Showing posts with label illicit antiquities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label illicit antiquities. 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

June 14, 2020

Remembering Paolo Giorgio Ferri

Image Credit: Jason Felch
It is with profound sadness that ARCA shares the news of today's passing of Paolo Giorgio Ferri, Italy's famed Sostituto Procuratore della Repubblica a Roma due to health complications. He was 72 years old. 

Dr. Ferri's first investigative case into Italy's stolen heritage began in 1994 and involved a statue stolen from Rome's Villa Torlonia that was then sold at auction by Sotheby's.   But it was the invaluable role he played in doggedly pursuing corrupt antiquities dealers who laundered antiquities into some of the world's most prestigious museums that made his name famous among those who follow art and heritage crimes. 

Forty-eight when his investigation began into the activities of Giacomo Medici, Gianfranco Becchina, Robin Symes and others, Paolo was integral in truly exposing the ugly underbelly of the ancient art trade and the insidious phenomenon of laundering cultural goods. 

Image Credit: ARCA
In February 2000 Judge Ferri received a commendation and a formal expression of esteem from General Roberto Conforti (then Commanding Officer of the Carabinieri Department for the Protection of the Italian Cultural Heritage) for the suggestions he made in relation to a project initiative to change the Italian law on cultural goods.   In 2011 ARCA honored Dr. Ferri with an art crime protection award for his role in the 2005 case against Emanuel Robert Hecht and Marion True, the former curator of the J Paul Getty Museum.  This case, and his work on it, marked a dramatic change, in years to come, in the policy of acquisitions by museums around the world, as well as set the stage for numerous restitutions of stolen artifacts to their countries of origin.

Following his career as a prosecutor, Ferri continued to fight for Italy's heritage and served on a special commission with Italy's Ministry of Culture, created for the restitution of national cultural heritage stolen abroad.  There he served as a legal advisor on cultural diplomacy negotiations.  Ferri also provided legal opinions regarding criminal matters, served as an advisor to ICCROM,  was part of a commission for the criminal reform of the Code of Cultural Heritage, and participated in Vienna in the drafting of Guidelines to the United Nations Convention against transnational organized crime, which was signed in Palermo in 2000.

Paolo Giorgio Ferri
Image Credit:  Daniela Rizzo/Maurizio Pelligrini, friends and colleagues.  Maurizio Pelligrini relates that this photo was taken 28 September 2004, when Paolo was in New York and still did not know if Italy would be able to convince the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philippe de Montebello to destitute the famous Euphronios crater.
Dr. Ferri will be remembered by his colleagues and friends as one who never backed off in the fight against illicit trafficking and as someone always willing to share his knowledge and legal expertise freely and openly.  Journalist Fabio Isman, who broke the news to some of us, recalled that when Dr. Ferri wrote his first Letters Rogatory, it took three weeks to draft the document.   At the height of his investigations Ferri would go on to write three Letters Rogatory a week, asking the world for judicial assistance in the restitution of Italy's stolen works of art. 

ARCA wishes to offer its support and condolences to everyone close to this wonderful man, but most importantly to Paolo's family, particularly his wife Mariarita, his daughter Sofia and his grandchildren. 

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

December 20, 2019

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seizes a female funerary statue previously on sale on the online website Live Auctioneers


Tuesday, December 17, 2019 agents with the United States Department of Homeland Security - HSI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized a female funerary statue previously listed for sale last April for an estimated Estimation 500.000-800.000 USD on the online website Live Auctioneers.  The statue, advertised at: https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/70314848_an-important-life-size-greek-marble-figure-of-a-female  was listed as Lot 0032.  In its description, the dealers had stated that the statue was "an impressive Greek marble three quarter life-size figure of a veiled woman, likely among a handful  [of] available Greek figures for sale."  

While the auction page for this antiquity has since been removed, the heavy 400 pound statue of a Greek funerary deity from the Hellenistic period, has been identified as having come from Cyrenaica, in present-day Libya, a source nation not mentioned in the description given by the sellers.  This area of the North African country has been the subject of accelerating pillage for more than a decade, sometimes in support of financing criminal groups.  Frequently this plunder destroys irreplaceable archaeological data. 

