the biography of the Roman Emporer and the object's comparable likeness to other portraits of Severus in the Serapis-type style, including one at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Denmark.

For the object's provenance, Christie's stated:

◘ with Jean-Luc Chalmin, London

◘ with Galerie Arete, Zurich, acquired from the above, 1993

◘ Dr. Anton Pestalozzi (1915-2007), Zurich, acquired from the above, thence by descent to the current owner. 

According to Roman Historian Cato the Elder the site at Ancient Capua where the object originates was founded by the Etruscans around 800 BCE and is remembered most for being the site where slaves and gladiators led by the legendary Spartacus revolted 73 BCE. 

While details on this particular investigation have not yet been released to the public, one of the troubling aspects in this case - of which there are many - and the most disturbing perhaps, is the failure of anyone whose hands this object passed through to have properly investigated the provenance of this portrait head.  No one, from Jean-Luc Chalmin, to Hans Humbel at Galerie Arete to the Zurich-based lawyer-collector Dr. Anton Pestalozzi ever bothered to ascertain by reasonable inquiry that the person from whom they had obtained the artifact had the legal right to possess it.

Amphitheater Campano Santa Maria Capua Vetere
On the bright side, this third object seizure in a span of weeks should send an important message to the auction powerhouse, as well as to dealers who profit from the sales of illicit material, that the Antiquities Trafficking Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the US and Italian authorities are committed to protecting cultural heritage around the world.

Update:  A second artefact, stolen during this same armed robbery, a head portrait depicting the beloved elder sister of Roman Emperor Trajan, Ulpia Marciana (August 48 – 112) was recovered, twenty-five years ago, ten years after the theft.

April 11, 2020

Christie's admits to failing to register to collect New York and local sales tax despite legal obligation to do so


The tax collectors, unsigned
Oil on panel : 78,2 X 100 cm, 16th century
In a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, the auction powerhouse Christie's has agreed to pay up to $16.7 million in sales tax, penalties and interest over a two-year period to the state of New York.  The firms unlucky legal happenstance has been brought about by failing to register, and to collect, New York and local sales between 2013 to 2017 despite a legal obligation to do so. 

In a statement released by the New York District Attorney's Office, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Roberts Vance, Jr, praised his office's tax probe saying: “Thanks to our unique expertise and our prosecutors’ hard work, the Manhattan D.A.’s Office is again delivering millions of dollars in badly-needed revenue to the people of New York.”  In addition to thanking his team, Vance thanked  the New York State Department of Taxation & Finance, the City of London Police Department, and DANY Supervising Rackets Investigator Matthew Winters who is embedded overseas. 

While shaving a little bit here and there on taxes is without a question a known problem in the art market, this instance is a bit different that when the average schnook, agrees to participate in a so called "box trick" scam to cheat on his taxes.   In that practice a vendor, knowing that he does not need to collect sales tax on sales purchases when the object being bought is to be shipped out of state,  agrees, and sometimes even suggests, that he can whittle the price of the object down by fudging the books a bit.  To do so, the vendor agrees to allow the purchaser to take the artwork home, while documenting the sale as out of state, shipping an empty box to an address outside the state where the purchaser resides. 

Back in 2004 then contemporary art consultant Thea Westreich and her former New York company, Art Advisory Services, Inc., pled guilty to filing a false business tax return and failing to collect New York City sales tax on $5 million worth of art over a four-year period, and was sanctioned with a $250,000 fine as well as the back taxes. 

But Christie's evasion problem was more extensive. 

According to the Deferred Prosecution Agreement, Christie’s London, Christie’s Private Sales and other affiliated Christie’s entities admitted to:

failing to register to collect and to collect New York and local sales tax between 2013 to 2017 on purchases made in and/or delivered to New York despite having a legal obligation to do so. In addition, Christie’s Private Sales also admitted that once certain employees finally determined in 2015 that the entity had an outstanding obligation to register to collect and to collect New York sales tax with the New York State Department of Taxation & Finance (“NYS Tax”), it failed to register the entity to collect tax with NYS Tax because of the perceived audit risk. Subsequently, Christie’s Private Sales began collecting sales tax from its customers without registering, and Christie’s New York, who were long registered to collect sales tax in New York, falsely reported and remitted this sales tax to NYS Tax as its own.

Sales taxes are big bucks for most states, and in some, like New York, they can be the second-largest source of revenue.  For this reason this kind of tax avoidance has serious consequences. 

March 13, 2020

Supreme Court Decision on the Legal Status of Famous Picasso Painting

On March 2, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a case disputing who should own the Pablo Picasso masterwork, “The Actor,” created around 1904-05.  The painting was once owned by Jewish industrialist Paul Leffmann, who sold the artwork under duress for $12,000 in 1938, after leaving Germany in 1937 in order to fund his move from Italy to Switzerland. At the time in history, Italy was ruled by Benito Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship.

ARCA extends its thanks the Holocaust Art Restitution Project  who continue to follow cases like this, as well as all the lawyers who worked on legal aspects of the case.  Each remind us that we need to continue to try to right the wrongs of the past and where possible consider the lingering and painful effects of the horrific circumstances faced by individuals like the Leffmanns under the Nazi and Fascist regimes. 

