Culture crime news 21–27 July 2014


Hot this week: Corruption! Antiquities police officer in Greece arrested and 2 heritage officials convicted in Macedonia for antiquities trafficking crimes.

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Tired of selling guns and drugs? Try art theft — another profitable criminal endeavor.
(24 July 2014, Washington Post)
Better yet, don’t. Some reporting on an art crime conference that somehow fell off my radar.

How to Interest Today’s Collectors in Antiquities—or Anything Earlier than the 20th Century?
(21 July 2014, Art Market Monitor)
I think the world would be a better place all around if we figure out how to DISINTEREST today’s collectors in antiquities.

After Drugs and Guns, Art Theft Is the Biggest Criminal Enterprise in the World [SIC]
(22 July 2014, Newsweek)
THIS IS NOT TRUE.  Even if it was, there would be no proof. Show me the numbers. Interpol specifically says it is unknowable. If you hear this false statement, fight against it. Repeating false statements like this is destructive. Shame on you Newsweek and shame on whoever repeats this junk.


Dance of the Maize God: a beautiful film about the pillaging of the Maya past
(24 July 2014, Anonymous Swiss Collector)
My review of a great film about the looting of Maya vases.

Saquean piezas y tesoros arqueológicos en Guatemala (Archaeological pieces and treasures looted in Guatemala)
(21 July 2014, HistpanTV)
Although the looting of Maya sites is obvious in the country, no one in Guatemala has been arrested for antiquities looting or trafficking this year, down from 12 last year.

No hay saqueo arqueológico en Morelos: INAH (There isn’t archaeological looting in Morales, Mexico)
(22 July 2014, El Sol de Cuernavaca)
The INAH has stated that there is not really an archaeological looting or church theft problem in Morales, unlike in other Mexican states.

Constructora destruye vestigios mayas en Campeche (Construction destroys Maya structures in Campeche, Mexico)
(23 July 2014, Noticeros Televisas)
A road construction company has destroyed portions of the Maya site of Acanmul for fill.

Recovered Matisse shown in Venezuela after mystery theft
(23 July 2014, Global Post)
Finally home and on view after a dramatic heist history.

Patrimonico cultural subacuático depede del avance de la tecnología (Underwater cultural heritage depends on advances in technology, Uruguay)
(26 July 2014, Prensa Libre)
Commercial ‘salvagers’ and looting divers are ‘new pirates’ and we need technological advances to protect fragile and interesting underwater heritage sites.

Skull-donation mystery leads others to turn in human remains
(20 July 2014, Seattle Times)
Three, skulls, one at least Native American, donated to Goodwill. After the news report, others are turning in skulls. Sounds surprising but it kind of isn’t.

Sweet Briar College returns 400-year-old artifacts to Quapaw Tribe
(25 July 2014, Sweet Briar College)
The pieces were excavated in 1932 in Arkansas and are now being returned.

Norton Simon Museum Asks Court to Reconsider Nazi Loot Claim
(23 July 2014, ArtNet News)
This is the one concerning the Adam and Eve Cranach.

Owens Valley relic hunter not one to back down (USA)
(24 July 2014, Los Angeles Times)
Profile of an unrepentant serial artefact looter.

Ancient Bible Focus of Lawsuit Between Contentious Jewish Families (USA)
(23 July 2014, JP Updates)
Was this historic bible lent? Was it given? Was it found in a suitcase? Who owns it?


Walker and the Restitution of Two Benin Bronzes (Nigeria)
(27 July 2014, Times)
A first-person account of the return of two stolen Benin bronzes to Nigeria by Peju Layiwola, who has worked hard on this topic. Long but a worthwhile read to understand that situation.

Two dozen antique coins recovered at Cairo airport
(26 July 2014, Ahram Online)
The coins date from the Islamic and Modern periods and were found in the luggage of a Sudanese citizen. They will be put in the temporary display of seized artefacts that are going on which, by the way, is a super cool idea. Maybe all recently seized items should be displayed the world over.

