Showing posts with label illicit art trade. Show all posts
Showing posts with label illicit art trade. Show all posts

September 4, 2017

Egyptian Mummy Cartonnage on Pawn Stars


On this blog we spend a lot of time stressing provenance, provenance, provenance, and the need for antiquities collectors and dealers to perform satisfactory due diligence before purchasing or selling an ancient object.  

Now granted one shouldn't judge the efforts of the entire ancient art collecting community against a single episode of a TV program, but this recent clip, showing the sale of Egyptian mummy cartonnage on The History Channel's popular staged reality TV show Pawn Stars serves as a good reminder of how little an object's legitimacy in the art market, enters into the discussion between buyer and seller when art transactions are filmed for television.  

video

Pawn Stars has been a History Channel staple since 2009. Filmed on site at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, each episode is framed around the buying, selling, and appraising of items of historical value.

To keep their audiences coming back for more, the program is fast paced and edited to fit several transactions into each episode, in some cases sourcing objects in advance of the program's shooting.  For important pieces there is time allocated for pop-in appraisals by "experts" alongside the requisite name dropping of corporate sponsors, spiced up with a dash of comic relief to keep the audience coming back year after year. 

While I can understand that the show's viewers probably wouldn't tune in to a History Channel series for eight years if the show were to spend a chunk of its expensive air time ensuring that the objects being bartered wer not looted or stolen, but sometimes making a fast buck has led to problems.  

One Season 6 episode "Shekel and Hyde" featured a gentleman who sold a shekel of Tyre to the owners of the Pawn Shop for $1,600.  Unfortunately the coin was apparently stolen.

This is the reason why we keep beating the already dead due diligence horse and why we encourage buyers and sellers of ancient objects to look at the origins of an object before they make a purchase.   But not everyone is interested in ensuring that the objects they want to purchase have not been stolen or looted or come with proper documentation showing compliance with export regulations.

In addition to the mummy cartonnage, Pawn Stars has featured other items of the type that are at risk of being trafficked, again without presenting any information as to if the object was appropriately vetted off camera to ascertain its licit status prior to filming.  

Some of these objects include:  



and 



TV shows the History Channel’s Pawn Stars, American Pickers  and PBS’ Antiques Roadshow attract millions of viewers, as everyone likes the idea of a secret treasure.  Unfortunately the producers of these programs miss a valuable opportunity to educate buyers and sellers, promoting ethical trading in the pieces of the past. 

By:  Lynda Albertson




July 6, 2017

Civil Complaint requires forfeiture of thousands of cuneiform tablets and clay bullae, but is that enough?

Cuneiform Tablet - Image Credit U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York
By: Lynda Albertson


At the heart of the investigation, were import irregularities related to ancient artifacts shipped to Hobby Lobby, Mardel, Inc. and Crafts, Etc! The firms Mardel, Inc. and Crafts, Etc! were affiliates of Hobby Lobby and both maintained their principal corporate offices adjacent to Hobby Lobby’s headquarters in Oklahoma City.  

The antiquities were shipped to Hobby Lobby and their associates by dealers in Israel and the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”), all of whom have been left unnamed in the civil complaint.  The objects were shipped without required customs entry documentation being filed with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and bore shipping labels that falsely and misleadingly described their contents and their value, in some cases as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample).” In truth, the mislabeled objects were ancient clay and stone artifacts that originate from the area of modern day Iraq, which had been smuggled into the United States after their contracted purchase in the Middle East. 

Hobby Lobby's growing Green Collection is purported to be the largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts worldwide and is estimated to be made up of more than 40,000 biblical-related antiquities, purchased and assembled by the Green family, who are founders of the national arts and crafts chain.  The bulk of this collection is intended to be displayed in their 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible, which is scheduled to open in Washington DC in November of 2017.

As is often the case with illicit antiquities smuggled around the globe, the intercepted packages, destined eventually to join the museum's collection, had their shipping labels intentionally mislabeled, stating the country of origin as imports from Turkey and Israel, not Iraq.  The shippers also used multiple shipping addresses for objects destined for a single recipient.  This too is a technique used by smugglers of all types, not just illicit antiquities, as it is a means of avoiding scrutiny by customs authorities. 

In the DOJ press release Bridget M. Rohde, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Karin Orenstein, Assistant United States Attorney, of counsel, announced that Hobby Lobby Stores has agreed to pay a $3 million federal fine and forfeit thousands of ancient Iraqi artifacts believed to have been smuggled in 15 shipments, 5 of which were stopped by the CBP on their way to the Greens.   

