Culture crime news 5–11 December 2016


Hot this week: Repatriations and Legislations for Nazi-era Loot

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This week’s Culture Crime News was compiled by Ryan Casey. She’s pretty much the best!


Imitation game: how copies can solve our cultural heritage crises
(4 December 2016; The Conversation)
The author of this piece contemplates the pros and cons of preservation at the expense of historical context and authenticity – from introducing 3D-printed copies of art and antiquities to preventative relocation of threatened monuments.


Fruitful week for repatriation of Egyptian antiquities: Report (Egypt)
(7 December 2016; Ahram Online)
In the past week, Egypt has received repatriated artefacts from the US, Switzerland, the UAE.


Kivi group leads search for stolen paintings (Canada)
(5 December 2016; The Sudbury Star)
A renewed interest in the theft of 2 paintings stolen from Sudbury Secondary school in 1974 is being promoted via social media to track possible leads or whereabouts of the A.Y. Jackson paintings.

Statue had been sold as scrap metal (Canada)
(7 December 2016;
Using social media to announce the statue was stolen helped to identify it after the suspect sold it to a scrapyard.

‘My stomach dropped’: Artist discovers her ‘stolen’ work on shirts being sold at Winners (Canada)
(9 December 2016; CBC)
Edwards is yet another artist victim of copyright infringement, as a company called Vanilla Sugar, whose merchandise is sold at Nordstrom and TJX-like stores, used her artwork on its designs without her permission.

ICE returns 23 pre-Columbian artifacts to Dominican Republic (Dominican Republic, USA)
(7 December 2016; ICE)
The items were seized in Puerto Rico at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport by HSI and US Customs.

Piden a ladrones que devuelvan cuadro religioso (Thieves asked to return religious painting; El Salvador)
(9 December 2016; La Prensa Grafica)
A religious painting was stolen from the San Francisco Church in San Miguel, though members of the clergy were sleeping nearby without hearing the incident. The suspect(s) used tools to break in through a window and remove the painting from its frame and mount.

Destrozan en Chiapas ruinas arqueológicas (Archaeological ruins destroyed in Chiapas; Mexico)
(9 December 2016; El Sol de Mexico)
A recently discovered archaeological site near village San Joaquín El Progreso has been destroyed as stones from its structure are missing. Part of the problem was the remote location and limited access to the site through a private, sequestered gate and road.

Yucatán recupera valiosa estela de antigua ciudad maya (Yucatan recovers valuable stela from ancient Maya city; Mexico)
(6 December 2016; Terra)
The National Institute of Anthropology and History received a significant pre-Columbian contribution to its collection called the Ichmul panel. It is made of limestone and depicts two Maya warriors playing a game.

INAH recupera monumento que estaba en un hotel (INAH recovers monument that was in a hotel; Mexico)
(7 December 2016; Union Yucatán)
A monument called the Ichmul panel has been gifted to the National Institute of Anthropology and History by the Hotel Merida.

Fire at California artists’ collective claims 33 lives (USA)
(4 December 2016; The Art Newspaper)
After a disastrous fire in an artist warehouse in Oakland, many look for blame in the unregulated conditions of the warehouse. However, the unregulated conditions are what made it both affordable and desirable for the community that lived there in the first place.

Kennewick Man skeleton closer to tribal return (USA)
(5 December 2016; The Art Newspaper)
Politicians are seeking to pass an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act that would return the skeleton to the tribes who consider it a vital part of their cultural heritage.

Jho Low Family Digs in to Stop 1MDB Asset Seizure by U.S. (USA)
(6 December 2016; Bloomberg)
The US Justice Department has begun seizing assets owned by Low which have been paid with money from a suspicious development fund called 1MDB which has long reaching ties to hotels, properties, and even the production of Hollywood movies. Though the case is underway in California, Low is hoping to have it moved to either New Zealand or the Cayman Islands where he sees the law as more lenient.

Pearce Leads Effort To Protect Tribal Artifacts (USA)
(6 December 2016; KRWG)
Republican Congressman Pearce hopes to pass the PROTECT Patrimony legislation which would condemn the illegal sale, export, theft, or possession of cultural or religious objects within the US.

