Tag Archives: antiquities

Danti’s Inference: The Known Unknowns Of ISIS and Antiquities Looting

Over the last month, a new meme has spread like a sandstorm across the internet: Looting of antiquities, we’re told, has become “the second largest source of revenue” for the hated terror group ISIS.

The claim is almost certainly false, as I explain below. Its provenance can be traced to a State Department-funded archaeologist who is now leading U.S. efforts to protect heritage sites in Syria.

The first reference to it came on October 17 in the magazine Foreign Policy, which published a provocative report on the role that antiquities looting plays in funding the Islamic State terror group.Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 9.40.48 AM

The terror group’s profits from antiquities looting “are second only to the revenue the group derives from illicit oil sales,” the article stated. “So understanding the Islamic State’s approach to the fate of ancient artifacts actually could be key to stopping its advance.” The article’s headline went even further: “Degrading and destroying ISIS could take place in the halls of auction houses, not the Pentagon.”

mdantiForeign Policy’s source was Michael Danti, an assistant professor at Boston University and co-director of the American Schools of Oriental Research’s State Department-funded campaign to track cultural heritage destruction in Syria. In August, the State Department gave ASOR $600,000 to launch the Syria Heritage Initiative. The project is doing important work documenting the destruction of cultural heritage sites in the country, primarily through the use of satellite imagery. Weeks before a week after the Foreign Policy article appeared, Sec. of State John Kerry gave a speech at the Metropolitan Museum calling Danti and his ASOR colleagues “literally the gold standard” for information on the issue. (Danti and his ASOR colleagues will give a public presentation on their work in San Diego on Nov. 23rd.)

Danti’s claim was surprising for those of us who have followed the looting in Syria. The scale of looting is devastating, undeniable and relatively well documented in satellite imagery. But to date, very little reliable evidence has come to light about where those looted objects are being sold, much less the profitability for sponsors of the plunder. I’m not aware of a single object offered for sale in auction houses having been reliably traced back to the conflict so far. And past research shows that the biggest profits in the illicit antiquities trade happen far upstream from the excavators, who take a paltry share of profits compared to middlemen and dealers.

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Curious about his sourcing, I asked Danti for more information in an exchange on Twitter. Initially, Danti said the claim was based on “in-country sources.” Danti has dug in Syria for years, but did his Syrian sources really have access to ISIS accounting records? When pressed, he referred to “analogies with AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] finances,” and pointed me to a 2010 RAND study, Economic Analysis of the Financial Records of al-Qa’ida in Iraq. The study is based on data from Iraq’s Al Anbar province dating to 2005 – 2006.

Of course, ISIS did not exist in 2010, much less 2005, and there is ample evidence that, while structurally similar to its predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS enjoys different funding streams. Further, the RAND study Danti cited makes no mention — zero — of antiquities looting. The only reference to “looting” in the entire paper is this chart:

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In context, its clear that this “looting” refers more broadly to the spoils of war — seized cars and other commercial goods. “The provincial administration collected revenue mostly from the sale of stolen commercial goods and did not collect much revenue from black market fuel sales, large-scale extortion, or direct taxation,” the report states. “The financing of the western sector was similar, where AQI funded itself through the sale of cars and lesser-valued commercial goods.”

In short, the study sheds no light on contemporary archaeological looting in Syria by ISIS or any other group, something Danti has conceded only half-heartedly: “Needt to know more on how these estimates are made. In Syria/Iraq ‘ghanima’ is used for all looting/theft.”

I called Danti last week for more thoughts on the issue. After a lengthy discussion, he asked not to be quoted, saying he would need to clear any comments with the Department of State. (He hasn’t taken that stance in dozens of other interviews.) In essence, Danti said he stands by his claim while acknowledging there is little public evidence to support it. He also noted that as a “dirt” archaeologist, he is unaccustomed to the media attention his recent role has given him, and says he may have been misquoted.

Apamea, April 2012

Apamea, April 2012

There is no question that looting of archaeological sites has exploded across Syria in recent years, and the satellite evidence is unmistakable. I and others have argued that the various groups involved in looting on the ground — ISIS, al Nusra, Syrian opposition groups, the Assad regime, criminal groups and desperate civilians — would be unlikely to engage in such vast, laborious mining efforts if they weren’t paying off in some way. So, who’s to say Danti’s claim may not be right?

330px-David_S._CohenJust a week after Danti’s Foreign Policy article, David S. Cohen, the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, gave a talk at the Carnegie Endowment describing the U.S. government’s best assessment of the Islamic States’ sources of funding. The assessment is based on intelligence sharing between Treasury, the State Department, the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, law enforcement and foreign governments.

In order, Cohen said ISIS’ primary funding sources are:

1.  The sale of oil from seized fields and refineries, estimated to generate $1 million a day.

2. The kidnap of civilians to profit from ransoms. With ISIS making “at least 20 million” in ransom in 2014 alone, Cohen described it as “one of the most significant terrorist financing threats today.”

3. Sophisticated extortion rackets, which bring in “up to several million dollars per month,” Cohen said.

4. Criminal activity, including bank robberies, stealing livestock and crops from farmers and, yes, looting antiquities.

Cohen’s testimony did little to stop the spread of Danti’s “second biggest source” meme. On Oct 27th, the claim was repeated by the U.S. Naval Institute in a article written by a retired brigadier general and two terrorism finance researchers at the Monterrey Institute (“How ISIS Funds Terror Through Black Market Antiquities Trade.” Soon after, in an op-ed for Al Jazeera, Stephennie Mulder, an assistant professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, repeated the claim. (She had it removed from the article after Danti’s sourcing was brought to her attention by other experts.) On Nov. 6th, Newsweek reported it again.

