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

July 13, 2019

Quando, Dove, Da Chi e a Quale Prezzo


When, Where, From Who and At What Price...

Demonstrating, once again, how important observation skills (and patience) are in following up on illicitly trafficked material, an observant officer within the Palermo unit of Italy's Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio has been able to identify a remarkable Attic Red-Figure Column Krater dating back to the 5th century BCE trafficked clandestinely. Ironically though, the officer's success did not come about by the monitoring of online sellers of objects, as misrepresented in numerous Italian language articles today, but rather by qualitative observation and awareness of the similarities in purchasing patterns buyers of such objects sometimes exhibit. 

The large ceramic vessel, used for mixing water and wine, depicts a female playing a double aulos (diaulos), an an ancient Greek wind instrument.  She is standing between two male figures, each wrapped in a himation around the lower portion of their bodies while reclining languidly upon klines.  On the reverse side of the vase, the iconography depicts three additional standing youths, each of whom is mantled in a red himation, one of whom is leaning heavily on his walking stick.


After the officer notated the suspicious vase, the antiquity was geolocated to a prestigious villa in Aci Castello, twenty minutes by car from Catania.  On requesting a search warrant, later approved by the Public Prosecutor's office, the object was seized and an individual unnamed by the prosecutor's office has been placed under investigation for having received stolen goods.

This interesting, yet time consuming, econometric approach to investigations demonstrates, once again, how the internet constitutes not only the conduit for selling illicit material, but also at times can be a useful environment for the recovery of illicit antiquities.

Using emergent web intelligence, i.e., determining buyer behavioral commonalities, the Carabinieri has found an unusual information gathering opportunity which facilitated the object's identification after the object had been sold.  This in turn will hopefully lead to officer's identifying those who deal in and sell illegally excavated objects on to others. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 3, 2019

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

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

@ChristiesInc does the name Heinz Herzer sound any alarms?  

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

By:  Lynda Albertson

March 26, 2019

Court dismisses Hicham Aboutaam complaint against Dow Jones & Company's for Benoit Faucon and Georgi Kantchev's Wall Street Journal article discussing the family's ancient art business



In July 2017 antiquities dealer Hicham Aboutaam sued the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal’s corporate parent Dow Jones & Co., in New York County Supreme Court over an article titled “Prominent Art Family Entangled in ISIS Antiquities-Looting Investigations” which was published in the Wall Street Journal on May 31, 2017 claiming his family's business and reputation had been damaged by the article written by WSJ reporters Benoit Faucon and Georgi Kantchev .  The journalists, who shared a byline on the article, were not named as defendants in the lawsuit.

In the filed 30 page complaint, Hicham Aboutaam as Plaintiff requested unspecified damages based on claims of libel and defamation.

In a ruling before the New York State Supreme Court, New York County, dated March 22, 2019 and filed today, Honorable Robert D. Kalish J.S.C granted the Motion of the Defendant, Dow Jones & Company, dismissing the complaint in its entirety.  The Court ruled that "the thrust of the article was that Plaintiff's family –"one of the most storied families in the international antiquities business"– is being investigated and scrutinized about the selling of looted antiquities and whether the family business is dealing in items looted by ISIS and then sold through dealers like Plaintiff and his brother Ali."  

In making his ruling, Kalish added:

"By no means does this Court's decision seek to undermine the serious consequences that sometimes follow a news organization's decision to publish details of an ongoing investigation by law enforcement.  However, the decision to truthfully report on an ongoing law enforcement investigation is ultimately a question of journalistic judgement.  Unless the reporting on such an investigation is materially false or affirmatively creates false suggestions, it is not for the courts to question an editorial judgement to report on an ongoing investigation." 

As the Court dismissed the plaintiff's causes of action for libel and defamation by implication, the Court did not address the Defendant's, Dow Jones & Co., argument that the Plaintiff failed to plead actual malice with regard to both causes of action.

In an email exchange regarding the Court's decision, Steve Severinghaus, Senior Director of Communications with Dow Jones stated "We are gratified by the court's decision to dismiss Mr. Aboutaam’s lawsuit against Dow Jones."

Suspect antiquities, traceable to ancient art sales through Hicham and Ali Aboutaam's companies have been written about with recurring frequency on the Association's blog.

It should be remembered that Hicham Aboutaam was arrested in 2003 for smuggling a looted ceremonial drinking vessel from Iran into the US, claiming that it had come from Syria.  Hicham pled guilty to the charges in 2004, paid a fine, and the vessel was returned to the Iranian authorities. As a result of that incident, Hicham Aboutaam stated that his conviction stemmed from a "lapse in judgment."

