Culture crime news 18–25 September 2017


Hot this week: UK opens door for return of Nazi looted art, but not Greta Moll

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Metro station police foil security guard’s attempt to steal artefact from Coptic Museum (Egypt)
(14 September 2017; Ahram Online)
The arrested is a security guard in the museum and hid the piece under his clothes.

Fatwa allowing illegal antiquities excavation triggers ire in Egypt (Egypt)
(15 September 2017; Al Monitor)
This is coming from Abdel Hamid el-Atrash, former head of the Edicts Committee at Egypt’s top Islamic body, Dar al-Ifta. You’re going to get arrested if you try, though.

Two suspects arrested over illegal excavation in Cairo and Sharqia (Egypt)
(18 September 2017; Egypt Independent)
One arrest for a tunnel towards the Ibn Tulun mosque, another for antiquities digging under their home. Dangerous stuff.

No Egyptian antiquities were smuggled to Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum: Official (Egypt, UAE)
(19 September 2017; Egypt Independent)
“Egypt is only sending antiquities for temporary shows at museums around the world but not permanently”

Break-in at Mohamed Ali Palace in Shubra, no artefacts missing: Ministry (Egypt)
(20 September 2017; Ahram Online)
Keys were missing and office doors were open, but an inventory showed no artefacts missing.

Authorities seize attempt to smuggle ancient guns to Turkey (Egypt, Turkey)
(17 September 2017; Daily News Egypt)
Three Ottoman era guns

Ottoman-era artefacts seized at Cairo airport to go to Museum of Islamic Art (Egypt, Turkey)
(20 September 2017; Ahram Online)
Heading to Istanbul. Among the items were Coptic textiles in a poor state of conservation.

Liberia appeals for return of lost artifacts to newly restored museum (Liberia)
(16 September 2017; Africa Times)
Trying to recover items lost during the civil war.

Liberia Wants Its Cultural Artifacts Back, Please (Liberia)
(19 September 2017; Atlas Obscura)
Museum ready, please give back the items stolen during previous conflicts.

Head of Libya’s archeology authority urges neighboring countries to help end smuggling of antiquities (Libya)
(16 September 2017; The Libya Observer)
Ahmed Hussein said that both countries are responsible for securing borders, not just the one that is losing its antiquities.

Saxonwold man offers R50k reward for stolen artworks worth millions (South Africa)
(14 September 2017; The Citizen)
Among them is an Irma Stern portrait called “Nude” from 1949


Two Stolen Chapel Paintings To Be Repatriated To Peru After Collector Voluntarily Returns The Works (Peru, USA)
(18 September 2017; JDSupra)
The collector and Christies voluntarily returned the works when it became obvious to everyone involved that the art was from a chapel in Hualahoyo, Junín.

Berkshire Museum’s Smithsonian ties severed over art sale plan (USA)
(5 September 2017; The Berkshire Eagle)
Because pretty much everyone thinks deaccessioning and selling museum pieces is unethical, yet the Berkshire Museum soldiers on through it.

A Magazine Publisher Is Suing Virginia’s Prisons for Censoring a Rubens Painting of Adam and Eve (USA)
(8 September 2017; ArtNet News)
And notes that the seal of the state of Virginia depicts a woman with exposed breast.

Ann Freedman The End Or The Beginning For Knoedler’s Disgraced Director (USA)
(13 September 2017; Artlyst)
Sued for personally advising them to buy fake Pollocks.

Historic Rolls-Royce vandalized, but stolen parts found in New England (USA)
(15 September 2017; NH1)
Once owned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s daughter

Despite Leading Signs, Perpetrators of 1985 de Kooning Heist May Remain a Mystery (USA)
(18 September 2017; Observer)
“The statute of limitations has expired, and there’s no one alive left to charge with possession of stolen property.”

Gallery owner says PayPal won’t help enough after alleged heist (USA)
(18 September 2017; ABC United States)
The buyer, really named John Hancock, has a history of fraud.

Monument to myth or history? Museum of the Bible to open in Washington, D.C. (USA)
(18 September 2017; Chicago Tribune)
The museum is to be filled with unprovenanced and suspect antiquities.

Sculptor Michael Rakowitz Recreates Looted Artifacts Using Iraqi Food Packaging (USA, Iraq)
(18 September 2017; Chicago)
The work of Michael Rakowitz.