For years the Security Directorate of Shahhat, in Libya's eastern coastal region, has tried to foil the attempts of individuals threatening to tamper with, loot, or destroy antiquities from the ruins of the ancient Greek and Roman city, Cyrene.  But given rampant urban encroachment and the lack of uniform security within Libya's complicated political terrain following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Cyrenaica's rich archaeological heritage remains vastly underprotected, a fact often overlooked by the media amid its focus of ISIS looting and iconoclasm in Syria and Iraq. 

Veiled marble sculptures such as the one seized in New York City are not found in Greece.  They are only found in the ancient Greek cemeteries of the ancient cities of Cyrenaica, the area along the eastern coastal region of what is today modern Libya. These uniquely stylized funerary decorations are easily identifiable as their distinctive styling is not found in any other part of the Classical world.  The alone makes it off concern that the dealers elected to refer to the piece as solely "Greek". 

Following the statues identification, concern over the object's pending sale on the ancient art market was widely publicized by the Archaeology Information Network (ArchaeologyIN) through their Archaeology in Libya social media network.  Drawing the public's attention to the fact that plundered Libyan artifacts are regularly appearing on the licit market, the grass roots activist group included a link to the dealer's auction which identified the sellers as Aphrodite Gallery, an online branch of Aphrodite Ancient Art.  Both of these ancient art enterprises are owned and/or operated by Jamal and Jad Rifai.

The object's provenance on the online sales site was listed as:

"Ex. Swiss private collection, from the 1980's, with import document and Art Loss Register certificate."   But the export license? 


A 2008 cached version of the Aphrodite Ancient Art website (now taken down) stated: 




Previous notes on Facebook, also now removed, once indicated that the brick and mortar gallery of Aphrodite Ancient Art opened in Manhattan in May 2012 after operating virtually as far back as 2007.  This date coincides with data captured by the Wayback Machine which maintains archives of some of the company's web pages dating as far back as 2008.  In contrast, the LinkedIn profile of one of the company's principles states that he has been part of the ancient art market in New York operating as Aphrodite Ancient Art since 1999. 

The seizure of this funerary statue was taken into consideration based on initial research conducted by individuals working with the Federation of Archaeological Missions in Libya, including Vincent Michel and Morgan Belzic (French Mission), Oliva Menozzi (Italian missions), Susan Kane (US Missions), as well as other unnamed colleagues.  Formal requests for assistance from the Libyan authorities came from Dr. Ahmed H. Abdalkariem, Chairmen of the Department of Antiquities (DOA) in Libya, in coordination with the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Libyan embassy who worked jointly with the US Federal and local law enforcement authorities.  

According Morgan Belzic, at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art and Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, illicit funerary sculptures from the Cyrenaica region of Libya have passed through the ancient art market with increasing frequency since the start of political unrest in the region. This uptick in sales volume for Greek artifacts plundered from Libya coincides with the suspension, or reduction, of many state services within the country, including those for heritage protection and management,  without which there has been an increase in criminal activity as well as sometimes aggressive pillaging of archaeological sites.  Belzic's conflict antiquities research has centered on the proceeds from the illicit trafficking of objects from the Cyrenaica region which benefit directly the criminal groups who organize the smuggling of looted antiquities out of Libya, selling on to intermediaries and art merchants in both the US and Europe. 

But could the dealer have known that the statue was illicit? 

Given its distinct style, it seems unlikely that the sellers of this important artifact would not have been able to identify that this statue came from the areas surrounding the ancient Greek cemeteries of the ancient cities of Cyrenaica.  Knowing that, the purported "Ex. Swiss private collection, from the 1980's" and the lack of export documentation of Libya fails to hold water. 

The cultural heritage of Libya is protected by both its national laws as well as by multilateral agreements and international instruments.  The 1951 Constitution grants the government control of the country’s antiquities, archaeological sites, and museums. Law Number 11 on Antiquities, Archaeological Sites, and Museums (1953) further obligates the state to protect cultural heritage in peace and wartime and prohibits damage to and illegal trade of cultural property, including exports. Law Number 2 of 1983 and Law Number 3 of 1994 have similar provisions. The latter names the Department of Antiquities (DOA) as the expert authority responsible for management, organization, care and protection of antiquities, museums, manuscripts, ancient cities, and historic localities and buildings.