In the past, the Egyptian authorities accused Ali Aboutaam of involvement with Tarek El-Suesy (al-Seweissi), who was arrested in 2003 under Egypt’s patrimony law for illegal export of antiquities. Ali Aboutaam was tried in absentia, pronounced guilty and was fined, and sentenced to 15 years in prison in the Egyptian court in April 2004 after he was accused of smuggling artefacts from Egypt to Switzerland.  To date, Ali Aboutaam has not served any of the Egyptian sentence. 

The Aboutaams voluntarily repatriated 251 Antiquities valued at $2.7 Million to the State of Italy in May 2009 when the objects were tied to one of Italy's most notorious smuggling rings.


By Lynda Albertson

February 13, 2019

Looted artworks returned to Italy via voluntary forfeiture via Christie's auction house in London


In a memorable act of rare collaboration, Italian officials have announced “the first case of such close co-operation between Italy and a private auction house” in which a number of illegally obtained and trafficked antiquities, the proceeds of clandestine excavations between the 1960s and the 1980s, were voluntarily restituted to the Italian authorities. 

In a handover event held at Italy's Embassy in London, twelve antiquities and one document were ceremoniously returned, some of which had been placed up for auction in 2014 and 2015 and which were withdrawn from sale after being determined as questionable.  Attended by Alberto Bonisoli, the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities,  Raffaele Trombetta, the Italian ambassador to London, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli of Italy's Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the CEO of Christie's Guillaume Cerutti and the auction house's Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Brooks, this event represents a much needed step forward in art market's cooperation with the Italian authorities and a welcomes step towards collaboratively working with one another towards the restitution of looted objects.

The antiquities returned are: 


A marble fragment whose theft from a sarcophagus from the Catacombs of St Callixtus, on the Appian Way in Rome was reported in 1982. 


A 6th -5th century BCE Etruscan terracotta antefix used to capthe terminus of covering tiles on ancient roofs.

Its original provenance when listed in sale 10372 as Lot 102 was "Property from a London Collection
Provenance:   Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9 December 1985, lot 273, when acquired by the present owner."


Five (5) 4th century BCE Apulian Gnathian-ware plates.


A 350-330 BCE red-figure Apulian hydria believed to be attributed to a follower of the Snub-Nose or Varrese painter.

Its original provenance when listed in sale 10372 as Lot 108 was "Property from a London Collection


A 2nd century CE Roman capitol.


A Roman marble relief depicting a Satyr with Maenad stolen from the gardens of Villa Borghese in 1985.


A 14th century promissory folio from an illuminated manuscript by the Doge Andrea Dandolo and the ducal councilors.


A 4th century BCE red-figure Faliscan stamnos vase used to store liquids.

At the ceremony, attendees underscored that the art market's ethical codes need enhancement and that greater due diligence is needed to ensure the legitimacy of objects before accepting them for sale.  With over 1 million two hundred thousand stolen objects and about 700 thousand images of stolen and looted art, the Carabinieri's Leonardo database, the largest stolen art database in the world, is a good place to start when auction houses such as Christie's consider accepting them on consignment.

During the event Christie's staff indicated that the antiquities had been acquired in the past in good faith.   Three of these however did not pass the smell test in 2014 and 2015 when they originally accepted for consignment and were placed up for auction.   All three were later withdrawn when they were identified as having passed through the hands of well known Italian dealers who have consistently been linked to trafficked antiquities.  Without the required, verifiable title, export documentation or collection history these objects had no place on the legitimate art market. 


Auction houses are not the only parties that need to be diligent when evaluating antiquities, especially when considering objects which appear to have emerged on the open market without substantiated collection histories.

Ancient art collectors should realise that their buying power and unharnessed demand for archaeological material, absent transparent ethical acquisition documentation, serves to incentivise those facing economic hardship to participate in, or tacitly condone, the looting of archaeological sites, by which illicit material enters the licit market.

If collectors in market buying nations such as the United States and UK refused to purchase undocumented artifacts, then the supply chain incentives for looting historic sites, which by proxy funds criminal enterprise, diminish.

By:  Lynda Albertson

October 24, 2018

Court of Palermo dismisses charges of mafia association against Gianfranco Becchina.


Following a formal request by the Deputy Prosecutor for the District Anti-Mafia Directorate  Carlo Marzella, preliminary reexamination judge of of the Court of Palermo, Antonella Consiglio, has dismissed the charge of mafia association against the Castelvetrano antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina.  In her decision, the judge cited that the accusations used for the basis of the charge, made via testimonies given by Vincenzo Calcara, an exMafia soldier and pentito (collaborator of justice), have been deemed "unreliable". 

