Three arrested in connection with thefts from Musee d’Art Moderne

In May 2010 five works were stolen from the Musee d’Art Moderne near the Eiffel tower. Now three individuals are being detained in connection with the thefts, though the works are still missing. From AFP:

The Pigeon with Peas, Pablo Picasso, 1911-12

The three, a woman suspected of taking part in the theft and two people suspected of handling stolen goods, were arrested and charged over the robbery of the five paintings, by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Ferdinand Leger and Amedeo Modigliani, and placed in custody on September 16, the official said. A lone burglar sheared off a gate padlock and broke a window to get into the city-run Musee d’Art Moderne in the brazen operation during the night of May 19 last year. The paintings were found to be missing just as the museum, a major tourist attraction near the Eiffel Tower, was about to open. Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe later said one of the museum’s alarms had been “partly malfunctioning” since the end of March, and that it was still awaiting repair when the thieves struck.

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Looting with Dynamite in Greece

This is the first I’ve head of using dynamite like this to loot sites: six looters in northern Greece have been arrested for using dynamite at an archaeological site to search for gold:

Authorities said Thursday that the four Greek and two Albanian men were arrested Wednesday after police discovered a 12-meter (40-foot) tunnel blasted into the side of a mountain near the city of Kavala, 700 kilometres (435 miles) north of Athens. 
The tunnel, with support columns and a construction track, was first started in 2008, according to local police, who said the suspects would be charged with illegal excavation, illegal use and possession of explosives, and violating archaeological protection laws. 
Archaeological services would not comment on whether they believed there was buried gold in the area.
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"He really loves art. . . "

This is what an art thief looks like.

“. . . but also the money that he can get from it”.

So says an unnamed source describing the notorious Stéphane Breitwieser who stole 240 works of art, went to prison, wrote a memoir and has been arrested again in his home:

At Breitwieser’s home, police discovered about 40 paintings, three sculptures, and a tapestry, French newspaper Le Parisien reports. At Breitwieser’s mother’s place, cops also found a landscape by a Brueghel pupil that had been stolen from a Brussels museum. Several valuable objects, including chandeliers and pocket watches, were also discovered in the pond next to Breitwieser’s mother’s house. In the past, she destroyed several paintings in order to protect her son, and also hid his stolen artworks along a highway, in a canal, and even in a neighbor’s chicken coop.

  1. Police Nab Europe’s Most Notorious Art Thief — And His Mom, Too, ARTINFO France, April 25, 2011, http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/37537/police-nab-europes-most-notorious-art-thief-and-his-mom-too/ (last visited Apr 25, 2011).
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Looted Statute (maybe Caligula) Seized Near Rome

A Bust of Caligula at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Italian police have arrested a tombarolo with an 8-foot ancient statue not far from Rome. The statue may be worth €1 million. They believe the statue may be of Caligula, and may even have been looted from Caligula’s tomb, which has not been discovered. We surely won’t know if this tomb or the site was the actual tomb, but if looting is destroying the archaeological record, we are losing information.

Might the record have given us information on Caligula, who may have received a bad rap from the sources which have survived antiquity? Contemporaries describe the emperor as insane, saying he appointed a horse as consul, slept with his sisters, and killed often. But these might have been claims made by his political enemies in the senate and elsewhere—perhaps not too different from today’s politics. After all, how could the son of Germanicus (my favorite Roman) have been such a bad guy. Caligula only ruled from AD 37-41, before he was assassinated.

I wonder where this statue was going to be sold? The United States, the middle-East, Asia? Excavations will start to reveal the archaeology of the site where the tomb raider unearthed the massive statue.

  1. Tom Kington, Caligula’s tomb found after police arrest man trying to smuggle statue, The Guardian, January 17, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/17/caligula-tomb-found-police-statue (last visited Jan 18, 2011).
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Ancient Underground Tomb Discovered in Looting Raid

AP Photo:  Turkish Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay

 Authorities in Turkey have discovered an “important archaeological site” while searching for looted antiquities, reports the Associated Press.  The discovery was made near Milas, in western Turkey.  This sarcophagus may have contained artifacts, but they have disappeared, likely lost in the illicit trade.  The piece describes the tunnels:

[T]he suspects had dug two tunnels — 6 and 8 meters (yards) long, from the house and an adjacent barn, leading to the tomb that is buried some 10 meters (yards) deep.
They used sophisticated equipment to drill through the thick marble walls of the tomb and were working to remove the coffin from the underground chamber when they were detained, according to the Culture Ministry.
“I would have wished that this (archaeological find) had been discovered through our digs and not through digs conducted by a band of treasure hunters,” Anatolia quoted Gunay as saying.
“This is not an ordinary treasure hunt. It is very organized and it is obvious that they received economic and scientific help,” Gunay said, adding that Turkey also would investigate the suspects possible overseas links.

