Culture crime news 19 June–2 July 2017


Hot this week: Corrupt idol cops in India

(Not pictured! Those guys are fine.)

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Huge Collection of Nazi Artifacts Discovered Inside Secret Room in Argentina (Argentina)
(20 June 2017; Gizmodo)
Some were “of illicit origin”.

Stolen documents bought at yard sale returned to Jack Miner Sanctuary (Canada)
(19 June 2017; CTV)
Documents had been unlawfully removed from the bird sanctuary by an ex director.

$18,000 painting stolen from downtown Montreal art gallery (Canada)
(21 June 2017; Montreal Gazette)
Painting stolen was by painter Marc-Aurèle Fortin.

Bronze statues among loot in Cuernavaca (Mexico)
(20 June 2017; Mexico News Daily)
They were awaiting relocation from the Plaza de Armas

Buscan proteger vestigios históricos en Cerro Las Burras (Looking to protect historic remains in Cerro Las Burras; Mexico)
(25 June 2017; NTR)
Parts of the site have been destroyed by poaching stones.

El estadounidense que saqueó Chichén Itzá (The American that looted Chichén Itzá; Mexico)
(26 June 2017; El Universal)
Critique of E.H. Thompson

Three men charged over Damien Hirst counterfeits that sold for $400,000 (USA)
(19 June 2017; The Guardian)
Fake “limited-edition” Hirsts that were sold online.

Cracking the Biggest Art Heist in History (USA)
(20 June 2017; Bloomberg)
Gardner Museum paintings: “the Holy Grail in the art world”

Pendleton police recover load of missing Indian regalia (USA)
(21 June 2017; East Oregonian)
Recovered at a business close to the site of theft.

Fight to Recover Nazi-Looted Art Continues in DC (USA)
(22 June 2017; Courthouse News)
A Hungarian university vs the Herzog family

Caretaker Gets Prison Term for Stealing Fine Art From Client (USA)
(26 June 2017; U.S. News)
Stole 40 works of art while acting as a caretaker.

Bi-partisan legislation introduced to safeguard tribal items (USA)
(27 June 2017; Navajo-Hopi Observer)
“STOP Act would prohibit exporting sacred Native items”

Portion of Seminole girl statue stolen in Fort Lauderdale (USA)
(27 June 2017; Local10)
Possibly stolen for scrap; no security cameras in the area.

Fate Of Stolen Clock Still A Mystery, M.S. Rau Offers $25,000 Reward (USA)
(27 June 2017; Antiques and the Arts Weekly)
Taken from a booth at the Chicago Antiques, Art and Design Show

Irish republicans thought to be hiding $500 million worth of stolen American paintings in Ireland (USA, Ireland)
(29 June 2017; Irish Central)
Brand thinks that the thieves weren’t organised by the IRA but were sympathisers.

Medication dating back to the 1800s stolen in Homer (USA)
(30 June 2017; KBBI)
The antique medical supplies were stolen from an Alaska resident.

International Art Market Helps Finance Terrorism, Experts Tell Congress (USA)
(24 June 2017; Inside Sources)
“The challenge for law-enforcement, customs officials, and art dealers is the opaque nature of the international art market.”

Changing Nature of Illicit Art Trading Revealed as US Steps Up Fight (USA)
(27 June 2017; Blouin Artinfo)
“Since 2001 the US has become more aware of the importance of culture and cultural heritage”

Rare art pilfered from Paris Review soirée (USA)
(19 June 2017; Page Six)
An illustration by author Günter Grass.

Pilfered art returned to Paris Review (USA)
(19 June 2017; Page Six)
Returned, no questions asked.

Roban campanas de la iglesia de La Candelaria (Bells of the church of La Candelaria stolen; Venezuela)
(19 June 2017; Aporrea)
They had been in the church for over 100 years.

Venezuela: Looters Destroy Altar, Steal Communion Artifacts (Venezuela)
(30 June 2017; TruNews)
Santa Rosa de Lima church in Caracas


Austrian court rules in favour of Franz West’s family in legal battle over estate (Austria)
(27 June 2017; The Art Newspaper)
“Concluded that a new foundation established days before his death to manage his rights and assets was created without a proper contract”

French military funds technology to document heritage in conflict zones (France)
(23 June 2017; The Art Newspaper)
$1.1m grant to widen access to 3D data

Ei Arakawa sculpture vandalised at Sculpture Projects Münster (Germany)
(21 June 2017; The Art Newspaper)
LED panels will be replaced but the work won’t be the same.

‘Suspicious’ art from Nazi dealer to go on show in Germany (Germany)
(27 June 2017; DW)
Bonn’s Bundeskunsthalle will show some of the Gurlitt art

Recuperan reliquia de Don Bosco que había sido robada (Recovered: relic of Don Bosco that had been stolen; Italy)
(15 June 2017; ACI Prensa)
Theft was to sell the container, not for the brain piece.

Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About This $30 Million Italian Art Heist? (Italy)
(27 June 2017; Observer)
Rembrandt and Renoir stolen in Monza

Roban un cáliz de plata de la Iglesia Mayor de Baza (Silver chalice stolen from the main church of Baza; Spain)
(18 June 2017; Ideal)
Theft didn’t change plans for a traditional procession.

Unos ladrones roban la reliquia del hueso de San Hipólito Mártir en una iglesia de Cocentaina (Thieves steal the bone reliquary of San Hipólito Mártir from a Cocentaina church; Spain)
(21 June 2017; ABC Spain)
Alleged thief was caught in the act of an unrelated crime in a nearby town

Roban dos campanas de 200 kg en Labeaga (Navarra) (Two bells weighing 200g stolen in Labeaga (Navarra); Spain)
(27 June 2017; EITB)
Only 25 people live in the council but none of them saw the theft from the tower.

Founder of Zurich’s Le Corbusier Museum Sues Culture Minister for Defamation (Switzerland)
(30 June 2017; ArtNet News)
Renaming, withdrawal of collection, and now the court.

Painting stolen decade ago from Belfast family’s home is discovered in Chicago (UK)
(27 June 2017; Belfast Telegraph)
It took four years of negotiations to have the piece returned.

Vandals attack medieval ruins leaving a repair bill of £500,000 (UK)
(29 June 2017; The Herald)
Wallingford Castle was damaged when someone pushed over stonework.

‘World’s Most Expensive Painting’ Actually Sold for $90M Less Than Reported: Suit (UK)
(30 June 2017; ArtNet News)
Cezanne’s The Card Players sale was more complicated and less financially absurd than reported.

FBI helps NI family recover stolen William Conor art (UK, USA)
(30 June 2017; BBC News)
Victim’s son in law noticed the pieces on an auction website.


At British Museum Protest, Australian Aboriginal Activist Demands Repatriation of Ancestor’s Shield (Australia, UK)
(20 June 2017; Hyperallergic)
Gweagal shield which was seized by Captain Cook.

Destruction of Mosul’s Great Mosque holds a heritage lesson for Australia (Australia, Iraq)
(29 June 2017; The Guardian)
We can’t assume heritage will always be safe

South and East Asia

53 held for auction trading fraud (China)
(29 June 2017; Shanghai Daily)
“On suspicion of swindling at least 9,000 collectors of 46 million yuan (US$6.70 million) over the past three years.”

Smuggling of idols: Advance bail plea of Delhi-based man opposed (India)
(21 June 2017; The Times of India)
This is Sharad Kumar Dugar

Two of eight-man gang held, idols recovered (India)
(22 June 2017; The Hindu)
“Interrogation of the accused has revealed that most of the gang members are lorry drivers.”

ASI to send Australia gallery details of 4 stolen TN idols (India)
(23 June 2017; The Times of India)
The museums “confirmed that four sculptures in its possession were among artefacts that the Tamil Nadu police had reported as stolen.”

Gold-covered mast of Kerala’s Sabarimala temple found damaged; 3 held (India)
(25 June 2017; The Indian Express)
It had only recently been installed in the Lord Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala

Two rob gold jewellery from temple (India)
(26 June 2017; The Hindu)
Threw chilli powder at the priest then stole the jewellry from Renuka Yellamma temple

Tamil Nadu: Siva lingam worth Rs 2 crore stolen from Swayambulingeswara temple (India)
(26 June 2017; India)
Emerald piece from a 400-year-old temple

Hyderabad: Unidentified persons steal idol from temple (India)
(27 June 2017; Telangana Today)
Idol stolen from Bhramarambha Mallikarjuna Swamy temple located near Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University–Hyderabad

A.P. to go digital to secure ancient icons (India)
(28 June 2017; The Hindu)
Andhra Pradesh will be using documentation to help with their idol theft problem.

Miscreants vandalise Shiva linga at Hampi World Heritage site (India)
(29 June 2017; The News Minute)
Previously other monuments at the site had been damaged and destroyed by treasure hunters.

हनुमान मंदिर से नगी और मुकुट चोरी (Nuni And Crown Theft From Hanuman Temple; India)
(30 June 2017; Amar Ujala)
Broke the lock of Sri Biria Kheda Hanuman Temple

Idol theft case: Madras High Court seeks action against police officials (India)
(18 June 2017; India Live Today)
Tip off about the allegedly corrupt police officers came as an anonymous note.