By Nov 13th, the claim was being repeated by Congressmen during a hearing on terror financing on Capitol Hill:

Danti is hardly the first to speak beyond the available evidence. I have spoken with imprecision about the link between terrorism and the antiquities trade. UNESCO officials frequently cite a $7 billion dollar figure for the global illicit antiquities trade that has a very shaky foundation. The Antiquities Coalition has referred to $3 – $5 billion generated by looting in Egypt alone since 2011 (or in some instances, per year), but the research supporting that claim has yet to be published. Rajendra Abhyankar, a professor at Indiana University and former Indian Ambassador to Syria, declared in the Huffington Post earlier this month that “thirty to fifty percent” of ISIS income comes from the theft and looting of antiquities. When asked for a source, he told me it was based on notes he had taken while reading articles that he could no longer find. (I’m now told Abhyankar relied in part on this story in Al-Monitor, which states, “Some even say the looting of historical artifacts has become the Islamic State’s main source of revenue…”) The problem is significant enough that Dr. Sam Hardy at Conflict Antiquities has made a cottage industry of debunking such claims.

The truth is we have very little reliable data on the global revenue generated by the illicit antiquities trade, and even less on the role it plays in funding terror groups. It is, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, a known unknown: we know it happens, but not much more. Claiming otherwise may in the short term bring  attention to the issue of looting, but ultimately saps it of credibility – and the urgency to answer those important questions with well-documented research. It can also taint important policy decisions, as Patty Gerstenblith, chair of the State Departments Cultural Property Advisory Committee, noted in response to Danti and similar claims: “Commentators and scholars should avoid sensationalism…Exaggerated [or] baseless claims hinder rational policies to restrict trade in illegal antiquities.”

This is particularly true, and troubling, when baseless claims come from a highly respected academic group being paid — and held out as the gold standard — by the State Department. When John Kerry gives a speech about looting at the Met, he is using the issue to help justify the escalating U.S. military intervention in Syria.

In that context, it is more important than ever to stick to the known knowns.

Optical Due Diligence: Art Loss Register Claims To Vet Ancient Art. Does it?

UPDATE 8/9/14: The Sunday Times has published another devastating report on the Art Loss Register’s business practices. ALR Founder Julian Radcliffe admits paying thieves to recover stolen art in a dozen cases and is described as a “fence” by senior European law enforcement officials.

UPDATE: A 9/20/13 story in The New York Times reveals other questionable dealings of ALR and the departure of General Counsel Chris Marinello.

UPDATE 9/13: We’re told there have been several recent departures of senior staff from the Art Loss Register. They include Alice-Farren Bradley, a recovery specialist; MaryKate Cleary, who researched Nazi looting claims until she left for MOMA; and Ariane Moser, who managed European clients. That leaves Radcliffe, general counsel Chris Marinello, antiquities specialist William Webber and a handful of others.

Thirty years ago, a Getty antiquities curator coined the phrase “optical due diligence” — creating the appearance of caution while continuing to buying suspect antiquities.

Today, that continues to be the favored approach for much of the art world. Museums, auction houses, private collectors and dealers all claim to vet ancient art to make certain it was not illegally excavated. Yet we keep learning that the vetting process failed to prevent the acquisition of recently looted art.

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A key facilitator of this fiction is the Art Loss Register, a for-profit registry based in London. ALR charges nearly $100 for a search of its files, touted as “the world’s largest database of stolen art.” In return, a client receives a certificate stating “at the date that the search was made the item had not been registered as stolen.” Sadly, that caveat-laden certificate has become the coin of the realm for due diligence in the art world.

As we revealed recently, the certificate offered no protection to the National Gallery of Australia, which purchased a stolen bronze Shiva after receiving an ALR search certificate from antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor:

The NGA was merely the latest to learn that, when it comes to antiquities at least, ALR certificates are not worth the paper they’re printed on. David Gill recently noted that the ALR claims to protect buyers, but appears to have provided certificates for the Christies sale of antiquities that have since been tied to known loot dealers Giacamo MediciRobin Symes and Gianfranco Becchina.

Tom Flynn recently wrote that the ALR “is not a force for good,” adding that “a virtual market monopoly in Due Diligence provision is not good for the art market.” He cited this example of ALR’s shady dealings outside the area of antiquities:  

In 2008, it was revealed that the company had been approached by a Kent art dealer, Michael Marks, who was seeking to conduct Due Diligence on a painting by the Indian Modernist artist Francis Newton Souza, which Mr Marks was hoping to buy. Marks was told by ALR chairman Julian Radcliffe that the painting was not on the ALR’s database of stolen art. It was.

In the court judgment issued by Justice Tugenhadt, it emerged that: “After Mr Marks had paid the search fee, he spoke to Mr Radcliffe. It is common ground that Mr Radcliffe told Mr Marks that if Mr Marks were to buy the Paintings, he, Mr Radcliffe, had a client who was interested in buying them from Mr Marks. Mr Marks asked Mr Radcliffe whether there was a problem with good title, and Mr Radcliffe said that there was not. It is common ground, and Mr Radcliffe accepts, that he misled Mr Marks.”

Given this history, we were curious why the ALR continues to issue certificates for ancient art — and why the art world continues to accept them as evidence of anything. In June, Jason contacted ALR founder Julian Radcliffe for his views on the issue. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Jason Felch: Why does ALR provide search certificates for ancient art when there is obviously no documented theft when most antiquities are looted?

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Julian Radcliffe: We are aware of the fact that our certifications are waved in the air saying, ‘Look what a good boy we are.’ We don’t like that. Ten years ago, the police and Carabinieri came to us and said, ‘Your certifications are being abused by bad guys who are waving them around as proof of clear title.’ We all know illegal excavations are not in the database. So 10 years ago we said, we’ll stop giving any certifications for antiquities, a difficult area. Then, when we had a further meeting [with law enforcement], they said the certifications are quite useful to police, as they give an audit trail. And if dealers don’t ask you [for one], it’s of great interest because that’s evidence they’re trying to suppress the fact. So we continued to issue them, at the request of law enforcement. 

