January 20, 2017

Camorra bosses convicted, Van Gogh's can go home to Amsterdam.......shortly.


This week Italian Judge Claudia Picciotti handed down more than one hundred years of prison time in the sentencing of eight members of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan, an organized crime network once affiliated with the Secondigliano-based Di Lauro crime syndicate, and an offshoot of the Naples Camorra.

The court's ajudication closes down one of the Camorra's largest suppliers of cocaine to the Bay of Naples area, paving the way for two recovered Van Gogh paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen, 1882 and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen 1884 - 1885 to return home to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. 

The paintings were recovered during an asset seizure warrant executed in September 2016 at property occupied by the parents of drug kingpin, Raffaele Imperiale in Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples, Italy.

On hand for the sentencing hearing of the trial were:

Prosecutor Stefania Castaldi
Prosecutor Maurizio De Marco
Prosecutor Marra Vincenza
Deputy Prosecutor Filippo Beatrice
Prosecutor of the National Anti-Mafia Directorate Maria Vittoria De Simone
Dutch Liaison Magistrate for Italy Hester van Bruggen
Assistant to the Liaison Magistrate for Italy Royal Netherlands Embassy, Rome Peter Hemmes
Van Gogh Museum Attorney Carel Raymakers

The defendants convicted and sentenced January 19, 2017 include:

Carmine Amato - Before his arrest, Amato was one of Italy's 100 most wanted and dangerous criminals.  Considered the regent of the Amato-Pagano clan, a splinter organised crime group of the Di Lauro clan, dominant in the north of Naples, Amato was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.

Vincenzo Scarpa - Drug supplier to Camorra clans in the Vesuvius periphery of the Bay of Naples, including the Gallo-Cavalieri, the Annunziata from Torre Annunziata, the i Falanga of Torre del Greco and the Licciardi of Secondigliano.  Scarpa maintained key alliances with Camorra loyal suppliers based in Spain and the Netherlands. He has been sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.

(Fugitive) Raffaele Imperiale - Clan boss of the international drug trafficking Amato-Pagano clan which supplied cocaine to Amato and Scarpa.  Although on the run from the authorities, he admitted to purchasing the Van Gogh paintings and to his illegal operations in letters to the prosecuting authorities.  Imperiale was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in absentia.  He is believed to be hiding in Dubai.

Mario Cerrone - Clan affiliate and business partner to Imperiale, who provided evidence to state authorities. Cerrone also led Italy's Corpo della Guardia di Finanza, which probes financial crimes related to organised crime, together with the Italian Public Prosecutions office, the Naples Direzione distrettuale antimafia and dedicated Dutch investigators to the whereabouts of the two stolen Vincent Van Gogh paintings.  He has been sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.

Gaetano Schettino - A loyalist and drug broker for Raffaele Imperial, he has been sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

Three unnamed defendants - Sentenced to eight years imprisonment respectively.

Six other defendants are still awaiting the outcome of their judicial proceedings in relation to this criminal investigation.

Originally expected to be held as evidence for future lengthy trials, the court in Naples elected to release the Van Gogh paintings from legal seizure on Thursday.  While talk continues between the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and Sylvain Bellenger, Director of the Museo di Capodimonte about the possibility of holding a brief exhibition in Naples, provided security measures are sufficient to guarantee their safety, the Dutch Impressionist's paintings are expected to be returned to Amsterdam as soon as February.


Once back home, the artworks will go on display at the Van Gogh Museum briefly, in the condition with which they were recovered, to celebrate their return.  Then the artworks will undergo close examination and conservation treatment to clean and repair damages sustained during their trubulent time with the Italian crime syndicate.

By: Lynda Albertson


Is art crime understudied? Yes, but you can help us change that.

Who studies art crime?


ARCA's Postgraduate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection is now accepting applications.

In 2009 ARCA started the first of its kind, interdisciplinary, approach to the scholarly study of art crime. Representing a unique opportunity for individuals interested in training in a structured and academically diverse format, the summer-long postgraduate program is designed around the study of the dynamics, strategies, objectives and modus operandi of criminals and criminal organizations who commit a variety of art crimes.  