Hobby Lobby had executed an agreement to purchase the objects, despite their likely illicit origins, in 2010 for $1.6 million.  They paid for the antiquities via wire payments to seven personal bank accounts held in the names of five individuals.  This despite noticeable suspicious irregularities in the objects purported provenance and no direct contact with the objects' "owner.  The civil complaint also outlines conversations related to the purchase and import which indicate intentional changes to invoices and shipment to disguise the objects' value, and in some cases to change to purported seller. 

As DOJ documents state Title 19, United States Code, Section 1595a(c)(1)(A) provides that “merchandise which is introduced or attempted to be introduced into the United States contrary to law . . . shall be seized and forfeited if it . . . is stolen, smuggled, or clandestinely imported or introduced.”

Legal measures specific to Iraq also make it a violation of U.S. law to import any cultural objects removed from Iraq since August 1990, unless exported with the permission of Iraqi authorities.  Illegally importing objects that meet this criteria are subject to criminal penalties and fines.

Equally important Under Article 3 of Iraq’s Antiquities Law No. 59 of 1936 (as amended in 1974 and 1975), all antiquities found in Iraq, whether movable or
immovable, on or under the ground, are considered property of the state. Under Article 16 of Antiquities Law No. 59, private persons generally cannot possess antiquities. Article 26 of the same antiquities law prohibits the export of Iraqi antiquities and defines “antiquities” as movable possessions which were made, produced, sculpted, written or drawn by man and which are at least 200 years old.  Southern Mesopotamian objects definitely fall into this category as any collections management expert in Near East antiquity would be aware of.


Is a $3 million fine and the forfeiture of 450 ancient cuneiform tablets and 3,000 ancient clay bullae enough?

As a result of this investigation, Hobby Lobby has agreed to adopt internal policies and procedures governing its importation and purchase of cultural property, provide appropriate training to its personnel, hire qualified outside customs counsel and customs brokers, and submit quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property acquisitions for the next eighteen months.


So much for remorse. 

NB: No one has faced criminal prosecution (read: jail time) for their actions. 

November 21, 2016

Book Review: Portraits of Pretence by Susan Grossey

Book 4 in the Sam Plank Mystery Series
Author:  Susan Grossey

Review by:  Arthur Tompkins

Constable Sam Plank is a magistrate’s constable in seventeenth century Regency London. In Portraits of Pretence (available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon) the fourth Sam Plank novel, Susan Grossey weaves an elegant and polished tale of art crime, forgery, falsified provenance, smuggling, clandestine collecting, dubious art dealers and untimely death, all against a backdrop of the evocative sights, sounds, smells and ambience of crowded and bustling Regency London.

Susan Grossey is, by day, a specialist in combating money laundering, and also the author of the (now) four Sam Plank mysteries (her Amazon author’s page can be found here). In Constable Sam Plank she has created a gentle, thoughtful, careful, indomitable and very likeable investigator of crime in the heart of England’s great capital.  In the first three Sam Plank novels, Sam tackled financial forgery and bank fraud (Fatal Forgery, set in 1824), investment fraud (The Man in the Canary Waistcoat, set in 1825) and blackmail and corruption (Worm in the Blossom, set in 1826). This time around, it is the spring of 1827 and Sam is plunged into the art market and the criminal dishonesty that swirls in and around it in post-Napoleonic England and Europe. An elderly French artist is found dead, clutching an exquisite miniature painted on ivory in his hand.  The trail leads through the vaults under the then newly-built Customs House in riverside London, visits to the blockade-men stationed in Kent, and in and out of various salubrious and not-so salubrious rooms of artists and dealers in London.

Constable Plank is ably assisted in his investigation, as he was in his earlier outings, by his indomitable and perceptive wife, Martha, his able and swift-to-learn (although not always, in matters of the heart) junior constable William, and a widening circle of memorable supporting characters – some based on historical figures, others plausible and fascinating characters circulating in the milieu of a London bursting at the seams and flexing its commercial, financial and international muscle as it enters the period when Great Britain would dominate the known world.

Ms Grossey is meticulous in her research. Her characters’ language, the streets and the buildings they inhabit, and the street-level topography of central London they walk by day and by night, are a delight. To read the story is to live in the streets of a London on the brink of global greatness, thronged by a deeply rich tapestry of life’s all-too-human variety.  The tone of the novel and the writing throughout is eminently readable and light-handed (a not inconsiderable authorial achievement), and briskly-paced.