Stolen 18th dynasty relief returns from Germany (Egypt)
(23 July 2014, Ahram Online)
Taken from the tomb of 18th dynasty high priest Sobekhotep in the Nobles necropolis on Luxor’s west bank and appeared on the market in the 1980s.

Egypt’s heritage crisis
(24 July 2014, El Ahram)
A piece on the post-2011 breakdown of heritage security in Egypt.

East and South Asia

Boom in Chinese art has roots in traditional passion for collecting
(21 July 2014, South China Morning Post)
Includes a short bit on private Chinese collectors buying looted antiquities and other cultural property abroad with a sort of ‘bring it home’ mentality.

Chinese Tycoon’s Ancient Tea Cup Sip Sparks Social Media Storm
(26 July 2014, NBC)
He paid $36million for a 500-year-old ‘Chicken Cup’, he took a drink from it, and now he gets flack for it. We’d all be silly to think that private collectors like this don’t do weirdish things with the objects that they buy.

Chinese Collector Uses AmEx to Buy $36-Million “Chicken Cup”
(20 July 2014, ArtNet News)
And, after the above-mentioned drink, he scored an obscene amount of credit card points. Hilarious!

Sculpture mystery: Stolen Indian artwork in Canadian custody raises minor diplomatic storm
(22 July 2014, India Times)
A 12th century Khajuraho sculpture is in Canada and India wants it back. Canada says that there must be “proof” it was stolen which, of course, means a secure ‘findspot’ or proof it was in a specific temple. Grrr.

India wants 12th-century statue back
(23 July 2014, Edmonton Journal)
Another piece on the same story.

Museum Of Little Secrets (India)
(26 July 2014, Outlook)
Sunil Upadhyay of Calcutta’s Indian Museum has disappeared and many suspect foul play. Colleagues say he was speaking out against high level corruption in an institution that recently had problems with fakes.

S. Korea, U.S. to agree on cooperation in return of looted artifacts
(22 July 2014, Yonhap News)
Great news: a cultural property bilateral agreement between the two countries will go through. I suspected this was coming what with recent high-profile returns.

Goryeo Buddhist paintings are ‘resting place’: Ven. Hyedam
(27 July 2014, The Korea Times)
Ven. Hyedam, a Buddhist nun, has devoted her life to recreate Korea’s Goryeo paintings because 90% of them are outside of Korea in foreign collections.

West Asia

Finders Keepers? (Turkey)
(21 July 2014, Daily Sabah)
This OpEd, ultimately, argues that words like ‘looted’ or ‘stolen’ should not be used to describe illicit cultural property, but neglects to include the infinite cases where cultural property has, indeed, been looted and stolen (and trafficked, and laundered, and smuggled).

Kabul museum workers ‘risked death’ to protect priceless Afghan treasures now on display in Perth
(26 July 2014, ABC News)
One of the museum workers is in Australia to tell the story of what happen at the Kabul museum in 1988.

The international team trying to save Syrian antiquities
(21 July 2014, BBC News)
My friends at the University of Pennsylvania Cultural Heritage Centre doing good work in a bad situation. I and my colleagues will be visiting Penn in November to give a lecture.

Illegalen Antiquitätenhandel in arabischen Krisenregionen: Raubkunst gegen Waffen (Illegal trade in antiquities in Arab crisis regions: looted art against arms)
(18 July 2014, SWR2)
A discussion with archaeologist Ulrike Dubiel about the looting of antiquities in Iraq and Syria.

Iraq’s Long-Lost Mythical Temple Has Been Found…and Is In Danger of Disappearing Again
(24 July 2014, The Daily Beast)
Archaeological discoveries in a war zone…not great.

ISIL steals, smuggles Iraqi antiquities: ministry
(24 July 2014, Al Shorfa)
Iraqi Interior Ministry says that ISIL has robbed museums in Mosul and Tikrit, as well as some archaeological sites.