JF: Who, specifically, asked you to continue providing certificates for antiquities?

JR: I won’t say. And the Carabinieri would deny it if asked, of course.

JF: In 2007, Subhash Kapoor provided no provenance for the Shiva when asking ALR to search its database. Does ALR require provenance today?

JR: We are now insisting they give us some provenance….Where appropriate we try to check the provenance they give us through the British Museum and have made important discoveries. We are not going to be able to detect everything, particularly forged provenance.

JF: When did you start requiring provenance? And what amount of provenance do you require to run a search?

JR: In the last few months. We had a meeting with an auction house this morning, saying that they must give us more provenance…We require the generic information on the current holder and the date that the holder got it. We need a starting point if the certification is challenged later. You told us this was held by a dealer in Paris. If challenged, we would then ask, What’s the name of the dealer? So we can then make the dealer, through a court order, reveal who the parties were. The trouble is very often some of these items genuinely don’t have a full provenance. There are a lot of items out in the market that might have been exported legally, but nobody knows.

JF: So your “provenance” policy doesn’t even require the name of a previous owner until a piece is challenged. Why not require provenance going back to the 1970 UNESCO accord?

JR: I’d love to do that but they [the dealers] would make it up. What I would like to do is to get the source countries and archaeological community to recognize the fact that the antiquities trade would not go away. It continues. One of the problems is that minimalist architectural design favors antiquities and there’s a great demand from interior decorators. The market isn’t going to collapse. So we’ve got to regulate and police it. Reintroduce partage to make the legitimate market and the illicit market very clear. At least we’ve got a clear policy.

JF: Is ALR profitable?

JR: We haven’t made a profit for 10 years. I’ve invested 1 million pounds. I’ve made enough money in other companies that I don’t’ have to worry about it not making additional money. It’s been very hard to get clients to pay. Over half of our income comes from searching people, under half from recovery fees for insurance. Some 40 percent of our income is from recovery. In antiquities we get no recovery fees. The victims can’t pay. It’s a really bad area for us. The rest is from search fees. Half of that comes from auction houses and the other from dealers, museums, collectors, etc. That corresponds to roughly to 50%  of the art market.

JF: Who are your biggest clients?

JR: Our clients include all the major auction houses. A few auction houses won’t search, but Bonhams, Christies and Sotheby’s all use us. It’s no secret that a number of them would like more help from us in this antiquities market. The antiquity dealers have been more inclined to search than dealers in other items.

JF: The NGA’s Shiva is unusual for an antiquity because it had been documented before it was stolen. A year or so after Kapoor received an ALR certificate for the stolen Shiva, Indian authorities posted online images of it with details of the theft. Yet ALR did not make the connection. Why not? Does ALR search past certificates to see if new information has surfaced?

JR: We go around those sites and take items…We employ 25 people in India doing back office searching. A number have worked in the Indian cultural heritage department. But the big issue is with IT:  We have a database of 300,00 – 400,000 stolen items to search against the 2.5 million searches we’ve done in the past. If we search against all those previous searches, it slows down the search too much. And we couldn’t digitize the old searches, not back to 1991.

JF: How many certificates did ALR provide to Subhash Kapoor over the years?

JR: We’re looking into it.

Later via email Radcliffe added, “We are passing on your request for the number of certificates to the law enforcement to whom we gave all the information and will revert when we hear from them.”

No word since.

UPDATE: David Gill, writing with Christos Tsirogiannis in the 2011 Journal of Art Crime, notes that the major auction houses have routinely relied on the Art Loss Register to defend the sale of objects linked to notorious antiquities traffickers including Giacomo Medici, whose archives showing thousands of recently looted antiquities is apparently not included in ALR’s database.

 

The Peruvian Connection: Federal Agents Bust Alleged Antiquities Smugglers Network In Utah

Last week a federal grand jury indicted two Utah residents and two Peruvians in an alleged scheme to smuggle recently looted artifacts into the United States.

1106968The case started in the fall of 2012 when an undercover agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) bought 12 artifacts from 70-year old  Cesar Guarderas of West Valley City Utah for more than $20,000.

Guarderas told the agent that Javier Abanto-Sarmiento, his supplier in Trujillo, Peru, had access to more than 100 more pieces of pottery. Trujillo is a major city in northwest Peru near what was once the center of the ancient Chimu kingdom. The Chimu capital Chan Chan, just 5 km outside Trujillo, is the largest Pre-Colombian city in South America and the largest adobe city in the world. It has been a World Heritage Site since 1986.

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The site has a long history of plunder, as noted by Smithsonian Magazine:

Chan Chan’s days of glory came to an end around 1470, when the Inca conquered the city, broke up the Chimú Empire and brought many of Chan Chan’s craftsmen to their own capital, Cuzco, 600 miles to the southeast. By the time Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived around 1532, the city had been largely abandoned, though reports from the expedition described walls and other architectural features adorned with precious metals. (One of the conqueror’s kinsmen, Pedro Pizarro, found a doorway covered in silver that might well have been worth more than $2 million today.) Chan Chan was pillaged as the Spaniards formed mining companies to extract every trace of gold and silver from the city.

l_ps1_482858_3qtr_dd_t09Today, Early Chimu (Moche) and Chimu pottery like this piece acquired in 2009 by the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore is popular among collectors of Pre-Colombian art.

Guarderas told the undercover agent that Abanto-Sarmiento “knows where to look for pottery buried in the ground” and “had a contact with the National Institute of Culture in Peru who provides him with authentic certifications stating that the pottery are replicas and  uses the certifications to illegally export genuine artwork from Peru.”

