Culture crime news 26 September–2 October 2016


Hot this week: Hello mafioso’s Van Goghs

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The United Nations Doubles Down on Protecting Cultural Sites
(27 September 2016; Diplomatic Courier)
“Safeguarding cultural property that combatants aim to damage encompasses part of larger endeavors to defend human rights and universal values, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week, calling on the international community to intensify efforts to protect such treasures and end their illicit trafficking.”


For First Time, Destruction Of Cultural Sites Leads To War Crime Conviction (Mali)
(27 September 2016; NPR)
“Ahmed al-Faqi al-Mahdi has been sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in the destruction of nine mausoleums and the door of a mosque in the Malian city of Timbuktu”

Benin City: A Stunning Metropolis Annihilated By the British Empire (Nigeria)
(25 September 2016; New Historian)
A spectacular place lost to pillage and imperialism.


Man pleads guilty in New Brunswick Museum plaque theft case (Canada)
(28 September 2016; CBC)
“The four plaques were cut into small pieces with the dates ground off, then taken to a scrap metal yard. “

Denuncian corrupción en parques arqueológicos (Corruption at archaeological sites denounced; Guatemala)
(27 September 2016; El Periódico)
Thousands of quetzales appear to have been stolen from the intake from Quirigua, Kaminaljuyú, Iximché, and Zaculeu.

Se roban una virgen en municipio de Ocotepeque (Virgin stolen from the municipality of Ocotepeque; Honduras)
(30 September 2016; Tiempo)
The theft, from a church in the town of Santa Fe, was caught on camera

Roban campana en Huichapan (Bell stolen in Huichapan; Mexico)
(25 September 2016; El Sol de Hidalgo)
The large bell was taken from the church of the community of Zamorano

Saquean con trascabo tumbas prehispánicas en Totimehuacan (Prehispanic tombs at Titimehuacan looted with bulldozer; Mexico)
(28 September 2016; Intolerancia Diario)
Looting and encroachment at the site of San Francisco Totimehuacan

Mexico returns remains of US soldiers from 1846 war (Mexico, USA)
(29 September 2016; BBC News)
“The remains were found during building works in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey in 2011.”

Advierten saqueo y daño a patrimonio arqueológico en Zanatepec (Averting looting and damage to archaeological heritage in Zanatepec; Mexico)
(1 October 2016; Istmo Press)
“People without identity, history, and memory are doomed to failure” said a group pushing for preservation.

Roban corona de Virgen de la Asunción (Crown of the Virgen de la Asunción stolen; Mexico)
(30 September 2016; El Universal)
The piece, blessed by John Paul II, was taken from Cupilco, Comacalco

Es un sacrilegio: Diócesis (Mexico)
(1 October 2016; Tabasco Hou)
The value of the crowns stolen from the Virgin of the Assumption is spiritual, not financial.

New York Congressman Co-Sponsors Bill to Save Stolen Holocaust Art (USA)
(27 September 2016; JP Updates)
Jerrold Nadler is one of the co-sponsors of the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act

Police: Ex-girlfriend stole $10 million in art from Lantana home (USA)
(28 September 2016; Palm Beach Post)
It is unclear exactly what was stolen or how much it is worth.

Feds ‘Paying a Lot of Attention’ to International Repatriations; Is It Enough? (USA)
(28 September 2016; Indian Country Today)
Reporting on an internal conference on the repatriation of Native cultural options.

Met Picasso Belonged to Family That Fled Nazis, Suit Says (USA)
(30 September 2016; The New York Times)
According to the suit the former owner of The Actor sold the piece in 1938 Italy under duress to Paris art dealers Hugo Perls and Paul Rosenberg. The Met denies the sale was made under duress.

US-France court battle tied to Picasso comes to a head (USA, France)
(30 September 2016; Art Daily)
“A French family holding rights to photographs of Pablo Picasso’s artwork won a major victory against an American art editor in US federal court this week, in a 20-year legal battle that has outlived the plaintiff.”

Mobster said to know location of art in biggest US heist near death, attorney says (USA)
(1 October 2016; The Guardian)
The suspect in the Gardner Heist “has repeatedly denied knowing the whereabouts of any of the art taken”.