Turn on the news (or follow this blog) and you will see over and over again examples of museum thefts, forgeries, antiquities looting and illicit trafficking of cultural goods.  Intentional heritage destruction during armed conflict, once a modern-day rarity, now affects multiple countries and adds to regional instability in many areas of the globe.  Looted art, both ancient and Holocaust-related finds its way into the galleries of respected institutions, while auction houses and dealers continue to be less than adept at distinguishing smuggled and stolen art from art with a clean provenance. This making dealing with art crime an unrelenting problem and without any one easy solution.

Taken incident by incident, it is difficult to see the impact and implications of art crime as a global concern, but when studied across disciplines, looking at the gaps of legal instruments country to country, one begins to have a clearer picture of the significance of the problem and its impact on the world's collective patrimony.

The world's cultural heritage is an invaluable legacy and its protection is integral to our future. 


Here is 11 reasons why you should consider joining us for a summer in Amelia, Italy. 

At its foundation, ARCA's postgraduate program in Italy draws upon the overlapping and complementary expertise of international thought-leaders on the topic of art crime – all practitioners and leading scholars who actively work in the sector. 

In 2017 participants of the program will receive 230+ hours of instruction from a of range of experts actively committed to combatting art crime from a variety of different angels.

One summer, eleven courses.

Taught by:

Archaeologist, Christos Tsirogiannis from the University of Cambridge, whose forensic trafficking research continues to unravel the hidden market of illicit antiquities.  His tireless work is often highlighted on this blog and reminds those interested in purchasing ancient art, be it from well-known dealers or auction houses, that crimes committed 40 years ago, still taint many of the artifacts that find their way into the licit art market today.

Art historian and London art lecturer Tom Flynn, who eloquently paints a picture of the burgeoning business which is art whilst examining the interplay between our cultural obsession with risk and collecting.  Flynn disentangles the paradoxical alliances between the financially lucrative art market and the collector, relationships that feed upon the art market's unregulated trade and lack of transparency in its transactions.

Duncan Chappell, the Chair of the International Advisory Board of the Australian Research Council’s Center of Excellence in Policing and Security. Chappel is a national award winner for his lifetime achievements in criminology and will be lecturing on the growing number of bilateral, regional and global legal agreements that reflect a growing realization that transnational art crime has to be addressed through international cooperation, and that just as criminal groups operate across borders, judicial systems must consequently do the same.  

Marc Masurovsky, co-founder of HARP, the Holocaust Art Restitution Project who will lecture on the variations among countries’ historical experiences and legal systems, as well as the complexities of provenance research and the establishment of claims processes.  Focusing not only on the implementation of the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-confiscated art but also on modern day examples that underscore the difficulties facing any heir in recovering their property, Masurovsky underscores the need for fully trained provenance experts within museums and auction houses. 

Richard Ellis, private detective and the founder of the Metropolitan Police - New Scotland Yard Art and Antiques Squad.  His law enforcement background reminds us that trafficking in art and antiquities provides criminals with an opportunity to deal in high value commodities that are often poorly protected, difficult to identify and easy to transport across national boundaries. Ellis' lectures paint a little-talked-about portrait of the motley cast of characters who operate in the high-stakes world of the art crime.  His course introduces students to sophisticated criminal organizations, individual thieves, small-time dealers and unscrupulous collectors who don't just dabble in hot art, but who also may be involved in other crimes, such as the smuggling and sale of other illicit commodities, corruption or money-laundering.

Criminal defense attorney and criminologist Marc Balcells, whose animated lectures on the anatomy and etiology of art crimes will illustrate that even if every art crime is unique unto itself, often the underlying causes of criminal behaviors fit into certain established patterns.  Students will explore various theories of crime causation each of which are key to understanding the crime and the criminal as well as evaluating its danger to our cultural patrimony.

Museum security and risk management expert Dick Drent, whose role in the recovery of two Van Gogh paintings from a Camorra reminds us that finding stolen works of art is much harder than protecting them in the first place, especially when organized crime is involved. In Drent's course students will learn about safeguarding culture before it goes missing, analyzing practical approaches to securing a collection, using risk and decision analysis as a form of analytics to support risk-based decision in museums, galleries and reference institutions around the globe.

