Showing posts with label smuggling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label smuggling. Show all posts

March 19, 2017

Lecture: Criminals without Borders - The many profiles of the (il)licit antiquities trade.



For those interested interested in the realm of illicit trafficking who will be in Rome, Italy April 21, 2017 Lynda Albertson, ARCA's Chief Executive Officer will be giving a talk on "Criminals without Borders."

This one hour lecture, at 6:00 pm at John Cabot University will provide a brief overview of the profile of actors in the illicit art trade, giving examples of how those in the trade avoid detection and prosecution.

This presentation will discuss the motives of trafficking in art and antiquities, highlighting cases from source and conflict countries emphasizing that the trade thrives on commercial opportunity i.e., a means of dealing in high value commodities that are often poorly protected, difficult to identify and easy to transport across national boundaries.

Her presentation will examine specific case examples and will underscoring response mechanisms that work to proactively counter the illegal trade.

The discussion will highlight

--the interchangeable participants in the illicit antiquities trade
--varying motives/opportunities
--how connections through single interactions can form loosely based networks


Lynda Albertson is the CEO of ARCA — The Association for Research into Crimes against Art, a nongovernmental organisation which works to promote research in the fields of art crime and cultural heritage protection. The Association seeks to identify emerging and under-examined trends related to the study of art crime and to develop strategies to advocate for the responsible stewardship of our collective artistic and archaeological heritage. 

Ms. Albertson, through her role at ARCA seeks to influence policy makers, public opinion and other key stakeholders so that public policies are developed and based on apolitical evidence, and which addresses art crime prevention and the identification of art crimes in heritage preservation initiatives.

In furtherance of that, Ms. Albertson provides technical, scientific and regional expertise to national and international organizations such as UNESCO, CULTNET, ICOM, in furtherance of ARCA's heritage preservation mission.   For the past five years, Lynda has focused part of her work on fighting the pillage of ancient sites and trafficking of artifacts, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, conducting research on the illicit trade in antiquities in MENA countries. 

Ms. Albertson also oversees ARCA's inter NGO - Governmental engagement and capacity building in MENA countries in recognition of UN Security Council Resolution 2199, which among other provisions, bans all trade in looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria and encourages steps to ensure such items are returned to their homelands. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM (CET)
Guarini Campus
Via della Lungara, 233

February 2, 2017

The very fine line between 'collecting' & 'obsession' - Alexander Historical Auctions auctions a looted Adolf Hitler's telephone


“I picked up all of Hitler’s furniture at a guesthouse in Linz,”.....“The owner’s father’s dying wish had been that a certain room should be kept locked. I knew Hitler had lived there and so finally persuaded him to open it and it was exactly as it had been when Hitler slept in the room. On the desk there was a blotter covered in Hitler’s signatures in reverse, the drawers were full of signed copies of Mein Kampf. I bought it all. I sleep in the bed, although I’ve changed the mattress.”

--British Millionaire, Kevin Wheatcroft, owner of the Wheatcroft Collection, widely regarded as the world's largest private accumulation of German military vehicles and Nazi memorabilia. 

The French sociologist and theorist of postmodernism Jean Baudrillard once noted that collecting mania is found most often in “pre-pubescent boys and males over the age of 40” reminding us in Le Système Des Objets  that “what you really collect is always yourself.”

With that in mind, it is interesting that at a time when most of the major auction houses, and even eBay have some semblance of restrictions on the ghoulish and macabre trade of Nazi memorabilia, Alexander Historical Auctions, in Chesapeake City, Maryland, and their online partner Invaluable have chosen to auction Hitler's telephone.

Looted from the subterranean Führerbunker near the Reich Chancellery in Berlin in the days following Germany's surrender, the fürer's phone was smuggled into England by British officer Brigadier Sir Ralph Herbert Rayner MBE who kept the Nazi relic in his English country manor, Ashcombe Tower from 1945 onward.

