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 13, 2018

Restitution: Two Etruscan Objects returned to Italy from Great Britain

Image Credit:  ARCA From Left to Right - Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Britain's Minister of State for the Armed Forces Mark Lancaster, General of Army Corps Sabino Cavaliere, Commander of Mobile Units and Specialized Carabinieri 'Palidoro', Jill Morris, U.K. ambassador to Italy, and Detective Sergeant Rob Upham, chief of London's Metropolitan Police, Art & Antiques Squad.

In a formal ceremony on Thursday the 11th of October at the Villa Wolkonsky, the official residence of the British ambassador to Italy in Rome, UK authorities returned two Etruscan artifacts recovered by the Metropolitan Police in consultation with Italy's Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale.  Both objects had been located within the vibrant London antiquities market.  

The bronze Etruscan statuette of Lares had been stolen from the Museo Archeologico di Siena in 1988.  According to Detective Sergeant Rob Upham, on hand for the handover from New Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit, the terracotta Etruscan askos (a flask with spout and handle shaped like a sphinx), had once passed through the inventory of a convicted Italian ancient art dealer.   Elaborating to the press Upham added that the seller of the object in the UK appeared to be in good faith and therefore was treated as a cooperating witness during the Metropolitan police investigation. 

Image Credit:  ARCA Objects restituted
from the UK to Italy
To further the culture of legality in the field of protection of cultural heritage, and to highlight the UK's ongoing cooperation with their Italian counterparts, British Ambassador to Italy, Jill Morris CMG opened Villa Wolkonsky for the restitution ceremony highlighting the importance of recovery operations and welcoming experts from Italy and the UK in the fields of heritage protection and military cooperation.  Alongside the two restitutions Ambassador Morris and her staff arranged for an exhibition of stolen objects recovered by the Italy's art crime Carabinieri and an informative interactive display of many promising technological tools, made possible by advances in geophysics and remote sensing, which are now being used to assist in the protection of cultural heritage.  

Underpinning the event, was an afternoon heritage symposium titled  'UK-Italy: Partners for Culture' which served to underscore the embassy's commitment to the cultural partnerships established between Italy and the United Kingdom and which was facilitated through the combined efforts of the British Embassy in Rome, the British military, the British Council, the British School at Rome and the British Institute of Florence.   

Recovered objects presented in the exhibition highlighted several of the Carabinieri's significant recovery actions.  Three of which were:

A Violin made in 1567 by Cremonese violin maker Andrea Amati created to celebrate the investiture of King Charles IX of France.  The instrument was illegally exported from Italy in 2010 to the United States.


A I-II century CE limestone Palmyrene funerary relief, plundered from a hypogeum located at the archaeological site of Palmyra in Syria.  This stele was recovered from of an individual in Turin following investigations by the Italian authorities into the illicit trafficking of archaeological assets from the Middle East.  

Each of the historic objects selected for Thursday's exhibition provided attendees with a narrative fulcrum of the pervasiveness and diversity of threats against heritage and the importance of preserving the delicate balance that exists between admiring and preserving the the past through connoisseurship and collecting and the loss of historical context when objects are stolen or looted.

On hand for the event, UK Minister for the Armed Forces, Mark Lancaster, announced that his country's Army-led Cultural Property Protection Unit (CPPU) has now been fully established as part of the UK Government’s implementation of the Hague Convention.  This instrument places obligations on signatory country's armed forces for the protection of cultural property from damage, destruction, and looting.  Minister Lancaster also reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to the Statement of Intent signed earlier this year which furthers defence and security cooperation between Italy and the United Kingdom on a wide range of security challenges.

Speaking on behalf of the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli highlighted the successes of his country's team since the founding of ‘Carabinieri’ Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in 1969.  Since its creation, the branch of the Italian Carabinieri responsible for combatting art and antiquities crimes has recovered more than 797,000 works of art and confiscated 1,096,747 archaeological finds.  The tenacious efforts of the unit's personnel in deterring the global clandestine market of antiquities, in collaboration with police, military forces and judicial authorities of others countries, serves as the gold standard military police model for addressing the far-reaching, multiform and pernicious problem of illicit trafficking and art theft, both nationally and transnationally. 

General Parrulli also emphasized Italy's ‘Unite4Heritage’ (Blue Helmets for culture) project, which was approved unanimously by UNESCO, as a division available and trained, to be used as needed both inside and outside Italy, for the protection of the cultural heritage in the event of natural disasters, armed conflicts or an international crisis at the request of the UN, UNESCO or State Parties.  Composed of 30 Carabinieri, a commander, and heritage experts (archaeologists, art historians, computer engineers and geologists) from the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, this team has been put in place to  support local police forces in their efforts to prevent looting, plundering and trafficking of historical and artistic heritage, as well as in the recovery and protection of these assets in times of crisis.

