Culture crime news 14–20 March 2016


Hot this week: Seizure after seizure at New York’s Asia Art Week

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When it comes to ancient treasures, are we owners, thieves or caretakers?
(16 March 2016; Eastern Daily Press)
Same questions, no answers.

Does one ethnic group own its cultural artefacts?
(18 March 2016; Aeon)
“The idea that one culture ‘owns’ a particular heritage is having a profound impact on museums.”


Upper Egypt’s Mallawi Museum has recovered 91% of artifacts looted in 2013 (Egypt)
(7 March 2016; The Cairo Post)
950 out of 1040 stolen items have been recovered.

EU Ready to Allocate 7.5 Million Euros for Preservation of Egyptian Heritage Sites (Egypt)
(15 March 2016; Egyptian Streets)
Tied in to German law changes that help the return of antiquities and the possibility of further EU legal amendments.

Why Egypt is placing its pyramids under military protection (Egypt)
(16 March 2016; Al Monitor)
“Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh al-Damaty has called on Queen, a national service company affiliated with the armed forces, to develop and renovate the site”

Egyptian bid to buy Sekhemka statue back for £15m is ‘unethical’, says action group (Egypt, UK)
(18 March 2016; Northampton Chronicle & Echo)
And gallant, the Save Sekhemka Action Group says.

Return Benin Bronze Cockerel, FG Pleads With British Govt (Nigeria, UK)
(18 March 2016; Leadership)
The Nigerian government have now called for the return of the looted artefact at Jesus College, Cambridge.

A question of morality (Nigeria)
(20 March 2016; The Nation)
Thoughts on the return of Nigerian cultural objects.


13 Maya Villagers Stand Trial in Belize (Belize)
(14 March 2016; IC Magazine)
For detaining a man who had built on the Maya site of Uxbinka. A complicated case with possible racial issues.

Cementerios salitreros en alerta (Salitre cemeteries on alert; Chile)
(14 March 2016; La Tercera)
Can anyone protect Chile’s historic cemeteries from mining accidents, thefts, and earthquakes?

Colombia y EE.UU. renuevan hasta 2021 su acuerdo sobre patrimonio cultural (Colombia and US renew their cultural heritage agreement until 2021; Colombia, USA)
(15 March 2016; Noticias RCN)
Another five years of the bilateral cultural property agreement.

Calle sin pavimentar provoca saqueo de zona arqueológica (Unpaved street leads looting of archaeological site; Mexico)
(17 March 2016; E-consulta)
The site of Los Cerritos remains unprotected and it is already being looted.

Alistan patrullaje intenso para proteger 50 sitios arqueológicos (Intensive patrols enlisted to protect 50 archaeological sites; Peru)
(17 March 2016; RPP)
An effort to cut down on archaeological looting at Easter Week.

Friends of Art offers amnesty for missing artworks (USA)
(13 March 2016; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Pittsburgh Public Schools are looking for artworks bought for schools which have now gone missing. Amnesty returns.

New York Trial Date Set and New Details Emerge in Picasso Sculpture Dispute (USA)
(14 March 2016; Art Forum)
19 September to see if the piece goes to the Gagosian or the Qatari royal family.

Authorities debunk man’s claim of grave-digging (USA)
(17 March 2016; Herald-Tribune)
A video was posted that purported to be looting of Native American burials; authorities have investigated and found no cause for concern.

How The Isabella Gardner Art Heist Reveals the Difference Between an Answer and a Solution (USA)
(17 March 2016; BC Heights)
Traditional St. Patrick’s Day Gardner Museum heist article.

Ramon Santiago art sales dispute goes to court (USA)
(18 March 2016; Democrat & Chronicle)
Who owns “the exclusive right to use the name ‘Ramon Santiago’ or any derivation thereof”.

Maricopa man who claimed artifacts were stolen gets prison for insurance fraud (USA)
(18 March 2016; AZ Central)
He said that his home was burglarised and Native American artefacts were stolen. They weren’t.

Christie’s Loses $700,000 Appeal in Superstorm Sandy Damages (USA)
(18 March 2016; ArtNet News)
The insurer of the art accused Christie’s of gross negligence.

Woman wanted for stealing Buddhist statues from temple (USA)
(17 March 2016; My News LA)
The pieces aren’t ancient but are worth about $1k each. The thief was caught on camera; the same woman had previously vandalised the temple in 2015.

Suspect in Buddhist statue theft arrested in Santa Ana (USA)
(19 March 2016; My News LA)
A quick arrest. No clue as to her motive.

How a promising musician stole a violin worth millions — and got away with it (USA)
(17 March 2016; The Times-Picayune)
The story of Philip Johnson, successful violin thief.

Federal Agents Seize What They Called an Illicit Antiquity Headed for Asia Week (USA, Pakistan)
(15 March 2016; The New York Times)
Another seizure, this time a Gandhara head from Pakistan seized at a port.