SI arrested for idol theft, HC calls for case records (India)
(28 June 2017; The Times of India)
“He was a head constable when he along with an inspector recovered six idols on May 27, 2008 but did not record the seizure.”

Idol theft: DSP on the run (India)
(29 June 2017; The Hindu)
Deputy Superintendent of Police Khader Batcha is wanted for idol smuggling.

Idol theft by police: Madras HC asks IG why erring officials are not arrested (India)
(30 June 2017; The Times of India)
Quite embarrassing for police

Why idol wing personnel who sold antiques are not arrested, asks High Court (India)
(30 June 2017; The Times of India)
Justice Mahadevan asked: “Why you have not arrested them? Arrest them. Don’t you know their whereabouts?”

DSP wanted in multi-crore idol theft suspended (India)
(1 July 2017; The Hindu)
“Steps being taken” to arrest the accused officer

Nepal gets four stolen idols back from US (Nepal, USA)
(19 June 2017; The Himalayan Times)
Sent to the National Museum Chhauni

The tussle for Kasthamandap (Nepal)
(1 July 2017; The Kathmandu Post)
Community and control in rebuilding a destroyed monument.

Stolen Buddhist painting exhibited to public after discovery in U.S. (South Korea, USA)
(23 June 2017; Yonhap News Agency)
Stolen from Songgwang Temple in Suncheon in the early 70s.

Looted Korean royal seals to return home from U.S. (South Korea, USA)
(30 June 2017; Yonhap News Agency)
Royal Seal of Queen Munjeong and Royal Seal of King Hyeonjong were unlawfully removed from Korea at an unknown time.

Stolen Antique Shop Sign Returned to Owner (Thailand)
(27 June 2017; Khaosod English)
Century-old sign from Lao Sun Kee grocery store

Fine Arts officials take artefacts for safekeeping after fabrics stolen (Thailand)
(23 June 2017; The Nation)
For safe keeping after the theft of items related to King Taksin’s royal concubine Chao Chom Manda

King Taksin concubine’s artefacts missing from temple where novice’s body found (Thailand)
(23 June 2017; The Nation)
Taken from Wang Tawan Tok Temple in Nakhon Si Themmarat province.

West and Central Asia

The many headless Buddhas (Afghanistan)
(26 June 2017; Qantera)
“National Museum of Afghanistan, where visitors are hard pressed to find a Buddha with its head intact.”

Illicit antiquities trade threatening cultural heritage (General)
(28 June 2017; Middle East Online)
“International market interests, a general breakdown in border controls and competition among insurgent groups for revenue streams all played their part.”

Supreme Court Takes Up Dispute Over Iran Antiquities in Terror Case (Iran, USA)
(27 June 2017; NBC)
Antiquities as payment for a 1997 suicide bombing in Israel? Bonkers.

Battle for Mosul: IS ‘blows up’ al-Nuri mosque (Iraq)
(22 June 2017; BBC News)
Where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a “caliphate” in 2014.

Battle for Mosul: Destruction of al-Nuri mosque ‘shows IS defeated’ (Iraq)
(22 June 2017; BBC News)
“IS said American aircraft had destroyed the complex, a claim denied by the US”

Turkish Hercules on display in Geneva (Turkey, Switzerland)
(21 June 2017; Hurriyet Daily News)
Returning to the province of Antalya following a Swiss court ruling.

Smugglers caught with 2,500-year-old artifacts from Turkey’s Knidos (Turkey)
(22 June 2017; Daily Sabah)
Acting on a tip off, police found artefacts in the accused’s houses

Protesters target Dutch firm involved in removal of 550-year-old tomb from ancient town of Hasankeyf (Turkey, Netherlands)
(30 June 2017; The Art Newspaper)
Ottoman tomb’s removal condemned.

In Other News

Man sought in theft of famous ‘Sourtoe Cocktail’ toe from Yukon bar (Canada)
(20 June 2017; National Post)
The human toe goes in the cocktail, then you drink the cocktail. Really. And someone stole it.

Severed toe used in famous Yukon cocktail returned with an apology (Canada)
(23 June 2017; CTV)
With a note of apology.

Confusion over legalities is hurting Alaskan ivory market, locals say (USA)
(20 June 2017; KTOO)
Difficult to determine if ivory is legal or banned; rough for traditional craftspeople.

Avocado theft has long been a problem in Ventura County (USA)
(21 June 2017; Ventura County Start)
High prices attract rustlers.

Gems, minerals valued at $30,000 stolen from Franklin Mineral Museum (USA)
(20 June 2017; New Jersey Herald)
Burglars climbed a barbed wire fence and forced their way in through a window.

Museum theft reward doubled (USA)
(22 June 2017; New Jersey Herald)
Money put up by a local resident who is a fan of the museum.