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April 15, 2024

Arrest made in Spain on Egyptian antiquities smuggling case.

TEFAF Maastricht 2020
Image Credit: ARCA

According to Spain's Ministry of the Interior, following an investigation begun in 2023, the Policía Nacional have arrested a Barcelona gallery owner (Jaume Bagot Peix, operator of J. Bagot Arqueología) for allegedly committing the crimes of money laundering, smuggling, and document falsification in relation to this black granite head of a funerary monument for a high ranking official from the reign of Hatshepsut or Tuthmosis III in Egypt. 

TEFAF Maastricht 2022
Image Credit: ARCA

Valued at 190,000 euros, the circa 1504-1450 BCE artefact had been acquired by the Barcelona ancient art dealer in July 2015 via an intermediary in Bangkok, Thailand.  ARCA notes that this partial statue was documented on social media sites and up for sale through a Swiss-based art dealer during the short-lived European Fine Art Fair in 2020 and again with this same dealer when the fair reopened post-Covid in 2022.  

Having been the subject of a joint-European policing initiative which resulted in law enforcement authorities with the Dutch Politie in the Netherlands sharing evidence with their Spanish counterparts, police in Spain were able to concretised that this Egyptian artefact was illicit, despite it having been in free circulation for seven years through several sales passages occurring via dealers in Spain, Germany, and Switzerland.  Prior to these transactions, the object had traveled though the transit county of Thailand via an intermediary in Bangkok. 

The 18th Dynasty head depicts its patron wearing a short wig revealing the ears as well as defined almond-shaped eyes and prominent eyebrows.  In its complete and original form, the head would have once been attached at the shoulders to the rest of its memorial block statue representing a seated non-royal person.  

These types of statues would have depicted the individual's head, hands, and feet emerging from a cloak drawn tightly around the subject's body, similar to the one depicted at the left, which is on display at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.  During the period of the trafficked head's creation, it was likely crafted to resemble a guardian seated in the gateway of a temple as Egyptians believed that after a person's death, their soul could inhabit a statue in a general context of solar beliefs. 

The Swiss gallery that had purchased the artwork via another ancient art dealer in Germany, freely relinquished the artefact to the Dutch authorities once it was determined that the piece was suspect and had been acquired via the Spanish gallery owner, who had already been linked to the illicit trade in antiquities in conflict zones such as North Africa and the Middle East. 

To circulate this illicit artefact, the Spanish gallerist provided his trusting buyer, with a document that substituted collected information relating to several archaeological pieces belonging to a Spanish collection from the 70s making it appear as though the head had been part of a legitimate and documented collection prior to Egypt's antiquities laws tightening in 1983.  A not uncommon technique, suspect dealers have often attempted to "whiten" freshly looted material, by substituting, reusing, or outright fabricating documents of ownership, which, if not carefully explored, cosmetically appear to provide a legitimate "pedigree" to an antiquity which in reality is more recent plunder from an illicit excavation.  

It is for this reason, that the dealer who has been arrested has been charged not only with smuggling and money laundering, but also with document falsification of the object's provenance record. 

Point of reference in 2018, Frédéric Loore revealed in Paris Match that Jaume Bagot's network used various smuggling routes, notably via Egypt and Jordan to the United Arab Emirates, before returning to Catalonia after transiting through Germany or Thailand.

By:  Lynda Albertson

NB: For now, the Spanish authorities have elected to publish their arrest announcement withholding the name of the charged ancient art dealer.  

March 30, 2024

Stolen Saint: Ukraine Authorities Retrieve the Holy Warrior Bas-Relief of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki from an Online Auction

After a rare bas-relief appeared in an online auction, with an asking price of 210 thousand Ukrainian Hryvni, historians with the National Museum of the History of Ukraine notified law enforcement about the suspicious upcoming sale. Believed by its wear to be a wind-blown architectural element, which at some point adorned the exterior façade of the unknown 12 to 13th century "white stone" church, experts believed the stone sculpture had been removed by looters in contravention of national law, based on the fact of illegal appropriation by a person of someone else's property or treasure that has been found or accidentally found in his possession, which has special historical, scientific, artistic or cultural value (Part 1 of Article 193 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).

Believed to depict Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki (as a Holy Warrior), the Western Romanesque-styled limestone carving could only come from areas where this specific saint was honoured, i.e. Greece, Bulgaria, or more likely, Galicia–Volyn, the former principality in post-Kyivan Rus whose structures were built in the late twelfth century through the middle of the fourteenth century.  The rural landscape of this area, now predominantly situated in western Ukraine, is speckled with forgotten and deserted Roman Catholic churches (kościoły), poignant relics of bygone settlements that once flourished in the region.

Following a lengthy two year investigation, headed by Viktor Tymchuk of the Volyn Regional Prosecutor's Office and Svitlana Nedumova, the head of criminal proceedings and prosecutor of the Lutsk District Prosecutor's Office, assisted by the inquest section of the Lutsk District Police Department in the Volyn Region, the bas-relief was seized. 