Part-home, part-personal museum, Ashcombe Tower is filled with the Brigadier's collection,  of which the blood-red phone was just one of the trinkets collected by the conservative MP before his death. In an article written by the UK’s Western Morning News in May 2011, Major Ranulf Rayner, the Brigadier's son, said the gruesome family heirloom was “not for sale at any price” but I guess the family has had a change of heart or perhaps financial circumstance.

Sale 66, Lot 1040 of their February 19th sale reads:

“ADOLF HITLER'S PERSONAL PRESENTATION TELEPHONE, RECOVERED FROM THE FUHRERBUNKER”

“ADOLF HITLER'S PERSONAL TELEPHONE, presented to him by the Wehrmacht and engraved with his name, gifted by Russian officers to Montgomery's Deputy Chief Signals Offcer [sic] who had arrived at the Fuhrerbunker only days after the fall of Berlin.”

“ARGUABLY THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE "WEAPON" OF ALL TIME, WHICH SENT MILLIONS TO THEIR DEATHS AROUND THE WORLD”

Collecting the relics of death is big business.

Despite what is morally acceptable or what is blatantly offensive, the law remains on the side of the dealers who willingly profit from the sale of this disturbing and ghastly material.  America, Russia, and China and to a lesser extent England remain burgeoning markets in Third Reich-era memorabilia, where original Nazi uniforms and concentration camp clothing can sell for tens of thousands of dollars to private collectors.

In 2015 three copies of Hitler's racist autobiographical manifesto sold through Los Angeles auction house Nate D Sanders in just a month.  Two sold for $64,850 and the third sold for just over $43,000.

Dealers justify their commerce saying collectors who buy this material are fundamentally people who are interested in preserving military history.  In defense of the trade they are often quoted as saying that the majority of their clients are not Fascists or skinhead extremists but regular Joe's like the people scene in this video, who choose to collect this type of divisive heritage as a means of remembrance.


I once knew a boutique freight forwarder who used to have a client who collected instruments of torture, shipping them from all around the world. They finally decided to sever their relationship when the collector asked for a quote to import a gas chamber. (I can't even imagine the customs paperwork on that).

For me the line between remembrance and obsession stops short of sleeping in Hitler's bed, showing your friends and hunting party guests your Hitler telephone or making room in your house for your very own private gas chamber.

Macabre objects of this type belong in museums, where they can be displayed in the proper context as reminders of mankind's tragic past, not in settings where there is a risk of being used to sensationalize, glorify or aggrandize the horrors of the Nazi movement.

Op Ed: Lynda Albertson

December 3, 2016

Geneva authorities report the confiscation of 9 artifacts from Palmyra, Syria, Yemen and Libya

Swiss authorities have confiscated nine archaeological objects originating from Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Through document records obtained by Swiss tribunal it has been determined that the objects were shipped to Switzerland between 2009 and 2010 and were stored at the Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève in their 6-story La Praille facility, located in a sprawling grey industrial building on the corner of a busy junction in southwest Geneva.

Back in September ARCA posted its own concerns about Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA attempt to reduce their risks surrounding the trade in stolen antiquities, both in terms of money-laundering and as a potential support for arms traffickers or terrorist groups. At that time, the free port was set to make changes that may or may not have been prompted to address this seizure, but still, in our opinion fall short of the thoroughly addressing the problem of storing looted artworks.

Originally set to be implemented this past summer, the new internal policy was implimented on September 19, 2016 and requires that anyone wanting to store ancient artifacts at the sprawling facility will have to undergo checks by an independent firm KPMG.  This group is tasked with investigating the validity of requests and the precise origins of any antiquities before the object is approved for transport to the complex for subsequent storage.  It should be noted that KPMG is a powerhouse accounting audit firm and in no way has had prior experience with this type of art-related transport auditing.

Back in October French finance minister Michel Sapin's, speaking on terrorism funding criticized security at Switzerland's free ports saying "there is a weak link, which is the existence of free ports."    And while it should be clearly noted that the recently publicized seizures in the tax-free zone predate both the Syrian and the Yemen conflict, ARCA agrees that controls by art provenance experts and not accounting experts would be a better means of addressing the continued problems seen at not just Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève but freeports as holding facilities for art world wide. 