With the Supreme Court's decision, Paul Leffmann's great-grand-niece has no other recourse tham to visit her family's painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 


February 2, 2020

Supreme Court Asked to Consider Legal Status of Famous Picasso Painting

A petition for writ of certiorari has been filed asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling dismissing a case against New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for the return of a Pablo Picasso masterwork, “The Actor,” created around 1904-05.

Jewish refugee Paul Leffmann sold the painting under duress in 1938, because of Nazi and Fascist persecution, when he and his wife Alice, having already escaped Germany, sought to flee a fast-Nazifying Italy. The purchasers were art dealer Hugo Perls and Pablo Picasso’s own dealer Paul Rosenberg, a French art dealer who represented Picasso, Georges Braque and Henri Matisse.

Not satisfied with an appellate court decision affirming the dismissal of the family’s claim to the painting as having been filed too late, Laurel Zuckerman, Paul Leffmann's great grand-niece, through her attorneys, has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case.  The Supreme Court grants around 100 of the 7,000+ petitions it gets each year, focusing on cases of national significance,or  those which might harmonize conflicting decisions in the federal Circuit courts. 

According to Zuckerman’s petition, her case raises an issue of nationwide importance concerning the HEAR Act: whether, “despite the introduction of a nationwide statute of limitations designed to revive Holocaust-era restitution claims,” the Act still allows the laws of each of the 50 states to declare a claim untimely, and to thereby put up additional roadblocks to the very Holocaust era claims Congress encouraged under the HEAR Act. 

Zuckerman, representing the estate of Alice Leffmann, had sued the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016, asserting in court papers that the museum does not hold good title to the painting because the businessman was forced to sell this artwork at a low price, under pressure, in order to finance their flight from Italy given the actions of the Nazi-allied Mussolini-led government and anti-jewish climate at the time in Western Europe.  The Nazis had already stripped the Leffmans of their home and business. Having lost in the district court, the case was then brought up on appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

The appellate court agreed that the case was properly dismissed. 

The appellate court's ruling noted that the federal Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016 (known as the HEAR Act), designed to help facilitate the recovery of art and other prized possessions unlawfully lost because of Nazi persecution, needs to provide “some measure of justice, even if incomplete,” to the victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs.  However, the court sided with the New York museum stating that it would be unfair for the Metropolitan to relinquish the Picasso, given the "unreasonable" delay in demanding its return.  The appellate court noted: "This is not a case where the identity of the buyer was unknown to the seller or the lost property was difficult to locate." 

The cert petition to the U.S. Supreme Court raises two challenges to the appellate court ruling. First, “whether the nonstatutory defense of laches may bar an action to recover artwork lost because of Nazi persecution, where that action has been brought within the statute of limitations prescribed by Congress” in the HEAR Act. And second, whether a case can be dismissed so early without a factual exploration of the laches defense urging undue delay raised by the Museum. 

Zuckerman is represented by Mary- Christine SUNGAILA, Will Feldman, and Marco Pulido at Haynes and Boone, LLP, in the case before the Supreme Court.  Zuckerman was represented in the trial court and continues to be represented on appeal by Lawrence Kaye, Howard Spiegler, Ross Hirsch, and Yael Weitz of Herrick, Feinstein LLP.

November 27, 2019

"Hold on to your hat": Antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak”

Looted Cambodian art for sale by Douglas Latchford
Image Credit:  US DOJ
In a case being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Feinstein, in the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit, prominent 88-year-old British art collector and dealer Douglas A.J. Latchford has been indicted in the US Federal Court of the Southern District of New York.  The charges against the Bangkok-based dealer include "wire fraud, smuggling, conspiracy and related charges pertaining to his trafficking in stolen and looted Cambodian antiquities."

Latchford in his home standing next to
a Chola period (880 - 1279) Somaskanda from Tamil Nadu
For 50 years Latchford has been considered one of the world’s leading authorities on Asian Art, and at one point was believed to be the biggest single contributor to the National Museum of Cambodia, one of the very countries outlined in the indictment unsealed today at the US Federal Courthouse in Manhattan.  According to the prosecution, Latchford is believed to have been a major stakeholder, acting as a cross-border conduit in an multi-billion dollar cultural property network which trafficked in plundered artifacts from Southeast Asia to some of the most important galleries, auction houses, and museums in the western world charging him with conspiracy to smuggle, false import statements, wire fraud, and the illicit transport and sale of stolen cultural property.

According to the US indictment it is alleged that "from at least in or about 2000, up to and including at least in or about 2012, Latchford engaged in a fraudulent scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market, including to dealers and buyers in the United States."

The statue of warrior Duryodhana, which once graced the cover of Sotheby’s Asia Week catalog was returned to Cambodia.  In situ, this warrior was one of two matching statues facing each other in a rendition of the great Hindu epic the Mahabharata. 
Included in that list of fraudulent activity is involvement in the illicit removal and sale of the Angkorian sandstone statues stolen from Prasat Chen, the most northern sanctuary in the remote Koh Ker temple complex in Northern Cambodia.  Koh Ker (Khmer: ប្រាសាទកោះកេរ្ដិ៍) sits 120 kilometres northeast of Siem Reap and was briefly the capital of the Khmer kingdom from 928 to 944 CE.

In 2012, Latchford was already identified in a civil lawsuit, as a middleman in the trafficking of looted Khmer sculptures from “an organized looting network” and said to have conspired with the London auction house Spink & Son Ltd., to obtain false export permits for the sandstone temple antiquities.

