Culture crime news 28 November–4 December 2016


Hot this week: US/Egypt antiquities relations

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This week’s Culture Crime News was compiled by the tireless Ryan Casey!


Transported porcelain artefacts are not damaged as rumoured: Egyptian antiquities ministry (Egypt)
(29 November 2016; Ahram Online)
The Minister of Antiquities confirms the 38 transported artefacts are safe, despite rumours that they had been damaged. The source or motive for the rumour is never mentioned.

Dozens of rare Islamic books seized at Cairo Airport on way to Doha authentic (Egypt, UAE)
(30 November 2016; Ahram Online)
The Seized Antiquities Unit seized the books in Cairo before they could make it to Qatar.

Secretary Kerry Signs Cultural Property Protection Agreement With Egypt (Egypt, USA)
(29 November 2016; US Department of State)
This bilateral agreement, which will reinforce the 1970 UNESCO convention, is the first cultural property agreement between the US and a Middle Eastern/North African country.

U.S., Egypt Sign Agreement to Thwart Trade in Illegal Antiquities (Egypt, USA)
(2 December 2016; National Geographic)
The ICE seizes a number of smuggled Egyptian artefacts in the US under the name Operation Mummy’s Curse.

Stolen Mummy Hand Makes Its Way Home (Egypt, USA)
(2 December 2016; Live Science)
Dubbed Operation Mummy’s Curse, US Customs seized various Egyptian artefacts at LAX including a mummified hand disguised as a movie prop. The seizure is part of a larger effort by the ICE to combat trafficking of cultural objects in the US.

Operation Mummy’s Curse returns ancient artifacts including child’s sarcophagus to Egypt (Egypt, USA)
(3 December 2016; RT)
In an Argo-like scheme, the ICE seized a mummy hand that had been disguised as a science fiction movie prop.

Is the destruction of cultural property a war crime? (Mali)
(28 November 2016; Apollo)
There is a hesitancy amongst experts to celebrate the ICC conviction of Al Mahdi for cultural heritage war crimes. Some argue it overvalues archaeological objects over that of human life while others see it as criminalizing an action that has otherwise gone unpunished.


Cuban Artist and Activist El Sexto Abducted and Detained in Cuba Following Fidel Castro’s Death (Cuba)
(27 November 2016; Miami New Times)
A controversial democracy-promoting graffiti artist, El Sexto, has been detained in a political prison in Cuba following the death of Fidel Castro.

No cesa saqueo arqueológico en la isla de Jaina (The looting of archaeology on the island of Jaina has not stopped; Mexico)
(28 November 2016; Cronica)
New-style objects from the Maya civilization are looted and smuggled between Mexico and Guatemala with ease. INAH, the organisation responsible for protecting these sites, does have the resources to combat looting.

Court Dismisses $1 Billion Copyright Claim Against Getty (USA)
(22 November 2016; PDN Pulse)
Photographer Carol Highsmith filed a suit against Getty Images for making profit from licensing her images without her consent. However, the judge dismissed many of her copyright claims because she had donated her images to the Library of Congress which made them public domain.

American Indian artist files federal civil lawsuit over new Oklahoma law (USA)
(23 November 2016; KFOR)
A new Oklahoma law is regulating what can be labelled as Native American. An artist who identifies as Native American but is now no longer recognised as such is claiming this violates her First Amendment right to free speech.

Sotheby’s Tries to Block Suit Over a Leonardo Sold and Resold at a Big Markup (USA)
(28 November 2016; The New York Times)
As part of the well-known lawsuit between Bouvier and Rybolovlev, the original dealers who sold the da Vinci painting to Bouvier (via Sotheby’s) are seeking restitution as well. They argue Sotheby’s either knew or should have known that Bouvier would go on to up-sell the painting immediately after purchasing it.

Kylie Jenner to Face Copyright Infringement Suit Over Cosmetics Imagery (USA)
(28 November 2016; The Fashion Law)
“What TMZ is missing here is that while Haggerty cannot claim infringement based on the copying of her ideas, she very may have a claim based on the copyright notion of derivative works.”

FLC students vandalize Native American ruins in Utah (USA)
(29 November 2016; The Journal)
During an overnight yoga trip, college students vandalised a ruin and posted it on social media.

