Culture crime news 29 February–6 March 2016


Hot this week: Museum theft organized crime mass conviction. Heck yeah!

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Conflict antiquities and conflicted antiquities: addressing commercial sales of legally excavated artefacts by Alice Stevenson
(7 March 2016)
Against the movement of archaeologically excavated, publically held artefacts onto the private art market.


Why art galleries are quietly clearing out their vaults
(28 February 2016; McLean’s)
“Inside the quiet world of deaccessioning”.

Scholarly debate will be stifled after Knoedler
(4 March 2016; The Art Newspaper)
“If you fear that perfectly honest casual remarks may be twisted to bear upon authenticity in a way that they were never intended to, then this alone will tend to silence scholarly discourse and debate.”


Egyptian ‘Seven Sacred Oils’ relief recovered from Switzerland (Egypt, Switzerland)
(3 March 2016; Ahram Online)
The looted piece was bought in Belgium.

Ancient Egypt tablet back after collector notified officials (Egypt, Switzerland)
(3 March 2016; The Daily Mail)
Swiss art collector Jean Claude Gandur bought the piece, discovered it was stolen, and returned it.

Antiquities: The long road home
(29 February 2016; The Africa Report)
“The continued contentious trade of Africa’s cultural heritage puts Western museums and galleries under fire as African collectors fight back.”

CC to Decide If Malian Teacher Will Face Charges for Destroying Timbuktu Artifacts (Mali)
(29 February 2016; Vice)
The trial of Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi and heritage destruction as a human rights issue.

Destruction of Timbuktu sites shocked humanity, prosecutor tells ICC (Mali)
(1 March 2016; The Guardian)
“Prosecutors are seeking to persuade three judges that there is enough evidence to proceed to a trial.”

Timbuktu Shrines Trial: Why the Destruction of Cultural Heritage is History Repeating Itself (Mali)
(5 March 2016; Newsweek)
“The attack on the tombs and shrines of Timbuktu is also a direct attack on cultural identity.”


Moncton’s Assumption Gallery has 2 paintings stolen (Canada)
(1 March 2016; CBC News)
The two pieces had ‘a security chip’ but it is unclear what that means.

N.L. artist upset after painting sent through Canada Post is stolen (Canada)
(4 March 2016; CBC News)
The postcard sized painting was being sent to an exhibition.

Roba iglesia de Creel; lo detiene la FGE (Mexico)
(5 March 2016; Entre Líneas)
The stolen pieces were found tossed in a stream. One was arrested.

Perú recupera valioso patrimonio cultural (Peru, Argentina)
(3 March 2016; Noticieros Televisa)
Colonial money was returned from Argentina.

Never Too Late: US Gives Back Historic Documents Stolen From Russia (Russia, USA)
(3 March 2016; Sputnik News)
The documents were stolen from the Russian State Historical Archive, the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art and the Russian State Military Archive.

The scenes of a crime: Kota Ezawa revisits the Gardner Museum theft (USA)
(1 March 2016; Los Angeles Times)
An exhibition of artwork that explores the lost pieces from this heist.

Sotheby’s halts auction of Detroit mosaics (USA)
(2 March 2016; The Detroit News)
“Pieces of a Detroit building that were set to be auctioned Wednesday morning by the elite Sotheby’s have been pulled from the sale.”

Justice still lags for Nazi victims (USA)
(3 March 2016; The Hill)
The two congress people express concern about the slow pace of art repatriations.

Court Sides With Artist Against UPS Over Stolen Paintings (USA)
(4 March 2016; Daily Business Review)
The painter said UPS systematically stole art from packages and sold them.

Police recover school’s stolen artwork (USA)
(6 March 2016; Juneau Empire)
A month after the native artworks were stolen police were able to recover them. Charges have not yet be filed against the individuals they were seized from.

Christie’s Seeks Judgment Against Mugrabi Family for $32m Unpaid on Basquiat Painting (USA)
(29 February 2016; Art Market Monitor)
They have paid $5m on the $37m, but no more.

