Friday, October 7, 2016

More on the French President's Cultural Preservation Fund

As François Hollande addressed a crowd gathered at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) two weeks ago, CHL tweeted about the French president's intention to create a fund to protect cultural heritage. What do we know about this proposed fund?

We want to create a fund, a global fund to support the safeguarding of cultural heritage with the ambition to raise $100 million,” explained Hollande. “This fund will finance the rescue of works and monuments to ensure the restoration and reconstruction of places of our collective memory and train specialists, archaeologists, curators, historians, so that we may always keep a trace of heritage.”

Vice President Joe Biden (r) introduces
President Fran
çois Hollande (l) at The Met.
Hollande first announced the creation of a fund in November 2015 when he addressed the general conference of UNESCO. He told the international body, “But we also need to involve private partners to ensure that public resources are not the only ones that can be requested. I propose that there may be a single international structure, clearly identified that can gather donations and funding, and establish an international endowment fund dedicated to endangered cultural property.”

In his recent visit to The Met, President Hollande reflected that the idea for the fund actually originated in Japan this past May when he was with President Barack Obama at the G7 summit. Hollande’s remarks followed an introduction made by Vice President Joe Biden. 

[Sidebar:  When the G7 met, it published an Action Plan on Countering Terrorism and ViolentExtremism, calling on nations “to enhance efforts to hinder looting and trafficking of cultural property originating from regions under the control of terrorist groups.”]

Biden's surprise appearance at The Met generally touted White House efforts to preserve cultural heritage. He described ISIS's sale of artifacts to fund terrorism while simultaneously attacking cultural diversity in the Middle East, which the vice president called an affront to the people of the region. Biden asserted that trafficking laws targeting antiquities are rigorously enforced.

Hollande’s proposed cultural preservation fund is expected to be a joint project between France and the United Arab Emirates, which is why H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, was on hand for Hollande’s pronouncement. The pair are expected to lead a conference on cultural heritage protection at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in December.

Text and original photos copyrighted by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

ICC Sentences War Criminal to Prison for Destroying Timbuktu Heritage [VIDEO]

In a landmark decision, today the International Criminal Court (ICC) handed down a nine year prison sentence in the matter of The Prosecutor v. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, the first war crimes case specifically focused on the destruction of cultural and religious heritage.

Presiding Judge Raul Pangalangan, a Harvard educated jurist from the Philippines, incarcerated Mahdi for intentionally directing attacks against ten buildings of a historical or religious character in Timbuktu, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mahdi is a native of the West African nation of Mali who joined Ansar Dine, an al-Qaeda allied group, in April 2012. On June 30 and July 11, 2012, Mahdi ordered the destruction of nine mausoleums and the Sidi Yahia Mosque. Prosecutors named the defendant as head of the Hisbah, a vice squad established to uphold public morality.

The ICC issued a warrant for Mahdi's arrest in 2015. After prosecutors and the defendant reached a plea deal in February 2016, the ICC received Mahdi's admission of guilt and reviewed the prosecution's evidence at a trial held last month. Mahdi faced a war crimes charge under Article 25 of the Rome Statute.

Video of today's groundbreaking hearing is presented in its entirety, courtesy of the ICC.

Text and original photos copyrighted by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Protecting Cultural Heritage by Revising the Customs Entry Form

Customs Entry Form 6059B
When people become aware of the rampant looting, smuggling, and destruction of cultural property, they show concern about preserving humanity's shared cultural heritage. And when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers are able to identify specific cultural objects imported into America, they are better positioned to interdict at-risk archaeological, ethnological, religious, and other cultural heritage material at the border.

It is for these reasons that the Customs Entry Form should be revised slightly.

Those who have flown back home from a trip overseas undoubtedly have spotted a flight attendant strolling down the aircraft aisle handing out the ubiquitous blue paper known as Form 6059B, the double-sided document used by travelers to declare goods that they are bringing into the United States.