The agent subsequently acquired another 25 objects from the network, the indictment alleges. The objects were later authenticated by experts at Utah Valley University and Tulane University.

Also named in the indictment is Abanto-Sarmiento’s brother Alfredo, who remains at large in Peru, and their sister Rosa Isabel Guarderas of West Valley Utah.

Some issues to watch as the case moves forward: How long had the alleged network been in action? To whom did they sell the looted artifacts? Have any local museums done business with them?

In 1997, the United States and Peru signed a bi-lateral agreement under the 1970 UNESCO accord prohibiting the importation into the United States of specific cultural property originating from Peru, including artifacts and ethnological religious objects. But as Rick St. Hilaire has noted, the prosecutors are pursuing smuggling charges, not violations of the import restrictions. The potential maximum penalty for smuggling goods into the United States is up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Here is the criminal complaint:

Feds vs. Sotheby’s: Legal Tangle over ‘Looted’ Khmer Statue Continues

The feet of the disputed statue were left behind when it was taken from the ruins of the Prasat Chen Temple, 80 miles east of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The other set of feet belong to a statue now in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, experts say.

In Friday’s LA Times, Jason reports on the federal lawsuit (case #12cv2600) seeking the return of a 10th Century Khmer statue now held at Sotheby’s.

Here’s a late-breaking update: Federal authorities expected to seize the statue from Sotheby’s on Thursday afternoon. But the seizure order was delayed by a late night legal spat between the US Attorney’s office and attorneys for Sotheby’s, authorities say.

UPDATE: Judge George B. Daniels issued a judicial restraining order late Thursday afternoon, prohibiting Sotheby’s from selling, transferring or otherwise disposing of or removing the statue from its current location. The parties will convene again at 10:30 on April 12th.

In dueling letters faxed to District Court Judge George B. Daniels, the two parties traded barbs about their respective legal arguments. The letters offer a preview of a legal battle that could have broad implications for repatriation efforts by source countries, which often rely on indirect evidence of looting to support their claims.

We’ve posted the complete letters below. Here is a summary of the arguments:

Sotheby’s makes no mention of the damaging internal emails cited in the governement complaint. Instead, it argues against the statue’s seizure saying it is based on the government’s “novel reading of ancient Cambodian law” and “the tenuous ‘belief’ of an expert who theorizes (from exceedingly modest evidence) that the statue was looted at some time after Cambodia declared national ownership of its antiquities.”

A looter's pit found during a recent survey of the archaeological site of Koh Ker.

The auction house goes on to point out what it calls “major legal and factual holes” in the government’s case. The evidence that the statue was taken from Cambodia recently are photographs and surveys of Koh Ker taken in the 1950s and 1960s, but those photos and surveys do not show or mention the statue in question, Sotheby’s points out. Cambodia’s 1900 patrimony law cited by the government was only discovered in rediscovered by American lawyers in recent months, and is not listed on UNESCO’s database of national patrimony laws, Sotheby’s also notes.

Finally, Sotheby’s points to the recent dismissal of a government suit seeking the seizure of the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mummy mask at the St. Louis Museum of Art on behalf of Egypt, which claimed the mask had been stolen from a government storage facility in the 1960s. In that case, the court ruled that the “Government cannot rest on its laurels and believe that it can initiate a [suit] on the basis of one bold assertion.”

In response to Sotheby’s claims, Assistant US Attorney Sharon Levin sent her own fax to Judge Daniels, citing the federal rules of civil procedure to argue the government has probable cause for the seizure.

Dougald O'Reilly, founder of HeritageWatchInternational.org, surveys looting at an archaeological site in 2006.

Levin calls Sotheby’s request to maintain possession of the property “inappropriate” given that “Sotheby’s marketed and attempted to sell the defendant property for more than a year after being informed by its own expert that the defendant property had been stolen from the Prasat Chen temple. Given Sotheby’s own significant role in the offenses on which this forfeiture action is based, they are not an appropriate independent third party for the Government to entrust with the property during the pendency of the action.”

The government suit was brought at the behest of the Cambodian government, Levin states. And Sotheby’s argument that the statue was not stolen “is at odds wit the conclusions reached by their own expert,” Levin argues, citing the internal emails in which the expert advises the auction house that the statue was “definitely stolen.” Further discussion of the merits of the government’s case should be saved for future hearings.

We’re interested to hear from many of the lawyers who read this blog what their take is on the respective arguments. Feel free to weigh in via the comments below.

Feds Sue for Return of “Looted” Khmer Statue; Insider Emails Reveal Sotheby’s Was Warned Statue Was “Definitely Stolen”

On Wednesday, the U.S. government filed suit seeking to return a 10th Century stone warrior to Cambodia, where it was allegedly looted.

The statue is currently at Sotheby’s in New York, which was set to auction the piece on behalf of a private collector in March 2011. On the day of the sale, Sotheby’s was notified by Cambodian officials that the object had been looted from Koh Ker, an archaeological site 80 miles east of Angkor Watt.

The parties have been negotiating a settlement to the dispute for the past year, as the New York Times reported in February. But those negotiations ended abruptly Wednesday when the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed suit. Authorities will seize the statue on Thursday, the Times reported Wednesday.

In making their case for the statue’s return, the US Attorney cites revealing emails from a scholar warning the auction house that the statue should not be sold at public auction:

“The Cambodians in Pnom Penh now have clear evidence that it was definitely stolen from Prasat Chen at Koh Ker, as the feet are still in situ…Please do not give this report to anyone outside of Sotheby, as I often have access to such material, and don’t want to anger my sources. The two Dvarapalas must have stood close together and their feet remain, so it’s pretty clear where they came from.

