Breaking News: Major Antiquities Investigation

In what may result in the next large-scale antiquities smuggling prosecution in the United States, federal agents today served search warrants on four California museums and an art gallery. Warrants were served on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pasadena’s Pacific Asia Museum, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana and the Mingei International Museum in San Diego. Jason Felch has the story in the LA Times. The Silk Roads Gallery is apparently a major focus of the five-year investigation.

This could be the first major antiquities prosecution in the United States since the conviction of antiquities dealer Fred Schultz. It goes without saying though that this kind of massive investigation is unprecedented. The warrants claim Southeast Asian and Native American artifacts were looted and smuggled into local museums.

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3 thoughts on “Breaking News: Major Antiquities Investigation”

  1. These allegations are serious and a lot to digest, but a few off the cuff questions/thoughts. First, the author (a well respected journalist who has written extensively about the Getty situation) seems to be confusing “stolen” under the NSPA with “illegally exported” under another contry’s laws. The first is actionable. The second is not in itself. Second, I wonder about what types of Chinese artifacts are at issue. In that regard, testimony during the 2005 CPAC hearing on the still pending Chinese request for import restrictions established that high quality Chinese artifacts (many of which were recent finds) were sold openly in China in that country’s booming antiquities market. Under the circumstances, why are such materials allegedly “stolen” under US law when identical materials are openly sold within China with the full knowledge of Chinese officialdom? Finally, is it possible the execution of these warrants in such a public fashion was timed to help justify the resurrection of the long delayed Chinese requst for import restrictions on cultural artifacts? There have been rumors that the long delayed decision will be announced before the Summer Olympics in China. Finally in this regard, it is interesting to note that back in 2005 one of the FBI’s art experts worked at the State Department. In that position, she helped process the Chinese import restrictions request. Certainly, this may be a simple coincidence, but perhaps Jason Felch or some other journalist will look into that particular issue further.

    Best regards,

    Peter Tompa

  2. China has a tiered system that ranks objects. It allows the sale of certain less-important antiquities, but government officials have a kind of right of first refusal.

    A 2002 Law legalizes private transactions involving cultural relics in five circumstances, (1) legal inheritance or gift; (2) purchase from cultural relics shops; (3) purchase from cultural relics auction enterprises; (4) exchanges or transfers between individual citizens; and (5) other methods authorized by the central government.

    China has State ownership of certain important “cultural relics” as they are called. I actually talk about China in some length in my thesis, as it has produced a massive bureaucracy to regulate the trade.

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