This week, on March 27th, a handover ceremony was held at the National Museum of the History of Ukraine.  There, Andriy Kostin, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, entrusted the bas-relief of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki to the museum, where it will remain on display as part of the "Archaeologist's Day: Rescued Treasures" exhibition.   The Prosecutor General thanked his colleagues from the Lutsk District Prosecutor's Office for their prompt response to the statement of the General Director of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine, Fedor Androshchuk, regarding the monument identified during the online auction. 

Over the past three years, Ukraine's National Police and its Security Service (SBU), under the procedural guidance of the prosecutor's office, have investigated more than 300 crimes related to the theft, illegal trade, and smuggling of monuments.  

March 26, 2024

Judgment entered in favor of Plaintiff (Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc). against Defendant (Dirk D. Obbink)

In early June 2021 Hobby Lobby Inc, owned by craft store mogul, David Green,  filed a Civil Complaint for fraud against former professor Dirk Obbink.  According to Civil Docket No. 21-CV-3113, the craft conglomerate alleged that as many as 32 items that it had purchased between 2010 and 2013 from the Oxford professor, to be featured in the Museum of the Bible (MOTB), were not his to sell.  

Instead, the papyrus fragments the scholar sold them via Private Sale agreements had been stolen from Egyptian Exploration Society's collection.  The textual artefacts  were identified as having come from the Grenfell and Hunt excavations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at the site of Oxyrhynchus and were removed from the EES collection while Obbink still had access to the Sackler Library of the University of Oxford.

During the period of Obbink's commercial relationship with the MOTB philanthropists he served as the General Editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri for the EES (until August 2016).  He was also a renowned Lecturer in Papyrology and Greek Literature in the Faculty of Classics at Oxford.  That position ended in a fall from grace in February 2021 just as his life as a part time dealer began to unravel.  

The seven Hobby Lobby-purchase transactions were itemised as:

    Purchase #1 - February 6, 2010: Papyri fragments for $80,000 
    Purchase #2 - February 15, 2011: Papyri fragments and other antiquities for                $500,000
    Purchase #3 - July 22, 2010: Papyri fragments and other antiquities for $350,000 
    Purchase #4 - November 20, 2010: Papyri fragments and other antiquities for            $2,400,000
    Purchase #5 - July 20, 2011: Papyri fragments and other antiquities for                       $1,345,500 
    Purchase #6 - March 7, 2012: Papyri fragments and other antiquities for $609,600
    Purchase #7 - February 5, 2013: Papyri fragments and other antiquities for                 $1,810,000

Obbink had represented to Hobby Lobby that the 32 items he was selling all came from private collectors. 

In September 2023 Hobby Lobby asked the Magistrate Judge, overseeing the case at the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York to grant their request to transfer their fraud and breach of contract case to the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, where the company is headquartered. On October 5, 2023, their request was granted and on October 17th an amended complaint against Obbink was filed with the court in Oklahoma City which was served on the scholar on 4 November 2023. 

Throughout the proceedings, Obbink has failed to appear, plead, or otherwise respond to the unfolding US-based court case, and on January 29, 2024 Hobby Lobby filed a motion seeking a Clerk's Entry of Default.  As a result, on March 11, 2024 Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, David L. Russell entered a motion for Default Judgment in favour of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., awarding them the eye popping sum of $7,085,100.00, with prejudgment interest from February 5, 2013, at the rate of 6% per annum. 

Yet despite this scandal of Biblical proportions, Dirk Obbink was last seen on his houseboat, self-destructively ignoring the US and UK legal drama swirling around him. 

To recap the last eight years. 

In the Spring 2016 the Egyptian Exploration Society realised that the much rumoured "First Century Mark" papyrus that had been the subject of so much speculation was in fact their own papyrus fragment (P.Oxy. 5345).

By August 2016 the EES decided to not re-appoint Obbink as the General Editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri primarily because of unsatisfactory discharge of his editorial duties, but also because of concerns, which he did not allay, about his "alleged involvement" in the marketing of ancient texts, especially the controversial Sappho and Gospel of Mark fragments.  

By December 2017, according to court documents, Obbink had admitted to Hobby Lobby that he had “mistakenly” sold the Gospel Fragments in Purchase #7 (for  $1,810,000) and that they were, in fact, owned by his employer, the Egyptian Exploration Society.

By January 2018 the Museum of the Bible formally severed ties with the Oxford-based scholar. 

On 16 April 2019 Obbink's UK-based antiquities sale's enterprise, Castle Folio Limited was dissolved.

By June 2019 the Egyptian Exploration Society took a harder stance against their former colleague and banned Obbink from any access to its collection pending his satisfactory clarification of the 2013 contract. 

On 2 March 2020 Obbink was "detained" briefly by officers from Thames Valley police on suspicion of theft and fraud. Unnamed at the time by the British authorities, he was released after questioning. 

By February 2021 Obbink no longer held his position as Lecturer in Papyrology and Greek Literature in the Faculty of Classics at Oxford University and had retreated to his houseboat where he was served in relation to the US court case. 