I think it would be hugely unwise to offer the Dvarapala publicly, and I would not really feel comfortable writing it up under the circumstances. It is also possible that the Cambodians might block the sale and ask for the piece back….I’m sorry as I had some exciting things to say about it, but I don’t think Sotheby wants this kind of potential problem.”

The scholar later consulted with “culture spies and museum director” in Cambodia and told Sotheby’s it was not likely that government would pursue a claim. Sotheby’s proceeded with the sale, with officials saying in internal emails that while it might receive bad press from “academics and ‘temple huggers,'” the potential profits from the sale made it “worth the risk.”

The New York  Times identified the scholar as Emma C. Bunker, an authority on Khmer art. She has written defending the right of collectors to buy ancient art, describing them as “not despoilers of the past but people of great intellectual curiosity who cherished the past long before the world was populated by scientifically trained archaeologists.”

There are frequent references in the federal complaint to another statue looted from the same site at “the museum,” an apparent reference to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, which has a very similar statue that once served as a wrestling figure in Koh Ker. We’ve asked the museum for comment.

The back-story here is interesting: The head of Global Compliance for Sotheby’s is Jane Levine, a former member of the US Attorney’s office now suing for the statue’s return. Levine specialized in making the type of art crime cases her employer is now facing, and has written several articles on international trafficking in stolen art and artifacts. We’ve reached out to her for a comment.

In a statement, Sotheby’s said: “Sotheby’s strongly disputes the allegations made in this complaint. This sculpture was legally imported into the United States and   all relevant facts were openly declared.   We have researched this sculpture extensively and have never seen nor been presented with any evidence that specifies when the sculpture left  Cambodia over the last one thousand years nor is there any such evidence  in this complaint. We have been in active discussions for a year with  both the US and Cambodian governments and  we had assured them that we would voluntarily maintain possession of this statue pending further discussion. Given that Cambodia has always  expressed its desire to resolve this situation amicably, and that  we had an understanding  with the US  Attorney’s  Office that no action would be filed pending  further discussion towards a resolution of this matter,  we are disappointed that this action has been filed and we intend to defend it vigorously.”

HOT DOC: Here is the government’s complaint, which begins citing the internal emails on page 11:

The Cleveland List: 21 objects Turkey wants Cleveland Museum of Art to Return

UPDATE: Steven Litt at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has published an update on the Cleveland case here, saying the case “could shake the foundations of encyclopedic museums.” The Cleveland Museum was first contacted by Turkey in 2008, and took two years to respond before refusing to allow testing on the contested objects or provide information about their provenance, Litt reports.

We noted with interest that several of the questioned objects were acquired under former Cleveland antiquities curator Arielle Kozloff, who worked closely with the Getty’s Marion True to exhibit the Fleischman Collection, went on to work for the Merrin Gallery, and now describes herself as “a private consultant and lecturer for museums and private collectors.” In this video, Kozloff expresses her admiration for former Cleveland director Sherman Lee, saying, “As soon as the glimpse of a question arose about [a contested painting], he went right after it to find the truth and made sure that the truth came out.” Times have changed at the Cleveland.

UPDATE II: David Gill notes that Kozloff has suggested previously that one of the museum’s contested bronzes came from Bubon, Turkey and was looted in the 1960s  — a claim she has now backed away from. And Paul Barford has some additional thoughts here.

On Saturday, Jason revealed in the Los Angeles Times that the government of Turkey is seeking the return of dozens of allegedly looted antiquities from American museums, including 21 objects from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

We’ve posted a complete list of the Cleveland objects below. They range from 14th Century BC Hittite objects through the Greek and Roman period and up to Ottoman period tiles and ceramic work.

The Emperor as Philosopher, probably Marcus Aurelius (reigned AD 161-180)(CMA 1986.5)

The most prominent piece is likely this bronze Roman statue believed to represent Marcus Aurelius, which Cleveland acquired in 1986. On its website, the museum describes its origin as “Turkey, Bubon(?) (in Lycia.)” It is unclear how the bronze got from Bubon to Cleveland, and whether the object was granted an export permit, as required since the passage of Turkey’s 1906 cultural patrimony law. The Cleveland Museum of Art declined to answer questions about Turkey’s claim.

As David Gill has noted, a series of monumental bronze statues were taken from the sebasteion, or imperial cult room, of Bubon. A similar bronze depicting Lucius Verus is in the collection of Shelby White.

In the coming days, we’ll be posting details on the requested objects at the Getty and Dumbarton Oaks. We already posted the list of contested objects at the Met  here.

Scoop: Turkey asks Getty, Met, Cleveland and Dumbarton Oaks to Return Dozens of Antiquities

In Saturday’s Los Angeles Times, Jason reports on Turkey’s bid to repatriate dozens of allegedly looted antiquities in American museums.

The requests include 10 objects at the J. Paul Getty Museum; 18 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; 21 objects at the Cleveland Musuem of Art; and the Sion Treasure at Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks.

Below we’ve provided the complete article. In the coming days, we’ll be providing additional details on the objects sought at each of the museums.

Turkey asks U.S. museums for return of antiquities

The Getty and the New York Met are among the U.S. institutions the Turkish government has contacted over artifacts it believes were smuggled out of the country.

By Jason Felch, Los Angeles Times

8:48 PM PDT, March 30, 2012The government of Turkey is asking American museums to return dozens of artifacts that were allegedly looted from the country’s archaeological sites, opening a new front in the search for antiquities smuggled out of their original countries through an illicit trade.

The J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Cleveland Museum of Art and Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection are among the institutions that the Turkish government has contacted, officials say.

Turkey believes the antiquities were illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country after the passage of a 1906 law that gave the state ownership of antiquities in the ground.

