Culture crime news 6–12 June 2016


Hot this week: More idols seized, more idols returned.

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Have a look at the Culture Crime News media database.


Who owns ancient artefacts?
(8 June 2016; Al Jazeera)
A news segment featuring Peter Stewart, Nadia Banteka, and Amr Al Azm.


Egypt Dismisses ‘ISIS Threat to Blow Up Pyramids’ (Egypt)
(8 June 2016; Egyptian Streets)
Egyptian ministers don’t see such talk as credible or realistic, but the article notes the recent bombing at Luxor.

Lobengula Spear, Artefacts Stolen (Zimbabwe)
(9 June 2016; Zim Eye)
The pieces which belonged to the last Ndebele King were taken from the historic site of Old Bulawayo.

King Lobengula stolen ‘golden spear’ a replica (Zimbabwe)
(12 June 2016; Bulawayo 24)
A theft from a museum is still upsetting, but these were props, not artefacts.


Buen Pastor: “Robaron las obras y se pintaron murales falsos” (Buen Pastor: Artworks stolen and fake murals painted; Argentina)
(6 June 2016; CBA 24)
It appears as if the real paintings were stolen from the church sometime between 1966 and 1973.

Denuncias de INAH por ataques a zonas arqueológicas del estado (INAH criticised over attacks to archaeological sites in the state; Mexico)
(9 June 2016; Criterio)
At least 4 investigations have been made this past year into looting in Hidalgo.

Non-profit for late caricaturist Al Hirschfeld sues NY gallery (USA)
(8 June 2016; Metro)
The Al Hirschfeld Foundation is ending association with Margo Feiden but the lawsuit itself is sealed so it is unclear why.

U.S. Museums Trying to Keep Jewish Artwork Stolen By Nazis (USA)
(8 June 2016; The Washington Free Beacon)
The accusation is that the museums are trying to sit out the statues of limitations on claims for pieces.

Nevada Court Says Bus-Turned-Ship for Burning Man Is Not Art (USA)
(9 June 2016; ArtNet News)
A “Nevada property owner does not owe any money to two artists for burning and scrapping a school bus they had converted into a Spanish-style galleon ship”

Bronx Museum’s Cuban Art Exhibit Delayed Amid Fears of Seizure (USA, Cuba)
(10 June 2016; DNA Info)
“The collection of state-owned art from Cuba faces the possibility of seizure in the United States, as a result of legal claims made by Americans whose property was stolen by the Fidel Castro regime after it assumed power in 1959, officials said.”


Man arrested after Bronze-Age pots found (Cyprus)
(9 June 2016; Cyprus Mail)
13 earthenware pots were found in the man’s possession in Erimi in Lamassol.

Musée Girodet: «L’eau a submergé des centaines d’œuvres d’art» (Girodet Museum: “Water has flooded hundreds of works of art”; France)
(6 June 2016; Le Figaro)
The off-site storage facility has been cleared of water but the collection is in very bad shape.

French Museum Faces “Cultural Catastrophe” After Storage Vault Floods (France)
(7 June 2016; Hyperallergic)
The Montargis-based Musée Girodet was storing items off-site in a bank vault which has flooded.

Relic of Pope John Paul II stolen from Cologne Cathedral (Germany)
(5 June 2016; Business Insider)
The stolen item is a cloth with a drop of JPII’s blood on it.

Athens Mayor to Remove City Statues for their Own Protection (Greece)
(9 June 2016; Greek Reporter)
They’ve determined that 49 statues are safe, but others in vandalism-prone areas will be replaced by casts.

Arte Ritrovata showcases recovered art (Italy)
(8 June 2016; ANSA)
The Carabineri’s museum in Rome will be hosting an exhibition of stolen and recovered art and artefacts through 3 July.

‘Stolen’ painting returns to presidential palace (Poland)
(6 June 2016; Radio Poland)
The pieces were reported missing in September and were spotted in an auction catalogue

Auschwitz Museum lost, then found 16,000 belongings of Holocaust victims (Poland)
(8 June 2016; The Christian Science Monitor)
The pieces were uncovered in 1967, catalogued, then forgotten about during Poland’s political crisis. They were re-found in the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Moscow Roadworks Damaging Archaeological Remains, Activists Say (Russia)
(6 June 2016; The Moscow Times)
The work appears to have hit the cellar of the demolished Church of St. Dmitry of Thessaloniki

Russian political artist Pyotr Pavlensky released from custody with $15,000 fine (Russia)
(8 June 2016; The Art Newspaper)
This is for setting fire to the FSB ‘heritage’ doors; he is refusing to pay.

Tricornios contra expoliadores (Tricorns Against Plunder; Spain)
(8 June 2016; Diario de León)
A look at the work of Spain’s anti-looting police unit.

Tres detenidos por 35 robos en colegios e iglesias (Three arrested for 35 robberies in schools and churches; Spain)
(9 June 2016; Europa Press)
The group would case the locations in various provinces during the day, then loot them at night.

Experts help Geneva free port crack down on stolen loot (Switzerland)
(8 June 2016; Swiss Info)
The free ports are deploying their own measures for checks as they say they can’t wait for Swiss customs to get around to it.