Thieves go eeling at gardens (New Zealand)
(21 July 2014, Manukau Courier)
Yep, they stole an eel statue.

Demons discover five more premiership flags are missing after 1948 flag sale prompts search (Australia)
(24 July 2014, The Age)
Australian football heritage theft!

Court Case Claims Australian Art Market Is 30 Percent Forgeries
(22 July 2014, ArtNet News)
This is an Australian Supreme Court case against Christie’s, Australia concerning an Albert Tucker bought at Christie’s but declared during resale at Sotheby’s to be a fake. A bit of an overblown, crazy claim but it has been made.

Expert says painting looked ‘odd’ (Australia)
(25 July 2014, Sydney Morning Herald)
This is more on the fake Albert Tucker story.

Traditional owners open hidden Eden (Australia)
(27 July 2014, The West Australian)
In 2008 traditional custodians were awarded native title for the Birriliburu area and it was soon closed by them as tourists took it upon themselves to loot the place. Now after protection training, it is being opened to visitors once again.


Million-euro Marble Statue Seized in Greece
(24 July 2014, Greek Reporter)
…and a Greek antiquities police officer is one of the eight people arrested in this gang. Very disturbing.

Two men jailed after village shoot out (Cyprus)
(22 July 2014, Cyprus Mail)
One of the people involved in this was convicted of possessing stolen antiquities. Peristerona village, Nicosia district.

Macedonia court sentences 12 in antiquities theft
(25 July 2014, New Zealand Herald)
This includes two senior heritage officials and has happened after a 10 month trial. All were given prison terms between 2 and 7 years.

Centenary sparks WW1 price war (UK)
(21 July 2014, IOL Science)
Auction houses warn families and private collectors to make sure their WWI memorabilia and herlooms are properly ensured as prices for them are going up, as are thefts.

Experts condemn British government for failure to ratify convention protecting cultural property
(21 July 2014, The Art Newspaper)
That is right, folks, the UK has not ratified the Hague Convention.

885 Artworks Missing from Madrid’s Prado Museum (Spain)
(22 July 2014, Artnet News)
Quite the shocking headline but perhaps an unfair one. Most of this happened ages ago. See below.

Press Release (Spain)
(24 July 2014, Museo Nacional del Prado)
The Prado’s press release response to the previous news article. They say that the information is nothing new, has been known about for decades, and they offer real numbers about the situation. A must read if you read the news report.

Roban oro y plata de una iglesia (Gold and silver robbed from a church, Spain)
(24 July 2014, El Esquiu)
Gold and silver votive offerings were stolen from El Señor de los Milagros in La Tercena.

Policía Nacional halla dos angelotes del Cristo del Amor robados en 1991 (National Police seize two angels of Cristo del Amor robbed in 1991, Spain)
(24 July 2014, Le Voz de Almeria)
In 1991, four of these angels were stolen from  the Las Adoratrices convent. Two have been recovered.

Mannerheim Cross worth 40,000 euros stolen from museum (Finland)
(23 July 2014, YLE)
I am told that these crosses are not only numbered and known, they are almost holy. Only 197 of them. Just shows how strange and strong the illicit market for WWII items are.

Hopi and Navajo Masks Auction Precedent in France Is Too Dangerous
(25 July 2014, Artnet News)
An opinion piece about the recent auctions of Native American pieces in Paris and, specifically, the rulings that allowed them to go through.

Sculptures Found in Disputed Art Trove (German)
(24 July 2014, New York Times)
Rodin and Degas sculptures have turned up in the Gurlitt hoard.

In other news

Men caught with stolen native animals from national park (Australia)
(July 2014, Courier Mail)
Quite a few of these animals found in their possession and in their home. Animal smuggling is a thing.

Man gets 3½ years in prison for $5M violin theft (USA)
(24 July 2014, SF Gate)
Stealing Strads doesn’t pay.