Some of the incriminating evidence against the dealer related to charges against him include a brazenly written email sent on/about April 23, 2007, which leaves little to no  doubt about the dealer's level of direct involvement and knowledge in transnational criminal activity against cultural artifacts.  Attached to this email was a photograph of a freshly (and clandestinely) excavated standing Buddha statue, still covered in dirt.  In that email, Latchford is reported as having written "Hold on to your hat, just been offered this 56 cm Angkor Borei Buddha, just excavated, which looks fantastic. It’s still across the border, but WOW.”

It should be noted that by 1996, Cambodia had already enacted its overarching Law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage, which criminalizes both the unauthorized excavation, looting, and unauthorized export of antiquities, defining "movable cultural property found by chance" to be public property. This law, known colloquially as "the 1996 Law" remains in effect and is the relevant governing law, supported by a number of decrees, sub-decrees, and regulations.  Cambodia further demonstrates its determination to protect its cultural heritage by being a signatory to the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (joined 1962); the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import (joined 1972); the World Heritage Convention (joined 1991); the Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (joined 2002), and the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (joined 2007).

As part of the present indictment Latchford is also alleged to have created "false letters of provenance and false invoices" misrepresenting the nature, age, country of origin, and/or the value  of an antiquity in order to conceal the illicit nature of the objects he brokered.  It should also be mentioned that he is also mentioned obliquely, though not directly named, as Co-Conspirator #1, in the criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan district attorney against Nancy Wiener, and several co-conspirators in December 2016.

In that New York criminal complaint co-conspirator #1 (Latchford)

  • allegedly is an antiquities dealer based in London and Bangkok
  • allegedly entered into an agreement with Nancy Wiener to purchase and sell a looted Baphuon Shiva from Cambodia, dated to the 11th Century C.E
  • allegedly shipped the Baphuon Shiva to London to be “cleaned, put together, and mounted.”
  • allegedly sold Nancy Wiener a bronze Buddha sitting on a throne of Naga stolen from Thailand or Cambodia, dated to the 10th Century C.E.
  • allegedly falsified provenance along with Nancy Wiener and Co-conspirator 2 for the bronze Buddha sitting on a throne of Naga stolen from Thailand or Cambodia, dated to the 10th Century C.E.
  • allegedly is a male 
  • allegedly admitted in email that he gave Co-Conspirator #2 bronze statues in exchange for false letters of provenance
  • allegedly purchased the Krishna Dancing on Kaliya from Subhash Kapoor
  • allegedly colluded with Nancy Wiener to create appraisal report for the Krishna Dancing on Kaliya 
Evidence collected in both cases illustrate a textbook formula of how looted antiquities are laundered onto the licit art market through poor controls and a lack of ethics and transparency among the major dealers working at the highest levels of the ancient art market.

Note: the charges contained in the US indictment are merely accusations and the defendant should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  For now Latchford, in purportedly poor health, remains at large in Bangkok, though it should be noted that the USA & Thailand signed an agreement on December 14, 1983 in which Article 2 permits extradition for any offense punishable under the laws of both States by imprisonment for more than one year.  By unsealing this indictment, it seems that the US intends to bring Latchford to the US, despite his reported ill health, to stand trial.

In conclusion, ARCA has elected to transcribe the entire SD/NY statement below, to make it searchable by future scholars conducting open source research on known/suspected traffickers.

----------


Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Peter C. Fitzhugh, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced today the unsealing of an indictment charging antiquities dealer DOUGLAS LATCHFORD, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak”— with wire fraud, smuggling, conspiracy and related charges pertaining to his trafficking in stolen and looted Cambodian antiquities.  LATCHFORD remains at large, residing in Thailand.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “As alleged, LATCHFORD built a career out of the smuggling and illicit sale of priceless Cambodian antiquities, often straight from archeological sites, in the international art market. This prosecution sends a clear message to the art market and to those who profit from the illegal trafficking of cultural treasures: the United States and the Southern District of New York will use every legal tool to stop the plundering of cultural heritage.”

HSI Special Agent in Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh said:  “The theft and trafficking of cultural property and priceless national treasures is a global concern. Historical artifacts are living sources of knowledge, objects of worships, and symbols of hope that must be safe guarded for future generations.  Through the investigative efforts of HSI special agents, three stolen artifacts from Cambodia and another from India, valued at a total of $750,000, were successfully recovered and will be returned to their rightful homeland.  In addition, an alleged major player in a multi-billion dollar cultural property transnational criminal network was identified and revealed.   Working hand in hand with our partners at the United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, HSI will not waiver in its commitment to stopping the illicit distribution of cultural property, both domestically and abroad.”

According to the allegations in the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:

Background on Looting of Cambodian Antiquities

From the mid-1960s until the early 1990s, Cambodia experienced continuous civil unrest and regular outbreaks of civil war.  During these times of extreme unrest, Cambodian archeological sites from the ancient Khmer Empire, such as Angkor Wat and Koh Ker, suffered serious damage and widespread looting. This looting was widely publicized and well-known to participants in the international art market.

Looted artifacts usually entered the international art market through an organized looting network.  Local looters, often working with local military personnel, would remove statues and architectural elements from their original locations, sometimes breaking and damaging the antiquities in the process of excavation and transportation. The antiquities would be transported to the Cambodia-Thailand border and transferred to Thai brokers, who would in turn transport them to dealers of Khmer artifacts located in Thailand, particularly Bangkok. These dealers would sell the artifacts to local or international customers, who would either retain the pieces or sell them on the international art market. Widespread looting of ancient Khmer and Cambodian antiquities continued into the 1990s.