  1. Turkey Discovers Ancient Underground Tomb : NPR, , http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129174682 (last visited Aug 13, 2010).
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Two Guilty Pleas in Four-Corners Antiquities Investigation

On Monday two pleaded guilty to stealing government property and violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.  Both Brent Bullock and Tammy Shumway had been among those indicted during a federal investigation into looting Native American sites in the Four Corners region in the Southwest.  From the AP:

Bullock, 61, sold several ancient Indian items to an undercover operative in 2007, including a blanket fragment for $2,000 and a hoe-like tool for $500, according to court documents. He also offered to sell several ceramic figurines taken from U.S. Bureau of Land Management land.

Bullock said he wanted to sell the items because he was in debt, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Investigators said Bullock acknowledged to the informant that the items came from public land in Utah but filled out paperwork saying they were from private land in Colorado.

Shumway, who introduced Bullock to the informant, was charged because the 40-year-old woman aided and abetted the deals and signed a falsified paper about the items’ origin as a witness, federal officials said.

In U.S. District Court on Monday, Bullock and Shumway acknowledged they knew the items had been illegally dug up from public land in Utah. As part of a plea deal, they each pleaded guilty to one count of trafficking in stolen artifacts and theft of government property. Prosecutors agreed to seek a reduced sentence. 

A couple points which might not be evident from some of the coverage of these plea deals.  First, sentencing will occur in July; and the AP piece notes the maximum sentence is 12 years in prison.   Neither of these defendants will likely receive anything close to the statutory maximum.  That is because when a defendant enters into a plea deal, they do so in most cases to achieve a recommendation from prosecutors on sentencing; which will often fall far below the maximum sentences.  This should not be construed as authorities in the United States not taking these crimes seriously—rather a reflection of the general criminal procedures when plea agreements are reached. 

Second, Tammy Shumway is the widow of Earl Shumway, a notorious antiquities looter.  Shumway became a national figure in the 1980’s, who boasted that he began looting at three years old with his father.  He sold a large collection of over thirty prehistoric baskets and sold them for a great deal.  Though he was prosecuted for selling those baskets, he cooperated with authorities and only received probation.  He went right back to looting, using a helicopter and even lookouts to avoid authorities.  He boasted to the media that he could never be apprehended.  Though he was not caught in the act of looting, authorities did secure a conviction using DNA evidence found on Mountain Dew soda cans he left in the areas he looted.  In 1995 he received a 5-year prison sentence which sent a message that Federal agents and prosecutors took this kind of crime seriously. 

  1. Timothy Egan, In the Indian Southwest, Heritage Takes a Hit, N.Y. Times, November 2, 1995.
  2. Mike Stark, 2 Utahns plead guilty in sweeping artifacts case, AP, March 29, 2010.
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Cyprus Antiquities Smugglers Discovered

Police in Cyprus have detained ten people over the weekend and are looking for five more after the discovery of an international antiquities-smuggling ring believed to be the largest such discovery in Cyprus’s history.  The objects seized may be worth more than 11m euros, and include pottery, coins, figurines, some of which may be 4,000 years old.  Many of the objects may have originated elsewhere, and authorities now are attempting to determine the origins of many of the objects.  The BBC points out that Cyprus was an important crossroads in the ancient Mediterranean, with armies and merchants from Egypt, the Roman Empire, Persia, and others.  This may make it difficult to trace the origin of these objects, many of which could plausibly have originated from dozens of modern-day nations.  The smugglers of course were likely to have disguised or destroyed any evidence of the history of these objects. 

  1. Cyprus smuggling ring broken up, BBC, January 25, 2010.
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