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 “@” gmail.com.

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

1 thought on “US Criminal Penalties and Antiquities”

  1. It is refreshing to hear a call for pragmatism regarding cultural property issues. The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, which directly represents more than 5,000 collectors, and indirectly represents the entire avocation, has publicly supported the British Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Last June (2007) the ACCG and the American Numismatic Society co-hosted presentations by Dr. Roger Bland of the British Museum in Washington, DC and in New York City. Before a distinguished group that included representatives of the U.S. government, the archaeological community, the collector community, the museum community and foreign diplomats, Dr. Bland highlighted the considerable achievements of PAS in the ten years of its existence. The ACCG will support a similar presentation by Dr. Bland this summer at a major U.S. museum. It is my personal opinion that reasonable laws like the Treasure Act and programs like the PAS are the only way that the concerns of all parties with interests in cultural property will be met.

    Wayne G. Sayles
    Executive Director, ACCG

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