The Scheme to Sell Looted Cambodian Antiquities

At all times relevant to this Indictment, DOUGLAS LATCHFORD, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak,” the defendant, was a prominent collector and dealer in Southeast Asian art and antiquities, in particular, ancient Cambodian art. Starting in or about the early 1970s, LATCHFORD supplied major auction houses, art dealers, and museums around the world, including in the United States, with Cambodian antiquities from the ancient Khmer Empire. LATCHFORD, a dual citizen of Thailand and the United Kingdom, maintained residences in Bangkok and London.

From at least in or about 2000, up to and including at least in or about 2012, LATCHFORD engaged in a fraudulent scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities on the international art market, including to dealers and buyers in the United States. As part of that scheme, in order to conceal that LATCHFORD’s antiquities were the product of looting, unauthorized excavation, and illicit smuggling, and to encourage sales and increase the value of his merchandise, LATCHFORD created and caused the creation of false provenance for the antiquities he was selling. In the context of art and antiquities, provenance refers to records and other evidence documenting the origin and history of ownership of an object. In particular, LATCHFORD misrepresented the provenance of Cambodian antiquities in letters, emails, invoices, and other communications. As part of the scheme, LATCHFORD also falsified invoices and related shipping documents to facilitate the international shipment of the antiquities to dealers and buyers, and to avoid restrictions on the importation of Khmer antiquities into the United States.

Beginning in or about the early 1970s, LATCHFORD regularly supplied an auction house based in the United Kingdom (“Auction House-1”) with looted Khmer antiquities, including from the archeological site of Koh Ker in Cambodia. LATCHFORD conspired with representatives of Auction House-1 and others to conceal the real provenance of looted Khmer antiquities and to create false export licenses and documentation. Many of the antiquities that LATCHFORD consigned to Auction House-1 were eventually sold to museums and collectors in the United States.  In or about 2011, an auction house in New York (“Auction House-2”) offered for sale one of the Koh Ker statutes that LATCHFORD had originally supplied to Auction House-1, a stone guardian figure called the “Duryodhana.” During the course of preparing to sell the Duryodhana in or about 2010, Auction House-2 asked LATCHFORD and a scholar closely associated with LATCHFORD (the “Scholar”) to help trace the provenance of the Duryodhana back to the early 1970s. LATCHFORD falsely stated to Auction House-2 that he had the Duryodhana in London in 1970, and that he had consigned it with Auction House-1 in 1975; whereas in truth and in fact LATCHFORD had exported the Duryodhana from Cambodia in or about 1972. About a month later, LATCHFORD changed his story, telling Auction House-2, in substance and in part, that he had never owned the Duryodhana. Around the same time that LATCHFORD falsely denied owning the Duryodhana, the Scholar warned LATCHFORD in an email, “I think maybe you shouldn’t be known to have been associated with the Koh Ker Guardian figures[.] . . . Let’s fudge a little, and just put the blame squarely on [Auction House-1] .  .  .  .”

Over the course of his lengthy career, LATCHFORD continued to act as a conduit for recently looted Cambodian antiquities. LATCHFORD advertised purportedly newly discovered and excavated pieces for sale to trusted associates, including a Manhattan-based dealer in Southeast Asian art (the “Dealer”). For example, on or about August 12, 2005, LATCHFORD emailed the Dealer photographs of a bronze seated Buddha, visibly covered in earth. Latchford explained that the photographs showed the statute “before cleaning” by a restorer, and “[w]hen it was found they took off most of the mud, or as it was, a sandy soil, it was found near Sra Srang, the lake in front of Banteay Kedi, right in the Angkor [Wat] Complex.”  Similarly, on or about March 13, 2006, LATCHFORD sent the Dealer an email labeled “PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL -------- FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.” The email contained a photograph of a bronze head. LATCHFORD explained that the head “was recently found around the site of the Angkor Borei group in the N E of Cambodia, in the Preah Vihar area. They are looking for the body, no luck so far, all they have found last week were two land mines !! What price would you be interested in buying it at? let me know as I will have to bargain for it.”  On or about April 23, 2007, LATCHFORD sent the Dealer another email, attaching a photograph of a standing Buddha statute that appears to be covered in dirt. LATCHFORD wrote, “Hold on to your hat, just been offered this 56 cm Angkor Borei Buddha, just excavated, which looks fantastic. It’s still across the border, but WOW.”

In order to facilitate the sale and international transportation of the antiquities to buyers and to conceal that the antiquities were looted, LATCHFORD, created false letters of provenance and false invoices, including letters of provenance purporting to have been drafted by a particular art collector (the “False Collector”). For example, in or about 2000, LATCHFORD sold a 12th Century stone Khmer sculpture to a museum in Colorado (the “Colorado Museum”). LATCHFORD informed the Colorado Museum that he had purchased the piece from the False Collector in June 1999, and provided the Colorado Museum with a letter of provenance purportedly from the False Collector as part of the sale.  However, LATCHFORD also supplied the Colorado Museum with records indicating that the statute was transported from LATCHFORD’s residence in Bangkok to London in 1994, long before he claimed to have purchased it from the False Collector.  The False Collector died in or about 2001. Thereafter, LATCHFORD continued to provide numerous provenance letters purportedly provided by the False Collector, while claiming, falsely, that the False Collector was still alive.