The link from Matteo Messina Denaro to Gianfranco Becchina is said to begin with Denaro's father, Francesco Messina Denaro, who was the capo mandamento in Castelvetrano and the head of the mafia commission of the Trapani region. Francesco Messina Denaro was believed to have been behind the theft of the famous Efebo of Selinunte, a 5th century BCE statue of Dionysius Iachos, stolen on October 30, 1962 and recovered in 1968 through the help of Rodolfo Siviero,

Image Credit: Accademia degli incerti
The informant Calcara, who gave testimony against the art dealer, is a former protege of Francesco Messina Denaro of the Castelvetrano family and has faced his own legal dramas related to his involvement in international drug trafficking and money laundering, some underworld activities which purportedly also implicated the Vatican bank.  Verbose mafia defector Calcara's claims of self importance, and connections to the upper echelons of the mafia, have lethal overtones.  In the passed he has said he was originally tasked with killing antimafia Judge Paolo Borsellino in September 1991 with a sniper rifle but was arrested before he could carry out the plot.


Involved in the trafficking of weapons, drugs, and political corruption Calcara was once offered a place in the government's witness protection program but refused.  Later the Cosa Nostra determined his whereabouts and threatened his wife if she didn't get him to stop talking to authorities.  

Back in 1992, Calcara and now deceased former drug dealer Rosario Spatola incriminated Becchina for alleged association with the Campobello di Mazara and Castelvetrano clans implying that there was a gang affiliate active in Switzerland whose role was to excavate and sell ancient artefacts on the black market.  At the time of Spatola's testimony, much of his information was also discounted as many were skeptical that he had actual knowledge or whether he invented things for his own benefit.

To dismantle Denaro's operational funding, which authorities believe has helped him remain at large as a fugitive from justice, Italy's Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (DIA), through the Court of Trapani's penal and preventive measures section, seized all movable assets related to Becchina in November 2017 including real estate and corporate enterprises on the basis of an order issued from the District Attorney of Palermo.  This included Becchina's cement trade business, Atlas Cements Ltd., Olio Verde srl., his olive oil production company, Demetra srl., Becchina & company srl., and Palazzo Pignatelli, once the noble residence of the family Tagliavia-Aragona-Pignatelli, which is part of the ancient Castello Bellumvider (the public part is owned by the city and houses the town hall).  Investigators also seized Becchina's land, vehicles and bank accounts.

What will happen with the seized properties and businesses remains a manner for the Preventive Measures Section of the Trapani court to decide but given his close ties with other incarcerated mafia affiliates, Becchina's story is not yet finished. 

In 1991 Sicilian building magnate Rosario Cascio became connected with Becchina's Atlas Cements Ltd., and took over as reference shareholder and director.  Before his incarceration, Cascio was a Mafia Associate to several bosses in multiple families including fugitive Matteo Messina Denaro with strong ties to the Castelvetrano family.   Known as the "cashier of Cosa Nostra." Cascio once had a hit put out on him by mobster Angelo Siino only to have Matteo Messina Denaro intervene on his behalf.  Cascio managed the family's economic activities and sub-contracts, and monopolized the concrete market and the sale of and construction equipment.  He also steered public contracts towards mafia businesses and managed an extortion racket which imposed sub contracts and labor.  

So, while there are no (longer) "reliable" statements proving Becchina is formally "affiliated" with the Castelvetrano organized crime family, his connections to other individuals who are or were, and the properties connected to joint operations with mafia collaborators, are still subject to judicial consideration.  

October 18, 2018

ARCA's Postgraduate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection is now accepting applications.


Who studies art crime?

ARCA's Postgraduate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection is now accepting applications.

Early applications will be accepted through 30 November subject to census limitations. 
In 2009, ARCA started the very first interdisciplinary program to study art crimes wholistically.

Designed to give participants a unique opportunity to train in a structured and academically diverse format, ARCA's summer-long postgraduate program was designed around the study of the dynamics, strategies, objectives and modus operandi of criminals and criminal organizations who commit a variety of art  related crimes.  

Turn on the news (or follow this blog) and you will see over and over again examples of museum thefts, forgeries, antiquities looting and illicit trafficking of cultural goods.  Intentional heritage destruction and religion-based iconoclasm during armed conflict, once a modern-day rarity, has affected multiple countries and adds to regional instability in many areas of the globe.


Looted art, both ancient and Holocaust-related, can and often does find its way into the world's premiere auction houses and the galleries of respected museum institutions while dealers working in the field continue to be less than adept at distinguishing smuggled and stolen art, from art with a clean provenance. Thus making dealing with art crime an unrelenting problem and one without any easy solution.