By checking off the simple “Yes” or “No” boxes found at question #11, travelers easily notify CPB upon their arrival whether they have:
  • fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, food, insects;
  • meats, animals, animal/wildlife products;
  • disease agents, cell cultures, snails;
  • soil or have been on a farm/ranch/pasture.
But, surprisingly, the Entry Form does not include an interrogatory that covers regulated cultural heritage goods. There is no “Yes” or “No” box for travelers to check when carrying an ancient Greek vase, Roman coin, Maya wall art, Byzantine mosaic panel, Tellem textile, Khmer statue, Tyrannosaurus bataar fossil, or the like. That is why a new line under #11 should be added on the Customs Entry Form to say:

I am (We are) bringing...
antiquities/antiques, archaeological material/artifacts, ancient coins, tribal objects, fossils
Yes __  No __

This new Q and A would alert travelers about the existence of regulations that govern imported cultural goods. Such laws include the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act; the Pre-Columbian Monumental or Architectural Sculpture or Murals Act; the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act; the National Stolen Property Act; and many more.

A person checking the "Yes" box would prompt CBP officers to inquire further about whether a particular cultural heritage object could be imported legally or whether its entry was subject to restriction. A false "No" response might trigger CBP to contact Homeland Security Investigations to examine if someone was knowingly concealing an illegal import.

In addition to the questions found under #11, the Customs Entry Form currently directs travelers to “[d]eclare all articles on this declaration form and show the value in U.S. dollars.” It cautions them about bringing potentially prohibited objects into America like agricultural and wildlife products, controlled substances, obscene articles, toxic substances, and merchandise that infringes intellectual property rights. "Failure to declare such items ... can result in penalties and the items may be subject to seizure," Form 6059B warns. By adding specific language about legally protected cultural property to this part of the Form, travelers would be alerted further about their duty to declare a variety of protected cultural heritage objects.

Retired customs officer Domenic DiGiovanni, who worked extensively with cultural heritage material when he was with CBP, tweeted that these changes to the Form would be a "great idea" because customs officers would ask follow-up questions in person that "could elicit a behavioral response" from the traveler, which in turn could "lead to more questions."

There is plenty of space remaining on Form 6059B to improve the paperwork, and the small changes would go a long way toward protecting cultural heritage.

Text and original photos copyrighted by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Monday, August 22, 2016

One Side of the Coin: ACCG Re-Argues Previously Decided Legal Issues in Baltimore Test Case

Some of the ancient coins in dispute in U.S. v. 3 Knife-Shaped Coins.
Court decisions in 2014 and 2015 rejected the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild’s (ACCG) demand to revisit legal issues already quashed by the courts in the forfeiture case of U.S. v. Three Knife-Shaped Coins Et al. and the related case of Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Department of State; Assistant Secretary of State, Educational and Cultural Affairs. Nevertheless, the Guild continues to re-argue the same issues.

The litigation stems from the ACCG’s aim to strike down or erode customs regulations that regulate the import of specific types of ancient coins that have been determined to be in jeopardy of looting. The group minted a test case seven years ago when it intentionally imported undocumented and unprovenanced ancient Chinese and Cypriot coins to the United States. The Guild imported the archaeological materials from a London dealer and shipped them to Baltimore on a British Airways flight. The ancient coins had no accompanying documentation and offered no record of chain of custody or provenance.

Repeated losses suffered by the ACCG in the federal district courtthe court of appeals, and the U.S.Supreme Court have not deterred the Guild from continuing its blitz on the import controls, which were erected under authority of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) and are designed to curb transnational trafficking of at-risk archaeological material.

The latest round of ACCG court filings is a motion for summary judgment that repeats many arguments that already have failed to win judicial support. In its July 2016 motion, the Guild insists that it “has either rebutted the government’s prima facie case and/or the government has failed to meet its own burden. Accordingly, the Court should grant the Guild Summary Judgment, order the return of the Guild’s coins, and require the Government to pay the Guild’s attorney’s fees and costs.”

While the ACCG litigates the Three Knife-Shaped Coins case in federal district court in Maryland, it is expected that the Missouri-based group simultaneously will press the matter when the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) meets in Washington, DC on October 25. That is when CPAC will hear public testimony about whether the White House should renew import controls to protect pre-classical and classical archaeological objects and Byzantine and post-Byzantine ecclesiastical and ritual ethnological materials from Cyprus, Docket No.DOS-2016-0054.