On other occasions, LATCHFORD directed third parties to create false provenance documents and false invoices for him.  For example, in or about September 2005, LATCHFORD sold the Dealer a 12th Century Angkor Wat-style standing Buddha statue for $90,000. LATCHFORD told the Dealer that the Buddha “needs to be cleaned, as there is surface corrosion and earth still on it,” indicia of recent excavation. LATCHFORD arranged to ship the Buddha from Bangkok to an “antique consultant/collector” in Singapore (the “Singapore Collector”), and from Singapore to the Dealer’s gallery in Manhattan. LATCHFORD instructed the Singapore Collector to “re-invoice[]” the Buddha on the Collector’s letterhead, “mentioning it has been in your collection for the past 12 years.” The Singapore Collector followed LATCHFORD’s instructions, creating a new, false invoice and letter of provenance stating that the Buddha had been in the Singapore Collector’s private collection in Singapore for the last 12 years, omitting any mention of LATCHFORD, and falsely describing the statute as a “17th C. Bronze Standing Figure from Laos.” The Singapore Collector then shipped the Buddha with the false invoice and false provenance to the Dealer in Manhattan.

As part of the scheme to sell looted Cambodian antiquities in the United States, from at least in or about 2005 up to and including in or about 2011, LATCHFORD supplied false information to the United States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) regarding the antiquities he imported into the United States for resale. In particular, LATCHFORD’s false invoices misstated the nature, age, country of origin, and/or value of the Cambodian antiquities. LATCHFORD misrepresented the country of origin and the age of the goods in particular in order to conceal that they were looted antiquities, and to avoid an embargo on the importation into the United States of Khmer antiquities exported from Cambodia after 1999. Frequently, LATCHFORD listed the “country of origin” as “Great Britain” or “Laos,” rather than Cambodia, and often described the objects as “figures” from the 17th or 18th century.

*                      *                      *




November 15, 2019

Revisiting the case of the marble head of Alexander the Great as Helios, the Sun God

Sotheby's Website Screen Capture
taken 24 July 2018
This week journalist John Russell, of Courthouse News Service, reported that the attorney representing Safani Gallery Inc., in New York has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to block the application for turnover request for a marble antiquity seized by the Manhattan District Attorney.  In their complaint Safani Gallery Inc., wholly owned by Alan Safani, is seeking a trial by jury for the return of an Augustan Age marble head of Alexander the Great as Helios, the Sun God, or damages for the losses it believes it has incurred, from the Italian Republic.  On page 15 of that complaint, Safani through their council asks for a ruling by jury for either the return of the marble sculpture or the full fair-market value of the Head of Alexander, plus legal expenses and interest.

In its complaint Safani Gallery also represents that it was given express representations and warranties of the authenticity, ownership, export licensing, and other attributes of the provenance for the marble head from Foundation, Classical Galleries. Ltd., which sold the New York gallery the antiquity. The complaint also states that by seizing the sculpture, Italy seeks to receive a benefit, including the expropriation of the gallery's property for Italy's own use and gain, to which the country has no claim, interest, or right.

To provide background on this case, Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel in the Office of New York County District, through Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., submitted an Application for Turnover on 23 July 2018 in support of an order pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law §450.10 (Consol. 2017) and N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law §690.55 (Consol. 2017) requesting the transfer of this antiquity, seized pursuant to a previously executed search warrant, from the custody of the court, to the custody of Italy.

Under order of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, the marble head of Alexander the Great had been seized at Safani Gallery  on 22 February 2018.  As a result of that seizure, the object was taken into evidence as part of a state investigation seeking to demonstrate the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree.  That seizure was carried out based on evidence provided by the Italian authorities that the object had been stolen and illegally exported from the country of origin in contravention of Italy’s cultural heritage law (No 364/1909).

Looking across the remains of the Basilica Aemilia
towards the Severan Arch,
the Tabularium, and the Modern Senate House
Image Credit: B. Dolan
In terms of its history, the NY District Attorney court documents set out that the head was discovered during excavations of the Basilica Aemilia, located on the Via Sacra.  This is the ancient road between the Capitoline Hill and Rome's Colosseum, located within the Roman Forum. While little remains of the Basilica Aemilia today, its presence in the form is documented by Rome historian Pliny the Elder as being one of the three most beautiful elements on the site alongside the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Peace.


The contested marble head was discovered at some point during Italian research excavations carried out by Professor Giacomo Boni and later by Professor Alfonso Bartoli, who conducted archaeological surveys of the Palatine Hill in Rome between 1899 and 1939.  Written documentation from these explorations suggest that the head was once part of the “Statues of Parthian Barbarians” which are believed to have adorned the Basilica Aemilia.  As such, these objects represent a valuable testimony to the art and architecture decorating buildings in the Forum during the Augustan Age.

After 20 BCE Roman art often portrayed the people of the Empire and during its restoration in 14 BCE, Augustus chose to line the Basilica with a series of Parthian figurines, perhaps to humiliate the ancient foreign enemy of Rome.  Representing individuals from the Parthian Empire (also known as the Arsacid Empire), these human likenesses depicted the conquered Parthians as representatives of the Orbis Alter, subjects of Rome not considered to be part of the “civilised” world.  Stylistically, they differ from representations we have from the same time period of people from the Orbis Romanus which makes this statue grouping particularly identifiable.