The current governing document is the Constitutional Declaration, adopted by the National Transitional Council on August 3, 2011, which reinforces that Libya’s legal framework for cultural preservation has remained largely unchanged to date. International agreements to which Libya is a State Party also remain in effect such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Nature and Extent of Art Market for Archaeological and Ethnological Material from Libya

On June 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of State published notification in the Federal Register of the receipt of a request from the Government of Libya to the Government of the United States of America requesting import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Libya representing its prehistoric through Ottoman Era heritage.

In their request it was outlined that the United States is a major market, perhaps the single largest market, for sales of archaeological material from Libya. and that between approximately 2007 and 2014, nearly fifteen sculptures based on stylistic composition and other criteria identified as coming from Libya, and known to have come from Cyrene (some documented from the excavation storerooms; others undocumented) have been sold through the ancient art market in the United States or by US based companies operating virtually.

On December 5, 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection placed import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Libya to assist in combating the illicit trafficking from the region.  

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.

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October 3, 2019

The Libya MOU in action. The United States recovers and restitutes an ancient sculpture stolen from the city of Shahat (Cyrene).


For years the Security Directorate of Shahhat in the eastern coastal region of Libya has tried to foil the attempts of individuals threatening to tamper with, loot, or destroy antiquities from the ruins of its ancient Greek and Roman city, Cyrene.  But given rampant urban encroachment and the lack of uniform security in a complicated political terrain created following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Cyrenaica's rich archaeological heritage remains vastly underprotected and often overlooked by the media amid its focus on looting and iconoclasm in Syria and Iraq. 

In answer to concerns that looters are exploiting the political chaos in the region, UNESCO placed all five of its Libyan World Heritage sites on the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list in July 2016.  This list named the  2,600-year-old Greco-Roman archaeological city of Cyrene, which struggles with neglect, vandalism, looting and unregulated development; the ancient city of Leptis Magna; the ancient city of Sabratha; the Islamic desert trading city of Ghadamès; and the Tadrart Akakus, a mountain range in the desert of the Ghat District in western Libya that contains thousands of prehistoric rock-art sites, some dating as far back as 9,000 BCE.

Yet despite the lack of press coverage, a steady trickle of artefacts of dubious origin originating from Libyan historical sites do get identified by illicit trafficking researchers, law enforcement and customs officials.  Usually this occurs years after their original looting, once the antiquities are routed out of the region via transit countries and sometimes once they make their way into the commercial art market, turning up for sale in galleries and showrooms in London, Paris, Switzerland, Barcelona and the US.  

Some notable Libya-origin objects identified include:

Four funerary deities seized in France in 2012. 

A four foot marble statue, identified in 2013, as having been exported by Dubai-based antiques dealer Hassan Fazeli, dating from the 3-4 century BCE.  The statue was imported with provenance stating it was from the "personal collection of Mr Fazeli since 1977" and as having originated from Turkey when in fact it had actually been stolen from Cyrene before being smuggled into Britain.  This HMRC court case was not the first time that Hassan Fazeli's name had appeared connected to trafficked antiquities. 

Three Hellenistic Period funerary divinities probably coming from the same burial either from Cyrene or Apollonia seized in Geneva.  

A set of five marble sculptures from Cyrenaica seized by Egyptian port police in Damietta when inspecting  a container bound for Bangkok. 

Despite these identifications, protecting Libya's cultural heritage sites is difficult, in part because there is no single unifying political authority for the country as a whole in the aftermath of the Libyan Civil War.

For the moment the country is influenced by three influential political/governmental groups. The first is the Presidential Council (PC), which presides over the Government of National Accord (GNA) and is based in Tripoli.  The second, also based in Tripoli, was the former Government of National Salvation, which rested on the authority of the rival General National Congress (GNC), the resurrected parliament elected in 2012. Dissolved in April 2016, the GNC was replaced by the High Council of State, an advisory body advising the interim Government of National Accord (GNA).

The third governmental authority in Libya is based in Tobruk and al-Bayda.  The House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk is considered to be the legitimate legislative authority under the Libyan Political Agreement, while the government of Abdullah al-Thinni operates from al-Bayda. Both the Tobruk and al-Bayda authorities are united under the control of Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar who leads the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the system of government in much of the east and some of the south and west parts of Libya following what is referred to as the Second Libyan Civil War (2014 to present)..