Getty Villa To Reopen Thursday After LAPD Bomb Squad Comes Up Empty (USA)
(20 September 2017; Deadline)
Police searched the museum after a threat: nothing there.

Discovering our Common Humanity through Space Archaeology (USA)
(21 September 2017; Discover)
A feature on Sara Parcak’s platform for detecting archaeological looting from space

Navajo Nation vows to sue Trump if he shrinks Bears Ears national monument (USA)
(21 September 2017; Washington Examiner)
And many of us applaud them for taking a stand to protect their (and our) heritage from small minded, corrupt people.

9/11 Memorial Art Stolen After Truthers Threaten Display, Police Say (USA)
(21 September 2017; DNA Info)
Stay classy, truthers. Urgh.

Stolen, recovered, and now for sale: The saga of Cherry Hill’s Norman Rockwell painting (USA)
(21 September 2017;
Stolen in 1976, recovered by the FBI in 2016, on sale now.

Peabody Essex Museum Gets Set of Native American Artifacts (USA)
(21 September 2017; The New York Times)
The Andover Newton Theological School, which owned the pieces for 70 years, has been cited for failing to follow NAGPRA. The Museum plans return.

Accused mobster tied to Boston art heist to undergo psychiatric test (USA)
(22 September 2017; Reuters)
Robert Gentile, 81, claims to have no memory of his previous pleas and, of course, no knowledge of the Gardner Museum heist.


Paphos mayor accuses foreign ministry staff of wrongdoing (Cyprus, France, China)
(22 September 2017; Cyprus Mail)
He’s “claimed that foreign ministry officials in China and France were involved in dodgy business involving kickbacks and the sale of antiquities.”

NBI: Nine face possible charges in major art forgery case (Finland)
(20 September 2017; YLE)
One of the biggest suspected art fake crime rings in Finland’s history

Who Stole ‘The Big Maple Leaf,’ the Biggest Coin in the World? (Germany)
(16 September 2017; The Daily Beast)
Well, these four guys did.

Germany launches internet portal to fight art trafficking (Germany)
(19 September 2017; The Art Newspaper)
“New internet portal providing information relevant to the Cultural Property Protection Law that came into force last year”

Berlin police laugh off theft of their own Nazi artefacts (Germany)
(22 September 2017; The Sunday Times)
Pretty embarrassing to have a heritage theft from police head quarters.

Man charged with antiquities theft over fossils (Greece)
(15 September 2017; eKathimerini)
Few details about the man who was arrested for the ancient human footprint theft

Kos quake caused 95 million euros in damages (Greece)
(22 September 2017; eKathimerini)
Archaeologists were hardest hit and make up the biggest chunk of the damages figure.

Police in Italy fight back against theft of art from churches (Italy)
(13 September 2017; The Local)
More info on the Italian sacred art recovery: many of the 100 works recovered were Italian

Italy police recover $8.4m worth of stolen church art (Italy, Belgium)
(13 September 2017; The News)
Pieces were stolen in 1990 from Mons, Belgium and were picked up in Naples along with a 16th century Madonna from a Naples church. 20 people reported for prosecution.

The Paternity Saga That Dug Up Salvador Dalí, Explained (Spain)
(7 September 2017; Artsy)
Disinterred, DNA’s, denied. Dalî not her dad.

Le fisc fait irruption dans l’affaire Bouvier (Tax authorities intervene in the Bouvier affair; Switzerland)
(4 September 2017; Tribune de Genève)
Being sued for dodgy art dealing, the freeport fella is suspected of serious tax fraud.

How can museums speed up the return of art looted during the Nazi era? (UK)
(11 September 2017; The Art Newspaper)
“UK government has announced it will strengthen its commitment to the restitution of Nazi-looted art by indefinitely extending the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act of 2009”

Government ratifies Hague Convention on protecting cultural property (UK)
(12 September 2017;
60+ years after the Convention was created. Better late than never!

Stone stackers at ancient sites could face jail, warns Historic England (UK)
(13 September 2017; The Guardian)
Fairy castles seem fun but people take apart protected ancient monuments to do it.

West London antiques cheat pleads guilty to attempts to defraud auction houses (UK)
(13 September 2017; Antiques Trade Gazette)
Selling fake antiquities with fake provenance documents.

