On that funerary statue seized in the UK

HMRC seized this funerary statute because it was misdeclared
HMRC seized this funerary statute because it was misdeclared

Janet Ulph has given a helpful overview of the seizure by UK Customs of this funerary statue. The statue was seized after Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs said the statue was “misdeclared”. It was declared as a statue from Turkey, with an estimated value of $110,000. Yet HMRC alleged the statue originated from Cyrene, Libya and its value was closer to £1.5m.

Continue reading “On that funerary statue seized in the UK”

Two Ways of Policing Heritage

A red-figured krater withdrawn from auction at Christie's in Dec. 2014 after Christos Tsirogannis connected the image to David Swingler, who has been investigated by US Customs Authorities and was sentenced to prison in absentia in Italy
A red-figured krater withdrawn from auction at Christie’s in Dec. 2014 after Christos Tsirogannis connected the image to David Swingler, who has been investigated by US Customs Authorities and was sentenced to prison in absentia in Italy

Christie’s had an auction of antiquities on Dec. 11, and some of the objects up for auction were ‘matched’ with photographic archives seized from dealers and collectors who deal in illicit material. These matches have always left me a little uneasy. If an object is matched, it means it is most likely looted. But the auction houses have no good way to match these objects because these photo archives are closely held by law enforcement agencies and a group of researchers. There are claims that the auction houses could go directly to Greek or Italian officials and have these objects checked against these databases for free. As Christos Tsiogiannis answered when asked by Catherine Schofield Sezgin: “The auction houses, and the members of the international antiquities market in general, always have the opportunity to contact the Italian and Greek authorities directly, before the auctions. These authorities will check, for free, every single object for them.”  But it seems they do not do this. Objects are invariably withdrawn after a match, where they disappear back into collections in most cases, and we are left with little progress in stemming future looting and protection of sites. And so each new antiquities auction continues the cycle of public shaming and return. But the looting continues.

That was the core point of a paper I presented last year in a meeting of ISPAC and the United Nations office on Drugs and Crime in Courmayeur. Some of the papers have been collected and published by Stefano Manacorda and Arianna Visconti. I’ve posted my short paper “Two Ways of Policing Cultural Heritage” on SSRN. From the introduction:

The title of this paper is, of course, a play upon the title of Professor John Henry Merryman’s well-known essay which laid out the ways of conceptualizing cultural property law there are two ways to think about cultural objects. One as part of a national patrimony, and second as a piece of our collective cultural heritage. In a similar way there are two ways to envision jurisdiction of cultural heritage crime. Criminal law can of course apply to policing the individuals responsible for stealing, looting, selling and transporting illicit art and antiquities. Or, law enforcement resources can be used to secure the successful return of stolen art, and the protection of sites. The criminal law can regulate people; and it can also regulate things. In order to produce meaningful change in the disposition of art, it must do both effectively. Focusing on art at the expense of criminal deterrence for individuals is an incomplete strategy.
Fincham, Derek, Two Ways of Policing Cultural Heritage (December 10, 2013). Courmayeur Mont Blanc, Italy, edited by Stefano Manacorda, Arianna Visconti, Ed. ISPAC 2014 . Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=2536542

 

Will the Getty have to return “Victorious Youth”?

I’ve finished an essay looking at the question of whether Italy can successfully repatriate the “Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth” (the Getty calls it the “Getty Bronze”). The answer? It is very likely if Italy can secure the assistance from the Federal Government. But Italy should have a very good case for receiving assistance because of a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty first signed in 1982, and renewed in 2010.

Here’s the abstract:

Italy has been engaged in an ongoing fifty year struggle to recover an ancient greek bronze. The “Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth” has a remarkable story. It was lost at sea in the Adriatic in antiquity; found by chance in international waters; smuggled into the Italian seaside village of Fano; hidden first in a bathtub, then a cabbage field; smuggled and hidden in Brazil; later conserved in Germany and London; and ultimately purchased by the Getty Museum only months after the death of the Trust’s namesake. J. Paul Getty. Getty refused to allow his museum to purchase the statue during his lifetime without a thorough and diligent inquiry into the title history of the Bronze. A step the trustees of the Getty did not take when it acquired the Bronze.

