Manhattan Antiquities Dealers Arrested in Fraud Scheme

Two antiquities dealers have been arrested today in connection with what prosecutors allege was an antiquities fraud scheme from 2015-2020. The dealers were announced in an unsealed Indictment in Manhattan federal court today: Erdal Dere of Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd., and his alleged “associate and co-conspirator” Faisal Khan. The defendants are alleged to have defrauded buyers and brokers in the antiquities trade through the use of false provenance. The false histories allegedly fraudulently used the identities of deceased individuals. Fortuna is described in the indictment as a Manhattan-based gallery which sells “antiquities and numismatics”. The indictment here seems to be targeting the false information provided by the defendants to buyers and brokers, which included names of deceased collectors and fabricated documents. The indictment alleges the material originated from Asia and was given false history with fabricated documents.

The criminal offences alleged to have been violated include Wire Fraud under 18 U.S.C. §1343, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and identity theft under 18 U.S.C. 1028A.

In a press release today announcing the arrests, statements from the U.S. Attorney and FBI Assistant Director attempt to tie this investigation into broader efforts to regulate the art and antiquities trade. Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York said:

The integrity of the legitimate market in antiquities rests on the accuracy of the provenance provided by antiquities dealers, which prevents the sale of stolen and looted antiquities that lack any legitimate provenance.  As alleged, Erdal Dere and Faisal Khan compromised that integrity, and defrauded buyers and brokers of the antiquities they sold, by fabricating the provenance of those antiquities, and concealing their true history.  Now, thanks to the FBI’s Art Crime Team, Dere and Khan are in custody and facing prosecution for their alleged crimes.

Also, FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. tied the investigation into safeguarding the objects themselves: 

Antiquities and art allow us to see a piece of history from a world that existed hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years ago. As alleged, the men who trafficked in fake documents and used dead people’s names to bolster their lies had no care for the precious items they sold and no regard for the people they defrauded. 

The press release has asked for assistance from the public at  NYArtCrime@fbi.gov .

The alleged actions certainly link up with much of the conduct that researchers and criminologists have shown to run through the trade in art and antiquities. The use of identity theft and wire fraud charges are noteworthy and likely particularly useful. The fraud charge seems to me to be a particularly useful avenue as it gets at the core wrong of so much of what dodgy dealers engage in, as I have argued elsewhere. Remember that these arrests and the information contained in the complaint are only allegations, and it will be up to the prosecutors to meet their burden if they are to convict these men.

The Press Release:

Antiquities Dealers Arrested For Fraud Scheme, Department of Justice, https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/antiquities-dealers-arrested-fraud-scheme?fbclid=IwAR0LW7hWmCMALAqGZmboVCxntLbtJhgYJPWfWK1ERr9WoXPZZVEZsqSr4PY [https://perma.cc/K98C-S3JV] (last visited Sep. 22, 2020).

And some extra-credit reading:

Derek Fincham, Towards a Rigorous Standard for the Good Faith Acquisition of Antiquities, 37 Syracuse J. Int’l L. & Com. 145 (2009).

Konstantinos-Orfeas Sotiriou, The F Words: Frauds, Forgeries, and Fakes in Antiquities Smuggling and the Role of Organized Crime, 25 International Journal of Cultural Property 223 (Cambridge University Press 2018).

Donna Yates, Museums, Collectors, and Value Manipulation: Tax Fraud through Donation of Antiquities, Journal of Financial Crime (Emerald Group Publishing Limited 2015).

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