Seventy years after the British Army last had officers in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives sections during the Second World War and following the UK's ratification of the Hague Convention (1954), which makes it an obligation for the Armed Forces to have a military CPP unit, Lt. Col. Tim Purbrick OBE VR will be the first to lead the UK's newly formed Cultural Property Protection Unit.  During his presentation Lt. Col. Purbrick stated that his unit will consist of 15 trained experts, drawing from members of the Army, Navy, RAF, and Royal Marines as well as civilian experts, brought on board as Army reservists.  His team is expected to work closely with their Italian counterparts to advance the UK's own international military expertise within the sector of cultural property protection. 

Image Credit:  Carabinieri TPC  -
Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander
of the Italian Carabinieri Command for the
Protection of Cultural Heritage and Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO

ARCA also was invited to give a presentation at the symposium on the Association's contributions to the research academic examination of art crimes as a notable criminological area worthy of more profound study.   Speaking simply as a watchful observer to some of the problems existing within the licit art market, Lynda Albertson's presentation touched some of the impediments to successful prosecution of heritage crimes as they relate to the transnational movement of illicit  cultural objects.  

During her presentation Ms. Albertson highlighted the multijurisdictional movement of objects, as they transit from country of origin to country of purchase, discussing ARCA's initiatives in Italy and to providing training to heritage personnel in the Middle East as a way to assist in the tracking and identification of objects stolen from vulnerable source countries. 

Highlighting an insufficient number of law enforcement officers outside of Italy's formidable art squad, and the need for adequate funding to pay experts who presently monitor the market on a volunteer basis, Ms. Albertson also stressed the need for dedicated public prosecutors specializing in art and antiquities crimes and mandatory uniform reporting requirements for object provenance in the market as the market's opacity impedes the tracking stolen and looted objects and exacerbates the collective damage we all suffer when cultural goods are siphoned away through illegal exportation and trafficking. 

ARCA would like to thank Ambassador Morris for her kind invitation to participate and for her recognition of the value of culture in its own right and as a vector for Italy-UK cooperation. 

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. 

October 8, 2018

Conference: Third All Art and Cultural Heritage Law Conference on “National Treasures: Limits to Private Property and Cross-Border Movements”


The 3rd All Art and Cultural Heritage Law Conference on “National Treasures: Limits to Private Property and Cross-Border Movements” will be held at the University of Geneva on Saturday, November 10, 2018 and will look at the concept of “national treasures” and to critically explore its meaning and impact on the regulation of the cross-border trade in cultural objects. 

Participation is free but attendees are asked to register by 30 October 2018 at
art-droit@unige.ch

Details presented by the organizers are as follows: 

10:00 Registration
10:30 Welcome words 
Benedict Foëx, Dean of the Law Faculty, University of Geneva

Foreword / Introduction
Stephen Urice, Professor, School of Law, University of Miami
Marc-André Renold, Director of the Art-Law Centre, UNESCO Chair, University of Geneva

PANEL I – LEGAL PERSPECTIVE: RULES, NOTIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS 
Chair: Alessandro Chechi, University of Geneva

10:50 Gagliani Gabriele, Bocconi University 
Article XX(f) of the GATT 1994 and Rules on Treaty Interpretation: Defining ‘National Treasures’ in International Trade Law

11:10 Anna Frankiewicz-Boydynek and Piotor Stec, Opole University 
Defining ‘National Treasures’ under the EU Directive on Return of Cultural Goods. Is Sky Really the Limit?
 
Discussion and coffee break

11:50 Ferrazzi Sabrina, University of Verona 
EU National Treasures, Politics and the Role of the ECJ

12:10 Evelien Campfens, University of Leiden 
Whose Treasures? Limits to the Notion of ‘National Treasures’ and New Prospects

12:30 Edith Wagner, Max Planck Institute Luxembourg 
Regulation through Litigation. The Procedural Protection of National Treasures and the Potential of EU Civil Procedure to Regulate the Cross-Border Trade in Cultural Property
 
Discussion and lunch break

PANEL II – PRACTICAL PERSPECTIVE: CASES FROM EUROPE AND BEYOND 
Chair: Marc-André Renold, Director of the Art-Law Centre, 
University of Geneva

14:00 Gillman Derek, Drexel University 
The Old Summer Palace and the Making of National Treasures

14:20 Teodora Konach and Michaela Löff, University of Vienna 
How ‘National’ Are ‘National Treasures’? Comparative Analysis of Austrian, Czech and Polish Legislation

14:40 Arianna Visconti and Eliana Romanelli, Catholic University of Milan 
The Definition and Identification of Cultural Property under the Italian Code of Cultural Heritage in light of the Recent Reform on the Export of Cultural Goods: Closing the Gap with the EU Approach, or Cosmetics?
 
