Culture crime news 12–18 December 2016


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This week’s Culture Crime News was compiled by Ryan Casey.


Amid regional instability and rising demand, a historic agreement could protect priceless cultural artifacts (Egypt, USA)
(6 December 2016; PBS)
With the new MOU, the burden of proof is on the seller, rather than the country of origin, of an object to prove it was not looted and to have its documented provenance.

Egypt antiquities ministry receives two stolen Islamic-era lamps from UAE (Egypt, UAE)
(15 December 2016; Ahram Online)
The lamps were stolen from the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in 2015 and replaced with replicas by the thieves.

How Egypt intends to stop sale of its relics around the world (Egypt)
(11 December 2016; Al Monitor)
Egypt is taking a more proactive approach to combat the trafficking and sale of looted objects, starting with the new MOU between the US and Egypt to restrict the export of archaeological objects originating from Egypt.

Repatriating the Past: Filling the Holes in Egypt’s History Left by Looting (Egypt)
(12 December 2016; Heritage Daily)
“These artifacts being trafficked out of Egypt to be sold on the international antiquities market are not simply a few coins smuggled in the bags or pockets of individuals (although that happens too). These are large scale items which take immense effort and resources to move under the radar, often making their way through transit countries like Israel, Qatar, and the UAE, or to major market regions like the U.S., U.K., and Western Europe.”

Mali declares archaeological emergency (Mali)
(14 December 2016; Financial Times)
In partnership with ICOM, Mali has created a “red list” of artefacts believed to be looted and exported out of the country, with the hope that Customs and border authorities around the world will help in identifying and returning the stolen cultural items.

As Artist’s Murder Trial Drags On, Display of His Work Sparks Uproar (South Africa)
(13 December 2016; Hyperallergic)
The work of artist Zwelethu Mthethwa, who is still on trial for the murder of a female escort, was included in an art exhibit for the empowerment of women.


Guelph police looking for man who stole art from downtown cafe (Canada)
(13 December 2016; Guelph Mercury Tribune)
Police are making a public appeal for information about a piece of hanging art that was stolen from a cafe in Ontario back in July. A description of the suspect and CCTV footage of the robbery is available.

Two Dutch Old Masters returned to estate of Jewish dealer Max Stern (Canada)
(12 December 2016; The Art Newspaper)
The Max Stern Foundation will be receiving two more paintings recovered by German authorities that had been confiscated from Max Stern by the Nazis.

Nazi-looted paintings belonging to Montrealer Max Stern recovered (Canada)
(13 December 2016; Montreal Gazette)
Two paintings consigned in Germany have been returned to the Max Stern Art Restitution Project (launched by Concordia, McGill, and Hebrew University) in Canada which has so far seen 15 successful repatriations.

Montreal project helps solve issue around recovering Nazi-stolen art (Canada)
(16 December 2016; The Globe and Mail)
“This week’s restitution ceremony was “entirely atypical” says Epstein, because its two Dutch Masters paintings were returned thanks to unprecedented co-operation of two auction houses: Metz in Heidelberg and Stahl in Hamburg. In part this is because the German art trade is shadowing the lead of international auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s, which realized more than a decade ago that selling objects with a tainted provenance is ethically questionable and a potential public-relations disaster.”

Restituyen al gobierno mexicano 12 piezas arqueológicas incautadas en Italia (12 archaeological pieces seized in Italy are returned to the Mexican government; Mexico, Italy)
(14 December 2016; Periodico el Despertar)
A dozen pre-Hispanic items were seized by the Carabinieri and returned to the Mexican embassy as per the 1970 UNESCO convention.

Queens Man Charged In Manhattan Federal Court With Sale Of Artwork Stolen From Prominent New York Collection (USA)
(9 December 2016; United States Department of Justice)
Leon Zinder has been charged for the theft of art from his employer and intention to sell them at a Manhattan flea market.

Lawsuit over Cady Noland’s Log Cabin dismissed (USA)
(12 December 2016; The Art Newspaper)
After the artist disowned the work following unauthorised changes, a collector who purchased the piece only received a partial refund after returning it to the Michael Janssen Gallery. The collector then went on to sue the gallery as well as the independent art adviser who advised the buyer in the first place but was dismissed in court.

Reclaiming Nazi-Looted Art Is About to Get Easier (USA)
(12 December 2016; Smithsonian)
Now that the HEAR Act has passed through Congress and is expected to be signed into law by President Obama, claimants in the United States will have a nationally standardized and longer statute of limitations to time their legal claims for Nazi-confiscated art.