Taken incident by incident, it is difficult to see the impact and implications of art crime as a global concern, but when studied across disciplines, looking at the gaps of legal instruments, country to country, one begins to have a clearer picture of the significance of the problem and its impact on the world's collective patrimony.

The world's cultural heritage is an invaluable legacy and its protection is integral to our future. 

One summer, eleven courses.

At its foundation, ARCA's summer-long program in Italy draws upon the overlapping and complementary expertise of international thought-leaders on the topic of art crime – all practitioners and leading scholars who actively work in the sector. 

In 2019, participants of the program will receive 220+ hours of instruction over 11 courses taught by a range of experts actively committed to combatting art crime from a variety of different angles.

For more information on the summer 2019 postgraduate professional development program, please see ARCA's website here.

To request further information or to receive a 2019 prospectus and application materials, please email:
education (at) artcrimeresearch.org

Interested in knowing more about the program from a student's perspective?

Here are some blog posts from and by students who have attended in 20162015, 2014, and in 2013.



October 10, 2018

Trial dates tentatively set for December 2018 for 19 "Operation Demetra" defendants


Judges from the Tribunale del Riesame di Caltanissetta, the court of first instance with general jurisdiction in criminal matters within the territory of Caltanissetta, Sicily, have set a tentative date for trial of December 2018 for 19 of the individuals connected to Italy's Operation Demetra. 


Resident of Belpasso, Italy
Palmino Pietro Signorello, 66

Residents of Campobello di Licata, Italy
Francesco Giordano, 71 
Luigi Giuseppe Grisafi, 64

Residents of Gela, Italy
Giuseppe Cassarà, 58
Simone Di Simone, (also known as "Ucca aperta"), 46
Rocco Mondello, 61
Orazio Pellegrino, (also known as "nacagliacani"), 54

Resident of Mazzè, Italy
Salvatore Pappalardo, 55

Residents of Paternò, Italy
Luigi Signorello, 34

Residents of Ravanusa, Italy
Matteo Bello, 53
Calogero Ninotta, (also known as "Lilli"), 39
Gaetano Romano, (also known as "Mimmo"), 58

Residents of Riesi, Italy
Angelo Chiantia, (also known as "Faccia pulita") 59  
Francesco Lucerna, (also known as "U zu Ginu") 76
Gaetano Patermo, (also known as "Tano"), 63

Resident of Strongoli, Italy
Luigi La Croce, 62

Residents of Torino, Italy
Giovanni Lucerna, 49
Maria Debora Lucerna, 55

Resident in Stanmore (London), UK
William Veres, (also known as “il professore"), 64

Lawyers for the accused are:

Ivan Bellanti
Angelo Cafà
Paolo Di Caro
Davide Limoncello
Ignazio Valenza

The gup of the Court of Caltanissetta, also has decided to revoke the precautionary measures, of three defendants who had previously been released pending trial to their homes with permission to go to leave to go to and from work.  Those individuals are Francesco Giordano, Luigi Giuseppe Grisafi, and Calogero Ninotta.

Previously the Italian courts rejected an appeal made through attorney, Davide Limoncello, presented in relation to a European arrest warrant (EAW) issued for William Veres. The London-based Hungarian antiquities dealer is one of the strategic names in Operation Demetra, an Italian-led illicit trafficking blitz carried out by law enforcement authorities in Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom in July 2018. 

Veres has been released on bail with supervised release conditions while he awaits the UK's ruling at London’s Westminster Magistrates Court as to whether or not he should be extradited to Italy to face the charges against him. Extradition to Italy is regulated by law as well as by international conventions and agreements. In general, extradition, is this case between Britain and Italy, means that Italy has asked the UK to surrender Veres as a suspected criminal in order to stand trial for an alleged violation of the Italian law. But before doing so, the antiquities dealer is entitled to an extradition hearing. For more on this procedure, please see our previous article here. 

Should the UK judge, at the extradition hearing, decide it would be both proportionate and compatible, Veres' extradition to Italy would subsequently be ordered and Veres would then, if he so chose, ask the UK High Court for permission to appeal this decision, provided that request is made within seven days of the previous order. If the High Court does not grant his appeal, in that situation and later affirms the lower court's ruling that extradition is both proportionate and compatible, Veres would become subject to extradition within 10 days of the final court order, and would then be transferred to Italy either in time for the December court hearing, or to be rescheduled at a later date. 