Sacred Sites And Treaty Rights — The Dakota Access Backstory (USA)
(6 December 2016; Inside Energy)
“But in reality, when we’re talking about sacred sites, often tribes can live quite comfortably, as long as the proposed development doesn’t exclude and wipe out the possibility that tribal people can continue to access and honour and engage in their rituals, and ceremonies around those sacred spaces,” says Indian law professor Sarah Krakoff.

Artist’s Giant Inflatable Igloo Stolen in Brooklyn, Artist Says (USA)
(7 December 2016; DNA Info)
His truck was stolen and later found in a different part of the city, missing the portable structure and its power generator.

Ali Center theft suspect arrested, Ali artwork still missing (USA)
(8 December 2016; Daily Mail)
The suspected was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service in Philadelphia, while already on probation for a narcotics violation.

‘Blue Dog’ art thief walks free after experts say drug overdose caused behavior (USA)
(8 December 2016; The Advocate)
The court declared the thief not guilty, as an overprescription of Adderall led to a mental state of temporary insanity where he became obsessed with Rodrigue’s artwork.

Retired FBI Agent Solves Arts Crimes Including a Missing Nazi Diary, Confederate Relics and Even Batmobiles (USA)
(8 December 2016;
Since retiring from the FBI, Wittman has opened his own consulting firm and can lend assistance in various criminal as well as civil matters relating to art.

Man Stole Art from Greenwich Facility: Feds (USA)
(9 December 2016; Patch)
An art handler had been siphoning off works to sell at flea markets around Manhattan, worth a total of $600,000.

$750K sculpture sickened FBI workers in Miami (USA)
(2 December 2016; Politico)
“Most suffered allergic reactions to cedar dust coming off the sculpture. Among those who became sick was the office’s only nurse, who had to be relocated to another office.”

House of Representatives Passes Bill to Recover Art Stolen During the Holocaust (USA)
(7 December 2016; Artfix Daily)
Now that the HEAR Act has passed the House of Representatives, if it passes the Senate that will mean owners will have 6 years after locating their Nazi-confiscated art to take the case to court.

US House passes bill to ease return of Nazi-looted art (USA)
(8 December 2016; The Times of Israel)
If passed by the Senate, the HEAR Act will extend the statute of limitations for stolen artwork, making it easier for claimants of Nazi-looted art to have their works repatriated.

Senate to vote on Holocaust restitution bill in a race against the clock (USA)
(9 December 2016; The Art Newspaper)
After passing the House of Representatives, the HEAR Act is now on its way through the Senate. If passed, it would extend the length of the statue of limitations for Nazi-confiscated art case which makes it easier to win repatriation cases.

Sotheby’s Hires Fraud Expert to Start New Research Department (USA)
(5 December 2016; The New York Times)
Sotheby’s has acquired Orion Analytical, a forensic art firm, to start a new Scientific Research Department in-house so that fakes and forgeries can be more easily detected and confirmed.


Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Returns $500,000 Looted Signac Painting (Austria)
(9 December 2016; Artnet News)
The Vienna Philharmonic hired an art historian to research the provenance of Signac’s “Port en Bessin” which was gifted by Nazi officer Roman Loos in exchange for performances. The heirs of the original owner have consigned the painting to be auctioned in Paris.

France pays £24m into new fund to protect cultural heritage sites (France)
(4 December 2016; The Guardian)
Since the Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage conference in Abu Dhabi, Hollande has promised to pay £24m towards the $100m goal fund to protect cultural heritage sites threatened by the Islamic State. Will his political successor follow through with the commitments set forth at the conference?

Kader Attia accuses Universal Music of plagiarism over French rap video (France)
(8 December 2016; The Art Newspaper)
“One artist’s plagiarism is another’s sampling and yet another’s Appropriation Art and today we may even call it reblogging, retweeting or even sharing.”

Berlin returns Nazi-looted sculpture to Jewish publisher’s family (Germany)
(2 December 2016; The Art Newspaper)
Though title has been rightfully awarded to Rudolf Mosse, the works will remain ‘on loan’ at the Alte Nationalgalerie.

Gate Stolen From Dachau Concentration Camp Recovered in Norway (Germany)
(6 December 2016; Smithsonian)
The entrance gate from the Dachau Concentration Camp, which bore an infamous Nazi slogan, has been returned to the camp after being stolen and recovered in Norway.