New Zealand District Court Judge and founding trustee of the New Zealand Art Crime Research Trust, Arthur Tompkins who gives us a fast-galloping 2000-year romp through the history of art crimes committed during war and armed conflict. Tompkins reminds us that armed conflict, whether interstate or intrastate, poses various threats to cultural monuments and cultural property and that while laws have been enacted in an attempt to prevent or reduce these dangers; better laws are also needed to sort matters out after the fact.

Independent art & insurance advisory expert Dorit Straus explores the worlds of specialist fine art insurers and brokers, who underwrite the risks associated with the fine art market.  As the former Vice President and Worldwide Specialty Fine Art Manager for Chubb & Son she knows first hand the active, financially-motivated role insurance firms play in analyzing the risks involved in owning, dealing, buying, transporting or displaying art to the public.  While art insurance expertise is sometimes overlooked as a less-than-sexy side of the art world, insurers have served to make galleries, museums and private collector's collections safer, as their oversight and contract stipulations have produced a dramatic reduction in attritional losses.

ARCA's founding director, Noah Charney who draws upon his knowledge of art history and contemporary criminal activity to explore several of the most notorious cases of art forgery. Emphasizing that art forgery not only cheats rich buyers and their agents, ruining reputations, his course illustrates how crime distorts the art market, one which once relied heavily on connoisseurship, by messing with its objective truth.

Valerie Higgins, archaeologist and Program Director for archaeology, classics and sustainable cultural heritage at the American University in Rome. Higgins course examines material culture as the physical evidence of a culture's existence, illustrating that through objects; be they artworks, religious icons, manuscripts, statues, or coins, and through architecture; monumental or commonplace, we can and should preserve the powerfully potent remains which truly define us as human.

For more information on the summer 2017 postgraduate professional development program, please see ARCA's website here.

Late Applications are being accepted through February 28, 2017.

To request further information or to receive a 2017 prospectus and application materials, please email:  education (at)artcrimeresearch.org

Interested in knowing more about the program from a student's perspective?

Here are some blog posts from and by students who have attended in 2016, in 2015 in 2014, and in 2013.




January 14, 2017

Auction Alert and Antiquities Seizure: Royal-Athena Galleries, New York

On January 8, 2017 forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis alerted Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos in Manhattan and ARCA that he had identified another looted antiquity, apparently being laundered via the US art market.  The object in question had been listed for sale via Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery which is operated by Jerome Eisenberg

Screen Capture - Royal-Athena Galleries 1
According to Tsirogiannis the object identified was a 64.8 x 90.8 cm. sarcophagus fragment which matches four polaroid images and three handwritten notes found in the Becchina archive. 

This accumulation of records was seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during raids conducted on Gianfranco Becchina’s gallery, Palladion Antique Kunst, as well as two storage facilities inside the Basel Freeport, and another elsewhere in Switzerland.  The Becchina Archive consists of some 140 binders which contain more than 13,000 documents related to the antiquities dealer's business.  

These records include shipping manifests, dealer notes, invoices, pricing documents, and thousands of photographic images.  Many of the images are not slick art gallery salesroom photos, but rather, are point and shoot polaroids taken by looters and middlemen which depict recently looted antiquities, some of which still bear soil and salt encrustations. 

In 2011 Becchina was convicted in Italy for his role in the illegal antiquities trade and while he later appealed this conviction, looted antiquities traced to his trafficking network, like this sarcophagus fragment, continue to surface in private collections, museums and some of the world's most well know auction firms specializing in ancient art.  