In response to a long history of threats to archaeological and historical sites in Libya, and to solidify U.S. and Libya’s joint collaboration to combat looting and trafficking of cultural objects originating from the north african country, the US signed its 17th cultural property agreement with Libya in 2018.  Signed by Irwin Stephen Goldstein for the United States and by Lutfi Almughrabi, Libyan Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the agreement formalizes a collaboration to protect Libya heritage for a period of five (5) years, unless the MOU is extended at a later date.  This agreement has been opposed by many in the antiquities trade but seen as necessary by those who see civil unrest and war as a precursor and or conduit to the trafficking of illicit antiquities.

Article 1.2 of the MOU states:

The Government of the United States of America shall offer for return to the Government of Libya any object or material on the Designated List forfeited to the Government of the United States of America.

In the first tangible fruit of this accord, Jamal Ali al-Barq, head of the Department of International Cooperation, at Libya's Foreign Ministry has announced that during a ceremony today, at the Libyan embassy in Washington DC, the United States Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) will hand over a marble head of a woman to the Libyan authorities.

Image Credit:  Libyan Embassy, Washington DC
The identification of this antiquity, up for auction in the United States, was partly made possible by French historian Morgan Belzic, an expert on the sculptural remains of Libya who cooperates with law enforcement authorities on identifying plundered objects from Shahat (Cyrene), Susa (Apollonia), Tocra (Taucheira), Tulmaytha (Ptolemais), and Benghazi (Euesperides/Berenike).  While working on his PhD, Belzic noted a correlation between the increasing destruction of funerary monuments in Libya and the appearance of ancient pieces on the market statistically out of range with those appearing prior to the country's unrest.

Image Credit:  HSI-ICE
This fragmented head of a veiled woman is the the first identification from Belzic's research into illicit trafficking to be returned from the United States.  In a conversation with Belzic, he in turn credited US art historian and archaeologist Susan Kane, of Oberlin College, Ohio, and the Department of Antiquities (DoA) of Libya for their own critical roles in making this recovery possible.

According to an HSI Cultural property report, the object had made its way into the United States via a Dubai-based antiquities dealer to a collector in Queens, NY following an investigation which began in 2008 identifying objects from various nations sold to major museums, galleries and art houses in New York City.  As a result of this investigation several key players in a transnational criminal organization engaging in the illicit trafficking of cultural antiquities were identified.

Anyone with information about the illicit distribution of cultural property within and the illegal trafficking of artwork within the United States are urged to call ICE at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete the online tip form.

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 12, 2019

A look at art crime through the eyes of some of ARCA's 2019 postgraduate participants

By Alexander Taylor, ARCA 2019 Participant 

Alexandra is a paintings conservator and a George Alexander Foundation Fellow which supports a range of fellowship opportunities for secondary, vocational students and post-graduates through leading national organisations. Her blog, ‘The Art of Value’, seeks to track her personal trajectory through the arena of art crime and cultural heritage protection.


The Road to Salvation

The XVI canto of Homer’s Iliad describes a touching episode of the Trojan War: the death of Sarpedon, son of Zeus and the king of the Lycians. This epic scene majestically drapes the surface of the infamous Euphronios krater, stolen in the ‘70s from one of Cerveteri’s necropolis’ and reappearing years later on the squeaky-clean shelf of a New York museum. Here marks the moment when the vase first set foot on the road to salvation.

The story began with the illegal excavation of an Etruscan tomb in the area of ​​Greppe Sant'Angelo in the municipality of Cerveteri. When the tombaroli (tomb robbers) pulled the vase out of the ground they must have known they’d struck gold. The krater, large enough to hold seven galleons of liquid, was “thrown” by the potter Euxitheos and then decorated exquisitely by the painter Euphronios. Let me digress: Euphronios is one of two or three of the greatest masters in Greek vase painting. ‘His works are so rare that the last important piece before this one had been unearthed as long ago as 1840’[1]. Todeschini and Watson quote art historian Hovers in the following grandiloquent statement, ‘To call [the vase] an artifact is like referring to the Sistine Ceiling as a painting.’ 

A significant find? Uh, yes.

Having done the deed the tombaroli then got in touch with an important American merchant, the result of their exchange being 125 million lire – no questions asked [2]. The monstrous trail of fictitious provenance documentation grew tenfold as the Euphronios krater journeyed from Cerveteri to America via an extensive array of dealers and restorers to mega-rich middlemen and some say red-handed museum officials. Here it underwent a number of unsuccessful sales before a scholar, who proposed himself as an intermediary for selling to the New York museum, generously took care of “the problem”. The vase sold for an extravagant US$1 million, the first time such a price was paid for an antiquity.[3] It was only when one of the tombaroli caught wind of the sale, realised he’d been slighted, and turned whistleblower by alerting the appropriate authorities that the subsequent Carabinieri investigation gained momentum.

