Showing posts with label USA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label USA. Show all posts

February 10, 2017

Repatriation: Stolen Greek sarcophagus fragment heading home

Image Credits: ARCA
Sarcophagus fragment depicting battle between Greeks and Trojans
Just one month after an illicit sarcophagus fragment was reported to Matthew Bogdanos, Assistant District Attorney for New York in Manhattan, the object is heading back to its rightful home in Greece.  

Pictured in the four photographs above, the fragment of this sarcophagus was laundered through the licit art market, making its way to New York via Italian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina and ultimately to the gallery windows of Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery operated by Jerome Eisenberg which specialises in ancient Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Egyptian art.

Details on the supporting documentation which reflects the object's looting and laundering gathered together and presented to authorities by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis can be found in an earlier ARCA blog post here

Gianfranco Becchina is a name well known to those who follow the trade of illicit antiquities.  His role in the trafficking of looted objects first drew Italian prosecutors interest following the death of Pasquale Camera, a former captain of the Guardia di Finanza turned middle-man trafficker, who lost control of his car on Italy’s Autostrada del Sole, Italy's north-south motorway, as he approached the exit for Cassino, a small town an hour and a half south of Rome.  Smashing into a guardrail and flipping his Renault on its roof, Camera’s automobile accident not only ended his life but set into motion a chain reaction that resulted in the identification of one of the world's most well known antiquities trafficking networks. one responsible for the systematic spoliation of the artistic heritage of Southern Italy and Greece. 

The Greek sarcophagus fragment was handed over by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Assistant District Attorney to Dr. Constantine Koutras, the Consul General of Greece in a formal ceremony in New York today.

During the event District Attorney Vance stated:

“Trafficked antiquities often acquire a veneer of legitimacy after the passage of time or changes in ownership.....Galleries, auction houses, and art collectors, however, should be on alert that my office and our partners in law enforcement are closely following the listing and sale of items of suspicious or dubious provenance. As looting becomes more common, collectors must exercise greater scrutiny when it comes to evaluating whether an item may have been unlawfully acquired. To do otherwise is to implicitly endorse an unacceptable practice through willful ignorance. I thank our partners for their commitment to ending the trade of stolen antiquities, and today, I am gratified to return another treasured artifact to its rightful owner, the Hellenic Republic and people of Greece.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance told reporters at the repatriation ceremony that as the owner of the gallery, unnamed during the press conference, had forfeited the sarcophagus voluntarily when presented with the evidence of its provenance, and nobody from the gallery will face prosecution.

This is not the first time that Royal Athena Galleries has been made to forfeit looted antiquities as can be noted here, here, and here.

ARCA would like to extend its heartfelt appreciation to Dr. Tsirogiannis.  His identification of this fragment made its repatriation possible.  

January 14, 2017

Auction Alert and Antiquities Seizure: Royal-Athena Galleries, New York

On January 8, 2017 forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis alerted Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos in Manhattan and ARCA that he had identified another illicit antiquity, apparently being laundered via the US art market.  The object in question had been listed for sale via Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery which is operated by Jerome Eisenberg

Screen Capture - Royal-Athena Galleries 1
According to Tsirogiannis the object identified was a 64.8 x 90.8 cm. sarcophagus fragment which matches four polaroid images and three handwritten notes found in the Becchina archive. 

This accumulation of records was seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during raids conducted on Gianfranco 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 records include shipping manifests, dealer notes, invoices, pricing documents, and thousands of photographic images.  Many of the images are not slick art gallery salesroom photos, but rather, are point and shoot polaroids taken by looters and middlemen which depict recently looted antiquities, some of which still bear soil and salt encrustations. 

In 2011 Becchina was convicted in Italy for his role in the illegal antiquities trade and while he later appealed this conviction, looted antiquities traced to his trafficking network, like this sarcophagus fragment, continue to surface in private collections, museums and some of the world's most well know auction firms specializing in ancient art.  

In releasing his identifications to ARCA Tsirogiannis said:

"Regarding the sarcophagus fragment, each of the four Polaroid images depicting the fragment is included in a different file of the Becchina archive:

I discovered the first image (attachment no. 1) in a file that Becchina created to archive the antiquities he was receiving from a Greek trafficker termed in the archive ‘ZE’ or ‘ZENE’ (the beginning of his surname) or ‘Giorgio’ (Giorgos, his first name in Greek). This trafficker, now deceased, was well-known to the Greek police art squad.

attachment no. 1

In a separate handwritten note (attachment no. 2), Becchina records that he received the antiquity (‘1 Frto. [meaning ‘Fragment’] di sarcofago’) for 60.000 Swiss Francs on 25 May 1988. 

attachment no. 2
This antiquity is recorded as the 9th object included in the 34th group of antiquities that ‘Zene’ sent to Becchina (see attachment no. 3).

attachment no. 3
Another note (attachment no. 4), a handwritten page, lists a group of antiquities that Becchina bought from ‘Zene’, from November 1986 until October 1988, for more than $250,000, including the sarcophagus’ fragment (no. 9).

attachment no. 4
The fifth attachment is a photocopy of a Polaroid image, depicting the same antiquity; this image was attached to a blank A4 page, together with other Polaroid images depicting other antiquities that ‘Zene’ smuggled from Greece to Becchina, under the title ‘in PF’, meaning that all these antiquities were stored at the time at the P[ort] [F]ranc (the Free Port) of Basel. 

attachment no. 5
In Becchina’s list of antiquities stored in his warehouses in the Free Port of Basel, the sarcophagus fragment was number 21 (see sixth attachment, another Polaroid image).

attachment no. 6
Finally, I am sending you another handwritten note (attachment no. 7), in which Becchina is asking one of the restorers he was using, Andre Lorenceau, to clean (‘reinigen’) the fragment and to add a base (‘sockeln’), as a support (by drilling into the antiquity). I discovered this note in the Becchina file dedicated to his cooperation with the restorer Andre Lorenceau."

attachment no. 7
According to the Royal-Athena Galleries website, the sarcophagus fragment has been attributed by Dr. Guntram Koch, an academic with an expertise in Roman sarcophagoi. 