Heirs of Jewish art dealer sue German state for return of Nazi-looted artwork (Germany)
(7 December 2016; The Times of Israel)
Heirs of German-Jewish Alred Flechtheim are filing a lawsuit from a New York District Court against the Bavarian state for the return of several paintings spread out throughout Germany in different museums and collections.

Heirs of Nazi-Persecuted Art Dealer Alfred Flechtheim Sue Bavarian Museums (Germany, USA)
(7 December 2016; JD Supra)
With the documented proof and possible ties to the Gurlitt hoard, it would seem to be a simple repatriation case for the Hultons. However, the Bavarian state is not making it easy to return the paintings and has a history of not repatriating many works.

Museum heist gang sentenced to 30+ years (Italy)
(5 December 2016; ANSA)
Four people have been convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping following an art heist from the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona. The paintings were recovered in Ukraine but have not yet been returned to Italy.

The mystery of the stolen Klimt (Italy)
(8 December 2016; BBC News)
New (dubious) information about the stolen Klimt painting has been brought forth by the supposed original thief: the theft – of what may have only been a copy – was a cover up for the theft and swap of the original painting which had taken place months beforehand, unbeknown to all.

Roman statue stolen from Mussolini is returning to Italy (Italy, USA)
(7 December 2016; New York Post)
The sculpture was stolen from Mussolini’s former home and smuggled into the US in the late 1990s. The owner turned it over to authorities in 2015 when learned of its provenance when trying to auction it.

ICE and CBP return cultural artifacts to Italy (Italy, USA)
(9 December 2016; ICE)
ICE and US CBP have returned a 14th century manuscript page (Codex D) as well as a 19th century Carelli painting to Italy after the Carabinieri contacted the US when they were recognised at auction.

The Maltese priest and the kidnapped Caravaggio: The amazing true story of the scrappy octogenarian who busted an audacious art heist (Malta)
(4 December 2016; Salon)
Father Zerafa, a Dominican priest and museum director, recalls the story of the time he became thoroughly involved in the theft and ransom of a stolen Caravaggio painting.

Website launched to help track down artworks stolen in World War II (Netherlands)
(9 December 2016; Dutch News)
The Netherlands have created a database of over 14,000 documents of Nazi-confiscated art that the public is welcome to go through in order to locate their rightful owners.

La Policía detiene a los presuntos autores del robo en la iglesia y la rectoral de Cea (Police arrested suspects in the robbery of the church and rectory of Cea; Spain)
(5 December 2016; Faro de Vigo)
Two well-known criminals in the area have been arrested following a strong of robberies committed in the O’ Salnes area, including the robbery of religious and historical items.

Abren un boquete en la puerta de la capilla de San Antón, en Cedeira, para robar el cepillo (Hole opened in the door of the chapel of San Anton in Cedeira to rob the chapel; Spain)
(6 December 2016; La Voz de Galicia)
A mysterious break-in is suspected of occurring at the San Anton chapel in Cedeira, evidenced by the oddly small but deliberate hole created in one of its doors. However, nothing inside seems amiss nor does it seem humanly possible to fit inside the small created entry.

Jewish family battles Spain museum over art looted by Nazis (Spain)
(4 December 2016; Daily Mail)
A Spanish museum refuses to return the Nazi-looted painting to Cassirer on the grounds that Cassirer has already accepted payment for it from Germany and that it was purchased in good faith.

Case Over $30 Million Camille Pissarro Painting Comes to a Head in Appeals Court (Spain, USA)
(6 December 2016; Artnet News)
For a Nazi-looted repatriation case that has gone on for over 16 years, a new appeal is underway that is founded upon due diligence. Cassirer’s new lawyer is arguing the Spanish museum currently holding the painting purposely ‘muddled’ information about the work to avoid suspicion of its provenance.

Profile: Art no-one can see – the story of the Geneva free port (Switzerland)
(5 December 2016; The National)
“Originally set up in the 19th to store goods like tea and grain, the free ports have evolved over time as storage space for the mega-rich who want to dodge sales tax on their valuable art investments.”

Man guilty of stealing Chester Cathedral’s Greek Lazarus painting (UK)
(5 December 2016; BBC News)
Vasilijis Apilats, an elder man originally from Latvia, has been found guilty of stealing the Chester Cathedral painting despite insisting he purchased it from who he believed to be staff members.