Inspired by the success of its Mediterranean neighbors Italy and Greece, Turkey is taking a more aggressive stance toward its claims, many of which were first made decades ago.

“Turkey is not trying to start a fight,” said Murat Suslu, Turkey’s director general for cultural heritage and museums. “We are trying to develop … cooperation and we hope these museums will also understand our point of view.”

Turkey is presenting the museums with supporting evidence and has threatened to halt all loans of art to those institutions until they respond to the claims. Loans have already been denied to the Met, a Turkish official said.

American museums’ antiquities collections have been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent years as evidence emerged of their ties to an illicit trade in artifacts found in archaeological sites around the world.

Confronted with that evidence, the Getty, the Met, the Cleveland, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Princeton University Art Museum returned more than 100 looted objects to Italy and Greece, changed their acquisition policies and formed collaboration agreements that allow for loans to replace acquisitions of suspect material.

But new evidence continues to emerge, underscoring that the scope of the problem is far wider. In January, Italy announced that it had recovered an additional 200 objects and fragments from the Met and Princeton after they were tied to an ongoing criminal investigation of Italian antiquities dealer Edoardo Almagia and Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett.

None of the museums facing requests from Turkey would release a list of the contested objects in their collections, but The Times obtained a partial list from Turkish officials of what the country is asking for. Judging from publicly available records, most of the objects were acquired by the museums since the 1960s and have little or no documented ownership history before that, suggesting they could have come from illicit excavations.

Statue of a Muse. From Cremna, Turkey, circa 200 AD. (JPGM 94.AA.22)

The 10 Getty objects sought by Turkey were acquired from dealers, auction houses or collectors for more than $1 million between 1968 and 1994 and include four marble muses now on display in the Getty Villa’s Basilica gallery. According to ownership histories provided by the Getty in accordance with its reformed antiquities policy, several originated with Elie Borowski or Nicolas Koutoulakis, two antiquities dealers known to have ties to the illicit trade.

The Getty’s talks with Turkey began in the 1990s, government officials said, and gained steam under the directorship of interim museum director David Bomford, who left the Getty in February.

“We expect those discussions to continue and while they do, we will not be getting into specifics,” said Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig.

The 18 contested objects at the Met are all from the private collection of Norbert Schimmel, a longtime Met trustee who died in 1990. The museum acquired the Schimmel collection in 1989, and several of the contested objects are now highlights of the museum’s Ancient Near East Galleries.

A Hittite gold pendant of a goddess with a child, circa 1400 BCE from Central Anatolia. (MMA 1989.281.12)

Harold Holzer, a spokesman for the Met, initially denied the museum had received a request for specific objects. He later acknowledged in a statement that Turkey had requested information about the 18 objects in September, adding that the museum is “in the process of providing” that information. Turkish officials say the Met’s only response has been to write a letter to the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

At Dumbarton Oaks inWashington, D.C., ancient silver plates and other decorative objects known as the Sion Treasure are among the items Turkey is seeking to recover. The treasure was reportedly found in the early 1960s in an ancient burial mound in Kumluca, Turkey. It was acquired by the museum in 1966 from a private collector who bought them that same year from George Zakos, an antiquities dealer with documented ties to the illicit trade.

Paten with Cross, from the Sion Treasure. (BZ.1963.36.3)

Turkey has been asking for the return of the treasure since 1968, hoping to reunite the objects with the rest of the treasure, which is in a museum in Antalya, on Turkey’s southwest coast.

Twenty-one objects are being sought from the Cleveland Museum, which Turkish officials say has not responded to their inquiries. A museum spokeswoman declined to comment or release a list of contested objects.

Turkey has long sought the return of objects taken illegally from its borders, with occasional success.

Most famously, the country’s government fought a six-year legal battle with the Met for the return of the Lydian Hoard, a collection of goods looted from a burial mound in western Turkey. (It, too, had passed through the hands of Zakos.) The Met agreed to return the objects in 1993 after evidence emerged that museum officials had been aware of the material’s illicit origins and sought to hide it. To the chagrin of Turkish authorities, soon after its return a key piece of the treasure was stolen from the local museum to which it was returned.

CMA 1942.204

A similar battle played out between Turkey and the Boston MFA over the Roman statue Weary Herakles. Turkey requested the statue’s return in the 1990s after finding its bottom half in an excavation in Perge. The MFA had purchased the top half in 1981 jointly with New York collectors Leon Levy and Shelby White. The MFA’s piece has been known to fit the bottom half in Turkey since 1992, but the museum only returned it last September as part of a broader cultural cooperation agreement.

In hopes of avoiding such protracted disputes, Turkey adopted a more aggressive stance in 2010, barring loans to institutions harboring contested objects. The Art Newspaper reported earlier this month that two British museums have recently been denied loans.

“It’s part of a broader shift in the government saying, ‘culture matters to us,'” said Christina Luke, a lecturer in archaeology at Boston University. While working in Turkey over the last decade, Luke has seen Turkey make major investments in regional cultural sites, efforts to educate children about the value of their heritage and attempts to clarify and strengthen the country’s cultural policies.

“Turkey is offended because of having insincere responses to her claims,” said Turkish official Suslu. “Turkey has been fighting against illicit trafficking of cultural objects since the Late Ottoman Period. Many ways were tried during the past years but they were not sufficient.”

jason.felch@latimes.com

James Cuno on Timothy Potts and the Getty’s New “Appetite for Risk”

Getty CEO James Cuno discussed his “appetite for risk,” his decision to hire Timothy Potts as the Getty’s next museum director and his vision for the museum in an interview on Warren Olney’s Which Way LA program on KCRW.

Chasing Aphrodite’s Jason Felch and CultureGrrl Lee Rosenbaum were also guests on the program. The interview came on the same day that Cuno announced a shakeup at the Getty museum that consolidated administrative powers under the Trust  and led to the dismissal of two senior staff members.