Mystery at the U of A Art Museum (USA)
(30 November 2016; Tucson News Now)
A rare painting by Willem de Kooning was stolen from the University of Arizona’s Art Museum in 1985 in what was assumed to be a hired job by two people. The case remains unsolved and is under the jurisdiction of the FBI’s Art Crime Unit.

Broadway group sues women who tried to sell allegedly stolen lamp (USA)
(30 November 2016; New York Daily News)
After a mother and daughter attempted to sell a lamp, they have come under investigation for the theft of the lamp from the Belasco Theater in 1976.

Victims of Nazi Art theft need Congress to HEAR (USA)
(1 December 2016; The Hill)
The US-based Austrian Ambassador is appealing to Congress to pass the HEAR Act which would protect the rightful owners of Nazi-looted art and hasten the process of repatriation.

Austin artist out thousands of dollars after thieves steal paintings (USA)
(2 December 2016; KXAN)
An Austin-based artist kept several pieces of his work in trailer that was stolen outside of his house.

Stolen prints recovered during arrest of suspects (USA)
(2 December 2016; WOWT)
A woman, with the help of her husband, stole two Dali prints and various pieces of jewellery from her mother’s house. The thieves have been arrested and the prints recovered.

Painting sold by Jewish couple to fund their escape from Nazi Germany to America is returned to their granddaughter almost eight decades later (USA, France)
(28 November 2016; Daily Mail)
Rather than relying on claimants to come forward to authorities, France is now seeking out the rightful owners, in an effort to make repatriation more proactive.

Healing wounds, looted art reunited with Nazi victims’ heirs (USA, France)
(29 November 2016; Sun Sentinel)
“The groundbreaking initiative relies, in part, on painstaking detective work by dozens of genealogists scouring death records and other public and private archives to piece together the family trees of people persecuted or killed by the Nazis.”


Controversial Photographer David Hamilton Dies Amid Rape Allegations (France, UK)
(28 November 2016; Artnet News)
After a number of accusations of rape, photographer and film director David Hamilton was found dead in his home. It is unclear whether the cause was health-related or possible suicide.

Give us back the Venus de Milo, Greeks tell Louvre (France, Greece)
(30 November 2016; The Times)
The mayor of the island of Milos is petitioning to repatriate the Venus de Milo, currently housed at the Louvre, back to Milos where it was originally unearthed.

Bibliomania, the Dark Desire For Books That Infected Europe in the 1800s (General)
(2 December 2016; Atlas Obscura)
Nowadays, bibliomania would seem less romantic and more along the lines of an obsessive compulsive disorder. Or perhaps, on a Kindle, less visible!

Stolen Dachau concentration camp gate may have been found in Norway (Germany)
(2 December 2016; CNN)
The gate was mysteriously recovered in Norway by police.

‘It’s bizarre and appalling’ – Vehicles get stuck in well-known historic gate everyday (Ireland)
(28 November 2016; Independent)
The only way for HGVs into Drogheda Town is through a small Barbican gate, which damages both vehicles and the ancient architecture. The local mayor and residents are petitioning for the road to be closed permanently.

Art cops recover Roman statue (Italy)
(2 December 2016; ANSA)
After being stolen from Rome in 2012, the head of Julia Domna returns to Italy after being seized in Amsterdam by the thieves.

Telling the difference between fake and real Van Gogh’s (Netherlands)
(27 November 2016; Blasting News)
The author of this piece, a self-proclaimed expert, calls the evidence of forgery a “no brainer”, between the extravagant prices van Goghs would sell for and the soullessness of the sketch drawings.

Roban una reliquia del siglo XVI del Museo de Arte Sacro y la entregan a la Policía Local (Sixteenth century relic stolen from the Museum of Sacred Art and deliver to Local Police; Spain)
(29 November 2016; El Correo)
A man returned an object stolen from the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art to local authorities after purchasing it from the suspected thief in a public plaza.

Sweden’s Christmas goat burned down on opening day (Sweden)
(28 November 2016; The Local)
Vandalism as part of the new tradition? Gävle’s giant straw Christmas goat seems to become a victim of arson every year, despite the additional security and surveillance hired to protect it.

Geneva Free Port: The greatest art collection no-one can see (Switzerland)
(1 December 2016; BBC News)
Freeport warehouses, infamous for their lack of regulation which encourages illegal trafficking activities, hold vast unknown collections and contributes to the large dark figure of the antiquities and art world.