In releasing his identifications to ARCA Tsirogiannis said:

"Regarding the sarcophagus fragment, each of the four Polaroid images depicting the fragment is included in a different file of the Becchina archive:

I discovered the first image (attachment no. 1) in a file that Becchina created to archive the antiquities he was receiving from a Greek trafficker termed in the archive ‘ZE’ or ‘ZENE’ (the beginning of his surname) or ‘Giorgio’ (Giorgos, his first name in Greek). This trafficker, now deceased, was well-known to the Greek police art squad.

attachment no. 1

In a separate handwritten note (attachment no. 2), Becchina records that he received the antiquity (‘1 Frto. [meaning ‘Fragment’] di sarcofago’) for 60.000 Swiss Francs on 25 May 1988. 

attachment no. 2
This antiquity is recorded as the 9th object included in the 34th group of antiquities that ‘Zene’ sent to Becchina (see attachment no. 3).

attachment no. 3
Another note (attachment no. 4), a handwritten page, lists a group of antiquities that Becchina bought from ‘Zene’, from November 1986 until October 1988, for more than $250,000, including the sarcophagus’ fragment (no. 9).

attachment no. 4
The fifth attachment is a photocopy of a Polaroid image, depicting the same antiquity; this image was attached to a blank A4 page, together with other Polaroid images depicting other antiquities that ‘Zene’ smuggled from Greece to Becchina, under the title ‘in PF’, meaning that all these antiquities were stored at the time at the P[ort] [F]ranc (the Free Port) of Basel. 

attachment no. 5
In Becchina’s list of antiquities stored in his warehouses in the Free Port of Basel, the sarcophagus fragment was number 21 (see sixth attachment, another Polaroid image).

attachment no. 6
Finally, I am sending you another handwritten note (attachment no. 7), in which Becchina is asking one of the restorers he was using, Andre Lorenceau, to clean (‘reinigen’) the fragment and to add a base (‘sockeln’), as a support (by drilling into the antiquity). I discovered this note in the Becchina file dedicated to his cooperation with the restorer Andre Lorenceau."

attachment no. 7
According to the Royal-Athena Galleries website, the sarcophagus fragment has been attributed by Dr. Guntram Koch, an academic with an expertise in Roman sarcophagoi. 

Screen Capture - Royal-Athena Galleries 2

In addition to notifying the New York authorities, Tsirogiannis informed INTERPOL and the Greek police art squad. 

The object in question was seized by US authorities at approximately January 14 2:00 pm EST.

Nearly ten years ago in November 2007 Eisenberg returned eight antiquities stolen from museums and archaeological sites worth US$ 510,000 to Italy. Given the fact that it often takes sound identifications, such as those conducted by researchers such as Tsirogiannis, restitutions by art market dealers should not be misconstrued as spontaneous. In most cases pieces are relinquished merely to avoid lengthy litigation or in order for suspect dealers to remove themselves from the negative publicity caused by being subject to criminal charges.

By: Lynda Albertson





January 11, 2017

Seminar: Risk Management in the Art and Antiquities Markets Part II: Criminal and Compliance Risk - 7 February 2017

Seminar Venue: K&L Gates LLP, One New Change (Watling Street entrance), EC4M 9AF, London
Date and Time: Tuesday, 7 February 2017, 9.30 am- 4.00 pm.
Tickets on sale between £63.89 – £82.88
Buying and selling art is a business of passion. But that passion has never seemed so fraught with risk. Money laundering, criminal sanctions, regulatory compliance, charges to tax, corporate governance issues, the threat of cyber attack, online fraud, disputed attribution, question marks over title, and forgery on an industrial scale - all are variously and increasingly interwoven with the day-to-day challenges posed by borderless commerce, big data and globalised criminality. Make one false move, and the price can be high. Businesses, reputations and livelihoods are on the line.
As announced at the Art Business Conference on 1 September 2016, this short series of half-day seminars brings together experienced specialists in their respective fields to address commercial, compliance and cyber risks. The aim of each seminar is to bring together senior art market professionals, and to promote discussion around identifying the risks, and responsible strategies for mitigating and resolving them.
Each seminar takes place at the offices of K&L Gates, overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral. The seminar will commence with breakfast networking and registration at 9.15 and will include a sandwich lunch.
The second seminar is on “Criminal and Compliance Risk.” It takes place on 7th February 2017. Speakers confirmed so far, and topics under discussion will include:
·       Professional codes of ethics, combatting the illicit trade in art and antiquities, and new regulatory challenges on the horizon (Professor Janet Ulph, Leicester Law School, University of Leicester; Dr Sophie Vigneron, Kent Law School, University of Kent; and Ivan Macquisten, art market advisor, campaigner and lobbyist)
·       Risks associated with anti-money laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act offences, and their mitigation (Sasi-Kanth Mallela, Special Counsel, K&L Gates; and Richard Abbey, Partner, Ernst & Young Fraud Investigation and Dispute Services)
·   Keeping track of lost and stolen artworks and antiquities: some challenges and opportunities (Ariane Moser, Chief Operating Officer, Artive Inc. and James Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries & General Counsel, Art Loss Register, in conversation with Sean Kelsey, Senior Associate, K&L Gates)

To purchase tickets to attend the event please visit the Art Market Minds event page.