Yet, to date, and despite the ongoing investigation by the Thames Valley Police, Dirk Obbink has inexplicably still not been charged with any crime in the United Kingdom.

By:  Lynda Albertson

18 May 2024 - 2024 New Zealand Art Crime Symposium - Art Crime Research Today

Sponsored by: 

The New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust

Saturday, 18 May 2024

RHLT3 (Lecture Theatre 3)
Rutherford House, Pipitea Campus, 
Victoria University of Wellington Te Herenga Waka
Wellington, New Zealand.

Times: 10:00 am - 7 pm

The New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust’s invites you to attend their 2024

This year’s theme is Art Crime Research Today. 

Presenters Include:

Detective Inspector Scott Beard
The theft and recovery of two Gottfried Lindauer portraits from Auckland’s International Art Centre in 2017

Judge Arthur Tompkins
A hard conversation looms about New Zealand's Benin Bronzes

Professor Simon Mackenzie
Research into the science of deterrence and art crime trafficking

For more information on this event and its registration please see the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust's event's page here.

March 17, 2024

Girolamini Library Theft - Convictions and acquittals in the network of every bookworm's antichrist

Last week, after some eleven years and over one hundred and twenty hearings, the Court of Naples, presided over by Maurizio Conte, announced some lengthy sentences and penalties in the pursuit of justice with regards to the 1,500 volumes of historical interest and textual treasures that were pilfered from the Biblioteca e Complesso monumentale dei Girolamini

Sentencing la banda degli (dis)onesti

On 12 March 2024 the first criminal section of the Naples court sentenced six defendants (in the first degree) for a series of episodes of embezzlement.  Those convicted were:

Massimo Marino De Caro, the former director of the Girolamini library until 1992 was sentenced to an additional 5 years and 3 months for his primary role in the theft of thousands of volumes from the historic Girolamini library, on top of the 7 years assigned in 2013;

Maurizio Bifolco, of Libreria Antiquaria Calligrammes srl was sentenced to five years and six months; 

Mirko Camuri,  a Verona dance teacher involved in numerous suspicious sales of ancient books, was sentenced to an additional 1 year on top of the 4 years and eight months previously announced.

Luca Cableri,  of Theatrum Mundi and Studio Bibliografico Wunderkammer was sentenced to four years and six months;

Stéphane Alexandre Delsalle, of Librairie De Ce Paysci Di Delsalle Stephane (also operating as Livre Rare Books (LRB), was sentenced to four years in prison; 

Stefano Ceccantoni, an Orvieto antiquarian was sentenced to two years and six months

Of these, Bifolco is a familiar figure in the London book world and is said to have acted as agent to Italian booksellers handling material from the Girolamini.  He is not a member of ALAI (the Italian ABA), but Cableri and Solni were, until they were suspended. 

Ceccantoni, who eventually collaborated with the magistrates and revealed many details of the case gave statements about some of the activities of the group. 

"I went to Naples to the Girolamini library at least six times." – stated Ceccantoni in the report filed in the investigation documents. He also admitted to loading boxes of books into De Caro's car in the middle of the night. 

Others swept up in the investigation, including Don Sandro Marsano, the priest in charge of the Congregation of the Oratorians of Naples (defended by lawyers Manlio Pennino and Bruno von Arx),  Alejandro Eloy Cabello, Cesar Abel Cabello, Viktoriya Pavloskiy, Federico Roncoletta and Lorena Paola Weigant were acquitted of all charges.  This despite requests from the prosecutor, who during the indictment had asked for 10 years of imprisonment for all the accused.

In terms of financial penalties, the Court ordered property confiscations from De Caro, Delsalle, Cableri and Bifolco, as well as the confiscation of rare books in De Caro's possession. The Court also ordered the confiscation of liquid assets in the form of money held in accounts and securities registered in Bifolco's name which were frozen by the investigating judge on 22 April 2012 and on 28 May 2014 and which totalled 8 and a half million euros. 

Background of the Library:

The extraordinary Girolamini Library of Naples is home to almost 160,000 ancient manuscripts and books and opened its doors to the public in 1586.  Built alongside the Church and Convent of the Girolamini, the library served as the convent’s Oratory and is believed to be one of the richest libraries in Southern Italy.

The collection, which includes many rare editions dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is centred on Christian theology, philosophy, sacred music, and the history of Europe and the Catholic Church.  After the massive Irpinia earthquake, which struck Campania in 1980 the Biblioteca e Complesso monumentale dei Girolamini remained closed for an extended period.  The library's collection, off limits to anyone except specific scholars with collection permissions, suffered from a lengthy period of neglect, only to then be plundered by a network of individuals tasked with its very protection.

Details on the thefts:

In April 2012 it was discovered that as many as 1500 important texts were missing from the library.  At the epicentre of the scandal was the library's appointed director, Marino Massimo de Caro, who was swiftly suspended and subsequently charged with  embezzlement.  Alongside him, other accomplices from Italy, Argentina, and the Ukraine would also be implicated and later prosecuted as a result of the scandal.