The antiquities were discovered during an target-based Federal Customs Administration audit of the free port in April 2013 in a space rented by a private individual.  Presently that individual has not been publically identified.

In January 2015 Swiss authorities, through the Federal Office of Culture (FOC) confirmed the authenticity of the ancient objects, and have stated that some of the seized objects were shipped to the facility from Qatar (Items 1-6) and the United Arab Emirates (Item 7).  Swiss authorities have also stated that evidence gathered during the investigation has led the prosecutor to conclude that the goods seized were from looting and as a result, confiscation was ordered.  In addition a criminal case has been opened by the Tribune de Genève in March 2016 to be followed by Prosecutor Gregory Orci.

North-West Façade
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire
While the objects await permanent release to their countries of origin Swiss prosecutors have transferred the objects for safekeeping from Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève to the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire located at Rue Charles-Galland 2, 1206 Genève where they will be placed on public display.  

The objects have been identified by the Swiss authorities as follows with the following designations and in the order as they appear in official records.

Item 1 - A head of Aphrodite, origin Hellenic North Africa, Libya

Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 2 - A priest wearing his miter head, origin Palmyra, Syria

Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 3 - A circular table with decoration of ovals and head of ibex, origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen

Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 4 - A praying [sic] origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen


Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 5 - anthropomorphic stele, origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen


Item 6 - anthropomorphic stele, origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen
Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 7 - A quâtabanite registration stele, origin southern Arabian Peninsula, Yemen


Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor 
Item 8 - Funerary bas-relief from Palmyra, Syria

Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor
Item 9 - Funerary bas-relief from Palmyra, Syria
Image: Geneva Public Prosecutor

No longer simply Italian and Greek objects raising concern at the free ports, the Geneva port authority also recently relinquished a Nile Delta stele to Egyptian authorities following a two-year investigation after an inventory control by Swiss Federal Customs at the Ports Francs et Entrepôts de Genève SA facility at the Geneva airport.   The stele was identified as suspicious using the ICOM red list for Egypt and as a result was held pending authentication and then reported to Swiss prosecution for its irregularities. Criminal proceedings were conducted by the Attorney Claudio Mascotto and the object was returned in November of this year.

By: Lynda Albertson 

July 28, 2014

Monday, July 28, 2014 - ,,, No comments

Police officer with Greece's antiquities protection department arrested in smuggling ring

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

In "Million-euro Marble Statue Seized in Greece", Sotiria Nikolouli reported for the Associated Press on Jul 24, 2014 about the arrest of a police officer from Greece's antiquities protection department "accused of being part of a smuggling ring that was trying to sell an ancient marble statue worth an estimated 1 million euros ($1.35 million)":
Greek Police said on Thursday that the 49-year-old officer was arrested with eight other suspects, following raids and searches at 11 areas in greater Athens and two others in towns in central and northern Greece. The almost intact 1,900-year-old Greco-Roman era statue of a male figure measures 65 centimeters (25.5 inches) from head-to-knee, and is being kept at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Police did not say whether the statue had been stolen or illegally excavated but added that a “large number” of less valuable ancient artifacts had also been seized.
In "Greek policeman, 8 others charged with smuggling antiquities" (Tengri News relaying an AFP article) the 49-year-old police officer was arrested along with a 52-year-old Athens antique dealer:
A police statement said the more than 2,000-year-old statue, which measures 65 centimetres (two feet) was the work of renowned fourth-century BC sculptor Praxiteles. Six other suspects in the smuggling ring are still on the run.
This article in a Greek newspaper (http://www.tovima.gr/society/article/?aid=618124) said the arrests were the result of a two-month investigation; five of the six people not in custody have been identified as allegedly taking part in the smuggling ring (one Albanian and 8 Greeks are involved, including the 49-year-old policeman; a 50-year-old middleman; a 52-year-old antiquities dealer with a gallery in the center of Athens, who is represented as the mastermind of the team; and a 70-year-old collector, the former owner of a famous hotel in Syntagma Square in Athens). According to the article, the police office identified is the head of the service that conducted the raids (the Internal Affairs service of the Greek police). The article claims that the statue is by Praxiteles but it may also be just a later Roman copy. The article says that police confiscated many antiquities from the dealer's shop, some from the house of the dealer's daughter, along with two metal detectors, photographic films and photographs depicting antiquities, a computer hard drive and USB stick, and a special machine or digger capable of excavating antiquities.