So far the ACCG’s defeats in the federal courts have produced favorable case law that strengthens law enforcement efforts to disrupt cultural heritage trafficking. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, decided that federal authorities properly listed the kinds of ancient Chinese and Cypriot coin artifacts that may be subject to CPIA import controls.

The appeals court also ruled that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) properly detained the ACCG's undocumented coins. The court explained that the burden therefore shifts to the Guild to prove that its actions were lawful, plainly articulating the clear rule that "[t]he importer need not document every movement of its articles since ancient times. It need demonstrate only that the articles left the country that has requested import restrictions before those restrictions went into effect or more than ten years before the date of import.” “In short,” the court added, “CBP need not demonstrate that the articles are restricted; rather, the statute ‘expressly places the burden on importers to prove that they are importable.’”

The ACCG rejects this standard. Rather than offering information to show that the ancient archaeological materials qualify as a legal import, the ACCG instead filed motions for discovery and a motion for summary judgment attacking the validity of the import regulations themselves. Meanwhile, the Guild maintains that the government bears the high burden to prove that the restricted ancient coins were first discovered in and subject to the export controls of China and Cyprus.

At a motions hearing held earlier this year, Assistant U.S. Attorney Molissa Farber, representing the government, told the Maryland district court that the Guild's line of argument is “essentially an attack on the government's ability to classify the coins by type and category, which has already been well-settled that we can do.” “And I understand that Claimants [ACCG] disagree with that process,” the prosecutor said, “but that's already been litigated. That’s not at issue here. That part is done.”

AUSA Farber reminded the court that “the Fourth Circuit rejected the notion that the government was going to have to fight a case coin-by-coin. The Fourth Circuit said that the statutory structure allows us to list coins by type and category.”

She emphasized that the evidence that the Guild seeks to introduce is not evidence pertaining to the specific defendant property here. They’re not seeking to introduce any kind of evidence that relates to these 22 defendant coins as far as when these specific 22 coins left China and Cyprus. What they want to introduce is general evidence that coins of this type of category circulated broadly and may have left China and Cyprus outside of the regulated period.”

Peter Tompa, attorney for the ACCG and the organization's current president, countered, “The coins at issue here are typical in the market. So we don't know where they were found or too much about them. And there’s nothing nefarious about that, Your Honor. It’s a situation where there’s just low value items, and it was not important until recently that such things would be -- that such things should have a documentary history. But we do know something about the coins, we know something at least. We know that they were exported from the UK by Spink, a well-regarded firm that's been around since the 1600s, and in compliance with both UK and EU law in April, 19 2009.”

Attorney Tompa continued, “Well, assuming the government has established first discovery just by listening, we’re entitled to rebut that. And how we’re trying to do that here with regard [to] these specific coins is by offering the opinions of two experts, Mr. [Douglas] Mudd, who is the Curator at the American Numismatic Association in Colorado, and Mr. [Michael] McCullough, who’s an expert in the international exchange of cultural artifacts.”

Declaring that “scholarly evidence” can be used by the ACCG to show that the coins left their countries of origin before the enactment of U.S. import restrictions, Attorney Tompa offered that “Mr. Mudd's opinion is that the ancient coins at issue here are of a sort that circulated in significant numbers outside of China or Cyprus for thousands of years[,] first as currency and then as collectibles. So it’s unlikely and cannot be assumed that they left Cyprus or China after the date restrictions were imposed.”

“So because these things circulated for thousands of years first as collectibles -- first as currency, then as collectibles," Attorney Tompa reasoned that "it’s unlikely that they exited Cyprus or China after the date of the restrictions, just given the numbers outside of those two countries.”

“Mr. McCullough's report is that UK and EU law did not require expert [sic] certificates for the coins at issue in this case, or the Cypriot -- well, any of the coins at issue in this case. And such with respect to the Cypriot coins, that would satisfy Cypriot law, because, after all, Cyprus is a member the EU as well. Mr. McCullough also opines that the Chinese coins here could have exited Hong Kong legally without documentation in that export would satisfy Chinese law under both the laws of China and Hong Kong.”