Listen to the full program here:

LA Times: “Antiquities issue rears head with Getty leaders Potts, Cuno in place”

Here is Jason’s article from Saturday’s LA Times on Timothy Potts’ views on the antiquities issues:

Over the last five years, the J. Paul Getty Museum has earned a reputation as a leading reformer on a topic that has embroiled American museums in scandal for the past decade: the acquisition of recently looted antiquities.

After evidence of the museum’s longtime participation in the illicit trade was uncovered by Italian and Greek investigators, the Getty agreed to return 49 of its most prized pieces of ancient art, cultivated collaborative relationships with those countries and adopted a strict acquisition policy, setting a standard that has been adopted by museums across the country.

But come September, when Timothy Potts starts as director of the Getty Museum with Getty Trust CEO James Cuno as his boss, the institution will be led by two men who opposed the adoption of some of those reforms.

Cuno has denounced repatriation claims of looted antiquities as “nationalistic” and argued against placing limits on museum purchases of objects with an uncertain origin. Potts, whose appointment Cuno announced this week, has echoed some of those views. He played a central role in establishing lenient acquisition standards for American museums — which were eventually abandoned — as a member of the Assn. of Art Museum Directors, which sets ethical guidelines for art museums.

A highly respected museum director and Oxford-trained archaeologist, Potts was well positioned to wrestle with the looting issue. From 1983 to 1989, he was co-director of the University of Sydney’s excavations in Pella, Jordan. Later at Oxford, he conducted research in Iraq, and was among the most outspoken museum directors to decry the looting there in 2003.

Participants in the museum directors’ group deliberating new ethical standards in 2004 recall Potts as intelligent, persuasive and open to hearing others’ arguments. But the positions he advocated often put him at odds with advocates of reform and with fellow archaeologists, who criticized the willingness of museums to purchase objects whose murky ownership histories suggested they were likely the result of looting.

Potts also had brushes with the issue as director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, where he was director from 1998 to 2007.

In late 2000, Potts approved the acquisition of a rare Sumerian statuette for $2.7 million. The 15-inch alabaster figure was an ancient masterpiece from the cradle of civilization, the region Potts had specialized in while studying at Oxford. It was to be an important contribution to the Kimbell’s small but highly regarded collection.

But shortly after the statue arrived at the museum, court records show that Potts took the unusual step of returning it to the dealer and asking for a full refund.

Publicly, Potts said that he wanted to free up money for other acquisitions. But he later testified that he had learned the dealer — Hicham Aboutaam, owner of the New York City antiquities gallery Phoenix Ancient Art — was under investigation by the IRS, and decided against buying from him.

Soon, though, Potts changed his mind about doing business with Aboutaam. After receiving repayment for the Sumerian statuette in November 2001, Potts moved to acquire a $4-million Roman torso he had admired on an earlier visit to Aboutaam’s gallery on East 66th Street in Manhattan.

Five days after the Kimbell board approved the purchase, the museum received a federal grand jury subpoena for museum records related to Aboutaam.

Aboutaam had been targeted in a sweeping investigation of the illicit antiquities trade. Several months earlier, Italian investigators had raided the dealer’s Swiss warehouse and seized dozens of antiquities. (All were later returned.)

The Kimbell abruptly abandoned the acquisition of the torso, sparking two breach of contract lawsuits by Aboutaam.

When asked about the two abandoned acquisitions this week by The Times, Potts and the Kimbell declined to comment. But in 2002, Potts told Art & Auction magazine that he had decided to pursue the Roman torso after learning the IRS investigation of Aboutaam was “benign.”

The lawsuits were ultimately dismissed. Aboutaam was arrested in 2003 and charged by U.S. authorities with smuggling a looted antiquity from Iran and making a false customs declaration. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and paid a $5,000 fine.

While the Kimbell controversy was still unfolding, Potts played a prominent role in formulating a policy on how American museums should handle questions about ancient art with unclear ownership histories.

As a member of a task force of museums directors between 2002 and 2004, Potts allied himself with Philippe de Montebello, then director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who opposed putting limits on collectors and museums. Potts and De Montebello eventually championed a 2004 policy that allowed museums to collect ancient art as long as they could demonstrate it had been out of its country of origin for a decade.

The position struck some on the task force as effectively sanctioning the acquisition of looted antiquities. And it proved out of step with the times when, a year later, Getty antiquities curator Marion True was indicted by Italy for trafficking in looted antiquities, some of which had been acquired under a Getty policy that was stricter than the one Potts and De Montebello supported.

Soon, the antiquities controversy grew into a full-fledged scandal, with Italy and Greece demanding the return of some of the most prized objects in American museum collections. American museums have since returned more than 200 looted objects to Italy and Greece, valued at up to $1 billion.

Potts first met Cuno while chairing a 2006 AAMD task force on loans of archaeological material. Cuno had recently taken the reins of the Art Institute of Chicago and, like De Montebello, was an outspoken critic of attempts to limit the collecting of antiquities. Cuno and Potts became like-minded allies in the heat of a growing controversy.

The policy resulting from the 2006 task force allowed museums to accept loans of objects even if their ownership histories were clouded “because of their rarity, historical importance and aesthetic merit.” Potts told the New York Times that the focus on the role of museums and collectors in fostering the destruction of archaeological sites was “misplaced.”

By 2008, the policies Potts had advocated were replaced with a stricter one that required objects to have an ownership history dating back to 1970. It emulated the position of the Getty Museum, which had been hardest hit by the antiquities controversy.

Asked how he felt about operating under a policy he had opposed, Potts said in an email Thursday that he “completely respects the Getty’s antiquity policy,” which he called “increasingly the national standard.”