Sotheby’s in ‘fake’ Fabergé row with billionaire Russian art collector (UK)
(6 December 2016; i News)
Wealthy Russian Faberge egg collector, Alexander Ivanov, accuses Sotheby’s of manipulating art market prices as well as knowingly selling fake items. Sotheby’s denies selling fake items, however, they have removed the items Ivanov spoke of from the most recent auction.

Painting stolen by Nazis set to break record at auction (UK)
(8 December 2016; TRTWorld)
Part of the Tate’s collection since 1986, “John Constable’s Beaching a Boat, Brighton” will up for auction at Christie’s and is estimated to sell for over $1m.

Stolen coffins found after police search (UK)
(5 December 2016; Gazette News)
It seems a number of, undetected until now, coffin lids have been stolen from St. Mary’s in Colchester. A specialised officer in the Essex police is handling the investigation into the theft and repatriation of the lids to the Colchester Museum.

Roman artefacts spotted at auction after they were stolen 12 years ago (UK)
(6 December 2016; ITV News)
Though the coffins have been recovered, nothing is yet known about their disappearance.


Aboriginal art depicting Wandjina figure that sparked aliens theory to be reclaimed by traditional owners (Australia)
(4 December 2016; ABC Australia)
Aboriginal tribes in the Kimberley region are upset that a colonist-founded conspiracy theory about an ancient depiction of a sacred spirit is the more popular narrative than the traditional one.

‘Weaponise your privilege’: blocked Aboriginal Australian speaker addresses students by Skype (Australia, UK)
(5 December 2016; Varsity)
“Decolonisation then begins with the decolonisation of the self, the giving up of the conceit of what Teju Cole calls the White Saviour Industrial Complex, in which one’s concern is less with justice than a personal need for some ‘big emotional experience that validates privilege.'”

Outrage at unprovoked vandalism of ancient tree (New Zealand)
(6 December 2016; The Northland Age)
A dispute between St. Saviour’s church and Heritage NZ has arisen over the “damage” done to what some consider to be a historically significant tree outside the church vicarage. However, it seems the church did their due diligence to ensure the tree was not on a historically protected list.

Virgin Mary stolen from Helensville church (New Zealand)
(6 December 2016;
A Virgin Mary statue has been stolen from the grotto of a church in Helensville, to the upset of many locals.

British war veteran appeals for stolen service medals to be returned (New Zealand)
(9 December 2016;
A veteran’s home was robbed of his six war medals and some jewellery while his stepdaughter was home at their Auckland house.

South and East Asia

Four precious idols stolen from temple (India)
(4 December 2016; Business Standard)
The theft occurred at Ram Janki Thakurbari temple in Araria district and was reported the following morning by the priest.

CID Gets Vital Leads in Rabindranath Tagore Nobel Theft Case (India)
(5 December 2016; News 18)
After arresting a suspect who gave shelter to the original thieves, CID are closer to tracking the other three suspects believed to be responsible for the theft of Tagore’s Nobel Prize medal from the Visva Bharati University Museum

Idol thieves’ gang busted, two arrested in Bhagalpur (India)
(6 December 2016; The Times of India)
After being tipped off by a source, Bhagalpur police raided a house in Ghorha village to find stolen idols as well as arms.

Group will document state’s antiques to protect heritage (India)
(7 December 2016; Pune Mirror)
In the wake of the return of over 200 antiquities from the US following the prosecution of Subhash Kapoor, archaeologists are making an effort to target remote, at-risk areas for digging and documenting.

Shashi Tharoor’s Delhi home burgled, copper Gandhi glasses gifted by PM Modi stolen (India)
(7 December 2016; The Indian Express)
It is believed someone broke into the gated community where Tharoor lived and stole 23 small idols amongst other things.

Theft of manuscript of Holy Quran (India)
(7 December 2016; Greater Kashmir)
The Jammu and Kashmir High Court have directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to reopen the investigation into the theft of a 400-year old manuscript of the Quran that took place in 2003.

US Will Return 9 Indian Antiquities Shortly: Government (India, USA)
(7 December 2016; NDTV)
American museums and authorities are cooperating with the Archaeological Survey of India to return antiquities back to India.