The Local Man Who Native Americans Call “The Ancient One,” Will Finally Get a Proper Burial (USA)
(13 December 2016; Willamette Week)
“The passage comes as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, which states that the Corps of Engineers ‘must transfer the human remains known as Kennewick Man or the Ancient One to the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation on the condition that it dispose of and repatriate the remains to the Indian tribes.”‘

Pa. man allegedly stole Nazi memorabilia from Canfield veterans museum (USA)
(13 December 2016;
A suspect has been arrested for a series of thefts from the American Legion War Vet Museum in Pennsylvania. Though the German army memorabilia was estimated to be worth almost $3,500, he admitted to selling them on Craigslist for a total of $380.

Piece of Art Stolen from Mahopac Public Library Gallery (USA)
(13 December 2016; The Examiner News)
Following the theft of an unframed watercolour piece of art from the Mahopac Public Library, Carmel police are appealing to the public for information about two potential witnesses who were confirmed by CCTV footage to be nearby during the time of the theft.

Heritage Auction House Sues Christie’s and Collectrium Over Data Theft (USA)
(13 December 2016; Artnet News)
Heritage Auction House discovered a spider (data-stealing software) on their website in July and traced it back to a product development director at Collectrium.

Degas or Dud? What You Can Do if the Artwork You Bought Is a Fake (USA)
(14 December 2016; Daily Business Review)
A litigation shareholder at a law firm in Miami offers advice for how to consult lawyers when purchasing art, how to conduct due diligence, and how to file claims for inauthentic pieces.

You Can Own the San Francisco Home of Imprisoned Art Swindler Luke Brugnara for $19.7 Million (USA)
(14 December 2016; Artnet News)
Brugnara was a real-estate investor involved in an $11m art scam where he would have valuable pieces delivered to his house and then refuse to pay.

Art by Robert Gentile, Stephen Bunyard Stolen at Phoenix Festival of the Arts (USA)
(14 December 2016; Phoenix New Times)
Murals and photographs were stolen during the festival, whose proceeds would have gone to medical bills for a young girl’s cancer treatment. Luckily, a GoFundMe page was set up to make up for the lost donations from the stolen art.

University of Evansville Painting Stolen (USA)
(14 December 2016;
The painting, from the James Dicke collection, was stolen from the UE School of Business, though the suspects have been captured on CCTV.

Man arrested for stealing Ali Center painting reportedly said he thought it was a gift shop poster (USA)
(14 December 2016; WDRB)
The suspect confessed to his probation officer that he believed the painting was just a poster left behind by a shopper. However, it is unknown whether he tried to mail it back to the Ali Center or hid it near his home in Philadelphia.

Hawaii’s ‘Cursed’ Lava Rocks Are Driving National Park Staff Insane (USA)
(16 December 2016; Motherboard)
“While the cautionary tale might seem harmless—even staving off klepto behaviour (I grew up in Hawaiʻi and remember being warned about Pele’s intolerance for thieves)—some residents loathe the myth for being culturally appropriative—an “ethnic” story that fits with outsiders’ desires to test the will of gods with whom they have no connection.”

Have You Seen These Stolen Hearst Family Heirlooms? (USA)
(16 December 2016; JCK)
A number of valuable jewels were taken from the Hearst family during a break-in. The family is making a public appeal because the items taken were to rare and valuable which makes them identifiable.

Man linked to $500M art heist getting mental evaluation (USA)
(16 December 2016; Myrtle Beach Online)
Robert Gentile, the last living suspect in the famous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, is undergoing testing to see if he is still competent to stand trial.

‘Close friend’ accused of stealing $1.4 million worth of artist Pat Trivigno’s paintings (USA)
(15 December 2016; The New Orleans Advocate)
The suspect was a tenant and close to the family, who claims she borrowed the 14 paintings for her own photography.

Tenant accused of $1.4 million artwork theft from widow of painter Pat Trivigno (USA)
(15 December 2016; Nola)
The suspect was a tenant living in the guest house of the Trivigno’s New Orleans property who claimed to only be borrowing the art for personal photography.

Bill protecting works of art lent by foreign institutions passes US Senate (USA)
(13 December 2016; The Art Newspaper)
This legislation is an example of narrow-minded repatriation goals, which too heavily emphasize on Nazi-confiscated art and neglect to recognise other eras of history (such as the Bolshevik Revolution) where stolen artwork will now be protected from seizure and repatriation by American agencies.

Did Russia meddle in recent US art theft legislation? (USA, Russia)
(16 December 2016; The Times of Israel)
The bill would provide immunity for art pieces on loan inside the US in the case of repatriation claims. Some think it has been influenced by the director of a museum in St. Petersburg.


Nude Performance Artist Deborah de Robertis Defends Herself in French Court (France)
(14 December 2016; Artnet News)
The artist was arrested after putting on two performances in Parisian museums without permission. However, the artist is fighting with a lawsuit for artistic censorship.