On 19 April 2012 the Biblioteca de Girolamini was formally impounded by the judicial authorities as Naples prosecutor, Giovanni Melillo oversaw an investigation into the library's thefts.  This months ruling concludes that impoundment.  

As part of this investigation, the prosecutor authorised the tapping of De Caro's phone, through which Melillo and investigators learned that the library's former director had been stashing looted books in his home, in a storage unit in Verona, and in the basement of an accomplice’s aunt residence, as well as arranging to sell many others onward through various channels.  

Some stolen volumes were fenced through major Italian dealers as well as private collectors. An additional 543 books travelled on to Germany where they were to be auctioned on May 9, 2012 at the Bavarian auction house Zisska & Schauer in Munich after accomplices to the Girolamini library thefts stripped the institution's markings from the titles before their upcoming sale.

While under questioning, De Caro would claim that the books sent to Munich were from his own personal collection.  Despite this, investigations determined that many of the consigned texts in fact came from both the Girolamini Library and the priests’ convent library and that the auction house Zisska & Schauer had paid an emissary of De Caro’s nine hundred thousand euros in advance of the texts' auction date, with De Caro expecting to receive a million euros more after the bidding closed.

With requests for assistance in hand, the German authorities halted the sale at Zisska & Schauer, and later arrested the company’s executive director, Herbert Schauer.

Although this trial focused on the embezzlement of hundreds of volumes from the Girolamini Library, De Caro has been connected to thefts from additional targeted institutions. 

Herbert Schauer was arrested by German authorities on 2 August 2013, following the execution of a European arrest warrant. He was subsequently sentenced in the first degree by the Court of Naples to 5 years of imprisonment for his involvement in receiving stolen property,  however his sentence was overturned by the Italian Court of Cassation.

Call for Collaboration:

ARCA would like to remind book and manuscript collectors that the market for archival literary heritage might be a niche market, but it is still a flourishing one, and one that often overlaps with fine art crimes, driven by the high prices some collectors are willing to pay for the rarest of rare publications.  

Acknowledging that some good faith purchases may be in possession of these stolen items without knowledge of their illicit origin, the Italian authorities are now stressing the need for help from the general public, as well as antiquarian book dealers, and professionals worldwide who are more likely to come in contact with the library's rare material. 

In furtherance to this, the Italian Ministry of Culture has released a 31-page list of the most important stolen texts documented as having been stolen which are known to have been circulated at some point after their theft in Naples.  This list can be reviewed here.

Please note that this listing does not appear to have been uploaded to ILAB's stolen book database which is often the first place most book collectors turn to when checking the legal status of books, manuscripts, and maps that may have been the subject of thefts which have occurred from June 15, 2010 onward.  

Given these items have not been uploaded to the ILAB database (yet), the linked list should be downloaded so that buyers can check for themselves to see if any text they have been offered or may have already purchased has been documented as stolen from this Naples library.  

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Marks 34th Anniversary of Infamous Art Theft

Self-Portrait – Rembrandt van Rijn

As the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum prepares to mark the 34th anniversary of of one of the most infamous art heists in history, the enduring mystery surrounding the disappearance of thirteen invaluable artworks continues to captivate the public imagination.  Despite the passage of time, the mystery surrounding the stolen masterpieces, which include works by Rembrandt van Rijn, Édouard Manet, Johannes Vermeer, Edgar Degas, and Govert Flinck continues to endure, leaving investigators, art enthusiasts, and the museum itself still searching for answers, as well as the artworks. 

Chez Tortoni – Édouard Manet

In the early hours of March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as police officers gained entry to the renowned museum located in Boston's Fenway-Kenmore neighbourhood. Over the course of 81 minutes, they brazenly stole a select group of paintings and and other valuable artifacts, including works by renowned artists such as Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Degas. The stolen pieces are estimated to be worth over $500 million in total.

The Concert – Johannes Vermeer

The heist not only resulted in significant financial losses but also left an irreplaceable void in the museum's collection and the art world at large. Despite exhaustive investigations and numerous leads over the past three decades, the whereabouts of the stolen artworks still remain unknown.

Storm on the Sea of Galilee – Rembrandt van Rijn

In an effort to keep the memory of the stolen artworks alive and to encourage any new leads, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has been actively engaging with the public. The museum continues to offer a substantial reward of $10 million dollars for information leading directly to the safe return of the stolen works.  In addition to a proportionary share of the reward given in exchange for information leading to the restitution of any portion of the works. There is also a separate reward of $100,000 being offered for the return of the Napoleonic eagle finial. 

A Lady and Gentleman in Black – Rembrandt van Rijn

Despite remaining unsolved, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum remains committed to its mission of fostering appreciation for art and maintaining the legacy of its founder, Isabella Stewart Gardner. The museum continues to showcase its extensive collection, which includes works spanning various periods and styles, (as well as the empty frames, and serving as a hub for cultural and educational programs.