Swiss seize 9 relics allegedly stolen from Libya, Palmyra (Switzerland, Libya, Syria)
(2 December 2016; Daily Mail)
“The Geneva prosecutor’s office has confiscated nine cultural artefacts including a sculpted head of Aphrodite and two bas-reliefs that were allegedly stolen from Yemen, Libya and the site of ancient Palmyra in Syria.”

Sex Pistols Memorabilia Worth Millions Burned By McLaren And Westwood’s Son (UK)
(27 November 2016; Artlyst)
‘”Punk was never, never meant to be nostalgic – and you can’t learn how to be one at a Museum of London workshop,’ said Mr. Corre on Saturday. ‘Punk has become another marketing tool to sell you something you don’t need.'”

Ancient Coin News — Metal Detectorist Challenges Alton Hoard Value (UK)
(28 November 2016; Coin Week)
The finders of the Alton Hoard believe the experts consulted estimate the value of the hoard low-balled the figure for the items, compared to what similar items are being sold for on the market nowadays.

Why a sleeping hermaphrodite is causing a stir at Christie’s (UK)
(28 November 2016; Apollo)
After a thermoluminescence test revealed it was less than 150 years old, the price of the sculpture dropped to £200,000-£300,000.

In Wake of Trump’s Election, Protestors Address Climate Change at the British Museum (UK)
(28 November 2016; Hyperallergic)
‘BP or not BP?’, a theatrical protest group took to the British Museum and set up an installation to protest the renewed sponsorship of the Museum by BP.

The Stone still waiting for its final destiny (UK)
(28 November 2016; BBC News)
The Stone of Destiny remains migratory, as it is claimed to rightfully reside at either Edinburgh Castle, Westminster Abbey, Arbroath Abbey, or Perth. Though it seems it will continue to be moved about between England and Scotland, some believe the ceremonial stone is not even the authentic piece after being stolen and moved so many times.

Modern-day Monuments Men wanted by the British Army (UK)
(29 November 2016; The Art Newspaper)
The British Army is seeking civilian recruits with expertise/skills in archaeology as part of a new cultural protection unit.

Renewed appeal for information on Terry Bradley art theft (UK)
(30 November 2016; News Letter)
The police are appealing to the public for information regarding the theft of Terry Bradley’s artwork from a gallery in Belfast.

Dealers’ association asks industry to contact MPs over new cultural property law (UK)
(1 December 2016; Antiques Trade Gazette)
The Antiquities Dealers’ Association is lobbying for amendments to be made to a new cultural property law which would lead to harsher punishments for dealers not conducting due diligence. The lobbyists (via MP Garnier) aim to switch the terminology in order to weaken the legislation.

Judge orders ‘owner’ to provide more details before ancient golden crown can be examined (UK, Turkey)
(3 December 2016; The Herald)
In this ongoing case the person who claims to own the dodgy ancient crown wants to be able to get someone, some expert, to test the dirt on it for something…

Major Paolozzi sculpture facing decay ‘because no one wants to own it’ (UK)
(28 November 2016; The Guardian)
With ownership comes responsibility! The Paolozzi foundation is seeking to find the owner of the Piscator sculpture sitting outside Euston Station in London so it can be restored after years of negligence. However, both Network Rail and S&L apprehensively deny ownership for the inconvenience of having to take care of it.

Paolozzi sculpture at Euston is one of many works of art left to rot (UK)
(29 November 2016; The Guardian)
Historic England are continuing their public appeal to locate the owner of the neglected Paolozzi sculpture at Euston Station.

Man accused of stealing Chester Cathedral icon stands trial (UK)
(30 November 2016; Chester Chronicle)
An older man has been arrested for the theft of a religious icon from the Chester Cathedral, although he claims the item was sold to him in good faith by someone posing as a member of staff.

Man ‘stole’ Chester Cathedral’s Greek Lazarus painting (UK)
(30 November 2016; BBC News)
Mr Apilats claimed to have purchased the piece from someone posing as a staff member. The prosecutor claims he stole the piece and replaced it with a cheap decoration as a snarky joke.

Divers fined for raiding sunken German warships at Scapa Flow (UK, Germany)
(29 November 2016; BBC News)
Underwater scavengers, a Scot and an American, have been arrested for looting sunken German battleships off the coast of Orkney.