Imitation Banksy artist’s work dubbed ‘vandalism’ by the Creative Foundation in Folkestone (UK)
(14 September 2017; Kent Live)
This fella used street art to critique the removal of a Banksy due to ownership dispute.

Terry Bradley gallery ‘delighted’ stolen art is found (UK)
(15 September 2017; BBC News)
“Artwork worth £15,000 stolen from a pop-up gallery of Belfast artist”

Bring back the Met’s art and antiquities squad (UK)
(19 September 2017; Apollo)
Small in numbers as they are, they are a vital unit in the UK. Losing them will be terrible.

Art dealer who stole celebrity portraits of the Rolling Stones, Princess Diana and Bob Dylan jailed for four years (UK)
(13 September 2017; The Independent)
“A Cotswold art dealer who stole nearly £500,000 worth of artworks, including paintings by the Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood, from clients, has been jailed for four years.”

Dozens of rare John Lennon prints discovered during police art theft investigation (UK)
(19 September 2017; The Telegraph)
Part of the collection of artwork found in the possession of convicted dodgy dealer Jonathan Poole

Car booter unwittingly buys stolen £30,000 painting for £40 before handing it to police (UK)
(17 September 2017; The London Economic)
“It was reported stolen when the acclaimed artist shipped it from his New York apartment to the Sussex home of multimillionaire buyer Ivan Massow last year. “

A £30k painting created by Joan Collins’ son turned up at an Isle of Sheppey bootfair (UK)
(20 September 2017; Kent Live)
As a thank you the painter has offered to give a master class to the finder’s pupils.

National Gallery wins legal battle over Henri Matisse’s Portrait of Greta Moll (UK)
(21 September 2017; The Telegraph)
“The museum and Britain were shielded by sovereign immunity and that the grandchildren had waited too long to bring the case.”

National Gallery can keep ‘stolen’ Henri Matisse painting, judge rules (UK)
(21 September 2017; iNews)
It was the grandchildren of Greta Moll, the subject of the painting, who brought the suit.

Watch awarded to honour war hero’s bravery returned five months after being stolen (UK)
(20 September 2017; Chronicle Live)
Tracked down by police five months after being stolen from the Blyth Battery Museum

Stolen WW1 watch for bravery returned to Blyth museum (UK)
(21 September 2017; BBC News)
“We have had two break-ins and countless graffiti attacks with windows broken.

Olympian Rhona Howie ‘gutted’ by Dumfries gold medal theft (UK)
(13 September 2017; BBC News)
2002 Olympic curling medal was taken from the Dumfries Museum and three are accused of committing the crime.

Man admits Olympic medal theft from Dumfries museum (UK)
(15 September 2017; BBC News)
CCTV was shown that allegedly shows the men accused of committing the theft.

Two men jailed over Dumfries gold medal theft (UK)
(19 September 2017; ITV)
One pleaded guilty, the other denied stealing the Olympic medal from the museum but was convicted anyway.

Time of the essence in race to restore art looted by the Nazis (UK)
(12 September 2017; The Jewish Chronicle)
UK-based conference “70 Years and Counting: The Final Opportunity?”

UK’s restitution powers to be extended indefinitely for Nazi-era loot (UK)
(13 September 2017; The Art Newspaper)
National museums who were forbidden from deaccessioning artworks to restitute them will not have that restriction, but clock runs out in 2019.


Gerard Vaughan retires from the National Gallery of Australia (Australia)
(21 September 2017; The Canberra Times)
Vaughan launched the museum’s independent review of dodgy Indian antiquities purchases.

Global market for forged and stolen artworks is thriving and underpoliced (Australia, UK)
(21 September 2017; The Sydney Morning Herald)
The author attended a conference that featured forger John Myatt and applies those thoughts back on Australia.

Stolen Aboriginal relics seized in NSW (Australia)
(13 September 2017;
From a number of locations around Tasmania and due to be auctioned online in Sydney

Police seize stolen Aboriginal artefacts in raid (Australia)
(14 September 2017; NITV)
Raid conducted due to a tip off that the objects were about to be sold.

South and East Asia

DSP wanted in antique idols smuggling case arrested (India)
(14 September 2017; The Hindu)
“Deputy Superintendent of Police Khader Basha on the charge of committing armed robbery of antique idols”

A film on idol robberies (India)
(18 September 2017; Deccan Chronicle)
“Kalavu Thozhirchalai is also the last film to be shot inside temples in Tamil Nadu since the government doesn’t allow filming inside temples anymore.”