Discussion and coffee break

15:40 Charlotte Woodhead, University of Warwick 
Tarnished Treasures: Provenance and the UK’s Waverly Criteria

16:00 Musa Ramatu, University of Basel 
The Sapi-Portuguese Ivories as ‘National Treasures’ of the Republic of Sierra Leone: A Moral Case for Repatriation

16:20 Riccardo Vecellio Segate, Utrecht University 
Treasures and Heritage under the TFEU: The Case of Music Legacy

16:40 Marc-André Renold, Alessandro Chechi and Stephen Urice 
Conclusions

September 11, 2018

Recovery: Gold Objects stolen from the Nizam Museum

Image Credit: Hyderabad Police

Holding a press conference in Hyderabad, authorities announced that the  gold tiffin box, saucer, cup & spoon stolen from Nizam Museum on September 3rd have been recovered by Hyderabad Police. The two accused, Mohammed Gaus Pasha (23) and a relative Mohammed Mubeen (24) from the Himayat Sagar area of ​​the city have been arrested.

The pair of thieves had accessed the museum by dislodging a four-feet wide ventilation grill and then dropping some 20 feet down into the exhibition gallery.  

For full details on the theft please see ARCA's earlier blog post here. 

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. 

September 8, 2018

Saturday, September 08, 2018 - , No comments

Repatriation: The Sicán funeral mask finally goes home to Peru

Image Credit: Patricia Balbuena
Ministry of Culture Peru
In a legal battle that has taken 19 years of litigation, Germany's Plenipotentiary of the Free State of Bavaria, Dr. Rolf-Dieter Jungk, has turned over the eighth-century pre Columbian gold Lambayeque (Sicán) funerary mask to the Peruvian Culture Minister, Patricia Balbuena, at the Peruvian embassy in Berlin on Thursday. The priceless mask, made of hammered sheet gold alloy, was confiscated in Wiesbaden in 1999.


Decorative masks such as these have been found in tombs in the Lambayeque region of Peru, near the modern city of Chiclayo. As they lack perforations to see with, or holes to breathe through, they are believed to have been created solely as ornaments for the deceased, and likely covered the faces of high status individuals as part of their burial processes.


According to investigations by the Fiscal Police of Peru, the mask is believed to have been smuggled out of Peru sometime in 1997 and was brought to Germany by Aydin Dikmen. Dikmen was arrested in 1998 for his role in selling looted mosaics from the 6th century church of the Virgin of Kanakaria in the village of Lythrangomi sold on to Peg Goldberg in the United States.  The mask was formally confiscated in 1999 by the INTERPOL Office in Wiesbaden, Germany. 
 
Cover article in El Comercio
June 16, 1998
The case for restitution took years, winding its way through the Regional Court of Munich.  In December 2016, the 6th Civil Chamber issued a sentence ordering the release of the Sican Mask, confiscated by the Munich Prosecutor's Office and authorized its delivery to the Peruvian State.

For more information illustrating the search for recorded cultural goods, stolen, auctioned and repatriated from Peru, please follow the excellent writing at Memoria Robada. 

September 6, 2018

Museum Theft Update: Doge’s Palace - Venice, Italy

Exhibition Hall, Sala dello Scrutinio, Doge's Palace, Venice
Image Credit: Palazzo Ducale
Eight months into the investigation, Italian news sites have begun reporting more details on the band of thieves believed to be behind the theft of part of the jewellery collection of Qatar's Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani. The jewels were stolen from an alcove just off of the Sala della Scrutinio at the Palazzo Ducale during a brazen, broad daylight, robbery from the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" exhibition on January 3rd.

Reconstructing the events surrounding the 10 am theft on the final day of the exhibition authorities have apparently discussed their hypothesis with one or more members of the Italian press. 
According to a report first published on Twitter by Mediaset Journalist Clemente Mimun, it is believed that the thieves may be members of a Croatian and Serbian criminal network which specialized in high-value thefts, known to have committed other offences in Italy and other countries.  No information is given in Mediaset's formal article several hours after Mimun's tweet, nor in La Repubblica's subsequent article as to why authorities believe the squad is made up of Serb and Croat nationals or indicating what information aside from general speculation would lead to this assumption.