Correlating statue from the Basilica Aemilia
According to New York court documents, the Italian Soprintendenza alle Antichità Palatino e Foro Romano began keeping archival ambrotype photographic documentation of the objects it discovered during these excavations beginning in 1908.  This method of documentation most likely came about as a result of the country having instituted regional "Superintendencies" in 1907 on the basis of law no 386 dated 27 June 1907.   Prior to that, Italy lacked a strong national framework to encompass cultural heritage laws and regulations, and the area's cultural heritage was protected by the individual laws and decrees inherited from the many states and kingdoms that formerly made up Italy prior to it unification.

To archive the excavation finds from the Roman Forum, the city's cultural authorities placed the smaller antiquities discovered during this excavation upon a table in the Museo Forense cloister for cataloging.   The objects were then photographed against a dark background to aid in their identification and documentation.

Italy's archival records from this period document an image of the Head of Alexander, taken after its initial excavation, resting alone on this table in the aforementioned cloister.  The location where this image was taken is confirmed via a second image photographed in the same cloister of additional excavation finds from the Basilica Aemilia excavation which depicts objects photographed on the same table, but taken from a wider angle which allows the viewer to see the architectural elements from the cloister.  Based on these photographic records, the contested head of Alexander the Great is believed to have been discovered during the second phase of excavations which began after 1909, one year after the superintendency began using this type of photographic imagery for this excavation.

An ambrotype is an early form of photography dating to the 1850s which, in many ways, is a more cumbersome antique equivalent to the modern day slide, with the exception being the photograph was created by way of a fragile glass negative.  To preserve them, ambrotypes are generally stored in cases called a casket or union case and in single envelopes which require special care given their fragility. 

Sample ambrotype photo in its union case.
To date the find period for this object it must be remembered that the Italian authorities also have no contradicting written entries or alternative photographic archival documentation of any marble head finds, Alexander the Great or otherwise, from the Basilica Aemilia excavations related to the Barbarian statues prior to 1909.  All records of this marble head date from 1909 and points thereafter.

It is important to note that Professors Bartoli and Boni began their explorations in the zone of the Basilica Aemilia, where the head has been reported to have been excavated, in September 1909.  This time period, discussed at length in the State of New York's Application for Turnover, is documented in the archaeological record and demonstrates that in all likelihood, the marble head was found after September 1909 when excavations at the Basilica resumed.  Possibly more precisely, the first written documentation of marble sculptural heads of this type being found at the Basilica Aemilia were documented in  Bartoli's excavation journal in March and June 1910.  

This dating is critical to this restitution case in so much as Italy's Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage (No 364/1909) was made into law less than three months earlier, on 20 June 1909.  According to that law, there is a presumption of State ownership for all archaeological objects discovered after the law's implementation, unless the Italian cultural ministry acknowledges that the object does not have a cultural interest.  Given the importance of the Roman Forum excavations, it is not likely that the newly established Superintendency responsible for Rome would have categorized the symbolic head of Alexander the Great, from a site as important as the Basilica Aemilia, within the Forum Romanum,  as insignificant.

History tells us though that records for the marble head notated "perduta" (Italian for the word "lost") in November of 1960, when a review of the photographic negative of the Head of Alexander, inventory number 5862, no longer could be matched with a correlating object within the state's collection inventories.  Yet, at the time of this notation, there was no evidence to indicate that the object, or a second, also notated missing antiquity, had been stolen.  It is for this reason perhaps that the object was not archived within Italy's Leonardo database, the Italian state's archive for stolen art and antiquities.

But where was the object bought and sold before ultimately being located by the Italians? 

While the documentation of this object's collection history is spartan, we know that on 22 November 1974 the head of Alexander sold for a mere $650, having been consigned by the Hagop Kevorkian fund to Sotheby Parke Bernet. Sotheby’s Auction House acquired Parke Bernet Galleries in 1964 and adopted the name Sotheby Parke Bernet throughout the 1970s.  Today, that auction house is now known simply as Sotheby’s.  The buyer at this time was listed only as "Altertum Ltd."

Sometime after that date, the object was then purportedly purchased by Professor Oikonomides who indicated to others that he purchased the object while vacationing in Cairo, Egypt sometime between 1984 and 1986.  The object was then bequeathed to Dr. Miller by Oikonomides when he passed away in 1988.

Sotheby's Website Screen Capture
taken 24 July 2018
On 08 December 2011 the object then sold at Sotheby's for a second time, during Sotheby’s Egyptian, Classical and Western Asiatic Antiquities sale .

At the time of this second auction, the purported provenance for the object was listed as:

Hagop Kevorkian (1872-1962), New York, most likely acquired prior to World War II
The Hagop Kevorkian Fund (Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, November 22nd, 1974, no. 317, illus.)
A.N. Oikonomides, Chicago

At the time of this transaction, there was very little in the way of documentation to confirm the provenance narrative.  Despite this, the marble head sold to a then unidentified buyer for $92,500 USD.

In May 2017, the head of Alexander surfaced once again, but on the other side of the Atlantic.  This time the ancient marble head went up for sale in the United Kingdom, having once been in the possession of former Qatari culture minister and cousin of the current ruler of the oil-rich Arab country, Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Ali Al-Thani.  Before his death in 2014 Sheikh Saud Al-Thani was believed to have been the world's richest art collector.