Three Mounted Jockeys – Edgar Degas

As the investigation into the 1990 art heist enters its 34th year, authorities and art enthusiasts alike remain hopeful that renewed attention to the case may finally bring closure to one of the most perplexing mysteries in the art world's history.  The FBI believes it has determined where the stolen art was transported in the years after the theft as well as the identity of the thieves.  In a March 18, 2013 press release the Bureau stated “The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence that in the years after the theft, the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region, and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia, where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft.”

Cortege aux Environs de Florence – Edgar Degas

For now, the artworks remain elusive. However the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and its supporters will continue to hold onto hope, awaiting the day when the stolen treasures are finally returned to their rightful home. So be on the lookout for these, and if you see them, please contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or the museum directly or through a third party.  Tips may also be submitted online here.

Landscape with Obelisk – Govert Flinck

For now, ARCA reminds its readers of the enormous impact of this theft on the museum's collection, even as we remain optimistic that one day soon the paintings will be returned to their rightful place in the Fenway.

La Sortie de Pesage – Edgar Degas

An ancient Chinese Gru

A French Imperial Eagle Finial 

Program for an Artistic Soirée 1 – Edgar Degas

Program for an Artistic Soirée 2 – Edgar Degas

March 11, 2024

The wacky illicit world of one Ushabti of the Pharaoh Taharqa

The Cultural Heritage Brigade of Spain's Policía Nacional have completed an investigation into a rare, illicitly trafficked, ushabti. The statuette, holding traditional Egyptian agricultural implements, reproduces the text of Chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead and would have been placed in the tomb of the deceased.  Property of the Republic of the Sudan, the funerary figurine was sold to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in the Netherlands by "a Catalan antiques dealer". 

Although unnamed in today's press release, the Spanish police did provide some interesting details regarding the sales transaction for this illicit object, which, in turn, also help us to identify who the unnamed dealer in question is.  

Today's press statement indicates that the Spanish investigation began when the Dutch National Polite forwarded their colleagues in Spain a complaint for aggravated fraud that had been filed in the Netherlands by the director of the museum in Leiden regarding their purchase of a suspect ushabti for Pharaoh Taharqa, the 4th king of the 25th Dynasty of Egypt and the Qore of the Kingdom of Kush from 690 to 664 BCE. 

The press release went on to say that "the complaint stated that an antiques dealer, responsible for an antiques establishment in Barcelona, ​​had sold a sculpture of Sudanese origin to the Dutch museum for 100,000 euros" and that the sales transaction was facilitated using false provenance documentation which was presented to provide a cover to the artefact's illicit origin.  Based on the foregoing, the museum then filed their complaint with the Dutch national authorities and were seeking the return of their purchase price.

To facilitate the sale, the police confirmed that the dealer in question had provided the museum with a digital copy of a handwritten document purportedly dating to May 27, 1967 which, at face value, appeared to have been written by an employee of the Sudanese government.  This document also appeared to attest to the fact that the artefact had left the Sudan for London sometime between 1930 and 1940.  

After careful review of this document, which included follow-up examination involving individuals affiliated with the Embassy of the Republic of Sudan in Spain,, as well as with heritage experts specialising in the illicit trafficking of Egyptian material circulating within the ancient art market, the paperwork provided was determined to be a false attestation.  This technique is sometimes used by sellers of illicit material to increase verisimilitude to a work of fiction through the invention and insertion of details into an object's documentation which are presented as factual, when they are not.

Reviewing this document it was determined that the paperwork presented by the dealer to legitimise this object's circulation contained several discrepancies. The most blatant error on the part of the fraudster(s) was that the forged document referenced Sudan's "Ministry of Archeology", a departmental name that has never existed in this African country.  

In 1967 the competent authority tasked with the protection of cultural heritage in the Sudan was the Sudanese Antiquities Service, abbreviated as the SAS (now the National Corporation for Antiquities & Museums - NCAM).  In 1939 the SAS was linked to the Ministry of Education, and by 1953 to the Ministry of Al Maref.  In addition to the above, the signatory of the falsified attestation referred to himself with the title of "general director" for the aforementioned nonexistent ministry.  And while this named individual does match to a person previously affiliated with the government of Sudan, this person never held a position with this title.  Likewise,  their documented signature on official records differs from the one signed and given to the museum substantiating the objects departure from the country.

During this investigation it was also determined that the artefact was one of several artefacts believed to have been stolen from the Gebel Barkal Museum situated on the right (north) bank of the Nile on the SW edge of modern Karima, Sudan which occurred between 2000 and 2003.

The complaint filed by the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, concluded that based on the evidence of fraud they were seeking a refund of the purchase price from the Catalan dealer.  The Spanish police press report indicates that the person under investigation, if found guilty, would be responsible for a crime of aggravated fraud by involving assets of artistic, historical and cultural heritage, as well as for exceeding the fraud of 50,000 euros for the object's sale to the Dutch museum. 

But just who is the unnamed Catalan dealer? 