During the January 3, 2018 incident, two thieves, one serving as lookout, wearing a buttoned sweater and a fisherman's beanie, and a second serving as principal actor, took a remarkable 20 seconds to open, then pocket a pair of teardrop diamond earrings and a heavy brooch made up of diamonds, rubies, gold, and platinum.


Given that the display case and its alarm failed to activate or activate in a timely manner when the glass case was breached, it is reasonable to assume that the pair of thieves might have had insider help.  Perhaps from someone, either connected to the museum with knowledge of or access to the exhibitions alarm systems, as they were expressly installed for this specific exhibit and in normal circumstances would have been expected to sound an alarm as soon as the display case was opened which would allow time for the perimeter to have been sealed.

Gone in a Bling

In the CCTV camera footage a clean-shaven man wearing a hooded puffer jacket and casual pants, sporting a traditional coppola style flat cap, can be seen at first viewing the jewels in several display cases at a leisurely pace, along with five other individuals, one of whom is believed to have served as a lookout.


Once the room clears of potential witnesses, the thief, working quickly and discreetly, but in full view of the CCTV camera, opens the glass door on the case and pockets the jewellery in the pocket of his jacket.  Afterwards, the pair calmly blend back in with the rest of the museum's patrons, and casually exit the Doge's Palace before security has time to apprehend them. 

Given that the security for this event was specifically requested and installed as a condition of the exhibition of the Sheik's jewels, it is reasonable to believe that the culprits were practised experts, perhaps those who also had advance knowledge of the Doge's security routine, and the timing it would take for security to react to their breach.

Whether or not Mediaset was referring to a network of jewel thieves known as "The Pink Panthers", an elusive gang of jewel thieves which is believed to have members from Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is unclear. This sometimes violent network of jewel thieves are believed to be responsible for more than 200 high-value robberies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  For fifteen years this network of Balkan jewel thieves has committed audacious heists, sometimes by violent means as depicted in the real-life surveillance footage shown in the documentary “Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers.” 


As in the Venice heist Pink Panther thefts usually involve prior preparation and advanced skill, often casting nondescript individuals to case locations of potential robberies prior to their execution.  In one particularly dramatic theft on May 19, 2003 at Graff on New Bond Street in London a member of the group was able to make off with more than thirty million dollars’ worth of diamonds at in less than three minutes.

Whether or not the Doge's Palace Museum theft is related to the Pink Panthers is unclear, but should they be, they will likely benefit from the inventive perpetrators' uncanny ability to fence traceable high-end goods. In the past law enforcement authorities have indicated that the Panther network consisted of between twenty and thirty experienced thieves at any given time, with facilitators in various cities providing logistical assistance.   Often, stolen diamonds end up in Antwerp as well as among the collections of indifferent clients in wealthy countries like Italy, France, Russia and Switzerland.



September 5, 2018

Museum Theft: Nizam Museum (HEH Nizam's Museum) Hyderabad, India


According to local authorities, thieves broke into the Nizam Museum housed on the first floor of the Purani Haveli palace located in Hyderabad, Telangana, India sometime on the evening of Sunday, September 2, 2018.  The palace, located just a few kilometers away from Chowmahalla Palace, is also home to a library and the Mukarram Jah Technical Institute.

In the past the palace was once the official residence of the Nizam, the last of whom ruled over the region from 1911 to 1948, when Hyderabad State was annexed by India.  The museum showcases many gifts that the 7th and last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII received on his silver jubilee in 1936.  The museum  has been privately run by the Nizam’s Jubilee Pavillion Trust, and managed by descendants of the Nizam since the year 2000.  It houses approximately 450 objects in its collection.

Dislodging a four-feet wide ventilation grill, the burglar or burglars appear to have worked as a coordinated pair, dropping some 20 feet down into the exhibition gallery.  


Once inside one of the culprits broke into a non alarmed exhibition case and removed a three-tier diamond-studded gold tiffin box with trays carved with flora and fauna, as well as a golden tea cup and saucer embedded with ruby and emeralds, a spoon and a tray which once belonged to the 7th Nizam. Tiffins (or dhabbas) are traditionally round metal lunch containers with three or four stacking compartments used for serving traditional homemade thali lunches which feature bread, pickles, spicy curries, and sometimes desserts.


Once the goods were in hand, the thief was then hoisted back up and out of the same way he entered before making their getaway.



The loss was discovered the following morning by the museum's personnel who discovered the broken locks and empty showcase and then alerted the police.


CCTV Footage of suspected burglers

Journalists in India report that workers at the museum have been asking for security upgrades for quite some time.   Initial thoughts on the theft are leaning towards someone familiar with its limited security as one of the limited number of museum CCTV cameras had been tilted in such a way as to limit the image capture of the burgler(s).