The historical background is accurate, but not overpowering – personally I liked the passing and accurate references to the historical development of the protection and repatriation of cultural property plundered in war, and various facets of art crime itself. The many manifestations of art crime that Sam encounters are illuminating, especially for students of contemporary art crime, who will quickly realise that nothing that lies beneath the glittering surface of today’s art world is new, and that the same dark currents twisted and ran riot two centuries ago just as they do now.

Three more Sam Plank mysteries are scheduled, the next one due out (a reliable source tells me) in October 2018...

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

Arthur Tompkins is a sitting District Court Judge based in Wellington and one of the founders of the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust.  For 8 years now he has taught the Art in War course module for the annual Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Heritage Protection presented by the Association for Research into Crimes against Art in Amelia, Umbria, Italy. He has lectured around New Zealand and abroad on art crime, and is a regular art-crime guest on Kim Hill’s Saturday Morning show on National Radio.

October 8, 2016

UNESCO issues report on Freeports


The Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) promotes practical tools and communication to raise public awareness about trafficking in and return of stolen objects.

With its work closely tied to the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, the Committee met at UNESCO's Headquarters in Paris, on September 29-30, 2016 to discus the need for better prevention, increased cooperation and awareness raising of illicit trafficking in cultural property.

As an outcome of that meeting, UNESCO issued a document which highlights the phenomenon of free ports and their implications on the illicit art market. A copy of their report, it its entirety, can be referenced directly on the UNESCO website here:

Freeport concerns are a subject that ARCA has blogged about with regularity as has Professor David Gill on the blog Looting Matters as they have long been havens for high value artwork in general and illicit art work in particular.  More recently Free ports have been springing up around the world with increasing regularity as more investors begin to store and trade physical assets at locations which provide taxation incentives.

With their state of the art security, enormous potential for tax savings and less than transparent ownership record keeping which varies from country to country and freeport to freeport, these massive storage facilities may well continue to be a convenient and secure weigh station for traffickers to park hot goods until the world gets distracted elsewhere.  










April 20, 2016

Highlights from the US Hearing Entitled “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS”

On April 19, 2016 the US House Financial Services Committee Task Force on Terrorism Financing held a one panel, two hour and fifteen minute long hearing entitled “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS” in the Rayburn House Office Building.

A 16 page introductory memorandum and witness biography can be found on the US House of Representatives Financial Services website here. 

During this hearing, testimony was given by: (in alphabetical, not speaking order)

• Dr. Amr Al-Azm, PhD, Associate Professor, Shawnee State University
• Mr. Robert M. Edsel, Chairman of the Board, Monuments Men Foundation
• Mr. Yaya J. Fanusie, Director of Analysis, Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance,
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
• Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, PhD, Distinguished Professor, DePaul University College of
Law
• Mr. Lawrence Shindell, Chairman, ARIS Title Insurance Corporation

A video recording of the entire hearing can be viewed below.



During the hearing witnesses described the unabated and systematic process of cultural heritage destruction in Iraq and Syria and antiquities looting in the region which has grown steadily given the regions' instability.  

Secretary of U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, Patty Gerstenblith, speaking in a personal capacity and for the Blue Shield organisation she represents, testified before the Financial Services Committee’s Task Force saying, in part

“Unfortunately the looting of archaeological sites is big business, often carried out on an organised industrialised scale and in response to market demand.  And many of these sites are unknown before they are looted.  

As cultural objects move from source, transit and destination countries different legal systems create obstacles to interdiction of objects and prosecution of crimes and they allow the laundering of title to these artefacts.  

The United States is the single largest market for art in the world, with forty-three percent of market share.  Because of the availability of the charitable tax deduction, the ability to import works of art and artefacts without payment of tariffs and because of artistic preference, the United States is the largest ultimate market for antiquities, particularly those from the Mediterranean and the Middle East."

A transcript of Dr. Gerstenblith's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

Key imagery from Dr. Amr Al-Azm's testimony can be viewed here.

A transcript of Mr. Robert Edsel's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

A transcript of Mr. Yaya Fanusie's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

A transcript of Dr. Lawrence Shindell's testimony can be read in its entirety here.


While key takeaways from this hearing conversations are distilled here ARCA strongly encourages its blog readership to take the time to listen to the entire hearing and examine the legal instruments evidence Dr. Gerstenblith underscores as being necessary.  