If anyone is interested in this story and has not yet read The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, I suggest you get online and purchase a copy now. Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini have compiled a narrative that analyses the art market and its main players in all their multi-faceted, devastating glory. Each chapter reads like a journalistic article, thoroughly well researched and compelling, and together they interlock to present a tightly composed chain of events that unravel the workings of a well-oiled art crime machine. It is deliciously composed – I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in the underground antiquities market.

At this point you may be wondering how the “underground antiquities market” functions within Australia, or indeed how Australian legislation handles offences relating to art crime when compared to the Italians and their Carabinieri. Art crime covers ‘forgery and fraud, theft and extortion, money laundering, and document and identity fraud’ and yet Australia has no specialist art and cultural property investigation unit that deals with this rather expansive and complex “grey-area” in law [4]. Imagine coming across an otherwise reputable art dealer who is in the process of selling an ancient rock art tool that you know has come out of the Kimberley’s illegally. You can’t get in touch with an Australian “art fraud squad” because there isn’t one. So whom do you turn to?

To handle cases of art looting, loss and theft, Australians have to operate through one of nine different authorities, for example the Federal and State Police Services, the Interpol National Bureau, Austac & etc. These authorities are responsible for the investigation of crime, in its entirety, and thus operate with a combination of statute and common law. Traditional modes for investigation, such as interviewing the witnesses or obtaining statements, become ‘ineffective’ in cases of art crime because the investigatory trail ‘tends to lack documentary evidence, which conventional fraud inquiries rely upon’[5]. Hopefully I haven’t bored you with the details, but I believe it’s important that you know where we stand.

Let’s conclude today’s post with a round-trip back to the Euphronios krater. On Wednesday the 5th of June, we took a class excursion into Rome for the L’Arte Di Salvare L’Arte exhibition at the Quirinal Palace. We were told the krater was on display here, amongst a number of other salvaged Italian heirlooms. Not quite comprehending the wonders promised, I felt my jaw drop rather comically upon entering the first room. We’d just walked into a trove of repatriated treasures. Stumbling past the only complete Capitoline Triad, stolen from the Tenuta dell’Inviolata in 1992; and the Il giardiniere by Vincent Van Gogh, stolen in 1998 from the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome; I came face to face with the pair of fourth century marble griffins, stolen from the tomb of Ascoli Satriano in 1976. The last time I saw this artefact was in a Polaroid photograph taken by the tombaroli, a shot that evidently showed the griffins stuffed haphazardly into the boot of a car – still encrusted with the residue of their recent earthy bed.

Alexander Taylor listening to Fabrizio Rossi on the illicit excavation of
La Triade Capitolina
And, wide-eyed, we rounded the corner and arrived at the Euphronios krater standing stoically to the left in a room full of salvaged Etruscan relics.


The moment has been rather difficult to translate into words, so instead I’ll post a couple of pictures that best represent my impression of the matter. The image below depicts the “big fish”; the man who orchestrated the whole dirty, shameful transaction – from tombaroli to middlemen to the museum in New York – whilst plying his trade comfortably in Corridor 17 at the Geneva Freeport. Here he stands triumphantly in front of an airtight American enclosure that houses the Euphronios krater in a land far, far away from the tomb it was looted from. The second has me standing with an even bigger grin on my face, a grin that comes from knowing full well that whatever this “big fish” instigated back in the 70s the krater eventually made its way back home, leaving behind a shattered reputation and an open, gaping hole in the criminal art market.

To read more of Alex's musings on the art world, please visit her blog, The Art of Value

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[1] Watson P., Todeschini C. (2006), The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, Public Affairs, United States, p. ix.

[2] Ministry per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (2019), L’Arte di Salvare L’Arte. Frammenti di Storia d’Italia, museum pamphlet, Palazzo del Quirinale, Roma.

[3] Watson P., Todeschini C. (2006), The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, Public Affairs, United States, p. ix.

[4] James M (2000), ‘Art Crime’ in Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, Australia, p. 1.

[5] James M 2000, ‘Art Crime’ in Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, Australia, p. 4.