Culture crime news 7–13 December 2015


Hot this week: Ukraine, militants, stolen art

Receive ‘Culture crime news’ as a weekly newsletter! Sign up here


Faking Ancient Mesoamerica by Nancy L. Kelker and Karen O. Bruhns
(14 December 2015)
This book entirely changed how I view Mesoamerican museum collections. I’ll never look at them uncritically again.


Nazi-era restitution claims are just the tip of the iceberg
(7 December 2015; Apollo)
A look at civil claims on state seized art.


Concern for Libya UNESCO site after Islamic State said to take over (Libya)
(12 December 2015; The Times of Israel)
Sabratha may be under jihadi control.


Debate en ONU sobre devolución de bienes culturales a países de origen (Ecuador)
(9 December 2015; El Telégrafo)
With particular focus on Ecuador.

Ecuador y Argentina firman acuerdos en seguridad social (Ecuador and Argentina sign social security agreements; Ecuador, Argentina)
(9 December 2015; Vistazo)
Among the agreements is a bilateral one to fight illicit antiquities trafficking.

Salvadoreño implicado en robo de imagen en Guatemala (Salvadorian arrested for theft of saint sculpture in Guatemala; Guatemala, El Salvador)
(11 December 2015; Equilibrium)
A bus driver alerted the police when he saw the man the concealed statue.

Fake Mexican Antiquities by Leopoldo Batres (1910, PDF) (Mexico)
(9 December 2015; Anonymous Swiss Collector)
An early book on Mesoamerican artefact forgery scanned and there for you to enjoy.

Let Leonard Peltier Paint (USA)
(6 December 2015; Indian Country Today)
Reaction to the removal of Peltier’s work from “a Washington State exhibition of Native art due to complaints from ex-FBI agents”.

The heist of the century (USA)
(6 December 2015; CBS News)
Coverage of the Gardner Museum theft.

Art Crime Detectives Expose the Ugly Truths of the Art World (USA)
(8 December 2015; The Creator’s Project)
A profile of “K2 Intelligence and their Art Risk Advisory”.

Judge Suspends Lawsuit Against U. of Oklahoma over Stolen Nazi Art (USA)
(8 December 2015; Insurance Journal)
As negotiations continue with the claimant of the Pissarro.

Police release photo of possible suspect in Cleveland Museum of Natural History theft (USA)
(8 December 2015; Fox 8)
Possibly the person who took gems from Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Museum theft suspect arrested by John Carroll University police works at college (USA)
(11 December 2015; News Net 5)
A man suspected of stealing minerals from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History has been arrested.

Tell legislators ‘no’ on looting artifacts (USA)
(8 December 2015; Tallahassee Democrat)
Protected land, development, and artefact looting in Florida.

$421,000 in Bogus Indian Art, Collector Says (USA)
(10 December 2015; Courthouse News Service)
A South Dakota court heard accusations against a dealer for selling Native American fakes.

Christie’s Withdraws Potentially Looted Dagger from Antiquities Auction (USA)
(10 December 2015; ArtNet News)
More spectacular work from Christos Tsirogiannis. One wonders if Christies does any provenance research at all. They seem happy to print fake ownership histories.

Recap of “Rethinking Art Authentication” at the New York City Bar (USA)
(10 December 2015; Lexology)
A summary of this event.

Retired US official charged with stealing ancient remains (USA)
(10 December 2015;
URGH: “retired National Parks Service official has been charged with stealing ancient Native American remains from a museum collection at a sacred tribal burial site in Iowa and keeping them for more than 20 years”

Thefts of art ‘kind of weird,’ Coral Springs mayor says (USA)
(10 December 2015; Sun Sentinel)
The second odd art theft from a Coral Springs home in as many months.

Former Field Museum employee accused of stealing $900,000 over 7 years (USA)
(11 December 2015; Chicago Tribune)
The employee was pocketing money for at-the-door memberships.

Judge says BLM did not use excessive force in 2009 Blanding raid (USA)
(11 December 2015; Deseret News)
“Bureau of Land Management agent did not use excessive force during a raid on the home of a Blanding doctor accused of trafficking stolen Native American artifacts”

Toxic drug use, not love of art, led accused art thief to steal George Rodrigue ‘Blue Dog’ prints, health experts say (USA)
(11 December 2015; The Advocate)
Or so says two court appointed mental health experts.

Secretary Jewell Advances Discussion on Repatriation of Tribal Sacred Objects with French Authorities (USA, France)
(2 December 2015; U.S. Department of the Interior)
Concern was expressed about Native American artefact sales in France.