September 11, 2018

Restitution: An Attic Marble Anthemion from a Grave Stele returned to Greece


On June 9, 2017 forensic archaeologist Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, wrote to ARCA and to the Art and Antiques Unit of London's Metropolitan Police (New Scotland Yard), INTERPOL and the Greek police Art Squad reporting that he had identified an Attic Marble Anthemion from a Grave Stele coming up for auction in Sotheby's June 12, 2017 London auction which he had traced to the archive of convicted Italian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina. 

This accumulation of records was seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during raids conducted on Becchina’s gallery, Palladion Antique Kunst, as well as two storage facilities inside the Basel Freeport, and another elsewhere in Switzerland.  The Becchina Archive consists of some 140 binders which contain more than 13,000 documents related to the antiquities dealer's business.  

These dealer records include shipping manifests, antiquarian dealer notes, invoices, pricing documents, and thousands of photographic images.  Many of which are not the slick art gallery salesroom photos, but rather, point and shoot Polaroids taken by looters and middlemen.  This latter type of image often depicts looted antiquities in their recently plundered state, some of which still bear soil and salt encrustations. 

Two of the identifying Polaroid images of the object
located in the Becchina archive. 
In 2011 Becchina was convicted in Italy for his role in the illegal antiquities trade and while he later appealed this conviction, he is currently under investigation by Italy's Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (DIA) who moved to seize his cement trade business, Atlas Cements Ltd., his olive oil company, Olio Verde srl., Demetra srl., Becchina & Company srl., bank accounts, land, and real estate properties including Palazzo Pignatelli in November 2017. 

Looted antiquities traced to Becchina's trafficking network, like this attic marble anthemion, continue to surface in private collections, museums and some of the world's most prestigious auction firms specializing in ancient art and are frequently identified by Tsirogiannis, archaeologists working with Italy's Avvocatura dello Stato, the Italian Carabinieri and the Greek police. 

In his email, Tsirogiannis stated that he had identified the attic marble anthemion in three professional and two Polaroids images as well as in four separate documents found in the confiscated Becchina business records. The dealer's documentation indicated that the stele appeared to have been in Becchina's hands from 1977 until 1990, when it was then sold on to George Ortiz, a collector and heir to the South American Patiñho tin fortune who lived in Geneva and whose name has appeared with regularity on this blog tied to purchases of objects of illicit origin.   Ortiz's name has long been associated with this trafficking network as his was one of the names found on the network organigram found in Pasquale Camera's personal possessions.

Interestingly both Becchina and Ortiz were never mentioned in the 'Provenance' section given by Sotheby's.   During the sale, the object's collection history was listed simply as follows: 


Possibly as a result of Tsirogiannis' identification, the 340 B.C.E. object (thankfully) failed to sell.  Eleven months later, in a May 7th 2018 issue of the Times, the newspaper reported that Sotheby's, not Tsirogiannis, had discovered that they had a false collecting history on the stele at which point "by way of a voluntary goodwill gesture" handed the stele over to the Metropolitan Police in London.  The Greek Embassy in London working with the Greek The Ministry of Culture authorities via the Directorate for the Documentation and Protection of Cultural Property, followed up with the legal claims necessary for restitution and on June 27th, 2018 Christos Tsirogiannis testified at the Greek consulate in London as to his findings. Subsequent to the above, the object was formally handed over on September 8, 2018.

After its return to Greece, yesterday, the column has been delivered to the Epigraphical Museum of Athens, Greece. 

August 8, 2018

Sicilian judges reject appeal made by William Veres

Screenshot of William Veres from the documentary
“The Hunt for Transylvanian Gold
Judges from the Tribunale del Riesame di Caltanissetta, the court of first instance with general jurisdiction in criminal matters within the territory of Caltanissetta, Sicily, have rejected an appeal made through attorney, Davide Limoncello,  presented in relation to a European arrest warrant (EAW) issued for William Veres.  The London-based Hungarian antiquities dealer is one of 41 persons who have been named in Operation Demetra, an Italian-led illicit trafficking blitz carried out by law enforcement authorities in Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom in July 2018.  

The appeal presented by Limoncello on behalf of Mr. Veres was made to address the personal and real precautionary measures requested by the Italian authorities in relation to his client, deemed necessary by the prosecutor in the context of the criminal proceedings related to the case. 

Veres was taken into custody on 4 July by officers from London's Metropolitan Police - Art and Antiques Unit at his home in Forge Close, Stanmore in north-west London.  Subsequent to his arrest, Veres was released on bail with supervised release conditions while he awaits the UK's ruling at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court as to whether or not he should be extradited to Italy to face the charges against him.