Collector Jose Mugrabi Breaks His Silence Over Christie’s Non-Payment Complaint (USA)
(4 March 2016; ArtNet News)
Apparently Christie’s and Mugrabi have reached a settlement over the Basquiat.


Austria Appeals $9 Million Compensation Verdict in Missing Klimt and Schiele Case (Austria)
(3 March 2016; ArtNet News)
In 1951 a collector consigned the artworks on long term loan to a museum in Linz. The family asked for them back in 2006 but the museum couldn’t produce them.

Long battle rages over Franz West’s estate (Austria)
(4 March 2016; The Art Newspaper)
“Zwirner and Gagosian galleries are embroiled in the feud between the Austrian artist’s archive and foundation.”

The great Art hoax of Zagreb’s Mimara Museum (Croatia)
(3 March 2016; Examiner)
Most of the pieces sold by Ante Topic Mimara to the Yugoslav state were fakes.

French cleaners scrub off street art (France)
(28 February 2016; BBC News)
The piece was commissioned from C215 but no one told the anti-graffiti squad.

French police seize painting attributed to Cranach, owned by the Prince of Liechtenstein (France, Liechtenstein)
(4 March 2016; The Art Newspaper)
How very strange. The Prince, who isn’t selling the piece, thinks it is real. He had just loaned it to an exhibition in France. This one is sure to scare folks.

Germany to Continue Funding to Establish Provenance of Looted Art (Germany)
(3 March 2016; New York Times)
More money for the Gurlitt collection research.

How to handle fakes, copyright and catalogues raisonnés: Berlin institute offers tips for artists’ estates (Germany)
(4 March 2016; The Art Newspaper)
The new “The Institute for Artists’ Estates”.

Egypt struggles to halt sale of artifacts at Dutch auction house (Netherlands, Egypt)
(2 March 2016; The Cairo Post)
The sales at Tefaf in Maastricht are scheduled for March 11–20.

Romanian police seize stolen archaeological treasures (Romania)
(29 February 2016;
“Three golden coins minted under the Dacian King Koson, 1,050 ancient silver coins, as well as 102 metal objects and 12 vases and ceramic statuettes were seized”

US Returns Stolen Historic Documents to Russia (Russia, USA)
(3 March 2016; ABC News)
They were taken in the chaos following the fall of the Soviet Union.

Looted ancient sculptures found in Slovenia refugee tent (Slovenia)
(3 March 2016; The Straits Times)
Very little information has been provided here so we should not rush to any conclusions. Photos of objects needed.

Decenas de joyas y obras de arte están perdidas por los robos en iglesias (Dozens of jewels and works of art are lost to robberies in churches; Spain)
(29 February 2016; La Verdad)
A deep time look at church theft past. They noted that in the 19th century, church thefts usually took place at night and in winter.

Osuna restaurará el acueducto saqueado y pedirá a la Junta que lo declare BIC (Osuna to restore the aqueduct looted for stone and the Junta will declare it BIC; Spain)
(1 March 2016; Andalucía Centro)
The unique first century hydraulic work had been damaged by block looters.

Swiss under pressure over art that Jews were forced to sell (Switzerland)
(3 March 2016; The Art Newspaper)
Lauder believes that art sold to fund escape should be treated like looted art or forced sale.

Vandals destroy beloved Stirchley Park art mural by painting over Banksy-style images (UK)
(27 February 2016; Birmingham Mail)
“Why would someone do such a thing?”

Manannan Mac Lír statue back in place at Binevenagh (UK)
(29 February 2016; The Irish News)
It was stolen then found more than a year ago. Now the piece by John Sutton is back.

Bible valued £2,000 stolen as church thefts go on the rise in Powys (UK)
(29 February 2016; News North Wales)
Twenty-nine crimes have took place at churches in Powyes last year including sacred art and bible theft.

Stolen sculpture prompts Cheltenham gallery appeal (UK)
(3 March 2016; BBC News)
The gallery says that theft from them is a rare occurrence

Lost painting found on steps of Cradley Library (UK)
(3 March 2016; Halesowen News)
The piece was taken 2.5 years ago and it appears to have been returned out of remorse.