The question is not whether the Bronze was illicit when the Getty trustees made the decision to acquire it. It most certainly was, and still is. The question now is whether the Getty will be able to continue to retain possession. In the press and in cultural property circles the Bronze is considered nearly un-repatriatable given this convoluted history. But an Italian forfeiture action in Pesaro has quietly set in motion a means by which Italy can reclaim the Bronze through a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. This transnational forfeiture marks the creation of a useful new tool in the struggle to repatriate looted and stolen cultural objects. And perhaps more importantly the dispute signals a continuing trend in the importance of domestic law in source nations in cultural heritage law.

 

At present its a work in progress so please get in touch if you have any comments!

Fincham, Derek. Transnational Forfeiture of the “Getty” Bronze, (work in progress, 2013).

Federal agents have seized $100m from Subhash Kapoor

Jason Felch reports that Federal agents have seized a whopping $100 million in art in the past couple years from Subhash Kapoor. Kapoor, an American citizen, is subject to potential criminal charges for dealing in looted and stolen art: a pending criminal trial in India; and he may be prosecuted in the United States as well.

Felch reports on the staggering number of esteemed Museums which have purchased material from Kapoor since:

Since 1974, Kapoor and his Madison Avenue gallery Art of the Past have sold or donated ancient art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Norton Simon Museum, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Toledo Museum in Ohio and others. Abroad, his clients included the Musée des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet, Paris; the Museum f¿r Indische Kunst in Berlin; the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto; the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore; and the National Gallery of Australia. To date none of the museums has been accused of possessing stolen art or conspiring with Kapoor. Several have acknowledged having objects from Kapoor but declined to comment on the ongoing investigations.

This is a staggering array of objects and some very fine Museums.

 

The piece demonstrates how integral federal forfeitures are in policing the art and antiquities trade in the United States. Whether all that art will be repatriated to Southeast Asia remains to be seen, but the institutions which have material which passed through Kapoor would be wise to start preparing a strategy for the inevitable questions which will arise. Right now he looks to be as big an alleged antiquities smuggler as any of the names we’ve seen deal in art from Europe or even some of the notorious dealers in looted Mediterranean antiquities.

 

transparent

Increasing the Use of Forfeiture in Policing Heritage

The NYT’s Tom Mashberg reports that Sharon Cohen Levin and Alexander Wilson (two Assistant U.S. Attorney’s) have traveled to Cambodia to examine the site where the 10th Century Koh Ker statue was likely looted in Cambodia. I have no way of knowing whether a trip like this is unusual or not. It seems to me to be a good idea to get some context for the original looting. For those who don’t know, Assistant U.S. attorneys are the Federal government’s prosecutors. And when these folks take on a case, they do so selectively, and generally only if they are confident in a win. These offices across the country have a very high winning percentage in the cases they take on. So it is not much of a surprise that these AUSA’s have decided to make a trip to Cambodia to examine the site itself:

The NYT image of the feet at the temple
where the Koh Ker statue was likely looted

A Cambodian government spokesman, Ek Tha, said the delegation that visited the temple included Cambodian and foreign archaeologists. A federal judge is scheduled to rule in weeks on whether the government’s case to seize the statue can proceed to trial. In earlier arguments District Judge George B. Daniels has pressed prosecutors on what proof they had that the statue, called the Duryodhana, was taken in the 1970s. Sotheby’s has been trying to sell the statue, valued at as much as $3 million, on behalf of its Belgian owner since 2011. The United States government says the auction house had reason to suspect that the statue had been stolen, and that it is the rightful property of Cambodia, citing laws governing antiquities adopted when the country was a colony of France. Sotheby’s has said the statue was legally purchased in good faith from a reputable London auction house in 1975 by the owner’s husband, now deceased, who had no reason to suspect that such a sale could be bound by laws set by a government that had long passed from power. In a statement the auction house said the trip by the lawyers “will not change critical weaknesses in the government’s case — most importantly, its reliance on hopelessly ambiguous French colonial decrees.”