Lax security makes protected temples easy targets for thieves (India)
(8 December 2016; The Times of India)
As the number of temple thefts increase, the Archaeological Survey of India claims they don’t have the resources to supply patrols to every individual temple. Perhaps a better and more cost-effective preventative method lies in curbing demand rather than protecting supply?

Six major challenges facing Indian museums, says museologist Vinod Daniel (India)
(8 December 2016; The Indian Express)
An Australian museum expert gives his opinion on how to make India’s museums more successful. However, issues of capturing intangible cultures and traditions as well as the country’s colonised past make it more difficult to assess India’s potential with a Western model.

Criminal network involved in idol smuggling unearthed (India)
(9 December 2016; The Hindu)
Three young boys were arrested for stealing an idol for scrap metal after acting suspiciously during a routine traffic stop in Chennai.

50 paintings of Dhirendranath Brahma stolen (India)
(8 December 2016; The Times of India)
The thief climbed a tree to access a high-up window to Brahma’s studio. To ensure better lighting during the theft, the suspect apparently replaced the fuse in the electric board that had been removed by Brahma’s son.

Painting heist an inside job: Cops (India)
(9 December 2016; The Times of India)
In the Brahma theft, police are beginning to suspect it was someone close to the family – perhaps an inside job – that stole his paintings which were hidden away so specifically that the thief had to have detailed knowledge of his son’s house.

Ustad Bismillah Khan’s shehnais stolen (India)
(5 December 2016; The Indian Express)
Five shehnais gifted by the former PM of India were stolen from Ustad Bismallah Khan and his son after he recently moved house.

Stolen shehnais not registered with cultural dept (India)
(10 December 2016; The Times of India)
The many recent thefts of culturally significant objects are difficult to investigate because the owners never formally registered them with the Cultural Dept’s records. However, there is little incentive to do so as registration offers no means of protection to artefact owners.

‘Stolen’ Dattatreya idol found in wardrobe inside the temple (Nepal)
(5 December 2016; My Republica)
Of the 28 idols originally claimed to be stolen, it seems only 21 have actually been taken while the others seemed to be misplaced in a wardrobe. However, in Jumla, the priest and administration office is still suspected of involvement.

Preservation of archaeological sites promotes tourism (Pakistan)
(5 December 2016; The Nation)
The Rawal Fort, in a remote area between Rawalpindi and Jehlum, is a neglected cultural heritage site that served a significant religious and historical purpose in the 15th century. Though it has been exposed to fly-tipping, vandalism, and encroachment, the Punjabi government are attempting to fund its revitalisation.

Stolen Buddhist painting to be returned to Korea (South Korea)
(7 December 2016; The Dong-A Ilbo)
The Obuldo Buddha, a painting stolen from the Songkwang temple, is being returned to South Korea after it was found to be at the Portland Museum in the US after being sold to an American in Seoul in the early 1970s.

18th-century Buddhist painting returned to home soil (South Korea)
(8 December 2016; Korea Herald)
Mattielli purchased the painting in the early 1970s without knowing it was stolen from Songgwangsa, an important Buddhist temple. It was recently returned after its provenance came to light.

West and Central Asia

Jordan lead codices not modern forgeries (Jordan)
(9 December 2016; Heritage Daily)
Through forensic testing of the lead material used to make the codex, the University of Surrey’s Ion Beam Centre has proved the artefact to be authentic.

Artifact trafficking and the battle to stop it: ‘It’s open season’ (Syria)
(8 December 2016; Syria Direct)
Looters are often only selling artefacts as a last resort to survive and take care of their families. However, these artefacts are sold to middlemen, both the Islamic State and government officials, who smuggle them West

How the antiquities black market thrives on Syria: ‘We have the collapse of state institutions and the society holding them all together’ (Syria)
(8 December 2016; Syria Direct)
Groups like Heritage Protection Initiative are combating the antiquities smuggling networks in Syria from all sides: bomb-proofing museums, providing job alternatives for subsistence looters, and serving as expert witnesses in court.

The UAE can become a safe haven for antiquities (UAE)
(5 December 2016; The National)
Thought is given to the idea that the UAE can store significant cultural objects for safe keeping during conflict. However, past examples of imperialist acquisitions in the name of safe keeping have caused many problems over ownership and return.