Ancient Statue Is Seized From Manhattan Gallery (USA, Afghanistan)
(16 March 2016; The New York Times)
Amazing! The third in less than a week. A spectacular embarrassment for dealers in ancient Asian art.

Another Gallery Is Raided in Antiquities Case (USA, India, Cambodia)
(18 March 2016; The New York Times)
Three pieces seized from Nancy Wiener Gallery now.

Law Enforcement Focuses on Asia Week in Inquiry of Antiquities Smuggling (USA, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia)
(17 March 2016; The New York Times)
Seven pieces seized so far. More?


Were investors conned into buying rare manuscripts? (France)
(15 March 2016; Hugh Schofield)
Around 18k people defrauded by the Museum of Letters and Documents?

Centre Pompidou’s stolen Picasso goes back on show after 15 years (France)
(18 March 2016; The Art Newspaper)
You can see the recovered painting on 24 March and talk to the restoration team.

Paris auction porters go on trial for alleged ‘pilfering’ of thousands of items (France)
(14 March 2016; The Guardian)
A whopping 49 auction house porters are on trial and each could face sentences of up to 7 years for all sorts of theft of art and other objects.

‘Cols rouges’ lawyers push for dismissal as long-awaited trial opens in Paris (France)
(16 March 2016; The Art Newspaper)
The the former art handlers at the Hôtel Drouots’ case continues.

German museum seeks funding to purchase looted Kirchner (Germany)
(18 March 2016; The Art Newspaper)
‘“Jewel” in Wilhelm-Hack-Museum’s collection may go back to heir of Alfred Hess after settlement’

Convicted art thief who vandalised Monet painting apologises (Ireland)
(19 March 2016; Sunday World)
He’s sorry but also continues to insist he didn’t do it on purpose. A court disagreed.

Special squad of Italian art police crack case of Verona museum theft, arrest 13 suspects (Italy)
(17 March 2016; The Washington Post)
“Among them were the security guard, the guard’s twin brother and the guard’s Moldovan wife”. Always look at the guards! (Sorry guards). The paintings? Somewhere in Moldova.

Norwegian ‘witch’ books stolen by Nazis found (Norway, Czech Republic)
(16 March 2016; The Local)
Books taken from the Norwegian Order of Freemasons library were found in the Czech Republic.

Russian deputy culture minister detained on embezzlement charges (Russia)
(15 March 2016; The Art Newspaper)
“Missing funds for state-sponsored heritage restoration projects”

Córdoba rejects Catholic church’s claim to own mosque-cathedral (Spain)
(13 March 2016; The Guardian)
The UNESCO world heritage site is not the property of the Catholic church, so says the city, but does it belong to the city? The local bishop has a history of banning Muslims from praying there.

Francis Bacon Paintings Worth £23m ‘Stolen’ (Spain)
(13 March 2016; Sky News)
The paintings “are believed to have belonged to a friend of Bacon” but it is unclear as of yet what pieces have been taken.

La Iglesia de Jaén reza en desagravio tras el robo de la Custodia de Las Bernardas (The church of Jaén prays for help after the theft of the Custodia of Las Bernardas.; Spain)
(14 March 2016; ABC de Sevilla)
The custodia and other items were taken rom the convent of Las Bernardas.

Yves Bouvier pushes to have New York art consultant’s dealings revealed in US court (Switzerland)
(14 March 2016; The Art Newspaper)
Art consultant Sandy Heller is mixed up in the Bouvier/Rybolovlev fight, with more info on why this is coming to the US.

The Plot Thickens in Bouvier Case, As Picasso Stepdaughter’s Story Is Questioned (Switzerland)
(18 March 2016; ArtNet News)
A four page confidential letter casts doubt on the story that Picasso’s stepdaughter didn’t know Bouvier.

Former teacher calls for valuable art to be returned for pupils (UK)
(12 March 2016; The Guardian)
The paintings were donated by artist Mary Fedden but were removed by the local council and handed to a gallery.

Fire destroys roof of historic Wythenshawe Hall in Manchester (UK)
(15 March 2016; BBC News)
“The timber-framed hall was built in 1540 “, and the roof and first floor are lost. The cause of the fire is being investigated.

France and Britain prepare for battle over Joan of Arc’s ring (UK, France)
(16 March 2016; The Art Newspaper)
The ring was likely owned by Joan of Arc but it also likely seems to have left the UK illegally.

South and East Asia

China Fights Losing Battle Against Tomb Raiders (China)
(16 March 2016; The Epoch Times)
“Tomb raiding is already a full-fledged industry in China.” Some startling numbers, if they can be believed.

Violence, dead bufallo, stolen idol raise tensions in Agra district (India)
(13 March 2016; The Times of India)
A Jain idol from a temple near Serai Khawaza was stolen and then found hidden in a sack of rice.