No deathbed confession in Gardner heist (USA)
(1 October 2016; The Boston Globe)
“But there’s no paintings,” said the dying man…


Cyprus to spearhead war on illicit trafficking of cultural property (Cyprus)
(26 September 2016; Famagusta Gazette)
They want to “kick-start a new criminal law convention to combat illicit trafficking in cultural property. “

Vandalism of Dirty Corner sculpture at Versailles an ‘inside job’, claims Kapoor (France)
(28 September 2016; The Art Newspaper)
‘He described the response of officials at Versailles as “pathetic” and added: “I believe [the vandalism] was an inside job.”’

Judge ‘Stupefied’ by Arguments on Day One of Wildenstein Tax Fraud Trial (France)
(27 September 2016; ArtNet News)
Upon the death of dealer Daniel Wildenstein, his heirs are charged with tax fraud regarding money and painting held in trusts.

Trial Offers Rare View of Wildenstein Family and Fortune (France)
(30 September 2016; The New York Times)
Guy Wildenstein, the billionaire international art dealer, is “fending off questions about inheritance taxes and a maze of financial trusts that a French judge described as part of the family’s DNA.”

Cologne to return Menzel drawing sold in 1939 to Hildebrand Gurlitt (Germany)
(27 September 2016; The Art Newspaper)
The piece was purchased by art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt in 1939 from a woman who fled Nazi Germany because she had a Jewish husband.

Lawful Heir of Artworks Looted by Gestapo Files Lawsuit in DC Federal Court (Germany)
(28 September 2016; The Jewish Voice)
Toren, 91, is suing Germany for the return of his uncle’s Nazi-looted work or their present value (in excess of $10 million)

Cultural Property Protection Law Comes Under Fire in Germany (Germany)
(29 September 2016; The New York Times)
An article quoting only critics of Kulturgutschutzgesetz which nearly every expert who seeks to stop the illicit trafficking of antiquities really likes.

When Art Thieves Target Treasures In Churches (Germany)
(30 September 2016; World Crunch)
“Aware they are facing a new challenge, churches have decided to take action incorporating theft prevention when planning refurbishments and new buildings.”

Neue Galerie Returns Painting Seized by Nazis and Then Rebuys It in Settlement (Germany)
(27 September 2016; The New York Times)
The agreement is over “Nude” (1914) by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

Anita Halpin among beneficiaries of Neue Galerie restitution (Germany)
(28 September 2016; The Art Newspaper)
The former chair of the Communist Party of Britain is among the artwork heirs to benefit from this Nazi-era restitution.

New International Group to Amp Up Parthenon Marbles Reunification Campaign (Greece, UK)
(26 September 2016; Greek Reporter)
There is a new board for the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

Van Gogh paintings stolen from Amsterdam found in Italy (Italy, Netherlands)
(29 September 2016; BBC News)
The pieces were stolen from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam in 2002 and though there were convictions, the art was only found now.

Here’s Why Art Thieves Steal Paintings They Can’t Sell (Italy, Netherlands)
(30 September 2016; NBC)
Ex FBI agent Robert Wittman talks about why the Van Goghs recovered in Italy were not so easily fenced.

Ulay vs. Marina Abramović: How the epic legal battle between art-world giants went down (Netherlands)
(25 September 2016; Salon)
A review of this case by Noah Charney and Edgar Tijuis

Peeved Protester Throws Pee at Censored Photo Show in Moscow (Russia)
(28 September 2016; Hyperallergic)
State officials have also called Jock Sturges’ images of nude girls “propaganda of pedophilia”

Russian collector repatriates 17th-century icon to Yaroslavl church (Russia, Italy)
(30 September 2016; The Art Newspaper)
The pieces ‘surfaced’ in a Venice gallery in 1995.

Un tapiz robado multiplica por diez su precio tras ‘perder’ el nombre (A stolen tapestry that’s price multiplied by ten after ‘losing’ its name.; Spain)
(25 September 2016; Publico)
The piece was taken from the cathedral of Pirineo in 1979.

Una carta anónima desvela el robo de cuatro campanas en la Casa del Chavo (An anonymous letter reveals the theft of four bells from the Casa del Chavo C; Spain)
(27 September 2016; Las Provincias)
The police say the theft had not been reported by the building’s managers for 16 years.