Statement on Paris Auction of Native American Objects (USA, France)
(4 December 2015; United States Department of State)
Speaking out specifically against Paris-based auctions of Native American artefacts.

Roban campanas de la Guadalupana (Bells of the Virgin of Guadalupe stolen; Mexico)
(10 December 2015; El Sol de Durango)
Historic bells were stolen from the church at Zozea, Hidalgo.

Increíble robo de campanas (Mexico)
(11 December 2015; El Sol de Zamora)
More on the theft of the bells from the church at Zozea.

‘Holy grail of shipwrecks’ discovery sparks courtroom battle for treasure worth £11 billion (Colombia)
(8 December 2015; The National)
Commercial “salvage” vs archaeology and preservation.

Who wants to be a galleonaire? (Colombia)
(12 December 2015; The Economist)
Pushing the opinion that “if governments want the loot, they will have to give treasure-hunters an incentive to look for them.”


Cypriot Tasoula Hadjitofi vows to halt illicit art trafficking by terrorists (Cyprus)
(12 December 2015; Famagusta Gazette)
Reporting on the head of Walk of Truth

European states urge action against IS antiquities dealing (General)
(8 December 2015; Yahoo News)
“Germany, Italy and France called Tuesday for the European Union to crack down on the illegal trade in antiquities used to bankroll attacks by the Islamic State group.”

Museum Sues Wikimedia for Hosting Copyrighted Photos of Its Public-Domain Artworks (Germany)
(8 December 2015; Hyperallergic)
The Reiss Engelhorn Museum says 17 specific images must come down as they were commissioned from an in-house photographer.

Antiquities Dealer Leonardo Patterson Faces New Criminal Charges (Germany, Mexico)
(8 December 2015; The New York Times)
On the conviction of Leonardo Patterson. Be sure to click on the link to read about El Manatí (by me).

Artworks Worth $1.1 Million Stolen From Markus Lüpertz’s Potsdam Studio (Germany)
(9 December 2015; ArtNet News)
30 artworks were stolen in the break-in.

Greece Will Not Further Pursue the Return of Parthenon Marbles (Greece, UK)
(9 December 2015; Greek Reporter)
They mean to put “in court” and “for now” on the headline.

UN Resolution Calls for Return of Parthenon Sculptures to Greece (Greece, UK)
(11 December 2015; Greek Reporter)
Not just about the marbles.

‘Restitution of a lost beauty’: Caravaggio Nativity replica brought to Palermo (Italy)
(10 December 2015; The Guardian)
The piece was stolen in 1969 and hasn’t surfaced. A replica takes its place.

El otro tesoro (The other treasure; Spain, USA)
(6 December 2015; Cadena Ser)
In light of recent shipwreck news, a look at the case of Odyssey Marine and the wreck of the Mercedes.

Violento robo en la iglesia de las Carmelitas de Peñaranda con el encargado maniatado (Violent robbery in the Church of the Carmelitas in Peñaranda, manager bound; Spain)
(10 December 2015; Salamanca 24 Horas)
Several people broke in, bound the manager, and stole sacred art

Misstanke: IS-stulen konst i Sverige (Suspicion: IS-stolen art in Sweden; Switzerland, Syria)
(6 December 2015; Aftonbladet)
Unsupported statements that IS-looted antiquities are ending up in Sweden; such statements help no one.

Art collector tried to sell fake prints at Sotheby’s to fund Brazilian lover’s visa (UK)
(7 December 2015; The Telegraph)
Sheridan Tandy tried to flog the fakes at various high profile auction houses.

Sea god statue set to make welcome return (UK)
(11 December 2015; News Letter)
This if after the odd theft of the Manannán Mac Lir, which sustained damage.

Banksy’s sculpture ‘The Drinker’ is returned ten years after it was stolen by art activists but they have added their own special twist and scrawled `Take the p***’ on its plinth’ (UK)
(12 December 2015; The Daily Mail)
“The Drinker statue was stolen by the ‘arto-politico humourist’ group Art Kieda”

Report: Paintings stolen from Hoorn museum surfaces in Ukraine (Ukraine, Netherlands)
(7 December 2015; NL Times)
Paintings from the Westfries Museum in Horn stolen in 2005 appear to have surfaced in the hands of militant in Ukraine.

Stolen Dutch paintings offered for sale by Ukrainian militia (Ukraine, Netherlands)
(7 December 2015; The Guardian)
“A hoard of stolen Dutch golden age paintings is being offered for sale by an ultra-nationalist militia in Ukraine.”