Through Classical Galleries Limited, UK the Sheikh’s foundation in turn sold the head of Alexander to Alan Safani of Safani Gallery for $152,625 on 20 June 2017.

Object Identified by the Italians

Safani Gallery Booth - TEFAF 2018
Image Credit: L. Albertson
By an amazing bit of serendipity, on 19 February 2018, Dr. Patrizia Fortini, Director and Coordinator of the Archaeological Site of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill chanced upon an art fair advertisement which featured a photo of the stolen head in a publication for the upcoming 2018 fine arts fair known as TEFAF.  In the dealer's documentation, a photograph of the head had been included highlighting Safani Gallery's offerings for the upcoming Maastricht sale due to be held in the Netherlands, 10-18 March 2018.  Fortini determined that the photo in the advertisement and the old archival documentation photo of the head in the Museo Forense’s cloister were of the same object.

That same day, 19 February 2018, Fortini contacted the Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage a informed them of her suspicions.  On February 20, 2018, the Carabinieri likewise notified the New York authorities of Dr. Fortini's concerns.  Two days later, on February 22, 2019, a formal theft report had been filed with the Italian authorities and Lieutenant Colonel Nicola Candido, Commander of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Rome, formally notified Matthew Bogdanos at the New York District Attorney's office that the Head of Alexander was “stolen from the L'Antiquarium Forense in Rome (Italy) - an Archaeological Site that belongs to the Italian State,” and that “the Italian Republic has never issued a state-approved license for the exportation of the [Head] from Italy; and has never transferred the ownership of the [Head] from Italy to any third party.”  These statements and the accompanying evidence gathered in relation to the assertion resulted in the seizure of the sculpture from Safani Gallery.

Statute of Limitations and Clear Title

Under New York law, barring the expiration of the statute of limitations or application of the laches doctrine, one cannot obtain title from a thief unless the present-day possessor's title can be traced to someone with whom the original owner voluntarily entrusted the art.  As clear title is not possible in the case of this marble head, this leaves Safani and his counsel, David Schoen, to see if they can make their case based on the laches defense.  The purpose of the doctrine of laches is to safeguard the interests of good faith purchasers, in this case of lost/stolen art, by weighing in the balance of competing interest against the owner's diligence in pursuing their claim.   

While delay in pursuing a claim for the head could be considered in the context of laches under New York law, given that the theft occurred at an unknown time so many years ago, it has long been the law of the state of New York that a property owner, having discovered the location of its lost property, cannot unreasonably delay in making their demand upon the person in possession of that property.  As Italy acted within days of its identification that its "lost" item was in fact stolen, this course of legal action doesn't seem to be a viable route for retaining the object in question.

Likewise, as of this date, Safani Gallery hasn't produced any records or bill of sale for any pre-1974 transaction for the Head of Alexander.  Nor are there any records or invoices for the 1974 sale by Sotheby’s to Altertum Ltd., or any export visas or stamp authorizing the Head’s legitimate removal from Italy. Nor are there any records which would confirm a date for which the object was shipped out of the source country, such as a bill of lading or a customs declaration.  This leaves Safani with little tangible evidence to disprove the NYDA's stance that the object was stolen and then illegally removed from Italy.

Despite this, on 14 November 2018 Safani's attorney reported that the New York courts denied the NY DA's Turnover Application

To clarify on the aforementioned tweet by David Schoen, which only presents a portion of the facts,  the judge in this complicated case has stayed the proceeding pending the outcome of the federal case, and ruled that New York does have jurisdiction to resolve ownership disputes of antiquities under PL 450.10, and that he will do so in appropriate cases.

So for now, the court wrangling continues to drag on.

To view the 22 February 2018 Seizure Order, please see here.
To view the 23 July 2018 Application for Turnover, please see here.
To view the 12 November 2019 Safani Complaint, please see here.

By:  Lynda Albertson

October 30, 2018

Recoverable or Not? The sale of the Assyrian gypsum relief of a winged Genius, reign of Ashurnasirpal II, circa 883-859 BCE


In March 2015, the Iraqi government formally announced that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL had purposefully destroyed much of the Northwest Palace of King Ashurnasirpal II as part of their iconoclastic program of obliterating preislamic cultural heritage monuments in their original archaeological contexts.  But despite the worldwide outrage at the time of this tragedy, most of the general public had already forgotten about the losses faced by the Iraqi people by the time the Virginia Theological Seminary publicly announced, on April 13, 2018, that it would be selling one of their own objects from Nimrud.  On that date, the trustees announced that for various reasons, they had decided to sell their own seven-foot carved gypsum alabaster panel from the now-destroyed palace, a relief known as "The Bearded Winged Apukalu." It's auction is set to occur at Christie’s Antiquities Sale in New York on the 31st of October.

Image Credit:  ARCA 
Until very recently, the press hardly noticed the upcoming sale.  This despite the fact that art historian Kiersten Neumann drew attention to the upcoming event via Twitter on May 22, 2018.   The auction of this rare piece of history was also of much talk by Assyriologists and museum professionals around the world.
From ARCA's calculations there are at least 76 known public collections and 6 private collections which contain material culture from the Northwest Palace of King Ashurnasirpal II.  

The last Assyrian relief to appear on the legitimate ancient art market sold to Noriyoshi Horiuchi after a bidding war between the Japanese antiquities dealer and an Italian phone bidder in 1994.  At that time, the relief sold for an eye-popping 7.7 million British pounds, a price 10 times what the auctioneers at Christie's had estimated. 