August 21, 2013

2013 ARCA Art and Cultural Heritage Conference: Senior Police Inspector Toby Bull on “Property of a Hong Kong Gentleman, Art Crime in Hong Kong – Buyer Beware”

Toby Bull
ARCA’s Art and Cultural Heritage Conference (June 21-23, 2013), held in the ancient Umbrian town of Amelia, began with cocktails for presenters and students at Palazzo Farrattini on Friday evening. The next morning, The conference opened at the Chiostro Boccarini with an introduction to a panel moderated by Marc Balcells Magrans, a Fulbright scholar and criminal lawyer.

Toby Bull, a Senior Inspector with the Hong Kong Police Force since 1993, presented “Property of a Hong Kong Gentleman, Art Crime in Hong Kong – Buyer Beware”. Mr. Bull, a Fine Arts graduate, art historian and a qualified art authentication expert, recently founded TrackArt, an Art Risk Consultancy based in Hong Kong. In 1996, he attained detective status and is currently working within the Marine Police, whose role in the main is in dealing with anti-smuggling. The Hong Kong Police Force has no art crime squad, but has given Mr. Bull permission to lecture and do art consultancy work through his private consulting firm. Mr. Bull has been one of ARCA’s longest supporters and, like many of the lecturers & presenters on the course, was one of the contributors to ARCA’s first book, Art & Crime: Exploring the dark side of the art world edited, by Noah Charney.

Inspector Bull discussed the black-market antiquities trade and the free port of Hong Kong, often used as a ‘way station for much of China’s exported artifacts on their journey to collections abroad:

Looted antiquities are typically smuggled across porous borders, often acquiring fictitious provenance along the way. Documents claiming false authenticity and providing assurances that the items have not been looted, as well as outright fakes of antiquities are also common occurrences.

The worldwide popularity and high prices for Chinese archaeological artifacts have encouraged illegal excavation and smuggling of cultural property. Although Chinese authorities have intensified their efforts to crack down on smuggling and illicit excavation, it continues practically unabated. This huge demand for Chinese cultural artifacts has caused serious damaged to China’s cultural heritage.

Inspector Bull described the extent of the problem of looted artifacts in Hong Kong and the issue of fakes. He also raised the question as to whether or not “greater due diligence or some form of regulation amongst the local dealers could be brought in to help diminish and eventually stop the trade in illicit antiquities.”

According to Inspector Bull, criminal networks know how to move stolen art or illicitly dug-up antiquities because they already have the knowledge of the best ‘routes’ to get the illicit merchandise across the HK border, thanks in large part to their experience from drug trafficking.

"The idea that these are art-loving criminals is risible, as they are only interested in the money that comes from their various nefarious activities," Inspector Bull said. "The trade in antiquities (be they real or fake) is part of highly organized criminal enterprise structures. The people perpetrating these crimes are your commonplace criminals – no more, no less, but businessmen too, as they have realized that there is still a lot of money to be made in this type of trafficking and far less harsh penalties if caught than with drugs, for example. China is a source nation, bleeding its cultural heritage to the rich market nations. Tomb robbing in China involving diggers, equipment, and fences (middleman to sell the objects) and requires a multi-layered network.