January 7, 2017

Saturday, January 07, 2017 - ,,, No comments

The officers who serve to protect art in the UK Military: A personal account by Lt Col Tim Purbrick

This article is republished with permission from the official British Army Blog viewable here.

During the latter stages of the Second World War a group of American and British archaeologists, museum curators and architects formed up as a curious military unit called the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section which became known as the Monuments Men. Their job was to protect the cultural property wherever the conflict was being fought. This included places as diverse as North Africa and Italy, northern Europe, Greece and the Far East. The wartime activities of this specialist Allied military unit have been written about extensively and were recently portrayed by George Clooney, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Matt Damon and others in the movie Monuments Men.

Lt Col Tim Purbrick
After the war the nations of the world considered the implications of the damage, destruction and looting of cultural property which had taken place during the Second World War. It was felt that the international humanitarian law extant during the war for the protection of cultural property during conflict could be strengthened. This led to the introduction of the Hague Convention (1954), which was followed by its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999. The UK signed the Convention in 1954 but did not ratify it, which means that the Convention was not brought into UK law. In 2004 the Government decided that the effect of the 1999 Protocol met the criteria for ratification and announced that the Convention would be ratified at the earliest opportunity that Parliamentary time permitted.

US Military personnel recover paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration/American Jewish Historical Society/Center for Jewish History

At the back end of 2013 I was standing at the magazine racks next to my desk at Army HQ congratulating myself as I read an article which I had written on green energy in the British Army Review (BAR). The BAR is a largely internal Army magazine which was then published by the Army HQ Concepts Branch where I work for a day a week as an Army Reserve. Flicking through the other pages of the same issue of BAR I came across a far more interesting article about what activities the military should undertake for the protection of cultural property during conflict. It had been written by Professor Peter Stone OBE of Newcastle University.

To understand why I was fascinated you need to know the three pieces of baggage that I brought to the start of Prof Stone’s article. Our family company, which I now work for, are private art dealers in London. We deal in Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art. I have been hanging around the business for 25 years and some of it rubbed off on me over that time! I had also spent 12 years tracking down stolen plant and equipment and stolen art and antiquities for The Equipment Register and The Art Loss Register so I had some understanding of the issues around cultural property theft. Underlying these was been my long term interest in the activities of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives sections during the Second World War, an interest which had been triggered by reading Lynn Nicholas’s outstanding book The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. It led me to many other books on the same subject.

Fortuitously, my current post is in the Concepts Branch of Army HQ. Our job is to work with academics, think tanks, military scientists and subject matter experts to attempt to understand what the future environment looks like so that we can propose how best to shape the Army to meet the challenges of that future environment. By the time I came across Prof Stone’s article I had already written one of our papers, which we call analytical concepts, on the future of the media and Army media operations. A second paper, on the future employment of cyber at the tactical and operational level, was already on circulation for comments by senior officers. These analytical concepts are highly detailed pieces of research work akin to a university dissertation or even, I kid myself, a Phd as it is generally a unique, first time look, in depth at a key issue for the future development of Army capability. Could cultural property protection (CPP) be my next analytical concept?

Literally the moment that I had finished reading the article I tracked down Prof Stone’s telephone number at Newcastle University and rang him up. Prof Stone and I had one of those interesting conversations: ‘you don’t know who I am’, I said, ‘but I have read your article in the British Army Review, I work at Army HQ and I think that there’s something that we may be able to do about your proposals.’ Prof Stone is also head of the UK Committee of the Blue Shield, an organisation which works with Governments to advise on the protection of cultural property during conflict. The Prof had some experience with the Armed Forces having advised NATO on what and where not to strike in Libya during OP ELLAMY in 2011. He had been trying to persuade the Armed Forces to take more of an interest in CPP so he was quite surprised to have someone from the Army calling him out of the blue to suggest that we could possibly do something about protecting cultural property during conflict.