Extradition to Italy is regulated by law as well as by international conventions and agreements. In general, extradition, is this case between Britain and Italy, means that Italy has asked the UK to surrender Veres as a suspected criminal in order to stand trial for an alleged violation of the Italian law.  But before doing so, the antiquities dealer is entitled to an extradition hearing.

During that extradition hearing a UK judge will need to be satisfied that the conduct described in the European arrest warrant amounts to an extraditable offence in Great Britain.  This means, in almost all cases, that the alleged conduct of the suspect would also amount to a criminal offence were it to have occurred in the UK.  The UK courts would also have to evaluate whether or not  any of the UK's statutory bars to extradition apply. 

Most of the bars prohibiting extradition in the UK have to do with double jeopardy, the absence of a prosecution decision (whether the prosecution case against the accused is sufficiently advanced) or whether or not the request by the requesting foreign authority is improperly motivated.   The London judge will also decide if extradition would be disproportionate or incompatible with Veres'  human rights. 

Should the judge at the extradition hearing decide it would be both proportionate and compatible, Veres' extradition to Italy would subsequently be ordered.  Veres could then, if he so chose, ask the UK High Court for permission to appeal this decision, provided that request is made within seven days of the previous order.  

If the High Court grants an appeal, in that situation and later affirms the lower court's ruling that extradition is both proportionate and compatible, Veres would become subject to extradition within 10 days of the final court order (unless an agreement to extend, due to exceptional circumstances, is made with Italy).

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 29, 2018

41 suspects now named in the antiquities blitz "Operation Demetra" carried out in Italy, Germany, Spain, and the UK


As the transnational crime investigation Operation Demetra proceeds into the alleged trafficking of archaeological finds, Italian news reports have begun publishing the names of the 41 individuals currently listed in the obgoing investigation.  Some of these individuals have been given precautionary pretrial measures including pretrial incarceration, house arrest or electronic monitoring.  The remainder are at large pending the conclusion of the investigation.


The individuals alleged to be involved live in 19 cities in Italy, as well as in Ehingen, Germany, Barcelona, Spain, and Stanmore (London) in the United Kingdom. 

A breakdown of the cities is as follows:

Resident of Adrano, Italy
Salvatore Leanza, 55

Resident of Albiano d'Ivrea, Italy
Walter Angelo Rezza, 70

Resident of Belpasso, Italy
Palmino Pietro Signorello, 66

Residents of Campobello di Licata, Italy
Francesco Giorano, 71
Luigi Giuseppe Grisafi, 64
Ignazio Urbano La Mendola, 79

Residents of Canicattì, Italy
Anna Maria Omero, 74
Mauro Ettore Zanchi, 56

Residents of Centuripe, Italy
Franco Benardelli, 82
Francesco Saccone, (also known as "Ciccio") 80

Residents of Collegno, Italy
Valter Bertaggia, 70

Resident of Favara, Italy
Calogero Stagno, (also known as "Lillo"), 51

Residents of Gela, Italy
Giuseppe Cassarà, 58
Simone Di Simone, (also known as "Ucca aperta"), 46
Orazio Pellegrino, (also known as "nacagliacani"), 54

Resident of Licata, Italy
Salvatore Curella, 66

Resident of Mazzarino, Italy
Giovanni Stuppia, 39

Resident of Mazzè, Italy
Alfredo Crepaldi, 61
Salvatore Pappalardo, 55

Resident of Palma di Montechiaro, Italy
Domenico Dario Cutaia, 43

Residents of Paternò, Italy
Santo Gulisano, 58
Alfredo Antonino Pennisi, 57a
Luigi Signorello, 34

Residents of Ravanusa, Italy
Matteo Bello, 53
Calogero Ninotta, (also known as "Lilli"), 39
Gaetano Romano, (also known as "Mimmo"), 58
Bernardo Tresca, 67

Residents of Riesi, Italy
Angelo Chiantia, (also known as "Faccia pulita") 59  
Daniele Correnti, 55
Onofrio La Leggia, (also known as "Ciuffettino") 59
Francesco Lucerna, (also known as "U zu Ginu") 76
Gaetano Luciano Oliveri, 57
Gaetano Patermo, (also known as "Tano"), 63
Filippo Vecchio, 51

Residents of Refrancore, Italy
Renzo Maggiora, 79

Resident of Strongoli, Italy
Luigi La Croce, 62

Residents of Torino, Italy
Giovanni Lucerna, 49
Maria Debora Lucerna, 55

Resident in Ehingen, Germany
Rocco Mondello, 61

Resident in Barcelona, Spain
Andrea Palma, 36,

Resident in Stanmore (London), UK
William Veres, (also known as “il professore"), 64

July 17, 2018

Quotes given by ancient art dealer William Veres outlining Balkan trafficking methods.