Those French decrees aren’t all that ambiguous when considered in light of these two feet without the rest of the statue.

I thought the comments of Rick St. Hilaire were interesting, he argued that this trip was a kind of show of force by the AUSA’s. Not sure if that is true or not, or even if these folks even need to be concerned with a  show of force, but it does highlight I think how even remote areas like this temple complex are more closely connected than before, and that makes a forfeiture proceeding like this more likely to proceed.

  1. Tom Mashberg, United States Officials Travel to Cambodia in Statue Case, The New York Times, March 1, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/02/arts/design/united-states-officials-travel-to-cambodia-in-statue-case.html (last visited Mar 4, 2013).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Prosecutors Allege Customs Violations in Koh Ker Statue Forfeiture

Prosecutors have amended their complaint which seeks to forfeit this Koh Ker Khmer statue. Much of the press coverage focuses on whether the colonial French government or some other legal enactment created ownership rights in the statue before the time it was removed.  I don’t have a pacer account and access to these court filings, but based on the reporting it appears prosecutors saw a difficult path to victory in attempting to apply colonial French law to the statue. Instead they are also seeking a more straightforward argument: arguing that the importers of the statue lied on their customs forms. From the NYT:

Prosecutors say that in 2010, when the statue was being imported into the United States, the owner submitted an inaccurate affidavit to American customs officials, at Sotheby’s request, stating the statue was “not cultural property” belonging to a religious site. The government contended in its filing on Friday that both parties knew the statue, a mythic Hindu warrior known as Duryodhanna, valued at up to $3 million, was stolen when they agreed to ship it from Belgium to New York. The government says it can prove that the statue in fact came from a Khmer Dynasty temple, Prasat Chen, part of a vast and ancient complex called Koh Ker.

If prosecutors can establish these statements were inaccurate, the more difficult question of which law might apply to the statue would be largely irrelevant. This is the same legal principle used when prosecutors successfully forfeited a 4th-century B.C. ancient golden phiale from Michael Steinhardt in 1999. Lying to customs officials is a violation of the law, with its own forfeiture provision. If the prosecutors can establish this, a successful forfeiture seems very likely.

  1. Tom Mashberg & Ralph Blumenthal, Sotheby’s Accused of Deceit in Sale of Khmer Statue, The New York Times, November 13, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/14/arts/design/sothebys-accused-of-deceit-in-sale-of-khmer-statue.html (last visited Nov 14, 2012).
  2. United States v. An Antique Platter of Gold, 184 F. 3d 131 (2nd Cir. 1999).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Will US Attorneys Appeal after latest Ka Nefer Nefer setback?

A judge has dismissed the federal government’s request to reconsider an earlier ruling dismissing the government’s forfeiture request for the Ka Nefer Nefer mask currently on display at the St. Louis Art Museum. Rick St. Hilaire notes the U.S. Attorney must now make the decision whether to appeal the ruling on to the 8th Circuit. 


The problem with the government’s initial case—at least in the district court’s view—was the government failed to allege the particular circumstances under which a crime took place as the mask left Egypt. This problem can be examined by referencing recent case law broadening the principle that looted and smuggled objects are considered tainted when they leave their country of origin, even in the absence of direct evidence of wrongdoing. I’m thinking for example of the Barakat ruling in the English High Court which offered claimant nations a broader platform of potential laws with which a nation of origin can claim theft. 


But in this case the federal prosecutors had a difficult prospect as Egypt was unable to offer enough evidence establishing a crime had been committed. So despite the research the SLAM conducted when it acquired the mask in 1998, the government was unable to offer enough to convince a judge to forfeit the object and force SLAM to make its case. It is an open question whether the district court would have taken such rulings on board, likely not. But an appeals court is in a more favorable position to make broader inquiries in the law based on policy and foreign authority. 