“I have persistently emphasized the need to do more to protect sites and contexts on the ground before the looting takes place,” he said, adding, “Perhaps the nearest thing to a certainty is that whatever policy we have in place today will be seen to have been flawed in the future.”

Potts and Cuno have signaled that their priority will be to build the Getty’s collection in new directions and shift attention back to the Getty Villa, where the museum’s antiquities collection is displayed.

Might the Getty expand its antiquities collection into ancient Near Eastern art, the area of Potts’ specialty? Cuno said in an interview Thursday that he “couldn’t rule it out.”

That could put the Getty back in business with Hicham Aboutaam, who, despite his past legal worries, continues to be a leading dealer of antiquities.

In an interview this week, Aboutaam praised the selection of Potts, and said he held no grudges from the past lawsuits. “It’s rare to find a museum director with such a sophisticated eye for quality,” he said.

He has similar words of praise for Cuno, who as director of the Art Institute acquired antiquities from Aboutaam as recently as 2009. That same year, Aboutaam voluntarily returned 251 antiquities to Italy, valued at $2.7 million, conceding they were likely the product of illicit excavations.

With Cuno and Potts in charge, the dealer couldn’t help but wonder: “Do you think the Getty will now buy more?”

Arnold Peter Weiss’ 46 donations to RISD Museum of Art

The Rhode Island School of Design has provided a complete list of donations made by former museum chairman Arnold Peter Weiss, the Providence doctor and collector of ancient coins who was arrested in New York last month for possession of a coin he allegedly knew had been recently looted in Sicily. (See our earlier stories here, here and here.)

Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss

Weiss donated 46 objects to the museum between 1997 and 2010, according to museum spokeswoman Donna Desrochers. Sixteen of those donations were ancient coins. We’ve posted the complete list of the Weiss donations, with images, here.

Below are the ownership histories for the ancient coins, with select images:

Six Lycian staters, 1997.42.1-6 cf. L. Mildenberg, “Mithrapata und Perikles,” Atti, Congresso Internazionale di Numismatica, Roma 11-16 Settembre 1961 (Rome 1965), 24, pl. 4; N. Olçay and O. Mørkholm, “The Coin Hoard from Podalia,” Numismatic Chronicle, 1971, nos. 26, 27, 414-418.

Stater of Locris Opuntia, 2001.81.1 ex CNG private purchase, 1999; ex US dealer; ex Edward Gans Collection, 1940s-50s

RISD 2001.81.2

Tetradrachm of Amphipolis, 2001.81.2 CNG Mail Bid Sale 49, 19 March 1999, lot 158 ex California collection, early 1970s-1990; ex English collection, 1940s

Decadrachm of Syracuse, 2001.81.3; ex CNG direct purchase; ex Zurich auction, late 1990s; ex Swiss collection, early 1900s

Tetradrachm of Amphipolis, 2007.89.1
ex Gemini III, 9 January 2007, lot 88; ex LHS Numismatik, auction 95, 25 October 2005, lot 559; ex MMAG auction XIX, 5-6 June 1959, lot 372; ex Charles Gillet Collection, Lausanne

RISD.2007.89.2

Stater of unknown Ionian mint, 2007.89.2
ex NFA auction XVIII, 1987, lot 95 ex von Hoffmann Collection; cf. Price, “A Field in Western Thrace” (Coin Hoards 2, no. 1, 1976)

Tetradrachm of Thebes, 2008.60.1
ex CNG Triton IX, BCD Boiotia Collection, 10 January 2006, lot 439; ex BCD Collection; ex MMAG XXII 1961 auction, lot 467

Tetradrachm of Rhodes, 2008.60.2
ex CNG Triton IX, 10 January 2006, lot 966; ex CNG Mail Catalogue Sale 63, 21 May 2003, lot 557; ex Leu private purchase, 2001; ex Marmaris hoard 1970/71 (ICGH 1209)

RISD 2010.56.1

Persian daric, 2008.60.3
ex CNG private purchase, 2005
ex Edward Gans, 1964, lot 78

Bronze 2-litrae of Syracuse, 2008.60.4
ex Gorny and Mosch, auction 156, 6 March 2007, lot 1139
ex Gorny and Mosch, auction 107, 2 April 2001, lot 75
ex Moretti Collection, Basel, 1920s

Tetradrachm of Naxos, 2010.56.1
ex Leu private sale, 2010; ex Leu, 1980s; cf. Ludwig Grabow, Rostock, 9 July 1930, lot 196

RISD 2010.56.2

Stater of Mysia, 2010. 56.2
ex Jean Vinchon Numismatique, 2007; ex Bank Leu Numismatique AG, 1969; ex Charles Gillet, Lausanne, 1952

Stater of Mysia, 2010.56.3
ex Herren Collection; ex Ready (in commerce), 1929; ex Gulbenkian Collection, 1920s

Another donation of interest, not an ancient coin, is this:

Etruscan bronze relief, 2002.114.2
ex Denyse Berend Collection, Paris and Geneva, early 1960s; ex Cahn, Basel

RISD 2002.114.2

“Cahn” is likely Herb Cahn, the Classical numismatist and antiquities dealer who was investigated by Italian authorities for participating in the illicit trade, as recounted by Robert Hecht in his unpublished memoir.

Take away? Many of the coins appear to have ownership histories going back several decades. Others are vague (“ex-California collection”) or are linked to dealers whose names come up in the Italian investigation (Cahn; Bank Leu; NFA = Bruce McNall). We leave it to our more informed readers to draw their own conclusions about these donations, and welcome your thoughts in the comments field below. We are curious if Dr. Weiss took tax write-offs for these donations, and if so how the donations were valued.

We’re grateful to RISD for their transparency on this matter, and wish other universities would take a similar stance.