Divers looted wrecks of sunken ships in Scapa Flow: Men fined in “first of its kind” case (UK, Germany)
(30 November 2016; The Press and Journal)
The two men who had been caught illegally scavenging underwater German battleships off the coast of Orkney have been fined £18,000 each. The court hoped to make an example of the two men to set a precedence.


Arrests confirm more thefts in NGA collection (Australia, India)
(2 December 2016; The Australian)
How the most recent arrests in India relate directly to dodgy purchases by museums in Australia.

South and East Asia

Angkor replicated: How Cambodian workshops produce fake masterpieces, and get away with it (Cambodia)
(29 November 2016;
When reproduction is as ancient of a practice as the authentic antiquities themselves, it becomes difficult to identify and distinguish one from another.

Grave Robbers’ Search for Treasure Buries Them Alive (China)
(28 November 2016; Sixth Tone)
Three bodies were found of grave robbers who snuck into a newly discovered archaeological site near Baoji in the Shaanxi province.

After Anish Kapoor, Another Artist Claims China Copied Her Public Artwork (China)
(28 November 2016; Artnet News)
Timepiece, a London sculpture created by British artist Wendy Taylor, has been replicated and staged in China without permission of the artist. Strangely enough, the sculpture is easily identifiable as plagiarism because of its specific references to London.

Huangpu River sculpture to go after ‘copycat’ row (China)
(30 November 2016; Shanghai Daily)
A replication of a sculpture by British artist Wendy Taylor sitting along the Huangpu River is scheduled to be demolished after the artist accused the Chinese of intellectual property theft.

कैला माता मंदिर से चुराया था सोने का त्रिशूल, पकड़े गए तीन चोर (Trident of gold stolen from the Kaila mata temple, three thieves caught; India)
(29 November 2016; Khaskhabar)
Three thieves were arrested after stealing a trident made of gold from the Kaila temple.

రాచకొండ సీతారామ స్వామి ఆలయంలో చోరీ (Idols theft at Racha Konda Seetaramaswamy Temple; India)
(29 November 2016; Namasthetelangaana)
Lack of adequate security measures are to blame for the theft of idols and damage done to the Racha Konda Seetaramaswamy Temple.

Crowns, necklaces of Rampur Nawabs up for auction; family says no clue how it reached London (India)
(30 November 2016; Two Circles)
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage is unsure how the crowns were smuggled from India to London, but are in the process of contacting Christie’s to stop the auction.

206 ancient silver coins seized from villagers in Vellore district (India)
(30 November 2016; The Times of India)
The coins came from illegal excavation and one of the men who was not happy with his share of the wealth tipped off the police.

Why the Indian antiquities market is important to Contemporary art (India)
(30 November 2016; Vogue)
The tight regulation of the Indian pre-modern antiquities market has actually helped the contemporary Indian art market to flourish, especially domestically.

Nalanda cops recover 3 stolen idols, arrest 1 (India)
(30 November 2016; The Times of India)
A smuggler, Subodh Ravidas, was arrested by Asthawan police who recovered several stone idols and weapons after being tipped off by a source.

Harn Museum turns over sculpture bought from alleged smuggler (India, USA)
(30 November 2016; Alligator)
Homeland Security took custody of the sculpture after the Harn Museum volunteered to return it after realizing it was affiliated with the infamous dealer-smuggler Subhash Kapoor.

Madras High Court dismisses PIL for retrieval of ancient idols (India)
(28 November 2016; The Indian Express)
The High Court passed on responsibility to the Tamil Nadu government for the recovery of idols taken from a famous temple.

Onus on govt to trace idols of Thanjai temple (India)
(29 November 2016; New Indian Express)
The Madras High Court has rejected a PIL on the issue of stolen idols from a famous temple. The HC has deferred the duty of recovery to the Tamil Nadu government.

HC rejects plea to recover Raja Raja Cholan statue (India)
(29 November 2016; The Hindu)
The Madras High Court has deferred to the Tamil Nadu government for the responsibility of recovering stolen temple idols.

4 idols stolen from TN temple seized, man, son arrested (India, Nepal)
(30 November 2016; The Times of India)
Confessions from arrested dealers Deenadhayalan and Kapoor have led to the arrest and recovery of other smugglers and the idols they have smuggled.