Matching the partial photograph of the ushabti for Pharaoh Taharqa depicted on Spain's press release lead me to a more complete rendering of the object on the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden's accession record.  That record indicates that the Dutch museum purchased the sculpture in 2014 via Spain but not much else in the way of detail on its official collection history.  That same year, Jaume Bagot, of J. Bagot Arqueología, a problematic Catalan dealer who has been mentioned frequently on ARCA's blog, was identified as having brought a 25th Dynasty ushabti of similar proportions to Brussels for the 2014 BRAFA art fair.  Unfortunately, the first Pinterest photo of that event wasn't clear enough to confirm if Bagot's artefact was the one the museum had purchased. 

Going back to Bagot's website we can find a "sold" notice for a Ushabti of the Pharaoh Taharqa. 

The provenance for this piece is listed as follows:

‘Family Babeker, Sudan. In Europe since 1930. Family C., Barcelona, prior 1970.’

This seemed to match to the export date on paperwork the Spanish authorities had, but I still wanted to ensure that I had the right artefact and the right doggy documents presenting dealer, before naming him, so I dug a bit deeper.  I then came across an article by Alain Truong which tells us more regarding the provenance of Bagot's 2014 ushabti. That article listed the collection history for the Spanish dealer's ushabti as:

Provenance:  The family of M. Mustafa Abdalla Babeker, Khartoum, Sudan, 1917 - 1930. Collection of Don C. Bes, 1930. Private European collection, 1940. From the archaeological work at the pyramid of Taharqa, the royal necropolis of Nuri, Nubia.

To be 100 percent certain the objects were a match, I then took the image from J. Bagot Arqueología sales record with the black background and overlayed it with the one attached to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden accession record.  Without a doubt, the two images reflect an object of the same size and proportion and depict the same object. 

It should be noted that this is not the only "Babeker" provenance artefact sold by Bagot.  In 2017 the Catalan dealer brought another ushabti to Brafa, this one of the King Senkamanisken, the third successor of Taharqa, who likewise was a king buried at Nuri (Sudan) and low and behold it too had the same purported provenance.  Did Bagot use the same attestation letter provided to the Dutch museum? 

So with that, I leave you with a pressing question.  To those of you out there who have handled other objects with Mr. Babeker as your assumed touch stone of pristine provenance, what say you? Any comments from Christie's, or Christie's again or  Sotheby's or Axel Vervoordt or anyone else who has bought or sold a Taharqa or a Senkamanisken ushabti since the early 2000s?  

Care to share your details with the Spanish authorities?  

By: Lynda Albertson

March 8, 2024

Museum Theft: One million euros worth of jewellery stolen from a temporary exhibit at the Vittoriale degli Italiani Museum in Italy

Forty-nine jewellery pieces, created by twentieth century sculptor, painter, and Italian partisan, Umberto Mastroianni have disappeared during a burglary between Tuesday and Wednesday night at the house-museum, Vittoriale degli Italiani in Gardone Riviera, which was once home to Italian poet and novelist Gabriele D'Annunzio.  One object was dropped when the thief or thieves departed. All of the pieces had been on temporary loan, as part of an exhibition titled: Come un oro caldo e fluido. Gli ori di Umberto Mastroianni, curated by Alberto Dambruoso, which featured bracelets, pendants, rings, brooches, plates and sculptures created by the artist between the 1950s and 1990s using the 'lost wax' method.  

Set up in an underground portion of the villa, the jewellery had been on display since December 30th.  Stolen just days before the exhibition was scheduled to conclude, and is initially believed to have perhaps been a theft to order, as the gang only stole objects from the Mastroianni exhibition and not pieces attributable to Gabriele d'Annunzio, for whom the museum is named, or other jewellery pieces another master goldsmith, Mario Buccellati (a friend of D'Annunzio), which were also on display. 

The theft was discovered yesterday by the Vittoriale's custodians who arrived at the museum only to discover the showcases empty. The theft was reported immediately to the local Carabinieri barracks and is being conducted with the support of the provincial command of Brescia as well as specialists from the Carabinieri TPC Nucleo in Monza. 

All 49 of the missing objects which were part of this exhibition are depicted within this blog post.

The artist Mastroianni, was the uncle of Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni and was born in Fontana Liri on 21 September 1910.  His first solo exhibition took place in 1931 in Genoa and by 1935 he had already participated in the National Art Quadrennial in Rome.  In 1936 he achieved notoriety at the XX Venice Biennale before joining the Italian Resistance, fighting in the partisan formations of the Canavese during World War II.   Highlights of his career also included the International Grand Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1958 and the Tokyo Imperial Prize in 1989. That same year he was appointed a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, the highest honour granted by the President of the Republic.

Up until the 1940s the artist was a classical sculptor in the traditional sense, only later creating the contemporary styles stolen in this heist. With losses currently estimated to be at one million euros, a press conference is scheduled for tomorrow to provide further details regarding the burglary. 