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

US Government’s Claim to Ka Nefer Nefer Mask Dismissed

The Ka Nefer Nefer Mask will be staying in St. Louis for now

The Ka Nefer Nefer mask, subject of two lawsuits in federal court, seems likely to stay in St. Louis for the near future. On Monday the U.S. District Court dismissed the U.S. Government’s forfeiture claim for the mask, as Rick St. Hilaire reported. The St. Luis Art Museum also has a parallel declaratory judgment action seeking to prevent the government from pursuing a forfeiture in the future.

You can generally read the tea leaves in the first few lines of a court opinion, and when the court wrote “the Government boldly states that it seeks the forfeiture of all rights, title and interest in a 3,200 year old Egyptian Mask . . .” you have a pretty good idea that the U.S. attorney was not able to convince the court to forfeit the mask. It most certainly was involved in a crime, yet the government was unable to allege enough “circumstances” surrounding the mask’s journey from Saqqara in Egypt in 1952 to the antiquities market some time later.

The government undercooked its legal analysis of the illegal activities giving rise to a forfeiture in its first forfeiture attempt here. For now it may amend its complaint. If it does, it should perhaps note that Egypt has laws establishing ownership of its antiquities, and there is no set of circumstances under which this mask could have rightfully left Egypt. Perhaps noting that may lead to a different result this time around.

The Government cannot simply rest on its laurels and believe that it can initiate a civil forfeiture proceeding on the basis of one bold assertion that because something went missing from one party in 1973 and turned up with another party in 1998, it was therefore stolen and/or imported or exported illegally.

The court was concerned that the government failed to establish precisely how the mask became stolen property. There is plenty of precedent on point for this legal principle, but the lawyers for the government failed to include enough of it in the complaint. Now the U.S. attorneys will have to return to the drawing board and establish a firmer legal framework for the illegal removal of the mask from Egypt. Making the government’s task more difficult, is the lack of evidence provided to them by Egypt establishing how and when the mask was stolen. As a consequence, if I was working on the case, I’d essentially treat it like an antiquities looting case. The theft itself is lost to history. But you don’t need those facts, just enough to put the  burden back on the museum’s case to show how far back its chain of title can go.

The museum will likely respond that it had no reason to believe the Aboutaam brothers were antiquities dealers to avoid in 1998. Was it established that they routinely dealt in looted objects in 1998, even if that can be established now? The SLAM conducted a search, and while certainly not ideal, it posed questions to officials in Egypt. For lots of background on the mask, see here.

We can ask whether the Museum should do the right thing, but the government attorneys had an opportunity to force them to and failed to allege enough concrete circumstances in its complaint to trigger what would have been a very uncomfortable forfeiture proceeding for the museum—one that coupled with reasonable public pressure exerted by Egypt would have certainly made continued possession of the mask in St. Louis untenable.

Lee Rosenbaum has posted a .pdf of the opinion:
  Ka-Nefer-Nefer Opinion

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Not Just Bad Paperwork

In July, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it had indicted four men and dismantled an entire antiquities smuggling network. The indictments in what I’ll call the “Lewis Smuggling Network” alleged that the four men sent objects from Egypt to Dubai before coming to America. The case brings to mind another similar kind of prosecution in which an individual was accused of not properly declaring the history and value of antiquities being imported into the United States. The case offers a number of similarities to an older case involving customs declaration.

In 1980 a gold phiale, called the golden phiale of Achyris, pictured here, probably of Sicilian origin, was sold by a collector in Sicily to another collector and coin dealer, who in turn sold the work to William Veres, an art dealer based in Zurich, Switzerland (it gets confusing and we still haven’t reached the ultimate endpoint). The phiale was offered to Robert Haber, a New York art dealer. Haber acted as a middle man in an eventual sale to Michael Steinhardt for $1.2 million. In December 1991, Haber flew to Switzerland to retrieve the phiale. Upon his return to New York, the customs forms declared the work’s country of origin as Switzerland and its value a mere $250,000. Why did the customs forms lie? To hid and disguise the object’s history.