800gm silver articles stolen from temple (India)
(14 March 2016; The Times of India)
The silver ornaments were taken from the Hanuman temple located in the Mayur Park area of Aurangabad.

जौनपुर में मंदिर से मूर्तियां चोरी (Sculptures Stolen from Temple in Jaunpur; India)
(14 March 2016; Navbharat Times)
Three ashtadhatu idols were taken from the Ram-Janaki temple in Jaunpur.

400 year-old ancient statues stolen from a temple in Odisha (India)
(15 March 2016; Odisha Sun Times)
The two idols were stolen from the 16th century temple and had originally been brought from Rajasthan.

Theft of ancient idol: Himachal trying to extradite suspect from Nepal (India, Nepal)
(15 March 2016; Business Standard)
Extradition between the two countries being a major issue even though it seems both sides of the border are interested in seeing an end to idol smuggling.

Rama idol stolen from Kashi temple (India)
(17 March 2016; The Times of India)
The 18th century black marble piece is the 3rd antiquities theft for the town in 3 years.

Three arrested for ‘stealing’ panchaloha idols (India)
(19 March 2016; The Hindu)
Seven idols were seized from the individuals.

Britain hands over warship artefacts to ATM (Malaysia, UK)
(18 March 2016; The Sun Daily)
“Artefact belonging to the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales, which were seized from Vietnamese looters last year, will be exhibited at the Port Dickson Army Museum.”

Thousands of rare artefacts at risk, says archaelogy director (Pakistan)
(17 March 2016; Daily Times)
Pakistan is suffering from a lack of space to house artefacts, particularly those recovered by customs.

Theft of Aurangzeb-era Quran: HC directs IO’s personal appearance (Pakistan)
(20 March 2016; Kashmir Reader)
The piece was taken from the Shri Pratap Singh museum in 2003 and the course is not pleased with the investigation’s progress.

West and Central Asia

The antiquities looting crisis in the Middle East
(12 March 2016; Al Jazeera)
Things are bleak when poverty and conflict are at the root of archaeological looting.

American tourist sneaks into ancient Jerusalem cave in overnight treasure hunt (Israel)
(16 March 2016; Ynet News)
…and was arrested of course.

The Trouble With the Maadana: Could an Israeli national symbol be a fake? (Israel)
(16 March 2016; New Republic)
An interesting long read about a possibly faked antiquity that made it on to the half-shekel.

6 out of 6: ALL of Syria’s UNESCO Heritage Sites damaged or destroyed during civil war (Syria)
(15 March 2016; RT)
A depressing list. Not to mention the other heritage sites destroyed.

In Other News

Art and activism collide at Iraqi artefact exhibition in Toronto (Canada, Iraq)
(17 March 2016; Middle East Eye)
Morehshin Allahyari’s reconstructed destroyed antiquities on display.

The Copycat Economy
(14 March 2016; Business of Fashion)
“Do knockoffs harm the fashion business? Or does copying keep the wheels of the industry turning?”

Graffiti artist destroys own work after his art was removed from original locations (Italy)
(13 March 2016; The Telegraph)
Blue “destroyed his own work after discovering some had been removed from their original street locations by technicians in order to be exhibited in the show Street Art: Banksy & Co.”

With Its Own Arts Center, Beast Jesus Rises Again (Spain)
(18 March 2016; Hyperallergic)
Our most favourite of restorations is getting its own arts center in Borja, Spain.

A Life-or-Death Hunt for Tree Thieves (Thailand)
(14 March 2016; National Geographic)
Trying to prevent rosewood theft and trafficking.

Thai gardener whose $20 mn heist caused Blue Diamond Affair becomes monk (Thailand, Saudi Arabia)
(17 March 2016; Hindustan Times)
The gardner, who stole $20mil in gems from the palace of a Saudi prince, has become a monk to redeem his karma.

Son of Punk To Burn Multi-Million Pound Collection Of Sex Pistols Memorabilia (UK)
(16 March 2016; Artlyst)
Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s son is trying to declare punk dead long after more interesting people already did so.

‘Worse Than Ruin Porn:’ Detroit Writer on the West Side House Exported to Europe (USA, Netherlands)
(14 March 2016; Deadline Detroit)
Does this ‘piece’ exacerbate racial strain and push “the narrative of a helpless Detroit in need of saving.”

TSA Confronts Age-old Question: Bomb or Abstract Art? (USA)
(17 March 2016; Hyperallergic)
This time the answer was art.

Crooks swipe Joe DiMaggio’s baseball bat and ball from Times Square attraction (USA)
(17 March 2016; The New York Post)
(Forgive me): Where did you go, Joe DiMaggio’s bat and ball?

What It’s Like Having a Rare Instrument Stolen (USA)
(15 March 2016; Chicago Magazine)
“Chicago musicians share horror stories of losing their instruments”