She reminds us that looting of archaeological sites imposes incalculable costs on society by destroying the original contexts of archaeological artifacts thereby impairing our ability to reconstruct and understand the historical record.  Her testimony reminds us that looters loot because they are motivated by profit and that the looting and illicit trafficking phenomenon we are seeing in Iraq, Syria and Libya are responses to the basic economic principle of supply and demand.   

The statements of all of the speakers remind us that while the market in antiquities has existed for centuries, its role in facilitating criminal enterprise on the scale that we are seeing in the Middle East is a terrifying one.  

Maamoun Abdelkarim of Syria’s DGAM inspecting the condition of delivered
artefacts transported from various parts of Syria to Damascus on Sept. 21, 2015.

Antiquities collectors must be educated to understand that the purchase of objects emerging on the open market without legitimate collection histories (i.e. provenance) are the likely product of conflict-based looting of archaeological sites, and contribute significantly to the destruction of the world's cultural heritage.  Buyers need to be made to realise that their buying power and their, until now, unharnessed demand for archaeological material, absent transparent ethical acquisition documentation, incentivises those facing economic hardship to participate in, or tacitly condone,  the looting that we are observing in countries of conflict.  

If collectors in market nations such as the United States and London refuse to buy undocumented artifacts, then the incentives for looting historic sites, which by proxy funds criminal enterprise and terrorism, diminish. 

Armed conflicts have long been called the “perfect storm” within which large-scale looting can take place, but not without collectors willing to look the other way. 

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO


August 21, 2015

Two Syrians Detained in Istanbul’s Esenyurt District for Smuggling Ottoman-era “Sikke” Coins

By Lynda Albertson

Antiquities trafficking from source countries to collector markets requires a global network of routes and facilitation by domestic and international criminal groups and, or middle men. Although the various trajectories are always evolving, there are certain well-established trafficking routes regularly used for the purpose of transporting illicit goods, be they drugs, precursor chemicals, illicit arms, humans or portable antiquities.

Some trafficking routes are chosen out of geographic necessity, while others are selected when smugglers associate an alternate route with a lower risk of discovery, higher profit margin or simply because logistics, such as fuel supplies, transport or available couriers, make one transport route or trafficker more appealing than another. 

Turkey has long been a viable trade corridor for heroin as well as other illegal merchandise.  As a stop along what is known as the Balkan Route the country's strategic geographical location has helped to develop it into a major staging area and transportation conduit used by drug traffickers smuggling heroin destined for European markets, with the largest percentage flowing into Germany and the Netherlands. 
April 27, 2015 Heroin Seizure 


But does Turkey serve as a trade route for illicit antiquities?

This week Turkish authorities announced that police had detained two Syrian antiquities smugglers also in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district and confiscated 500 historic "sikke" dating back to the Tanzimat period (1839–1876) of the Ottoman Empire.  Along with the coins police seized ammunition, a firearm, and a substantial amount of cash in three separate currencies:
August 2015 Coin Hoard Seizure

€119,000 (Euros)
₺134,500 (Turkish lira)
$4,250 (US Dollars)

Is the antiquities trade always tied to the illicit drug trade? 

Certainly not.  However one could conclude that underworld figures willing to ply their trade with one black market item (heroin) might be convinced to transport/fence other lucrative goods (coins) available on the illicit market if and when opportunity knocks and they are presented with objects for which there are likely to be buyers.  

Is the antiquities trade tied to one specific district? 

Again certainly not.  Nor should any parallel be drawn by any of our readers connecting these two isolated events in one distinct of Istanbul.

The lack of solid statistical reporting in the field of heritage-related crimes and the clandestine nature of illicit trafficking in general make drawing conclusions as to how often one type of illicit trafficking overlaps with another impossible to ascertain.  What is important however is that we actively recognize that fluid network structures, rather than more formal hierarchies, coupled with porous borders and geographical proximity to destabilized source countries located in the vicinity of established trafficking corridors where transnational criminal networks are already active could be leveraged as a means to traffic movable heritage.   It should also be understood that the average participant may not be a career criminal, but a regular citizen attempting to exploit an opportunity to supplement their income as a single link in a complex chain. 









