Another busy and interesting month as we approach the latest TEFAF Maastricht.
More than five months after Ivan Macquisten submitted the commissioned article to Homeland Security Today (HST) about the deeply flawed Cash to Chaos report and fake news, it was finally published. (See link below). HST invited Ivan to write the article after he challenged not just the report, but also HST’s article about it, in detail and they had failed to respond to the points he raised. Despite acknowledging receipt of Ivan’s article in late October, HST continued to delay publication through Christmas and the New Year. However, Ivan persisted in chasing the Editor-in-Chief, with the result that it has now been published. This is a lesson in how persistence pays off.
Media reports have noted that the lack of detailed information surrounding what was seized and who was arrested during Europol’s Operation Pandora make it very difficult to assess how effective the operation was. IADAA has been conducting its own investigation, which has yielded some interesting results and will send out a separate report revealing all during March.
A new study from King’s College London confirms what IADAA has known and argued all along: nobody has any clear idea of the true level of revenue raised by ISIS from antiquities. This apparently comes as a surprise to many, despite all the evidence IADAA and others have laid out over the past two years. Where does that put US and UNESCO policy now?
The passing into law in the UK of the Cultural Property [Armed Conflicts] Act has serious implications for the trade because of the potential liability of prosecution it bring with it. The British Government has promised better guidance on key issues under the new law, while the British trade associations’ success in persuading the British Government to limit the range of cultural property to which this law applies may help negate many of its potentially serious effects.
Finally, we have the bizarre article from Deborah Lehr, who chairs the Antiquities Coalition, advocating access to the Chinese antiquities market for Christie’s and Sotheby’s. As Peter Tompa writes, how does this square with the policy she has been shouting from the rooftops over the past two or more years? On the basis of her argument, would it now be fitting for the Antiquities Coalition to call for similar access to the Egyptian antiquities market?
Job Rush: Daesh starts transporting undocumented migrants amid lack of funds
Sputnik News: February 1: Terror groups such as Daesh have begun transportation of undocumented migrants to earn money making up losses caused by decreased oil and antiquities' trade, Alessandro Pansa, an Italian senior intelligence official, has told La Stampa newspaper.
Motivations for Collecting Looted Antiquities
Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues: Paul Barford blog: February 1:
Preview for a rabidly anti-trade and anti-collector London seminar by Erin Thompson of City University New York. Illustrative of the mentality of Barford and other zealots in this field, he introduces it with the words: “What makes antiquities collectors behave like selfish bastards.”
European countries are working together to tackle cultural property crime
Apollo: February 2: Comment by James Ratcliffe of the Art Loss Register on Europol’s announcement of 75 arrests across Europe linked to the seizure of 3500 stolen works of art and cultural goods as part of Operation Pandora (IADAA is preparing a special article for release at a later date). Whilst acknowledging that very little information on this has emerged so far, Ratcliffe notes that Europol has an increasing focus on international cultural property crime. “This doubtless reflects the growing awareness of how it links in to organised crime, money laundering, and, arguably, terrorist financing,” he concludes.
Fortunately, Ratcliffe also acknowledges the need to involve the trade in the fight against crime. Frustrated at the lack of information, but hopes this is to “protect” the work seized. As it now appears via intelligence made available to IADAA, the real reason is that much of the material comes from within Europe and is not cultural property within the generally accepted meaning of the term, nor high grade material at all.
Egypt retrieves 2 artifacts from London
Egypt Independent: February 3: Egypt's embassy in London received on Tuesday two artifacts that had been put for sale at a London auction house, this article reports.
At least one was stolen in 2011 following the January 25 coup, it states. However, the article gives no details about the circumstances of their discovery or return, whether it was the auction house itself that organized this or another party.
Destroying antiquities, explaining ISIS
UM News Today: February 8: This article profiles Tina Greenfield, another archaeologist billed as “a modern-day Indiana Jones”. After being told about how passionate she is about preserving historical artefacts and her visits to Iraq, it then gives her estimate of what ISIS was making from selling looted artefacts in 2015 ($2m a day), adding that the figure is “much higher now”. That smaller figure, then would equate to around $730m a year. So if it is much higher now, we can safely assume she means $1 billion-plus. Ivan has commented on this article, posting the link to the MANTIS project and its estimate of $4m for the year 2014-2015, showing how ridiculous Greenfield’s estimates are and criticizing her for irresponsibly inflating the figures so wildly without any evidence.