Stolen Art Hampers Ukraine’s EU Progress (Ukraine, Netherlands)
(9 December 2015; Bloomberg)
Another piece on the stolen Westfries Museum artworks.

Ukraine Jumps Into Stolen Dutch Paintings Mystery With Eye To Referendum (Ukraine, Netherlands)
(11 December 2015; Radio Free Europe)
Thinking about this alleged surfacing of stolen Dutch paintings in Ukraine with an eye to a EU-focused referendum.

Art Law: French Judgment Against Expert in Max Ernst Forgery Case Set Aside (France)
(10 December 2015; Dispute Resolution in Germany)
More on the Werner Spies case.

L’historien d’art Werner Spies innocenté dans l’affaire du faux Max Ernst (Art Historian Werner Spies acquitted in case of fake Max Ernst; France)
(10 December 2015; Le Monde)
The former director of the musée national d’art moderne-Centre Pompidou was being sued by a company that bought a fake that he authenticated.


Indigenous objects return to Australia in new exhibition (Australia, UK)
(7 December 2015; Australian Geographic)
New Australian law prevents claims on allegedly-stolen Indigenous artefacts that are on loan from the British Museum.

Man admits stealing Maori artefacts (New Zealand)
(9 December 2015; Hawke’s Bay Today)
The 13 greenstone and 1 whalebone artefacts were taken from a house near Hastings.

South and East Asia

BJP Demands CBI Probe Into Kapilash Idols Loot Incident (India)
(7 December 2015; The New Indian Express)
“Three idols were stolen from the 12th Century temple”

Theft raises security concerns in temple village (India)
(7 December 2015; Times of India)
An ornament was stolen from the head of the goddess Mauliksha in Maluti

Break-in at heritage temple: Maluti goddess loses gold eyeballs, jewellery (India)
(7 December 2015; The Telegraph)
More on the theft at Maluti. Gold eyes, a head ornament, and a trident were taken.

Kapoor moves HC seeking to quash transfer of trial against him (India)
(7 December 2015; Business Standard)
Kapoor understandably would not like to have his antiquities smuggling trial moved to Madras High Court.

Antique racket behind vandalism? (India)
(11 December 2015; The Times of India)
Police thing an antiquities theft gang is behind recent thefts at Bishnupur.

डहरे वाले मंदिर से पार्वती व गणेश की मूर्ति चोरी (Parvati and Ganesh idol stolen from a temple; India)
(12 December 2015; Rajasthan Patrika)
The sculptures, stolen in the village of Jgina, Rajasthan, were stolen in the afternoon.

Cops find Jain idol in ditch (India)
(6 December 2015; The Telegraph)
The very large idol was found dumped in a field.

Mahavira idol theft: Prime suspect arrested (India)
(10 December 2015; Two Circles)
Police say that a local gangster with an extensive criminal record was behind the idol theft.

ICE agents to return 120-million-year-old micro-raptor to China (China, USA)
(9 December 2015; Houston Chronicle)
Several artefacts were also returned.

ICE returns ancient dinosaur fossil, ancient cultural artifacts to China (China)
(10 December 2015; ICE)
The official ICE release on this artefact and fossil return.

Dutch collector puts conditions on stolen Buddha statue’s return to China (China, Netherlands)
(8 December 2015; ECNS)
Basically, fella wants cash.

Villagers reject mummy conditions (China, Netherlands)
(11 December 2015; Shanghai Daily)
The conditions, which include the collector being paid for the stolen piece, were understandably not acceptable. Getting paid even though you were foolish enough to buy looted antiquities…

West and Central Asia

Syrian antiquities chief says Turkey refuses to return looted art (Syria, Turkey)
(11 December 2015; Reuters)
Interesting accusations. Turkey denies it. Antiquities don’t magically move in a political vacuum. They are pawns in this.

Syrian woman faces 12 years in jail for ‘smuggling ancient coins’ (Turkey, Sweden)
(9 December 2015; Hurriyet Daily News)
The woman was on her way to Stockholm with the 173 coins.

In Other News

Apsara Acts on Koh Ker Logging (Cambodia)
(7 December 2015; Khmer Times)
Long hit by looting, the site of Koh Ker also faces illegal logging.

Ask Flipped: Where Should I Hang My Stolen Artwork? (General)
(10 December 2015; Curbed)
Some actual advice on where to hang your less than legal artwork.

Two metal detecting friends fall out over which of them discovered a haul of 1,600 Roman coins worth £8,000 buried beneath a remote field (UK)
(7 December 2015; The Daily Mail)
Metal detecting drama.