Employé du muséum d’histoire naturelle d’Orléans, il revendait des pierres et fossiles sur eBay (Employee of the natural history museum of Orléans, he resold stones and fossils on eBay; France)
(16 December 2016; La République)
A staff member of the natural history museum blames his poor judgement, that led to his stealing museum items, was because of his divorce.

Verdict upheld for elderly French couple who hid Picasso works in garage (France)
(16 December 2016; France 24)
One of the suspects claims to be an old family friend of Picasso’s and was given the art by the artist himself.

The Tech behind Bitcoin Could Help Artists and Protect Collectors. So Why Won’t They Use It? (Germany)
(16 December 2016; Artsy)
“But for McConaghy and other curators, artists and collectors, blockchain has incredible potential in the art world as a means of verifying authenticity, enhancing traceability, and improving the security of art market transactions. Last year, McConaghy founded, a startup that lets artists register their work into the blockchain, creating “a permanent and unbreakable” link between the artist and their work.”

Bavaria to get back tapestry taken by GI from Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (Germany, USA)
(15 December 2016; The Japan Times)
The tapestry from Hitler’s estate will be returned to Germany at the Bavarian National Museum in Munich from a private home in Minneapolis.

Tapestry returning to Germany (Germany, USA)
(17 December 2016; The Durango Herald)
The Dallas-based Monuments Men Foundation’s Robert Edsel investigated the provenance of the tapestry so it could be returned to its rightful owner.

Gardaí seize rare cup made from rhino horn in raid (Ireland)
(15 December 2016; Irish Examiner)
During a raid of the Rathkeale Rovers Traveller gang in Limerick, Gardaí recovered rhino horn items which the gang was known for stealing abroad.

Napoleon’s pillaged works of art on show in Rome (Italy)
(17 December 2016; Shanghai Daily)
An exhibition in Rome is presenting the ‘The Universal Museum’, which was the works collected by Napoleon for the ideal museum he hoped to have in Paris.

Luxembourg Freeport Director David Arendt Quits (Luxembourg)
(16 December 2016; Artnet News)
The director of the Luxembourg Freeport is stepping down at the end of 2016. Though his reason is not given, it may be related to the various legal investigations the freeport has been linked to since it opened in 2014.

Crimean gold must go back to Ukraine, says Dutch court (Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine)
(14 December 2016; BBC News)
Due to the laws of sovereignty, a court in Amsterdam has decided to return objects borrowed from a Crimean museum to Ukraine and not directly back to Crimea which has been since annexed by Russia.

Crimea’s Scythian Treasures Become Political Football (Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine)
(14 December 2016; Argophilia)
There are various political and jurisdictional debates over the home destination of an exhibit in Amsterdam called ‘The Crime: Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea’ with Russia and Ukraine vying for a claim to the Scythian treasure.

New Exhibition Shows Poland Using Jewish Gravestones to Build Walls, Sidewalks, Playgrounds (Poland, USA)
(13 December 2016; Jewish Press)
Poland’s role in the Holocaust will continue to be remembered as a photography exhibit in an American Holocaust museum opens soon that will document the Polish government’s erasure and censorship tactics to minimise its role in World War II and the Holocaust.

Young artists involved in creating Stik mural in Gdansk call for its return (Poland, UK)
(14 December 2016; The Art Newspaper)
The piece was removed from Stik and ended up in a London gallery for sale without the permission of the artists.

Pasadena trial focuses on Nazi-looted masterpiece (Spain, USA)
(12 December 2016; Jewish Journal)
As the Cassirer family and their team of lawyers prepare to go to court against the Spanish Thyssen museum, it should be understood that both sides actually agree the work was taken from the Cassirers by the Nazi regime. The argument is over the fact that the Spanish state has housed it for so many years, they feel it rightfully belongs in the museum – a museum that happens to be named after a Nazi financier.

A Spanish museum may have the legal right to keep art stolen by the Nazis. That doesn’t mean it should (Spain, USA)
(14 December 2016; Los Angeles Times)
The Cassirer family is taking on the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid over the return of a painting confiscated by the Nazis during World War II. However, the museum seems to be protected by Spanish law and refuses to return the painting to its rightful heirs.

Returning stolen art to its rightful owner is also about restoring dignity (Spain, USA)
(17 December 2016; The Los Angeles Times)
Due to jurisdictional issues, the returning of the Cassirer’s painting from the Thyssen-Bornemisza is most likely not going to happen, as the law favours the Spanish government.

Gericht: Gurlitts Testament ist gültig (Court: Gurlitt’s will is valid; Switzerland, Germany)
(15 December 2016; Monopol)
The Court of First Instance in Munich has decided that Gurlitt’s will stands, despite protests from his family members that he was not in a fit mental state. Due to the decision of the court, his art collection of many Nazi-confiscated artworks will go to the Bern Art Museum.