The Horiuchi-purchased bas-relief, like the one at the VTS, was excavated in the mid-19th century in what is now Iraq by British archeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard.  It was then given over to Sir John Guest, then owner of Canford Manor, who helped to pay for bringing the finds from Nimrud back to Britain.  That piece of the palace is now on display at the Miho Museum in Kyoto, Japan.

The public however only seems to have taken notice in the VTS relief months after the Seminary made its announcement and only after the high dollar estimate the object is likely to bring started arousing interest in the major news outlets.

Like with the relief purchased by Horiuchi, the VTS relief was also excavated sometime around 1845 by Sir Austen Henry Layard.   Layard in turn is reported to have sold the object to Dr. Henri Byron Haskell, a medical missionary who worked in the 1850's in Mosul.  Haskell was interested in objects from the palace as proof of biblical history, for Nimrud is known as the ancient site of Calah and is mentioned in Genesis 10:11.  Haskell in turn, passed them on to his friend Joseph Packard, then professor and later Dean at Virginia Theological Seminary and the relief was shipped to the United States where it has been housed at the Virginia Theological Seminary since 1860.

Screen Capture: Facebook
Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage 
Despite being part of the VTS collection for more than 150 years, a recent call for help and appeal from the State Board for Antiquities and Heritage has been made by Dr. Qais Hussein Rashid, Deputy Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities and President of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage asking for law enforcement intervention asking for help in stopping the sale.  Unfortunately, the evidence is quite strong that the relief was legally excavated and exported in the nineteenth century, which makes preventing the sale highly unlikely.

The three Assyrian reliefs are purported to have reached America in 1859 where their transfer to the Virginia Theological Seminary appears to have been well established.  Packard, citing Rev. J. S. Lindsay, writes that the three slabs, were so valuable that the Smithsonian Institution, on failing to purchase them, had plaster casts made of them (Packard, citing Rev. J.S. Lindsay, 1902, 305).  The relief is also documented in other academic articles including the 1976 article by Ross, J.F. "The Assyrian reliefs at Virginia Seminary", part of the Virginia Seminary Journal 28(1) pages 4-10.

The strength of the Iraqi's claim for the restitution of its heritage in this instance would likely hinge on the applicability of New York penal law, i.e. that a thief can never acquire good title.  To do so, the courts would have to prove that the Virginia Theological Seminary, was is possession of stolen property.  If that were to be the case, the New York District Attorney's office could then seize the property as evidence and then move to release the stolen property under PL §450.10(2)'s mandate that "unless extended by a court order...property shall be released...after satisfactory proof of such person's entitlement of the possession thereof." But this might be difficult, if not impossible for the Iraqi authorities to substantiate.

Despite the somewhat contentious nature of Layard’s early explorations at Nimrud, which were at first clandestine, the intervention of the British government, to gain official support for the archaeologist's excavations from the Ottoman Turkish authorities is well documented.

On 5 May 1846, the Grand Vizier of the Turkish Empire sent a letter to the Pasha of Mosul, based upon the intercession of Stratford Canning, the Viscount Stratford, who partially funded Lanyard’s explorations.  A diplomat who represented Great Britain at the Ottoman court for almost 20 years, Canning spent most of his career as ambassador in Constantinople and was influential in exerting a strong influence on Turkish policy in support of the sultan’s resistance to Russia’s attempts to increase its influence over Ottoman affairs which eventually would lead to the outbreak of the Crimean War.  Through Canning's assistance,  the Brits were able to obtain permission for Layard's excavation.

The vizier's letter reads as follows: 

There are, as your Excellency knows, in the vicinity of Mosul quantities of stones and ancient remains. An English gentleman has come to these parts to look for such stones, and has found on the banks of the Tigris, in certain uninhabited places, ancient stones on which there are pictures and inscriptions. The British Ambassador has asked that no obstacles shall be put in the way of the above-mentioned gentleman taking the stones which may be useful to him, including those which he may discover by excavations … nor of his embarking them for transport to England.

The sincere friendship which firmly exists between the two governments makes it desirable that such demands be accepted. Therefore no obstacle should be put in the way of his taking the stones which … are present in desert places, and are not being utilised, or of his undertaking excavations in uninhabited places where this can be done without inconvenience to anyone; or of his taking such stones as he may wish amongst those which he has been able to discover.

--H.W.F. Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria, Sidgwick and Jackson , 1984, page 305.

In order to succeed in stopping the sale in New York, Iraq as a claimant would have to first prove that they have standing to bring such a cultural claim in a US court.  If the VTS has documentation proving that Layard passed their relief on to Dr. Henri Byron Haskell with the permission of the authorities in power at that time, as the provenance in the auction seems to indicate, the seminary would likely be in the clear to move forward with tomorrow's auction. 

Unfortunately this means that unless Iraq has the liquidity to buy back its own cultural patrimony, or is able to find a generous benefactor willing to purchase the ancient relief on their behalf, this reminder of the lost Northwest Palace of King Ashurnasirpal II will unfortunately go to the highest bidder.

Update: 31 October 2018
The Assyrian gypsum relief of a winged Genius, reign of Ashurnasirpal II, sold for a USD $27,250,000 hammer price which equates to $35,903,875 including the buyer’s premium to an in-the-room buyer at Christie's New York: Paddle 811.

By:  Lynda Albertson