High priced art is even used as a tool in bribing officials in China, according to Bull. "In 1997, many art dealers fled Hong Kong fearing the change of sovereignty, believing the harsh and strict export embargo of the Chinese system would be applied to Hong Kong and kill the trade," he said. "Once the announcement was made that Chinese laws on the protection of art relics would not be applied to Hong Kong (the world’s 3rd busiest cargo port), business carried on unabated with the reputation for Hong Kong being the place to buy Chinese artifacts and antiquities solidified.

However, that brings with it the problems of Hong Kong being a Freeport: “If it’s (the artifact) not proven to be stolen, objects can be legally exported, changing from illicit to licit,” Inspector Bull said. “Once entered into auction catalogues, the objects are often shown to be from a private collection in Hong Kong.”

Inspector Bull highlighted the problematical way that the police regard art crime and their lack of proper referencing within databases, making true statistics nigh on impossible to get; a frustrating fact for any criminologist looking to study this subject. Other incidents of art crime involve fake authenticity certificates for objects; smuggling paintings back into China to avoid taxes; and smuggling of fake objects. Inspector Bull also explained the correlation between art crime and money laundering and "the surprising, but sad fact", of how Hong Kong was woefully under prepared and at risk – despite its reputation as a top international finance sector with very tough anti-money laundering measures in place for the financial sector (just not for the totally unregulated art sector).


Inspector Bull conducted some of his own original research: “Out of 25 mainstream galleries in the main antiques area of Hollywood Road in Hong Kong, only four returned a 14-question survey questionnaire about the condition of the art market – and even those four that did answer did so with rather spurious replies,” Inspector Bull said. “There is absolutely no interest from the art trade to self-regulate, nor is there any lead from the Government to clamp down (or even recognize) the problem. There is simply too much money at stake. The Hong Kong Government is now looking to make the city an ‘art hub’ – seen by the recent arrival of the mega Art Basel exhibition in May. There is a real danger that more genuine smuggled pieces will find their way in Hong Kong, as well as more fakes flooding the market”.

With this in mind, one of the aims of TrackArt  is education to the art market & those closely tied to it to highlight the problems that were addressed in Inspector Bull’s insightful and entertaining presentation : he had brought with him from Hong Kong a “1st Class Fake” of a Tang Dynasty ceramic horse bought especially for its inconsistencies by Bull to be used as a lecture prop and which was passed around the audience – showing, indeed, the dangers of buying Chinese antiquities in Hong Kong. "Buyer Beware! Yes, most definitely."

August 6, 2013

Tuesday, August 06, 2013 - ,,, No comments

Edirne custom inspection discovered historical artifacts in hidden compartment of semi-truck destined for Germany

Coins found in hidden compartment of truck en route
to Germany from Edirne, Turkey, near the Bulgarian border.
(Asksham.com.tr)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

EDIRNE, Turkey - Acting on a tip that historical artifacts were being smuggled to Germany, Edirne Gendarmerie stopped a long semi-truck destined for Germany at a freeway toll booth and redirected it to a custom inspection point in Kapikule. Using x-ray technology, the located a hidden compartment behind the spare-parts storage area underneath the bed of the truck and found a marble head of a Roman goddess; two crosses used in Middle-Age Christian liturgies; an Achaemenid gold coin depicting a Persian archer; gold coins from the Classical Greek period; a coin with the image of the emperor Vespasianus; an Hellenistic silver coin; and possibly a 9th century ceramic cup used in religious ceremonies (Asksham.com, article here).

Crosses recovered at customs in Edirne (Habermonitor)
According to Professor Engin Beksac, the head of the art history department at Trayka University in Edirne, the most important piece found is that of the 2,500 year old 'Persian archer' coin. This kind of coin is not found in the Thrace museums and rarely discovered anywhere else, Professor Beksac explained. The marble head of the goddess was likely part of a building's facade.

Here's a link to Aksham newspaper in Turkish along with photos of the objects recovered.

Here's a link to the Hurriyet video of a jendarma officer removing historical artifacts from a storage area of a semi-truck in Edirne, Turkey, near the Bulgarian border.