Image Credit:  Screenshot from documentary “The Hunt for Transylvanian Gold.”  
In 2008, following a ten-year investigation coordinated by Prosecutor General Augustin Lazăr of Romania, a number of individuals were charged in connection with illegal excavations carried out in the dense forests of the Orăştie Mountains in the vicinity of the Sarmizegetusa Regia fortress, one of six heritage sites which make up the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Dacian Fortresses of the Orăştie, dating to the mid-first century BCE.  To date twenty-eight individuals have been named in connection with this multinational investigation which has resulted in antiquities recoveries from New York, Zurich, Paris, Munich, and Hunedoara – Romania. 

Some of the persons identified in this complex investigation include Ioan Bodea, Radu Horia Camil, Iulian Ceia, Călin Ciota, Călin Corhan, Ciprian Hidişan, Daniel Jurca, Ilic Ljubisa, Ilie Luncan, Viorica Luncan, Daniel Moc,  David Magda, Ion Nedelcu, Miu Nedelcu, Adrian and Florin Nistor, Ovidiu Olah, Remus Pop, and Mihai Zerkula, each of whom were associated in some way with a criminal enterprise that has been identified as being involved in unauthorized excavations conducted in the Dacian citadels in the Orăştie Mountains, located in the counties of Hunedoara and Alba, in Romania.


In 2017 details of this looting case, which began in the capital of the Dacians civilization in the central mountains of Romania, were detailed in a fifty-minute documentary called “The Hunt for Transylvanian Gold.”  

Of the 24 gold spirals, stolen between 1998 and 2001, only 13 have been recovered.  They are now on display at the Muzeul Național de Istorie a României.  Six of the bracelets are believed to have passed through the hands of one antiquities collector, Ilic Ljubisa, believed to have been the organizer of a group of traffickers known as the "Serbian cartel" which operated out of Zurich.  Ljubisa bought three pairs of the gold spirals and is believed to have been involved in their transport to Belgrade.

To understand how Romania's golden artifacts made their way out of Romania via Serbia and onto the antiquities market, the documentary makers, Boston-based Kogainon Films, interviewed many people, including Hungarian born and London-based antiquities dealer William Veres.  Veres is now the subject of his own multinational police investigation of antiquities trafficking originating in Italy. 

In the documentary, Veres is filmed making several interesting, if not quite incriminating, statements regarding the methodologies used by the antiquities handlers caught up in the Dacian gold looting case.  

Veres comments on the city of Belgrade in Serbia and its role in the illicit trade of cultural heritage

“Belgrade, as you know, is *inaudible* the biggest capital maybe in the whole world for stolen art. So...the....let's call it the Serbian mafia, it would be a number of individuals who, would, amongst other things, deal with ancient objects and would have clients in the west.

Veres comments on the differences between art dealers in Western Europe and art dealers in the Balkans

“I've known these people as dealers, and as I say, you can look at this in a...in another context, as I say, if, the laws in countries like Serbia and Romania were different, these people wouldn't be much different from myself. But the point is that, this activity you can carry on legally in somewhere like Germany, France, even Italy, let's say, and in other countries, you can't carry it on because of the nature of cultural.... the laws of cultural property.

While drawing out a hypothetical illicit trafficking route, Veres comments on how plundered art moves from Romania to Serbia

“In the case of these spirals, once you have, once they are here in Belgrade, then of course they go to ahh Vienna, ummm Munich, maybe Zurich, and Geneva. These are the, I would say, the first stops, and from here then, to America. So it is a personal trade, run by professionals, who know what they are doing very, very well. The bus drivers they know where to hide things. So you give them a small package, you know, five hundred euros and I'm sure ahhh this can be transported to Belgrade, to Vienna overnight.  It's very efficient, like DHL.

Efficient like DHL.  Words worth remembering. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 6, 2018

More details on Operation Demetra

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TPC
As has been noted to be the case in the past, Sicilian trafficking cases sometimes have organized crime origins and that appears to also be the case with this week's announced Operation Demetra, named after the Greek divinity much venerated in Sicily.   As new individuals are identified with this investigation, it is interesting to see how some of them are connected to one another, to incidences of trafficking in the past and how they fit into the puzzle of this multinational investigation. 

Gaetano Patermo
Begun as an anti-mafia investigation, initiated by the Nissena Prosecutor for the territory of Riesi, Operation Demetra grew to international proportions when the Carabinieri began reinvestigating the activities of Gaetano Patermo (A.K.A "Tano"). 

