Two Picasso Works Stolen in Switzerland

Two works by Pablo Picasso, Verre et pichet (pictured here), and Tete de cheval were stolen from the Seedamm-Kulturzentrum in Pfaeffikon just outside Zurich Switzerland.

The thieves set of a security alarm when they were leaving, and police are speculating that the thieves may have hidden in the museum until after closing, and then broke out with the works.

Both the Telegraph and the BBC are pointing out this morning that works by Picasso are frequently stolen. One of the now-recovered works from Sao Paolo was a Picasso, and police in August recovered works stolen from the artist’s granddaughter’s home in Paris.

He’s a popular artist to steal certainly, but these works will never be sold on the open market, they are too widely known. I think a more interesting issue is security when these works are loaned out to regional museums like this one, which was the problem with works stolen in Nice last August. I think there are a lot of benefits to loaning works, and sharing collections; however there are trade-offs. Often these smaller regional museums have less-sophisticated security systems given their smaller budgets and collections.

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Stolen Egyptian Antiquities Arrest

Edward Earle Johnson, aka “Dutch” has been arrested in Alabama and charged in Manhattan for wire fraud and selling stolen goods in connection with a 2002 theft from the Ma’adi Museum near Cairo in Egypt. Johnson is an active duty Chief Warrant Officer with the US Army, serving as a helicopter pilot.

In September of 2002 370 “pre-dynastic artifacts” were stolen from the museum, some dating to 3000 BC. Around 80 of those objects have been recovered by US authorities.

ABC News has a good overview of the story, with pictures, and has helpfully posted the unsealed complaint, sworn out by Senior Special Agent James McAndrew of the Homeland Security Department, specifically the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The ICE press release announcing the arrest yesterday is here.

An interesting question to ask here is whether Johnson used military ships or aircraft to somehow smuggle these objects back into the United States. That would be particularly troubling. That’s just speculation on my part at this point, but it seems like a potential way for him to get those object into the US.

It is also important to note I think that this arrest stems from a theft from a museum. These objects were excavated in an archaeological dig in the 1920’s-30’s, and had been in a state collection. One interesting aspect of the case which may come to light later is how McAndrew and the ICE discovered these thefts. Did a scrupulous dealer come forward? Did someone notice these objects for sale? Were these objects cataloged and documented by the Egyptian culture ministry?

It can be extremely difficult to track stolen antiquities generally even where they have been excavated and on display, however the problems grow increasingly acute when we consider looted and illegally excavated objects, which are new to the market.

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US Criminal Penalties and Antiquities

To a casual observer, the recent searches in California would perhaps indicate that American criminal prosecutions and investigations can have a substantial impact on the illicit trade in antiquities. I certainly think they are a welcome sign, and hope that more of them will be supported by investigators and prosecutors. However, that investigation took five years to materialize, and there is still no indication if there will be any arrests. It certainly seems likely, but even this dramatic show of force and investigative might will not, I think, end or even put a substantial dent in the illicit trade. The current regulatory framework in both nations of origin and in market states puts far too much pressure on customs agents, prosecutors, and investigators.

At least that’s what I argue in my now-available article in the Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal, WHY U.S. FEDERAL CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR DEALING IN ILLICIT CULTURAL PROPERTY ARE INEFFECTIVE, AND A PRAGMATIC ALTERNATIVE. 25 Cardozo Arts & Ent. L. J. 597-695 (2007)

The pragmatic alternative is the approach in England and Wales with its Treasure Act, Portable Antiquities Scheme, and limited export restrictions. This legal framework and attendant cultural policy is unique, in that it effectively incentivizes obeying the relevant cultural heritage laws. It adopts a carrot and stick approach, while many nations use too much of the stick. I argue that the criminal penalties can be brought to bear in cases of clear and egregious violations, or where there are a great deal of investigative resources available. Such was the case in the California searches, in which an undercover agent posed as a buyer. However, it took five years of investigations, and it’s still not clear what the result of these investigations are.

The image above is an Egyptian antiquity which Jonathan Tokeley-Parry bought and sold to Frederick Schultz, who later sold it for $1.2 million in 1993. It’s an image of 18th Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III (ca. 1403-1354 B.C.). Tokeley dipped the sculpture in clear plastic and painted it to resemble a cheap tourist souvenir. I discuss prosecutions of both men, which took place in England and the US respectively in the article. A lot of articles discuss the Schultz prosecution, but surprisingly no articles have discussed in any real detail the corresponding prosecution of Tokeley-Parry in England, which I think is key to understanding the international nature of the illicit trade, and the kind of complex multinational criminal investigation which is difficult where criminal investigation and prosecution are time-consuming and expensive. Not to mention the substantial pressures of other and often more-pressing matters such as drugs, violent crime, terrorism and the like.

I would be quite eager to hear any comments or reactions to the piece at derek.fincham “@”

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