Desarticulada una banda que vendía arte religioso robado (Gang that sold stolen religious art busted; Spain)
(29 September 2016; Periodista Digital)
Four people were arrested and two houses were searched in Burgos leading to the seizure of stolen sacred art.

Guardia Civil break up gang stealing valuable church antiques (Spain)
(30 September 2016; EuroWeekly)
Nearly 200 pieces were recovered, some of which were damaged in an attempt to hide their origins.

Spanish thieves find easy source of loot: unprotected churches (Spain)
(30 September 2016; El País)
“Rural churches are weak points: in a village with very few residents, nobody ever hears a thing”

Joint police and council taskforce hunts for metal thieves in Radlett (UK)
(27 September 2016; The Herts Advertiser)
“Police and heritage experts joined together in a coordinated enforcement operation” to halt metal theft from historic churches.

‘Moriarty of the Old Master’ pulls off the art crime of the century: Market in crisis as experts warn £200m of paintings could be fakes (UK, Liechtenstein)
(1 October 2016; The Daily Mail)
Sotheby’s has had to take back a fake Hals and the suspicious Cranach owned by the Prince of Liechtenstein is mentioned with intimations that they are by the same forger.


Dancing Shiva: National Gallery of Australia should get $11m compensation for stolen statue, court rules (Australia, India)
(27 September 2016; ABC Australia)
The money is meant to come from Kapoor but, of course, they are unlikely to see any of it.

Five stolen Tamil Nadu idols in Oz on radar for return (Australia, India)
(1 October 2016; The Times of India)
The article notes that it took 2 years to negotiate the return of the last idol from the National Gallery of Australia so these might take a while.

India takes possession of stolen 12th-century Brahma sculpture (Australia, India)
(1 October 2016; Eastern Eye)
The returned piece will go back to the World Heritage Site in Gujarat that it was taken from.

I firmly believe it will make its way back, says gallery owner whose pounamu was stolen (New Zealand)
(30 September 2016;
The man who stole the Maori carvings has been convicted but not all of the pieces have been recovered.

South and East Asia

Dakshina Kannada district police nab five-member inter-state gang of temple thieves (India)
(26 September 2016; The Times of India)
The gang specifically targeted temples with poor security and without CCTV.

Karkala: Thieves steal ornaments worth lacs from temple at Hebri (India)
(28 September 2016; Daijiworld)
Gold ornaments were taken from Durga Annapoorneshwari temple at Hebri

Temple looted (India)
(29 September 2016; The Hindu)
A silver idol of Marikamba was among the things stolen from from Sri Marikamba Temple in Nagara village in Hosanagar taluk, Karnataka

India recovers 12th century Brahma sculpture (India, UK)
(29 September 2016; Hindustan Times)
The piece was stolen from Gujarat in 2001 and was located in London in 2015.

Four Panchaloha idols stolen from temple (India)
(1 October 2016; Web India 123)
“The burglars also attacked the watchman who prevented them from entering the temple.”

Theft in Hebri temple (India)
(29 September 2016; The Hindu)
Gold ornaments of the deity were stolen from Sri Annapurneshwari Temple, Kabbinale village, Udupi district.

राम जानकी मंदिर से करोड़ों की अष्टधातु मूर्तियां चोरी (Ashtdhatu idol theft in Gorakhpur; India)
(30 September 2016; EENadu)
Idols of Ram, Lakshaman, Sita, and Hanuman were taken and the theft was detected when a caretaker noticed a broken lock.

West and Central Asia

A guardian of Syria’s imperiled cultural heritage (Syria)
(29 September 2016; eKathimerini)
A feature on Professor Emeritus Giota Asimakopoulou-Atzaka

Why the Terrorist Who Destroyed Palmyra Won’t Face Justice (Syria)
(29 September 2016; The New York Times)
“Will the court now prosecute members of the Taliban or the Islamic State for similar war crimes? The likely answer is no. “

In Other News

Revealed: how senior Laos officials cut deals with animal traffickers (Laos)
(27 September 2016; The Guardian)
A must read concerning high level corruption and wildlife trafficking.

New California Law Will Make Signed Books & Art Harder to Sell (USA)
(29 September 2016; Fine Books Magazine)
The new law required all autographed material to be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.