Pip McGarry paintings worth £160k stolen from Marwell Zoo (UK)
(13 December 2016; BBC News)
The artist’s gallery within the Marwell Zoo where he has been an artist-in-resident for more than 17 years was robbed of ten oil paintings and a pencil sketch.

Have Bremoaners stolen Bojo’s Polish portrait? Painting of the Foreign Secretary goes missing from London club (UK)
(14 December 2016; Daily Mail)
Though the author of this piece only considers it an alternative theory, it seems most likely that the painting of Boris Johnson was removed from the Polish Club for politically-motivated reasons.

Suspected fraudster denies swindling elderly out of £650,000 worth of antiques (UK)
(16 December 2016; Antiquities Trade Gazette)
Promising to clean the antiques for his elderly victims, Daniel Clelland was stealing items and profits worth about £650,000.


Minister Looking to Add “A Bit of Colour” to His Office Accidentally Finds Missing $150,000 Aboriginal Artwork (Australia)
(14 December 2016; Vice)
The Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri missing artwork was found by the NT tourism chief in the basement of the NT tourism office.

South and East Asia

Kohinoor wasn’t gifted but looted by British, say authors (India, UK)
(11 December 2016; The Economic Times)
“Dalrymple told IANS in an interview that the most famous diamond, now in the Tower of London, ‘is a symbol of looting of colonial times'”.

सुपौल: मंदिर से अष्टधातु की बहुमूल्य मूर्तियां चुरा ले गए चोर (Theft in Ramjanki temple in Supaul, three valuable sculptures stolen; India)
(13 December 2016; Live Hindustan)
After a Monday night prayer service, someone broke the locks to the Ramjanki temple in Supaul and stole three ancient statues. The priest reported the incident the next morning upon discovery.

Police crack temple theft case, two held (India)
(13 December 2016; City Today)
After a year-long investigation, Bylakuppe police have arrested two suspects for the theft of an idol of Goddess Lakshmi from a local temple.

Not allowed to pray, man steals Shivalinga (India)
(13 December 2016; The Times of India)
The suspect in custody broke into the temple and hid the statue under a bridge after being denied permission to offer prayer in a way the local authorities did not approve. The suspect has a history of desecrating statues in the area.

Jain idol found broken in Rajgir temple (India)
(18 December 2016; The Times of India)
The idol was dropped and damaged during its theft from the Rajgir temple.

Filipino photographer’s pagoda shoot prompts Facebook fury (Myanmar)
(13 December 2016; Mayanmar Times)
Without permission from the local Archaeology Department, a photographer took photos of a Buddhist sacred site in Bagan that locals found offensive after seeing it on social media.

West and Central Asia

Hundreds of Historic Texts Hidden in ISIS-Occupied Monastery (Iraq)
(16 December 2016; Live Science)
Though the Islamic State damaged and destroyed parts of the Christian monastery, the texts were hidden away and salvaged.

Iraqis Mourn Destruction of Ancient City of Nimrud: ISIS ‘Tried to Destroy the Identity of Iraq’ (Iraq)
(11 December 2016; NBC)
A local archaeologist estimates 60% of Nimrud has been destroyed by the Islamic State.

UNESCO Director General sends rapid assessment mission to the Nimrud archaeological site in Iraq (Iraq)
(14 December 2016; UNESCO)
“The objective of the mission was to assess the overall state of conservation of the site, in particular the extent of damage resulting from the deliberate destruction by ISIL/Daesh over the past 2 years.”

UN seeks protection for ancient Nimrud site wrecked by IS (Iraq)
(14 December 2016; The Republic)
UNESCO representatives visited Nimrud following the departure of the Islamic State from the area since they took over the ancient city in 2014. A local archaeologist claims there may still be artefacts buried (intact) beneath the rubble which is why the area still needs protection.

Three looters busted plundering ancient tomb in Galilee (Israel)
(14 December 2016; The Times of Israel)
IAA theft prevention officers caught three tomb raiders in the act of looting from an ancient and sacred site that was once the village of Mishkena from the Talmud.

Palmyra: IS retakes ancient Syrian city (Syria)
(11 December 2016; BBC News)
It seems the Islamic State has strategically set it sights on retaking Palmyra now that Assad’s forces are focusing on Aleppo.

U.S. sues to recover ancient Syrian artifacts looted by Islamic State (Syria, USA)
(15 December 2016; Reuters)
The lawsuit is hoped to signal to the American art market that buyers should beware the provenance of items they are purchasing, as they could be financing illegal activities and organizations like the Islamic State.