Burglars steal Rs 22,000 silver sheet from temple valued at Rs 22,000 stolen from temple in Baner (India)
(18 September 2017; The Times of India)
The silver sheet was attached to a throne inside the sanctum sanctorum.

Antiques smugglers had a free run of state’s heritage (India)
(19 September 2017; The Tribune)
Details emerge about Nanda’s ability to infiltrate state heritage structures to secure ill-be-gotten Le Corbusier furniture and other items to sell.

Theft At Temple In Siliguri’s Champasari (India)
(20 September 2017; Siliguri Times)
Jewellery was taken from the idols

Theft of Qur’an: HC seeks status (India)
(20 September 2017; Greater Kashmir)
The Crime Branch failed to solve the theft of theft of a “Holy Qur’an handwritten by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb from Sri Pratap Singh Museum in 2003”

Idol theft gang falls in CID trap (India)
(22 September 2017; The New Indian Express)
Seven were arrested and six idols stolen from Tiruvannamalai district, including a very old emerald Shiva, were recovered.

Stolen cultural asset returned to South Korea from Japan after 20 years (South Korea, Japan)
(13 September 2017; The Japan Times)
“Epitaph on porcelain of a high-ranking official of the dynasty who lived in the 14th and 15th centuries”

West and Central Asia

Despite protests, US returning artifacts to Iraq (Iraq, USA)
(13 September 2017; The Jewish Star)
Keeping the stuff in the US legally would require Iraqi’s agreement, and why would Iraq agree to that?

The Salvation of Mosul (Iraq)
(1 October 2017; Smithsonian)
Layla Salih, “an Iraqi archaeologist braved ISIS snipers and booby-trapped ruins to rescue cultural treasures in the city and nearby legendary Nineveh and Nimrud”

Tomb raiders vandalize mysterious Judean Desert `skull cave’ (Israel)
(15 September 2017; The Jerusalem Post)
Hasmonean fortresses in the desert are under daily attack by antiquities robbers

Syrians Launch Campaign to Return Antiquities Stolen in Ongoing War (Syria)
(13 September 2017; Albawaba)
“We are now in the process of drawing up lists of pilfered antiquities before filing cases demanding their restoration with the relevant legal institutions”

New pictures show the destruction of Palmyra (Syria)
(18 September 2017; The Sunday Times)
“Mr Abdulkarim said that at least three lorry-loads of artefacts were removed from the city hours before it first fell to Isis in 2015, protecting much of the heritage.”

Thieves break into Latin Catholic Church in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu, steal artifacts (Turkey, Uzbekistan)
(15 September 2017; Hurriyet Daily News)
Caught quickly after the theft, the men are or Uzbek origin.

Sarcophagus of Hercules set in place (Turkey, Switzerland)
(20 September 2017; Daily Sabah)
Back from Switzerland where it was smuggled and now going on public display.

In Other News

Meet the font detectives who ferret out fakery (General)
(13 September 2017; Wired)
Type experts identify and confirm fakes and forgeries with font investigations.

As Mexico Searches for Survivors After Massive Quake, Museums Scramble to Locate Staff and Assess the Damage (Mexico)
(20 September 2017; ArtNet News)
Most museums seem to be mostly okay after the 7.1 magnitude quake

Portrait’s bullet holes shocks art gallery worker (New Zealand)
(23 September 2017; New Zealand Herald)
Apparently no one told the Auckland Art Gallery exhibition preparer that the painting had been shot during WWII.

Taiwan and Vietnamese men arrested for illegal logging (Taiwan, Vietnam)
(22 September 2017; Asia Times)
Sad: the “Vietnamese suspects were initially runaway workers controlled by the Taiwanese, who drove and dropped them to the forest to fell rare trees”

Photographer and PETA reach settlement over rights to monkey’s selfie (USA)
(11 September 2017; Los Angeles Times)
No one has decided if a monkey can be a rights holder, but the photographer will donate 25% of future revenue from the images to animal charities.

Florida museums assess damage and start repairs in Irma’s wake (USA)
(12 September 2017; The Art Newspaper)
Six-toed cast of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum are safe.

Ivory Dealer Goes Undercover to Help Bust Wildlife Smuggler (USA)
(19 September 2017; US News and World Report)
“Among the most prolific wildlife criminals ever prosecuted in this country”