I drafted a proposal for an analytical concept paper and took it to my Concepts Desk boss, Col Tim Law. Col Tim immediately agreed to let me write the proposed paper. Even though this issue was more current and not one of our future concept papers which look out 20 years, Col Tim and his boss, Brig Simon Deakin, saw the merit of the recommendations in Prof Stone’s article and in the Concepts Branch writing and circulating a paper. Over the coming weeks this became a draft document titled Delivering a Cultural Property Protection Capability. In the way that happens with all our papers, in a process that was to take to the end of July 2015, it was first circulated around Army HQ at Colonel level, comments were received back from these officers, the paper was amended, then it was sent out to Brigadier or 1 star level, comments were received and so the process went on until it had been all the way to the top of the Army where it was seen by Lt Gen Sir James Everard KCB, Commander of the Field Army.

Alongside the start of this internal circulation, with such a complex issue and with such little expertise on it within the Armed Forces, it was important for the paper’s credibility to have it validated by the real experts in academia, museums and amongst our Allies who had either already been involved in CPP for years or who had cultural property protection policies and plans in place for armed conflict. So, I shared the draft paper widely with many of those who quickly became key advisors, amending technicalities and suggesting generalities, giving the paper credibility inside and outside the Army and also giving us all a stake in the paper’s success.

In parallel to the paper and further afield I met up with a group of cultural property experts at the Defence College in Shrivenham. The group included Prof Stone, Richard Osgood, the MOD’s senior archaeologist at the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, Victoria Syme-Taylor from King’s College London, and Dr Nick Marquez-Grant and Prof Andrew Shortland from Cranfield University. Also attending were military educator Maj Dave Mason from the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit (DCSU) at RAF Henlow, to assist with identifying and drafting the individual skill sets required by cultural property protection officers, and Lt Col Alasdair Morrison, a military lawyer from the Operational Law Department in Warminster, to advise on military and international law.

This group became the Military Cultural Property Protection Working Group and it met for the first time in early 2014.

January 6, 2017

Conference: Save the Date - The Amelia Conference - Call for Presenters


ARCA will host its 2017 interdisciplinary art crime conference the weekend of June 23rd through June 25th.  Known as The Amelia Conference, the association's weekend-long event aims to facilitate a critical appraisal of art crimes and the protection of art and cultural heritage.  The event brings together researchers and academics, police, and members from many of the allied professions in the art world, who come together to discuss issues of common concern. 

This conference is held annually in the historic city of Amelia, in the heart of Italy's Umbria region.  Amelia also plays host to ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection and for the first time, the joint ARCA-HARP Provenance Training course, “Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets.” 

ARCA welcomes speaking proposals from individuals in relevant fields, including law, criminal justice, security, art history, conservation, archaeology, or museum security and risk management. We invite individuals interested in presenting to submit their topic of choice along with a presentation title, a concise 250 word abstract, a brief professional biography and a recent CV to the conference organizers at:

italy.conference [at]artcrimeresearch.org

Accepted presenters will be asked to limit their presentations to 15-20 minutes, and will be grouped together in panels organized thematically, to allow time for brief questions from the audience at the conclusion of each panel session. 

Registration

For more details on this event please watch the conference information page on the ARCA website where you can register and where a list of speakers will appear March 30, 2017

We hope to see many of you in Amelia in June!

Key Dates:
Conference Date:  June 23-25, 2017
Call for Presenters Deadline: March 15, 2017

January 4, 2017

Wednesday, January 04, 2017 - , 1 comment

Update on three Iranian heritage workers shot and seriously injured by antiquities smugglers in the Kurdistan province of Iran

Image Credit: ISNA News
NOTE:  This article has been updated January 5, 2017 as more information has been reported.