Manhattan District Attorney Returns Ancient Sarcophagus to Greek Consulate
The USA Greek Reporter: February 9: A report on the USA’s return to Greece of a large marble relief section seized in New York. The particular significance of this article is the emphasis it puts on the role of NY Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos: “It should be noted that Bogdanos, who is of Greek origin, is also an author and a colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. He is a historical treasure hunter and played a significant role in the rescue of the Baghdad museum treasures. In August 2014, Bogdanos handed to the then ambassador of Greece in Washington Christos Panagopoulos five antiquities that were repatriated and now exhibited at the Numismatic Museum of Athens.”
The article also highlights the role played by anti-trade campaigner Christos Tsirogiannis, who apparently discovered that the sarcophagus featured in
The Becchina archive. Although the article also states that “the ancient object came from the illegal collection of Italian antiquities smuggler Gianfranco Becchina”, it should be noted that not everything listed in the archive is illegal.
IADAA and other antiquities bodies have long asked for access to the Becchina and Medici archives so that they can form part of the due diligence process. Such a development would, of course, rob Tsirogiannis of his chief access to publicity and the opportunity to embarrass leading auction houses and dealers in the days before sales and exhibitions.
Finally, the article also notes the media circus surrounding the return of the sarcophagus: “At the same time, the consul general expressed his gratitude to District Attorneys Vance and Bogdanos who not only seized the sarcophagus, but will deliver it in the presence of U.S. media including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as well as television networks.
Karol Wight Appointed to US State Department Cultural Property Advisory Committee
ArtForum: February 14: Karol Wight, president and executive director of the Corning Museum of Glass in New York, has been appointed to an advisory post on the US State Department Cultural Property Advisory Committee. Former president Barack Obama confirmed Wight to the post on January 11.
Illicit trafficking, provenance research and due diligence… and confidence and risk
Conflict Antiquities blog: February 15: This blog, by academic Sam Hardy, refers back to the March 30, 2016 UNESCO Conference at which he spoke. It summarises aspects of the conference – including Vincent Geerling’s speech and a link to the IADAA misleading statistics summary – as well as his own highly detailed by ultimately very confusing contribution. This article is also a little confusing as it is not really clear what its purpose is, except to promote the statistical correlation between risk and confidence in the antiquities market as set out by David Gill and Rick St Hilaire.
It also highlights the work carried out by Christos Tsirogiannis in exposing the sale of stolen artefacts at auction, but yet again fails to note that the trade has no access to the archives that Tsirogiannis uses so effectively and so is prevented from including them in due diligence (see above).
Hardy says the research shows that confidence in the antiquities market is not affected by some kinds of risk. He also argues that the market may be liable to collapse if flooded with fakes and forgeries, but is likely to suffer no such risk from a flood of looted material unless those active in the market are confronted with very serious risks. “The avoidance of such risks can only be avoided through supply chain due diligence,” he further argues.
This appears to be a fairly tortuous and roundabout attempt to call for more regulation, although it is hard to see how he makes all these inferences from the information supplied.
For all the apparent research and detail, Hardy continues to make basic mistakes. For instance, one link in the article links through to Hardy’s Conflict Antiquities blog, in which he includes, as evidence, a footnote stating that Christie’s has owned Spink’s since 1993. A simple check would have told him that Christie’s have not owned Spink since 2002.
US gives $116,000 grant to Nigeria for preservation of cultural heritage
TV360 Nigeria: February 16: This grant comes with a Memorandum of Understanding. No details of the MoU are given, but the grant will enable the institutions to improve the storage areas for the collections in 10 Nigerian museums.
ART TRAFFICKING - A GRAY MARKET
Arte: Inflight selection in the TV section of the entertainment videos offered on United Airlines (spotted by Alan Safani): February 16: A 2016 documentary by Slow Production of Arte France that still makes the bogus $7 euros claim for the value of trafficked art.