Gaetano Patermo
In 2007 Patermo was named along with other individuals,  including Angelo Chiantia and Simone Di Simone, in a 35-person investigation involving illegal excavations, theft, reproduction, falsification, exportation, sale and receipt, even in foreign territory, of archaeological assets belonging to the public domain.

Although acquitted for these earlier alleged offences the details of the 2007 case were remarkably similar to the methodology used by traffickers involved in the 2014-2018 investigation that Patermo has now been arrested for.  According to the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Property responsible for the archaeological heritage of Palermo, led by Major Luigi Mancuso, the antiquities were being transferred from Sicily to northern Italy, hidden inside baggage along with travellers garments and inside the linings of suitcases. 

In the older case, clandestine material was transported out of Sicily through Spain and Switzerland by means of campers or trucks loaded with fruits and vegetables.  Once out of the country the antiquities and coins were also passed on to potential international buyers.  

As it relates to Operation Demetra, it is alleged that Patermo had contacts with the network of couriers that transported illlicit material and interacted with individuals connected to the London-based art dealer William Thomas Veres. 

Angelo Chiantia and Simone Di Simone
Angelo Chiantia (Left) and Simone Di Simone (Right)
Not picked up in the original sweep earlier this week, but wanted by the Italian authorities in connection with this more recent investigation, Angelo Chiantia of Riesi and Simone Di Simone of Gela, in the presence of their lawyers, turned themselves in to law enforcement authorities yesterday afternoon.  Both are believed to have played roles as middlemen in the smuggling of cultural heritage abroad. 

Francesco Lucerna is from Riesi, hometown of the notorious Mafia boss Giuseppe Di Cristina in the province of Caltanissetta, whose death was a prelude to the Second Mafia War.  In addition to being an alleged "tomborolo" Lucerne was identified in February 2015 as the person who put together this organized network of tombaroli and counterfeiters, selling authentic and imitation archaeological remains to wealthy entrepreneurs and industrialists in Piedmont, where he had relocated, as well as on to buyers in Germany.  

Following the 2015 search and seizures carried out in the province of Caltanissetta more than one thousand artifacts were seized including 859 clay vases and amphorae, 146 ancient coins dating back to the Greek and Roman age, 191 paleontological finds and two illegal metal detectors.   The antiquities were believed to have come from an undocumented fourth or fifth century BCE villa, most likely discovered somewhere in the archaeological area of ​​Philosopiana, between Butera and Riesi.  Unfortunately without a find spot, and with nothing known about the context around where the antiquities were excavated, little can be concretely ascertained.  Police also raided two forgers in Misterbianco and Paternò, near Catania, whose workshops contained 878 counterfeit coins and 960 forged coin dies which were used to strike the authentic-looking fakes.  These were being prepared to be sold to collectors, possibly being told they were authentic. 

Andrea Palma
Lists himself on Linkedin as a Numismatic Expert & Advisor at Martí Hervera, SL in Barcelona as well as at Soler y Llach Subastas Internacionales, S.A.

Interestingly, he also appears to have been affiliated in some way with an excavation at the Villa Romana del Casale di Piazza Armerina (EN), in Sicily and to have earned a degree from the Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza" where he studied at numismatics, epigraphy and archaeology. 

William Veres

The Hungarian-born antiquities dealer William Veres has always walked a fine line in who and how he has worked with individuals known to have had connections to illicit trafficking.  In addition to the questionable incidences already mentioned in our earlier blog posts, in which he received a suspended sentence, and the billionaire purchaser was acquitted, Veres was once accused by former self-confessed smuggler and police informant Michel Van Rijn of running a London-based business that deals in smuggled relics.  One of those relics was a Coptic Ps.Gospel of Judas (Iscariot), part of an ancient codice written in Coptic and Greek which surfaced on the international art market once connected to many well known names and faces.

Veres was arrested at his home at his home in Stanmore, northwest London this week. 

William Veres
Lest we forget, art criminals don't just deal with tomb raiders, gallery show rooms and collectors of ancient art.  Sometimes they also rub elbows with the worst of the underworld. And if you think that the Procura di Caltanissetta only deals with heritage crimes you would be wrong.

Personnel of the provincial command of the Carabinieri of Caltanissetta, at the request of the DDA (Direzione Distrettuale Antimafia) and of the local prosecutor are also following investigations in the region against the 'family' of Riesi, the "stidda" of the Cosa Nostra.  This group is believed to be responsible for not only the trafficking of drugs, and extortion, but also appear to have been the executors of numerous murders and attempted murders which took place in the early 1990s. 

By:  Lynda Albertson