Screen Capture - Royal-Athena Galleries 2

In addition to notifying the New York authorities, Tsirogiannis informed INTERPOL and the Greek police art squad. 

The object in question was seized by US authorities at approximately January 14 2:00 pm EST.

Nearly ten years ago in November 2007 Eisenberg returned eight antiquities stolen from museums and archaeological sites worth US$ 510,000 to Italy. Given the fact that it often takes sound identifications, such as those conducted by researchers such as Tsirogiannis, restitutions by art market dealers should not be misconstrued as spontaneous. In most cases pieces are relinquished merely to avoid lengthy litigation or in order for suspect dealers to remove themselves from the negative publicity caused by being subject to criminal charges.

By: Lynda Albertson

November 21, 2016

Museum Theft: 170-year-old painting stolen from the Paterson Museum

Photo: Courtesy of the Paterson Museum
A 170-year-old painting of the Great Falls over the Passaic River has been reported stolen from inside the director's office Paterson Museum in Paterson, New Jersey. 

The paintings was set to be displayed in an upcoming exhibition honoring the 225th anniversary of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufacturers, a group of industrialists led by Alexander Hamilton who helped give birth to America's first planned industrial city by harnessing the hydro power of the Great Falls for the city's manufacturing mills.

Outline of Theft

Theft Venue: The Paterson Museum
Location: Lower Market Street in the Great Falls historic district of Paterson, Passaic County, New Jersey
Location in Venue: Stolen from a stack of paintings secured in the director's office for an upcoming exhibition
Victim (Owner): James Eifler, collector (Painting was on loan to the museum)

Time of Theft:  Actual date and time of theft unknown, but likely within the week leading up to its announced theft on November 14, 2016 and during the period where Election Day and Veterans Day made for a shortened work week. It has been speculated that the painting was possibly stolen during the day as the building's security alarm and motion detectors were not triggered.
Open/Closed: Unknown
Duration of Crime: Unknown
When Discovered: Not immediately, the museum director, Giacomo DeStefano, has stated that there were no signs of a break-in at the museum.  DeStefano gave statements saying that the artwork had been stored in his first-floor office inside the museum and he realized it was missing on Monday, November 14, 2016. 
Primary Object(s) Taken: Untitled, unsigned oil-on-wood painting depicting the Great Falls, appraised at approximately $9,000 prior to the theft.  Painting is believed to have been painted by an unknown artist sometime in the 1840s.  This date is given as there is a wooden bridge depicted in the landscape across the falls from that era.
Category of Art Object(s): oil on wood painting, approximately 60 cm x 60 cm
Ancillary Object(s) Touched: None, The unnamed Great Falls painting was one of two loaned to the museum for the upcoming exhibition by Eifler.  The second painting, by 19th-century landscape artist Julian Walbridge Rix, was more valuable than the unsigned work, yet it was left untouched in the same office. The museum's director has speculated that the thief may have chosen the unsigned painting as it was slightly smaller than the Rix work.
Ancillary Object(s) Taken: None
Clues Left at Crime Scene: None mentioned in museum's public statements
Suspected Related Crimes: None mentioned in police reports

Entry Method: Thief or thieves walked into the director's office and removed the painting.  The director has stated that his office door is kept locked, except during business hours.
Exit Method: Unknown, the museum is not equipped with CCTV. 
Operational Method: Unknown
Other Notes: The paintings owner, James Eifler has publically speculated that the thief was likely familiar with the museum’s gallery and office areas and was perhaps aware that there are no CCTV cameras in the museum.

According to court documents, in 2005, the paintings owner was charged with insurance fraud for submitting false claims to State Farm about his tools being stolen. Eifler was paid $3,800 for his claim, but the insurance company then contacted law enforcement authorities when he submitted additional claims totalling $12,000 in losses according to the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.  Eifler was later convicted of two counts of insurance fraud, fined $600 and sentenced to probation for one year.

Probable Motive: possibly financial
Follow-up after Post-theft: According to museum director DeStefano, the museum will undergo a review of its security process. Paterson police are checking video footage from other security cameras in Paterson in the area as part of their investigation.  Deputy Police Chief Heriberto Rodriguez is leading the investigation into the theft.

Revised Motive Theory: No details released publically

Identified People Involved in the Crime No details released publically
Handler(s): No details released publically
Accomplice(s): No details released publically
Organization(s) Involved: No details released publically
Ultimate Possessor: No details released publically
Arrests: None
Total Length of Investigation: Ongoing

Evidence Used In Prosecution: No details released publically
Criminal Sentencing: Not applicable at this time

Artwork Recovered: No

For information on this theft, please contact the Paterson Police Department's Major Crimes division.

Officer in Charge: Detective Captain Heriberto Rodriguez

Office: (973) 321-1120

Fax: (973) 321-1122