Brodie delivering keynote for conference at Washington and Lee University, Virginia, 3 March
Trafficking Culture Blog: February 18: Notification of a Conference on the Ethics of Acquiring Cultural Heritage Objects, hosted by the Mudd Center for Ethics at Washington and Lee University, in which Dr Neil Brodie, the well-known archaeologist, academic critic of the trade is scheduled to speak under the heading: Controlling the Globalized Market in Cultural Objects: Closing the gap Between Law and Ethics. As usual, while the list of speakers is packed with academics, anthropology specialists, law enforcement and others, there is no trade representative invited. Expect more to come out of this conference.
Shrinking territory contributes to significant drop in ISIS funding
Kings College London website: February 18: This article details the findings of a new collaborative new study by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London and EY. Titled ‘Caliphate in Decline: An Estimate of Islamic State's Financial Fortunes’, Importantly, it confirms what IADAA has been arguing for the past two years: that no one has any idea of the levels of funding that antiquities have been providing ISIS.
The introduction to the report states: “While no outsider is currently able to provide precise figures, we are highly confident in the overarching trends: the dramatic decline of Islamic State income, and the strong reliance on “intrinsic” – that is, internal – sources of income, especially natural resources, taxes, and looting.” [Looting in this case refers to mass looting of general assets, not to antiquities.]
It goes on to state: “Its control of archaeological sites has raised concerns that the group is profiting from the trade in antiquities. There is evidence that Islamic State has issued permits for individuals to loot these objects, and that it charges fees for their transportation.”
And then: “Estimates according to which antiquities comprise the group’s second largest revenue source seem exaggerated. Rather than trading artifacts, Islamic State is earning money from selling digging permits and charging transit fees. Exactly how much is impossible to say. Most of the data points put the income generated from these activities at the lower end of the group’s revenue streams – and one which is likely to decline further as territorial reversals prevent the group from accessing many sites.”
Under a table of figures giving values for each of the income sources, antiquities are listed as ‘unknown’.
The second link takes you directly to the report itself.
Records Point to Dealer’s Role in Artifact Theft
The Cambodia Daily: February 22: This article focuses on the alleged links between British collector Douglas Latchford and Nancy Wiener with regards to the looting of Khmer artefacts and the ongoing prosecution in New York. It is of interest because of the detail it goes into about looting methods, earlier problems and the fact that Matthew Bogdanos is prosecuting the case as Assistant NY District Attorney.
The article uses as its main source the anti-looting blog Chasing Aphrodite, whose writer, the journalist Jason Felch, “characterized the suit against Ms. Wiener as the most important criminal case in the antiquities trade since 2001”.
It would appear that the Wiener suit will have far-reaching repercussions, especially with museums, and is likely to lead to further restrictions on acquisitions as well as an even more detailed scrutiny of the trade.
CULTURAL PROTECTION WITHOUT BASIS?
Weltkunst: February 23: The original of this article is in German and refers to the King’s College study mentioned above in relation to the new German cultural property law. Here is a summary translation of the article in English:
The financing of the "Islamic State" by smuggled antiquities has been used as an important argument to justify the unloved Act of Cultural Protection. Now a study presented at the Munich Security Conference presents astounding results.
A study by King's College, London, on the funding "Islamic State", was presented last week on the periphery of the Munich Security Conference. The study bears the confident title of ‘Caliphate in Decline: An Estimate of Islamic State's Financial Fortunes’ and shows considerable revenue fall-off for Islamic State in recent years.
In essence, "ISIS" is funded by three sources: taxes and charges levied in conquered areas, oil trade and looting. [Looting in this case refers to mass looting of banks and general assets, not to antiquities.]
However, the authors of the study found no evidence for a form of funding which had triggered great concern in the Western countries from the outset. Obviously it is not true that "ISIS" substantially enriched the trade with stolen antiquities from the region. It is not true that museums and sites of excavation have been systematically plundered, with their treasures disappearing into illegal collections at the hands of a well-organized western art trade.
This insight makes "ISIS" no less inhuman, but it substantially weakens the argument in the cultural policy debate in Europe, especially in Germany.
The Protection of Cultural Heritage Act introduced in August 2016 was justified not simply as a ratification of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Instead, the German government argued that its measures restricting the importation of foreign cultural assets were needed because a third of ISIS’s finance comes from the illicit trade in antiquities, and the Federal Republic is one of the most important market hubs for artefacts smuggled from the Middle East.