August 16, 2013

Janet Ulph's and Ian Smith's "The Illicit Trade in Art and Antiquities" reviewed by Marc Balcells (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

Marc Balcells reviews The Illicit Trade in Art and Antiquities (Hart Publishing 2012) by Janet Ulph and Ian Smith in the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.
Janet Ulph and Ian Smith write, mainly from a legal point of view, about the illicit trade in art and antiquities, the criminal and civil liability derived from these kind of cases, and the efforts regarding international recovery. The goal of the text is to focus upon the extent to which laws can protect vulnerable countries, while considering what further steps could be taken in the future. Therefore, the book deals with this particular topic from a double perspective: an international point of view, on the one hand; on the other, drawing from the experience of the authors (Mrs. Ulph is a solicitor and a professor in Commercial Law at the University of Leicester, and Mr. Smith is a barrister in London), it uses many cases from English law.
The book covers, in a logical and ordered structure, the different topics mentioned above. The first chapter deals generally with the trade in art and antiquities: concepts and broad topics are defined, such as the legal right to claim, good faith purchasers, or the global market in art and antiquities. The situation in Iraq is used as a study case, to illustrate the patters of this form of illicit trade. 
The second chapter talks about international initiatives, to focus on the major international conventions and other legal instruments which, objectively, have an impact upon the illicit trade in art and antiquities. The scope of this chapter is truly amazing, going beyond the UNESCO and UNIDROIT conventions, and analyzing such legal dispositions as the Vienna or Palermo conventions, among others.

The complete book review is included in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by ARCA Founder Noah Charney (available electronically and in print via subscription and Amazon.com). Associate Editor Marc Balcells (ARCA '11) is a Graduate Teaching Fellow at the Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.

August 5, 2013

Edgar Tijhuis on "Legal and Illegal Actors around Art Crime: a Typology of Interfaces" (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)


Edgar Tijhuis
The Journal of Art Crime is pleased to serialize Edgar Tijhuis' now out-of-print book, Transnational Organized Crime and the Interface between Legal and Illegal Actors, originally published by Enfield in 2006, the author publishing under his formal name, A. J. G. Tijhuis, and based on the author's doctoral dissertation. The Journal of Art Crime is pleased to present its content, which deals largely with transnational organized crime and art, adapted into a series of articles, which will appear in consecutive issues, beginning with this one.
This article discusses a number of criminological typological interfaces, and shows how they might apply to art crime. A number of interfaces from these typology could be used to understand particular activities within the illicit trade. Several interfaces commonly discussed by criminologists will turn out to be superfluous to the understanding the illicit art trade. The discussion of this typology in this article will show that seven of ten commonly-discussed interfaces could be used to understand the relationships between actors in the illicit art trade. These seven consisted of two antithetical interfaces and five symbiotic interfaces. The antithetical interfaces are the injurious and antagonistic interfaces; the symbiotic interfaces included the outsourcing, reciprocity, collaboration, co-option and synergy interface. Three interfaces seem superfluous, as far as the illicit art trade is concerned: the predatory, parasitical and funding interface.
Edgar Tijhuis works at VU University as an associate professor and as researcher at the NSCR (Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement), both in Amsterdam (The Netherlands). Furthermore he practices law at Pontius Lawyers and is an ARCA trustee.

Mr. Tijhuis introduces his article here:
Art crimes, like other crimes, in most cases ultimately depend on legal actors and the legitimate market. Without a legal market in art, or other goods, there would be no point in stealing them, at least in most cases. Exceptions to the rule are of course figures like Breitweiser or the infamous, but rarely found, rich collectors buying secretly from thieves or fences. 
Despite the above, criminologists and others often describe and analyze crimes by focusing primarily on the criminals, and not the environment around them, including legal businesses, government agencies, etc. When this environment is mentioned, legal actors are often assumed to be either victims or actors with a minor stake in the crime. To shed more light on the role of legal actors and the interaction between legal and illegal, my PhD study specifically focused on the interfaces between legal and illegal actors, around transnational crime (Tijhuis: 2006). A typology of interfaces was refined, and a model was developed to understand the transformation from transnational crimes to legitimate activities. The study was based, in the first place, on a study of transnational crime in general, including all kinds of crimes ranging from, for example, arms trafficking, human trafficking, terrorism, to drug trafficking. Secondly, it was based on a thorough study of the illegal art and antiquities trade, and this typology and model was applied to this field of crime. 
In this article, the interface typology will first be described. After that, the typology will first be described. After that, the typology will be applied to art crimes. The article is, in part, a reproduction of a portion of chapter 8 of the aforementioned PhD study, dealing with the illicit art trade (Tijhuis, 2006: 143-167).
Mr. Tijhuis's article is continued in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by Noah Charney and published by ARCA, available electronically (pdf) and in print via subscription and Amazon.com. The Associate Editor is Marc Balcells (ARCA '11), Graduate Teaching Fellow, Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.