In 1995, Italy began asking for formal assistance, and the Federal government intervened with a civil forfeiture action. A federal magistrate in New York issued a warrant for the seizure of the phiale from Steinhardt. The U.S. government then instituted a civil forfeiture action against the phiale in federal district court in New York. The district court held that the phiale was subject to forfeiture under 18 U.S.C. § 545. The importation of goods “by means of false statements” is prohibited by 18 U.S.C. § 542 and renders them subject to forfeiture under 18 U.S.C. § 545. The court found that falsely listing the work’s country of origin as Switzerland tainted the importation process and violated § 542. Steinhardt defended on the grounds that he had no knowledge that the object was looted or stolen. The court disagreed, finding that 18 U.S.C. § 545 does not afford an innocent owner defense. Steinhardt appealed the district court’s decision. The Second Circuit affirmed on the grounds that the misstatement of the phiale’s country of origin was material and thus subjected it to forfeiture under 18 U.S.C. § 545.

There are some differences between Steinhardt and the pending case against Mousa Khouli (Windsor Antiquities, NY), Salem Alshdaifat (Holyland Numismatics, West Bloomfield MI), Joseph A. Lewis, II (collector of Egyptian antiquities), and Ayman Ramadan (Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading, Dubai).

This recent case has the Federal prosecutors pursuing charges against the dealers and collector in this case. They are not pursuing the object by itself, but rather they have a case against the whole network. Irrespective of whether Steinhardt, and his intermediary should have known and asked more closely about what they were buying, there were false statements made on the importation documents, just as false statements were alleged to have been made in this recent sting. Both Steinhardt and Lewis held esteemed positions, with power and influence. In Lewis’ case however, the Federal Prosecutors feel they have a much stronger case, with information on the entire smuggling and looting network, not just an isolated false statement on an importation document. In any event, neither Lewis nor Steinhardt will likely consider their cases bad paperwork. Misrepresenting the value and nation of origin is a deliberate attempt to circumnavigate heritage law. And if the government can make its case, there may be some real custodial sentences imposed.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

U.S. Initiates Forfeiture

The Mask on Display in St. Louis

As expected the United States has initiated a civil forfeiture action over the Ka Nefer Nefer mask purchased by the St. Louis Art Museum in 1998. The government holds a number of important advantages in these forfeiture proceedings, which is why the Museum brought a suit last month to preclude a forfeiture, based on a lapsed five-year limitations period. As the government’s complaint explains, the mask was professionally excavated, so this is not a case of looting and destruction of context. Rather the mask was either stolen later or was given to one of the archaeologists working at the site.

The government’s filing outlines what it suspects happened next: that the mask was stolen sometime between 1966, when it was shipped off to Cairo for an exhibit, and 1973, when the Egyptian Museum in Cairo ran an inventory and discovered it missing. Box number 54, in which it had been packed, was empty. 

In 2006, Egyptian officials learned the St. Louis museum had bought the mask from Phoenix Ancient Art, in New York. 

The museum has said it thoroughly researched the mask’s ownership history before buying it, and was given no indication that there were questions about how it arrived in the U.S. 

The museum’s research showed the mask was part of the Kaloterna private collection during the 1960s, before it was purchased in Switzerland by a Croatian collector, Zuzi Jelinek, who then sold the mask to Phoenix Ancient Art in 1995. 

It also maintains in its lawsuit that the government’s statute of limitations for seizing the mask has expired.

  1. U.S. demands art museum hand over Egyptian artifact | Reuters, Reuters, March 16, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/17/us-museum-mask-idUSTRE72G06E20110317?feedType=RSS&feedName=domesticNews (last visited Mar 17, 2011).
  2. Jennifer Mann, Government sues to seize St. Louis museum’s mummy mask, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 17, 2011, http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/article_98d72244-9976-5b8a-a73d-5c211c6a771b.html (last visited Mar 17, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com