This led to new due diligence and liability rules that have proved a headache for collectors, auction houses and the art trade. The minister would not listen to protests against the new import regulations, especially as it would have meant losing face.
Instead they assured cultural policymakers and museum-goers again and again that the extent of smuggling was immense, and the trade and collectors were exploiting Syria and Iraq with the help of ISIS. Who wanted to be guilty, by association, of the destruction of Palmyra?
Art market experts in Germany were baffled by these arguments as there was no evidence to support them, despite the constant claims. Parliamentary questions in the Bundestag remained unanswered: What did the Federal Government know about the financing of the "Islamic State", especially about its art trade? Nothing, was the reply. Customs, who had been questioned several times on the matter, were unable to supply any information; they had simply found nothing. This massive criminal conspiracy must be extremely clandestine indeed.
Regardless of the lack of evidence, the Government pressed ahead.
Ultimately, hyping the "ISIS" smuggling problem was propaganda. The result, according to expert opinion, is that many collections in Germany are now being broken down. Proof of provenance is more difficult to secure than in other countries where older records of dealers and auction houses exist because much was destroyed during the war. The trade is already fleeing the Federal Republic, with UK auction houses benefiting as a result.
Azerbaijan to appeal to UNESCO over illegal archaeological activity in occupied lands
apa.az: February 23: Azerbaijan has complained to UNESCO that Spanish and British archaeologists have been conducting illegal excavations in territory occupied by Armenia and this breached the Second Protocol of the Hague Convention 1954, ratified by the UK just as this complaint was being made.
Tracey Crouch: Britain is leading the world in protecting cultural property
Conservative Home: February 24: Tracey Crouch, the minister guiding the new Cultural Property [Armed Conflicts] Bill through the UK parliament, celebrates its adoption in this article, having ignored serious trade concerns about the unacceptable liability it confers on them through its introduction of a clause that makes them culpable under the law even when acting in good faith and following due diligence. As is clear in this article, and from the ADA’s work in advising on the Bill, the priority was for the UK to be the first permanent member of the UN Security Council to ratify The Hague Convention and its two protocols. Concerns had been expressed more than once that France might beat the UK to it. As was also expressed by the trade at the time: surely the priority should be to make good law!
Despite rightly explaining at the beginning of the article how the new law will protect cultural property “of the greatest importance”, Tracey Crouch goes on to state: “This Act will make it an offence to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property from an occupied territory.” Actually, it does not. That is already an offence. This act only covers cultural property “of great importance to the heritage of every people”, which is not the same at all.
China’s Art Market Is Booming – But Not for Foreigners
The Diplomat: February 25: This article focuses largely on restrictive practices within China’s auction market and how China should not fear competition. It also provides a useful profile of the main players. However, there is a clear undercurrent relating to looted antiquities. The author is Deborah M Lehr, billed here as CEO of Basilinna, a strategic consulting business working with firms to expand their presence in China and the Middle East. It makes no mention of her role chairing the Antiquities Coalition. What this does raise, however, is whether there is any conflict of interest between Lehr’s work for the AC and Basilinna, a strategic communications and government relations specialist advisory company with close links to China and Egypt, among others.
The Basilinna services page is dominated by a photograph of Lehr with leading politicians and diplomats, including Irina Bukova, Secretary-General of UNESCO, and the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry. Also on the staff is Katie Paul, Chief of Staff at the AC, while Peter Herdrich, CEO of the Cultural Capital Group and co-founder of the AC, is on the Advisory Board, as is Ariel Ratner, who is also Senior Director of Strategic Communications at the AC. It is also notable that the AC’s advisory council has now expanded to include Dr Zahi Hawass, former Minister of Antiquities of Egypt, as Honorary Chairman.
Peter Tompa’s critique of this article on his Committee for Cultural Policy blog highlights what appear to be double standards. Why, he asks, is Lehr advocating access for Western auction houses to the Chinese market in order to sell its antiquities when she chairs the leading advocate in the US for preventing any trade in Middle Eastern antiquities? See the second link for his views.