RETURNED: 30-years after being stolen from Wilberfore Museum, precious Barachin cup is back in Hull (UK)
(2 March 2016; Hull Daily Mail)
The piece was crafted in 1725, stolen in 1986, bought by a collector in 2015 who did his own provenance research on it. When he discovered it was stolen, he returned it to the Hull Museums!

Stolen Abraham Barachin cup returned to Hull after 30 years (UK)
(3 March 2016; BBC News)
“It was identified when an antiques collector took it to an ‘opinions day’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum.”

Fourteen men convicted of plotting to steal £57m of Chinese artefacts (UK)
(1 March 2016; The Guardian)
Finally, a major organized crime conviction for an antiquities theft group.

Rathkeale Rovers: How an enthusiastic gardener and his Leylandii trimmings helped to bring gang leaders to justice (UK)
(29 February 2016; The Independent)
A longer piece on this major conviction.

Museum raids: Cambridge Fitzwilliam unlikely to get jade back, says expert (UK)
(1 March 2016; {BBC News})
Several market experts speculate that if the items have been taken to China, they are not recoverable.

Museums spending too little to prevent artefacts being stolen from their collections, expert warns (UK)
(1 March 2016; The Independent)
Comments from Tom Cremers of Museum Security Network

Failed rhino heist brings Dead Zoo Gang to justice (UK, China)
(1 March 2016; PRI)
Listen to me talk about the case on PRI’s The World.

Gang may have stolen antiquities for Chinese market, says expert (UK, China)
(1 March 2016; The Guardian)
And yours truly is that expert!

Police praised for museum thefts investigation (UK, China)
(3 March 2016; Museums Journal)
Various experts commend the police effort that went into this major conviction.

A theft in Old Believers’ community in western Ukraine (Ukraine)
(2 March 2016; Ukraine Today)
About 50 icons were taken and found in the home of a local church attendant.

South and East Asia

US Museum Returns Stolen Rama Statue (Cambodia, USA)
(29 February 2016; Cambodia Daily)
The director of the national museum said “we still have to work to find the others”.

Stolen Buddha Head Displayed at Museum of China in Beijing (China, Taiwan)
(3 March 2016; Yibada)
“It’s not acceptable to see many lost national treasures of China scattered overseas”.

कुटी रोड के मंदिर से शिवलिंग चोरी (India)
(2 March 2016; Amar Ujala)
A lingam was taken from this temple.

‘Stringent action in temple thefts must’ (India)
(3 March 2016; The Times of India)
The high court has ordered stringent action in temple theft cases.

Cops crack Pimpri temple theft case, 3 in net (India)
(4 March 2016; The Times of India)
A watchman and five accomplices are suspected in this theft of a gold crown, three silver crowns, and various other temple ornaments.

5 held, ornaments stolen from temple recovered (India)
(4 March 2016; Business Standard)
The five accused were employed by the temple.

Treasure hunters ravage temples (India)
(4 March 2016; The Hans India)
Treasure hunting teams with metal detectors are destroying ancient monuments.

Valuables worth 1.5 lakhstolen from Maradu temple (India)
(5 March 2016; The Times of India)
“Police found that the thieves stole more than 100 bell metal lamps, deepasthambam, utensils and decorative items.”

Rs 5 lakh worth gold, silver looted from Odisha temple (India)
(5 March 2016; Odisha Sun Times)
Ornaments, gold eyes, tilak of lord Hanuman were taken from a temple in Girisola village of Ganjam district.

Panchaloha idol stolen from temple in TN (India)
(5 March 2016; Web India 123)
“A Panchaloha idol of Lord Vinayaka and a silver crown were stolen from a Vinayakar temple at Ganapathy Nagar.”

India’s Lost Treasures (India, UK, Pakistan)
(5 March 2016; The Free Press Journal)
Continues Koh-i-noor controversy.

Temple burgled: idol and valuables stolen (India)
(6 March 2016; The Hindu)
“A panchaloha idol and some other valuables from the Asha Pooraha Ganapathy shrine at Ganapathy Nagar”.

Stolen idol produced in court (India)
(1 March 2016; Business Standard)
The returned Goddess Umaparameswari Amman made an appearance at the Kapoor trial.