2 Nepalese henchmen of idol racket kingpin held (India, Nepal)
(30 November 2016; The New Indian Express)
A Mumbai-based father and son were arrested for association with arrested smuggler and informer Deenadayalan.

ICE HSI, Tamil Nadu Police arrest major India-based artifact smugglers (India, Nepal, USA)
(30 November 2016; ICE)
As part of the larger Operation Hidden Idol between US’s ICE and India’s Idol Wing forces, more smugglers have been arrested as part of an extensive criminal network that loots sacred temples and smuggles objects out of India.

28 ancient idols stolen from Chandannath (Nepal)
(28 November 2016; The Kathmandu Post)
The temple is across the street from the District Administration Office and in the vicinity of a district prison and police station. There is a conspiracy theory amongst the locals that the authorities were part of the theft.

Chandannath temple robbery: Jumla headquarters shut from past 3 days (Nepal)
(29 November 2016; The Kathmandu Post)
The public is blaming the local authorities for the theft of 28 idols from the local temple, which brings tourism into the area, and is demanding a high-level investigation into the matter due to the lack of trust in local police.

Khalanga shut for third day over temple robbery (Nepal)
(30 November 2016; The Kathmandu Post)
Following the theft at the Chandannath Temple and the public’s protests of the local police and administration, the district headquarters of Jumla have been shut down for 3 days now.

Chandannath Temple Guthi committee, priest suspended (Nepal)
(3 December 2016; My Republica)
After the theft of 28 idols from the local temple and a very upset public, the administrative committee and temple priest have been suspended of their duties following a suspicion amongst townsfolk that they were involved in the theft.

West and Central Asia

Debate over whether Afghanistan’s Buddhas should be reconstructed (Afghanistan)
(30 November 2016; Sky News)
Archaeologists and restorers debate whether to restore the Bamiyan Buddhas, and whether or not it is even plausible.

Iran Cancels Long-Awaited Exhibition of Shah Collection in Berlin (Iran, Germany)
(28 November 2016; Artnet News)
Iran’s administration is being secretive about what signatures are needed in order to export a collection from the TMoCA to Berlin for an exhibit.

How ISIL destroyed Nimrud (Iraq)
(1 December 2016; Al Jazeera)
Now that Iraqi forces have taken back control of Nimrud, the damage that has been assessed is clearly significant. The Islamic State used explosives to destroy most of the pre-Islamic history.

Who deserves millions in art seized from Marcoses? (Philippines)
(28 November 2016; Inquirer)
After the death of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, various parties (his victims, the public, and his secretary) are claiming ownership of his massive art collection.

Signs Of Hope: Ancient Relics Found In Monastery Destroyed By ISIS (Syria)
(29 November 2016; Christian Today)
A Christian priest who was captured by the Islamic State for 84 days returned to his destroyed monastery to find ancient religious items intact.

Does Aleppo prove that we westerners should keep the world’s antiquities? (Syria)
(1 December 2016; Independent)
A devil’s advocate piece about the questions of ownership, preservation, colonialism, and the so-called “civilized” society.

Six men jailed over Dh40,000 theft from villa (UAE)
(28 November 2016; Gulf News)
Six foreigners, who have now been deported, have been convicted of robbing a villa in Dubai of cash, jewellery, and gold artefacts.

Protecting culture vital for identity and peace,’ says head of Unesco (UAE)
(1 December 2016; The National)
During the Abu Dhabi conference, Irina Bokova spoke of the cultural implications iconoclasm has on society, and urges more political action to curb the actions of the Islamic State.

Five Nobel winners urge action to protect heritage sites (UAE)
(2 December 2016; The Economic Times)
“In an appeal launched on the eve of an international conference in Abu Dhabi, the laureates pointed to the irreparable damage that has been done to some of the world’s most treasured ancient sites in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Mali.”

UAE hosts global push to save antiquities from conflict (UAE)
(2 December 2016; BBC News)
World leaders plan to meet and discuss proactive measures that can be taken to preserve the cultural heritage of areas in conflict at the Abu Dhabi summit.

Nations set to approve heritage protection fund (UAE)
(3 December 2016; Daily Mail)
There are high hopes for the Abu Dhabi conference that will lead to a collective fund, the cooperation of the UNSC and UNESCO, and possibly the creation of ‘safe havens’ for cultural objects for the time being.