‘Misleading’ Modigliani Case Shows Need for Free Port Disclosure (Switzerland)
(8 June 2016; Swiss Info)
Jean-Pierre Vila, the free port’s general-secretary, is the one calling for reform of the art crime haven.

Stolen Old Masters returned to Italy after discovery by British owner (UK, Italy)
(7 June 2016; BT)
The pieces were stolen in 1994; 20 years later the good faith buyer who ended up with them checked the Art Loss Register and found they were stolen.

Whistle stolen from Museum of East Anglian Life steam engine exhibit (UK)
(9 June 2016; East Anglian Daily Times)
The brass whistle was taken from a steam engine housed outside the museum.

Revealed: how altarpiece broke in disastrous fall at London’s National Gallery (UK)
(9 June 2016; The Art Newspaper)
The piece fell from an easel overnight and the damage in 1989 was not malicious, however the museum covered it up and didn’t publicly report the accident.

British doubts over Joan of Arc’s ring (UK, France)
(9 June 2016; The Art Newspaper)
It was not removed from the UK with the proper paperwork and may not be Joan’s anyway.

PLUNDERED: Stone thefts are stripping away our heritage (UK)
(3 June 2016; Telegraph & Argus)
Historic pavements are being stolen, presumably to use the valuable and rare stone for new builds.

Archaeologists frustrated as ‘Night hawks’ swoop on East Hampshire dig (UK)
(6 June 2016; Petersfield Post)
An archaeological dig site near Clanfield has been hit by illegal metal detectorists.

South and East Asia

With New Book, Quest to Recover Stolen Battambang Statues Begins (Cambodia)
(7 June 2016; Cambodia Daily)
“The Ministry of Culture released a book on Monday of about 68 Khmer sculptures that were stolen from museums in Battambang City during decades of war and conflict”

Idol stolen in Tirupur turns out to be fake, three suspected smugglers released (India)
(6 June 2016; The Times of India)
A bad tip: the men weren’t smugglers and the idols were not ancient. One of the men was a mystic.

Mega heist at Thanjai temple (India)
(8 June 2016; The New Indian Express)
316 sovereigns of jewellery taken from the Varadharajaperumal temple in Kaarappankadu village near Madukkur

Police clueless on Thanjavur temple theft (India)
(9 June 2016; The Times of India)
The Sri Abhishta Varadharaja Perumal temple had no CCTV and their alarm didn’t function.

PM Modi’s quest to bring back cultural artefacts started in 2003 (India)
(8 June 2016; The Times of India)
Documenting the recent history of official returns of cultural property to India.

Idol trackers elated as Ganesha set to come home (India)
(8 June 2016; The Hindu)
A true team effort to identify these objects and return them to India.

How low-profile expats helped India bring back 200 ancient artifacts (India)
(8 June 2016; DNA)
“Bring Home Our Gods” is the motto of this group called the India Pride Project

The American Who Rescued The Saint (India, USA)
(8 June 2016; Swarajya)
A profile of HSI agent Brenton Easter and his role in operation Hidden Idol

Ganesh and his mother return home from US with Modi (India, USA)
(9 June 2016; India Today)
More information about Operation Hidden Idol and the return of objects on PM Modi’s official visit.

Chasing Ganeshas: Meet the art sleuths bringing India’s stolen heritage home (India)
(12 June 2016; The Times of India)
More coverage of the India Pride Project

ASI team inspects idols seized from smuggler (India)
(7 June 2016; The Times of India)
The expert team has visited the Alwarpet home of smuggler Deenadhayalan to take stock of the seized pieces.

50 more idols, paintings recovered from smuggler (India)
(12 June 2016; The New Indian Express)
What is shaping up to be a massive seizure: 50 more idols, 30 more paintings, on top of the circa 100 already seized.

Malaysian artist charged for depicting PM as clown (Malaysia)
(6 June 2016; The Daily Mail)
Fahmi Reza has apparently violated the law with his caricature

Korean Art Dealer Indicted for Forged Lee Ufan Paintings (South Korea)
(8 June 2016; ArtNet News)
Named only as Hyeon, the dealer allegedly sold $1.1 million in forged paintings.

West and Central Asia

US Returns More Than 200 Stolen Artifacts to India After Federal Investigation (India, USA)
(6 June 2016; ABC)
The amazingly successful “Operation Hidden Idol”

Daesh claims to destroy yet another ancient Iraqi temple (Iraq)
(7 June 2016; Daily Sabah)
This time the Temple of Nabu.

Palestine demands return of seized artefacts (Israel, Palestine, Jordan)
(6 June 2016; Gulf News)
The vehicle was stopped at Allenby Crossing and the arrested driver is Palestinian.

Driver smuggled antiquities in Norwegian Ambassador’s car (Israel, Palestine, Jordan)
(6 June 2016; Israel National News)
10 kg of antiquities were recovered and the driver was arrested. The Norwegian Embassy is not thought to have been involved in the smuggling.

Stolen Ottoman-era artifacts recovered in Istanbul (Turkey)
(8 June 2016; Yeni Şafak)
Police posed as buyers to bust the smugglers after the Istanbul police department received a tip.