**Image Credit ANSA

March 7, 2024

2024 Amelia Conference - Save the Date and Call for Presenters

The Amelia Conference: 
ARCA’s Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference     
Conference Dates: June 21-23, 2024

Collegio Boccarini (adjacent to the Museo Civico Archeologico e Pinacoteca Edilberto Rosa) 
Piazza Vera
Amelia, Italy

Held in the beautiful town of Amelia, Italy, the seat of ARCA’s summer-long Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, the Association’s 13th annual Amelia Conference will be held the weekend of June 21-23, 2024 with a networking cocktail opening the event for all conference participants.

At the heart of the conference will be two days of panel sessions, on Saturday and Sunday, June 22 and 23, 2024, devoted to presentations selected through this call.  For more information about registering for this year's event, please see our link on the ARCA website here.

ARCA’s annual Amelia Conference serves as an arena for intellectual and professional exchange and highlights the nonprofit’s mission to facilitate a critical appraisal of the need for protection of art and heritage worldwide. Over the course of one weekend each summer, this art crime-focused event serves as a forum to explore the indispensable role of detection, crime prevention, and scholarly and criminal justice responses, at both the international and domestic level, in combatting all forms of crime related to art and the illicit trafficking of cultural property.

Geared towards international organizations, national enforcement agencies, academics, cultural institutions, and private sector professionals in the art and antiquities fields, the Amelia Conference follows a long-established commitment by the Association to examine contemporary issues of common concern in an open, non-combative, multi-disciplinary format in order to promote greater awareness and understanding of the need for better protection of the world’s cultural patrimony.

2024 Call for Presenters: Session Formats and Topics

Given the success of the Amelia Conference over the past decade, it is important to recognise the growing interdisciplinary and international nature of this emerging field, the growing complexity of art and heritage crime, and the disciplines and subject matter experts who follow along and contribute within their areas of speciality.  With that in mind, this year’s conference will build upon topic-specific sessions designed to stimulate discussion and share learning on a series of topics of common concern. Some conference panels may feature more active panel debate about a session topic, or present various and/or contrasting perspectives about a topic. Each panel session will last approximately 75 or 90 minutes and will include a number of oral presentations with some time dedicated for interactive discussion afterward.

ARCA welcomes presentation proposals related to the conference’s art and antiquities crime theme from individuals in relevant fields, including law, policing, security, art history, art authentication, archaeology, or the allied art market.  

Presenters with topics related to the following areas are particularly encouraged to submit a speaking proposal this year highlighting the following issues of common concern:

Strengthening international cooperation in the fight against illicit trafficking.  How have things changed in the last decade in terms of international cooperation?  

Organised crime's footprint on and in art market trade and transactions. 

Recent successes in the field and what we can learn from them collectively.

Peeling back the obstacles: Why is it so hard for museums to proactively address problematic art in their collections and enact restitutions once those problems have been identified. 

Consciousness raising regarding vandalism as a form of climate or world issues protest in museums. 

Digital and technology-facilitated approaches to combatting illicit trafficking.

Recent convictions: Art crime’s bad boys (and girls) and what we can learn from their prosecutions. 

Recent hot topic and dramas in the field of forgery. 

Resolving art disputes in and outside of the courtroom.

Each selected presenter will represent a coherent and clearly focused presentation of 15 to 20 minutes maximum on a topic of common concern, that combined with presentations given by co-panelists, are designed to provide significant insights into the topic or theme and to stimulate thoughtful, not combative or antagonistic, discourse.

We very much look forward to receiving presentation proposals on the aforementioned or alternative art and antiquities crime topics, noting that panels may change or be altered based on speaker availability.

Abstract and CV Submission Deadline: April 15, 2024

Abstract Word Limit: 400 words, excluding abstract title, presenter/co-presenter names and affiliations

Abstract Selection Process

Each submitted abstract must be accompanied by a CV. The abstract review process will be conducted blind, i.e. all author names will be removed before the abstract before being sent out for peer review. The abstract itself will be reviewed and scored by independent reviewers who have expertise in the specific session’s identified subject area.

Peer Reviewers apply the following criteria to judge abstract submissions 

I. Quality and Originality (1 to 5)

Abstracts containing significant new findings or presenting concretised information or new approaches will be given higher scores than those that merely serve as a chronology of, or modifications to, older findings or routine topics of dischord.

II. Importance (1 to 5 pts)

This criterion addresses the importance of the presentation or research in terms of covering new ground and in advancing knowledge in the art crime and cultural heritage protection field.

III. Presentation (1 to 5 pts)                                                                              This criterion addresses how well the specific research question(s) and objectives, methods used, primary results, facts ascertained, etc., are explained, rather than simply titling the topical subject itself. A clearly written abstract follows a logical order (e.g. aims, methods, outcome of investigation or analysis).


All accepted participants are responsible for their own travel and accommodation expenses, however, accepted conference presenters will have their conference fees waived and will be invited to be ARCA’s guest for the Amelia Conference icebreaker cocktail on 21 June 2024.