In an interview with Iran news reporters the Director General of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization of the Kurdistan province in Iran, Seyed Mohsen Alavi, has stated that a primary suspect in the attack on three cultural heritage protection unit officers has been arrested.  He further indicated that following the culprit's interrogation, other arrests were expected to follow shortly. Those believed to have been involved in the incident have now been formally indicted by Iranian authorities.

The suspects in this case were conducting illegal excavations in a remote area searching for ancient objects.

Image Credit: ISNA News
According to Azad News Agency, on Monday, January 3, 2017 two site workers and one heritage bureau activist from the town of Baneh were ambushed by the looters shortly after they arrived at a location in rural Baneh County along Iran's western border with Iraq. Responding to citizen reports of illicit excavations near the village of Mirabad and Shrg·h, the heritage personnel came across tools used by the looters to carry out illegal digging, as well as a large excavated looting pit, estimated to be approximately twelve meters deep.

Image Credit IRIB News

Image Credit IRIB News
Seven armed men reportedly opened fire on the heritage workers using both pistols and shotguns and in the onslaught the three workers were struck by projectiles and a vehicle was also overturned and damaged.

Image Credit: Khabarduni News
One veteran 42 year old cultural heritage protection unit officer remains in the hospital having sustained a penetrating wound to the head. Another suffered shotgun pellet wounds to his neck and left shoulder. Another is reported to have suffered a seriously hand injury.

Image Credit: ISNA News
The area where the looters were working lies along the border between the Kurdistan province in Iran and Eastern Iraq, a lengthy remote area which stretches 230 kilometres along the territorial divide between the two countries. Because the city of Baneh sits inside this scarcely populated zone, it has long struggled with underdevelopment and high unemployment, both key contributors to the zone's reputation as an area where illegal transportation, goods smuggling and illicit drugs pass on their way to or from porous country borders which are difficult to secure.

Kulbar — a colloquial word for the region's border couriers or load carriers, smuggle untaxed and prohibited goods between Iraq and Iran frequently via the Kurdistan province. Small time smugglers move food, electronics, or other hard-to-find necessities.  Bolder traffickers move riskier merchandise: satellite dishes, illegal drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.  Sometimes violent confrontations occur between the kulbar and Border authorities but the payoff to traffickers and rampant poverty create a recipe for continued illicit activity, making it easy enough for heritage looters to use the already well-established smuggling conduit to transport looted antiquities out of the region.

Speaking to Iranian journalists during a press briefing the Director General of Cultural Heritage in Baneh in Kurdistan said that while violent incidents such as the one that occurred this week are unusual, he worries that there is an increased likelihood for events such as this to reoccur. Stating his concerns he said "Unfortunately, illegal excavations and smuggling have increased everywhere in the country and also [our] protection unit in the city does not have weapons. The poor empty-handed are sent out to these kind of locations more frequently and chances are, something like this could be repeated."

By: Lynda Albertson

Wednesday, January 04, 2017 - No comments

Provenance Research Training Course in Italy

Exhibition in the library of the Collecting Point, summer 1947
© Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte
The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) and the US-based Holocaust Art Restitution Project, [Inc.] (HARP), a not-for-profit group based in Washington, DC, dedicated to the identification and restitution of looted artworks, have teamed up to offer a unique short course in Amelia, Italy, this summer. This new thematic course “Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets” will address cultural plunder, undoubtedly one of the thorniest issues facing the art world today.

Course Dates: June 22- 28, 2017  

Open to applicants interested in the restitution/repatriation of looted cultural objects and their trafficking, this 5-day course will provide participants with exposure to the research and ethical considerations of modern-day art restitution. As an added bonus students accepted to the course are automatically registered for ARCA’s Amelia Conference, June 23-25, 2017 a weekend-long forum for intellectual and professional exchange which explores the indispensable role of research, detection, crime prevention and criminal justice responses in combating all forms of art crime and the illicit trafficking in cultural property. 

“Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets”  will be taught by Marc Masurovsky, the co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project.  Mr Masurovsky is a historian, researcher, and advocate, specializing in the financial and economic underpinnings of the Holocaust and the Second World War. 