In icon centre, Uma Parmeshwari reunites with Nataraja after 8 years (India)
(2 March 2016; Deccan Chronicle)
Some question about some of the facts in this piece.

Rs 1.58 L jewellery theft at Vaishno Devi temple (India)
(1 March 2016; Pune Mirror)
All the gold and silver ornaments of the goddess were taken.

Vaishno devi temple: Security guard, aides held for theft (India)
(4 March 2016; The Indian Express)
A security guard was involved in the theft of a crown, some ornaments, and cash.

Priceless artifacts stolen from cellar of Islamic summit tower in Lahore (Pakistan)
(5 March 2016; Daily Pakistan)
“According to administration the thieves took away gifts given by heads of various Islamic countries including four bangles, two necklaces and two rings.”

Probe into Summit Minar Museum theft begins (Pakistan)
(6 March 2016; The Nation)
“A police officer told reporters that many participants of a rally organised by religious parties against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri stormed the small gallery and took away four antique artificial bracelets.”

Jaro archbishop suspends priest over treasure hunt in ancient cemetery (Philippines)
(6 March 2016; Inter Aksyon)
Ten treasure hunters were arrested while digging a 50-foot hole inside a Spanish colonial cemetery. A parish priest had allowed the dig.

West and Central Asia

Museum of Lost Objects: The Winged Bull of Nineveh (Iraq)
(29 February 2016; BBC News)
The first in a series that looks at the history of individual antiquities that have been destroyed recently.

What do we really know about Islamic State’s role in illicit antiquities trade? (Iraq, Syria)
(1 March 2016; The Art Newspaper)
Very little, says top experts. Most of what is out there is rumour, speculation, and even lies.

Tel Aviv: Burglars indicted for heist of 17th Century manuscripts (Israel)
(28 February 2016; The Jerusalem Post)
The gang committed dry runs of the library heist. Manuscripts haven’t been recovered.

Some Take Massive Risks To Save Syria’s Cultural Heritage (Syria)
(28 February 2016; NPR)
Reporter James Harkin discusses his time on the ground in Syria.

Museum of Lost Objects: The Temple of Bel (Syria)
(1 March 2016; BBC News)
The story of Palmyra’s demolished temple.

Museum of Lost Objects: Tell of Qarqur (Syria)
(2 March 2016; BBC News)
Loss from this site with quotes from Jesse Casana.

Christian hamlet in Syria bears scars of fierce fighting (Syria)
(3 March 2016; The Daily Mail)
Destruction in Maaloula.

Museum of Lost Objects: Aleppo’s minaret (Syria)
(3 March 2016; {BBC News})
The loss of the minaret of Aleppo’s Great Mosque.

Museum of Lost Objects: The Lion of al-Lat (Syria)
(4 March 2016; BBC News)
The lion, another object gone from Palmyra.

In Other News

British tourist arrested in Peru for posing naked at ancient Machu Picchu site (Peru)
(4 March 2016; Mirror)
Look at this idiot.

Banksy lawyers delayed geographical profiling study (UK)
(3 March 2016; BBC News)
Have researchers at QMU revealed Banksy’s identity via geographic profiling.

But is it art? NYPD cops seize $1m worth of marijuana disguised as art in New York’s West Village (USA)
(28 February 2016; The Daily Mail)
The crate the pot was in was labelled “art”. Sly.

Petrified Forest: Digging out of a rock and hard place (USA)
(3 March 2016; Arizona Sonora News)
On regret of theft and return.

Social media posts lead police to Silva’s bow tie (USA)
(4 March 2016; Las Cruces Sun-News)
Thank goodness, this 6 foot fibre glass bow-tie has been recovered!

A Plagiarism Scandal Is Unfolding In The Crossword World (USA)
(4 March 2016; Five Thirty Eight)
Corruption and fraud in the most cherished of institutions…crosswords.

Hacker Guccifer who leaked Bush paintings, racy Powell emails to be extradited to US (USA, Romania)
(4 March 2016; New York Post)
Yes, this is the fellow who brought us George W. Bush’s bathtub self portrait.