March 4, 2024

New developments in Spain's theft case of five artworks by Francis Bacon


In the summer of 2015 thieves entered a five-story building on the Plaza de la Encarnación —an affluent area in the center of Madrid near the Spanish Senate and the Royal Palace.  Once inside, the burglars broke into the residence of banker José Capelo Blanco. 

Entering his apartment without being seen by the doorman or other residents, the raiders quickly disabled the businessman's alarm system and set about stealing five visceral portraits, made by the Irish-born British figurative painter Francis Bacon. The paintings would later be estimated to be worth €30 million. In addition to the high value fine art, the thieves also accessed the homeowner's safe and stole jewellery and a collection of ancient coins valued at €400,000.  Newspapers would later report that the crime was exceedingly professional and left behind few clues.  

By the early autumn, an accomplice, with prior convictions for drug trafficking, began making the first of multiple efforts to try to sell the hot Bacons through market contacts in Spain. One of these involved trying to persuade a distant member of his extended family, who worked in the art world, that he could make a lot of money, if he could help find a buyer. 

Up until this point, images of the paintings had not been shared publicly, as the artworks were gifted by the artist directly to Capelo Blanco and had therefore never appeared in circulation prior.  The fact that images of the Bacons did not appear publically, perhaps emboldened the thieves to make their first mistake. 

In February 2016, the first major break in the case came in when an individual queried the Art Loss Register trying to establish if one of  Capelo Blanco's portraits had been flagged internationally as stolen.  Writing anonymously, the inquirer sent photographs of the painting which could only have been taken by individuals with access to the artworks after the theft in Madrid.

This exchange proved critical to the investigation and the ALR worked with the Spanish National Police turning over the communique which allowed investigators to draw a red circle around their first group of potential suspects. 

In early March 2016 the four individuals were taken into custody:

• Ricardo Barbastro Heras, the alleged organiser of the fencing network

• Antonio Losada de la Rosa 

• José Losada Manzano

• Rafael Heredia González

All were charged with crimes of concealment of robbery with force.

By May 28, 2016 Spanish news sites reported that agents working with the Central Specialized and Violent Crime Unit (UDEV) had arrested another six individuals in Madrid who were also believed to be connected to the 2015 theft in some way. This included:

• Alfredo Cristian Ferriz González, AKA Cristian Ferriz, who has a long police record, eight of them for robbery with force, three for vehicle theft, one for threats and another for drug traffic. 

• Art dealer Cristóbal García

• Agustín González Serrano

• Jorge de las Heras Escámez

• Juan Manuel Marce Gea

• Aquilino Jiménez Bermúdez

 With ten suspects named, two more, unnamed, were added to the list, bringing the total number of suspects to twelve. 

In July 2017 investigators announced the recovery of three of the five Bacon artworks.  By January 2021 Dutch private investigator Arthur Brand tweeted a series of "proof-of-life" images which showed the two portraits which remained missing.  One of these photos depicted one of the Bacon creations lying beside a copy of Spanish newspaper El País dated October 6, 2019.  Another showed the left bottom corner of the one of the painting's verso, which showed the Irish painter's handwriting and signature. 

In various articles Brand indicated that he had received word that underworld buyers were considering the two outstanding stolen paintings, telling journalists that he had been passed the video by an unnamed informant, which seemed to indicate that the two remaining artworks were being shopped by an individual using the name which appeared to be shopped by an individual using the nom de plum, "Jason".  

Accompanying the video was a piece of paper which implied perhaps that the remaining two paintings might still be in Spain, even if the thieves had widened their buyer's net internationally.  Handwritten on the piece of paper which accompanied the video was the contact's alleged name "Jason" noting it was signed at "Starbucks Madrid," on the date of "2020-5-11."

In touch with the Spanish authorities, Brand had announced the contact on his social media channel hoping the unwelcome publicity would serve to dissuade potential purchasers who might be considering the stolen Bacons. Meanwhile Spanish authorities continued to tighten the screws, arresting two more not publicly named individuals, which brought the total number of persons of interest (publicly announced) to twelve. 

Last month, on 29 February 2024 the Historical Heritage Brigade of Spain's National Police arrested two more people in the southern area of ​​Madrid.  The pair are believed to be the persons with physical control of the two outstanding artworks.

Aged 53 and 25, one of the arrestees is named as Rubén Sánchez Hernández.

Considered to be the mastermind behind this robbery, he is also believed to have been involved in the Pink Panther-styled robbery of Ángeles Farga jewelry store, on Ortega y Gasset Street in the capital.  According to Spanish news sites, Sánchez Hernández has connections to Roberto Anaut's gang, the 'Dragonems' and disciple of Ángel Suárez Flores, who was in charge of another outstanding paintings theft involving 17 paintings stolen from the residence of businesswoman and philanthropist Esther María Koplowitz y Romero de Juseu, the 7th Marchioness of Casa Peñalver in August 2001.

The artist Francis Bacon died on April 28, 1992 at the Ruber clinic in Madrid at 82 years of age.  Prior to his death he was reportedly in love with the young Spanish financier to whom gifted the paintings.

For now, the last two paintings remain listed on Interpol's stolen Works of Art database.