Born and raised in Paris, France, Mr. Masurovsky holds a B.A. in Communications and Critical Cultural Studies from Antioch College and an M.A. in Modern European History from American University in Washington, DC, for which his thesis was on “Operation Safehaven.” He worked at the Office of Special Investigations of the US Department of Justice researching Byelorussian war criminals, locating primary source documents, and interviewing war crimes suspects in North America and Western Europe. As a result of his early work on the transfers of looted assets from the Third Reich to the safety (safehaven) of neutral and Allied nations, Marc Masurovsky advised the Senate Banking Committee in the mid-1990s on the involvement of Swiss banks in the Holocaust, then lent his expertise to plaintiffs’ counsels suing Swiss banks on behalf of Holocaust survivors. 

Since 1997, Marc Masurovsky has focused his attention on the fate of objects of art looted by the Nazis and their Fascist allies. He has also played a major role in the January 1998 seizure of Egon Schiele’s “Portrait of Wally” and “Night City III” at the Museum of Modern Art of New York and was a director of research for the Clinton-era Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States (PCHA). 

Since 2004, Marc Masurovsky has overseen the creation, development and expansion of a fully-searchable, public online database of art objects looted in German-occupied France that transited through the Jeu de Paume in Paris from 1940 to 1944. Marc Masurovsky is co-author of Le Festin du Reich: le pillage de la France, 1940-1944 (2006), and is currently at work on a book on cultural plunder during the Nazi era and its impact on the international art market. 

For more information on the course and how to apply, please see announcement on ARCA's website here.

December 28, 2016

Recovered: 5 paintings stolen from the Levitan House Museum in Plyos, 3 arrests made.

© Russian Interior Ministry
Russian Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk has issued a statement relaying that Russian authorities have arrested three individuals, ages 29, 33, and 37, for their suspected involvement in the August 5, 2014 3:00 am theft of five paintings by 19th century classical landscape painter Иса́ак Ильи́ч Левита́н (Isaak Levitan).  The artworks were originally stolen by two individuals from the Levitan House-Museum in Plyos, a small town located on the Volga river in the Ivanovo Region where the painter lived and worked for a period of time. 

With the arrest of these three suspects, authorities have recovered all five of the stolen paintings.  The artworks are:

"Ravine behind the fence"
"A Quiet Pool"
"A Quiet River"
"Railway Stop"
"Roses"

One of Russia's most significant and celebrated landscape artists, Levitan's naturalistic scenes, depicting and tranquil forests and countrysides, introduced a new genre of paintings which came to be known as the mood landscapes. The artist's body of work includes approximately 1,000 paintings, sketches and drawings with the bulk of his work being held in Russian museums. At the time of the artworks theft, the five stolen paintings were estimated to be worth 77 million rubles ($1.3 million). 

According to the Interior Ministry, the three criminals arrested in this case were said to have been involved in a series of other crimes including an armed highway robbery of cash-in-transit couriers this past November in the Nizhny Novgorod region and an earlier May 2016 bank robbery of the Nizhny Novgorod Bank where the crooks made off with more than 5 million rubles ($82,200). 

Officers working a joint investigation involving the Main Criminal Investigation Department of the Russian Interior Ministry, the Russian Federal Security Service, CID GU MVD of Russia in Nizhny Novgorod region, and the CID AMIA Russia's Ivanovo region executed a series of search warrants.   During one, of a house in the Moscow region, Russian Interior Ministry authorities seized more than one kilogram of cocaine and recovered one of the five stolen artworks there-by detaining two suspects.  Russian Interior Ministry in Nizhny Novgorod then recovered the other four stolen paintings during a secondary search warrant of another location.

In the course of an interview with Russian media, Alla Chayanov, director of the Levitan House-Museum in Plyos, reminded the public that the theft of well known, catalogued and inventoried artworks of whatever financial value, are largely unsaleable on the licit art market where famous stolen works of art are easily recognised.   In cases such as this artworks only have value on the black market, usually as an alternative currency within the criminal world. 

A video of the recovery of four of the artworks can be seen in the news report below. 


As formal possessions of the Russian Federation, the recovered artworks will now be evaluated for authenticity by the matching of their accession numbers.  They will then likely be sent for conservation evaluation prior to being returned to the public's viewing.