AUSA Farber countered this argument by rejoining, “The most salient point I think to take away from this particular dispute over the scholarly evidence at least is the distinction between specific and general. And I believe what we just heard from Claimant [ACCG] was a lot of purported evidence regarding general coin circulation. The coins are of the sort that circulated broadly. I mean, Your Honor raised the point, what’s the ultimate implication here? And the implication is that if that argument is allowed, it undermines the CPIA, undermines the statutory structure, because it essentially holds the coins shouldn't have been listed in the first place based on their type of category. And that’s not permitted.”

U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake agreed. In a ruling dated February 11, 2016, Judge Blake pronounced “that the Ancient Coin Collector’s Guild (“the Guild”) seeks discovery not relevant to the issues the court will have to decide in this forfeiture action.” In particular, she highlighted that the ACCG “apparently will seek to prove that the export of these coins from Cyprus or China to England was lawful under EU law. It is unlikely that the export control status of the coins under foreign law will be a proper defense in this forfeiture action.” The judge added pointedly, “Further, to the extent the Guild argues that the government must prove ‘first discovery,’ beyond demonstrating that the coins at issue appear on the designated list, that argument is foreclosed by the CPIA and the Fourth Circuit opinion in Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 698 F.3d 171 (4th Cir. 2012). Listing by type and category is proper under the CPIA.”

Judge Blake also granted a protective order shielding two State Department employees from ACCG depositions, explaining that they “do not appear to have relevant personal knowledge.” Over the objections of Attorney Tompa, AUSA Farber attributed “ulterior motives” to the Guild's attempt to depose the purported witnesses, presenting the court with, what the federal lawyer called, an “Internet post written by a former director of the Coin Collectors Guild" criticizing one of the witnesses. Judge Blake remarked, “I'm more interested in probably the relevance than in motive.”

In June, Judge Blake issued a further order rebuking the ACCG's discovery requests, stating, “I will not at this time direct the government to provide any additional 30(b)(6) deposition testimony.”

Soon afterward, the ACCG filed its motion for summary judgment and, on July 29, the court adopted a schedule that allows the parties to fully brief their positions. Once completed in mid-October, CHL expects to review the parties’arguments.

Text and original photos copyrighted by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL works in cooperation with Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Shouldn't Art and Antiquities Sellers Be Subject to Anti-Money Laundering/Counter-Terrorist Financing Laws?

Banks, casinos, and high value asset sellers are subject to federal laws that flush out terrorist financiers and money launderers. So why aren't art and antiquities sellers subject to the same statutes?

Terrorists and criminals launder money by hiding dirty cash under the covers of seemingly legitimate business transactions. Money raised from illegal drug or weapons sales, for example, can be washed by purchasing luxury cars, yachts, mansions, or jewels. These newly bought assets either can be sold for cash or used as collateral to secure bank loans, thereby cleaning the cash of its sinful stains.

Dealers and auction houses sell art and antiquities that include high value works worth thousands or millions of dollars. At least one auction house issues loans, according to a report by Bloomberg titled An Auction House Learns the Art of Shadow Banking.

But while art and antiquities sellers are required to file Form 8300 like any other business that accepts a $10,000+ payment from a client or customer, they are not subject to the same rigid requirements of anti-money laundering/counter-terrorist financing laws like the Bank Secrecy Act, the Foreign Assets Control Regulations, the Financial Record Keeping and Reporting of Currency and Foreign Transactions law, and the USA PATRIOT Act.

Yet dealers in precious metals, stones, or jewels; sellers of automobile, planes, and boats; real estate professionals; pawnbrokers; travel agencies; and casinos are all regulated the same way that banks, credit unions, securities and commodities brokers, and credit card systems are. Federal law classifies these industries as “financial institutions” under 31 U.S.C. § 5312 and 31 CFR 1010.100(t). Noticeably absent from this list, however, are businesses operating in the cultural property marketplace.

Dealers and auction houses in this marketplace clearly have what the Bank Secrecy Act is looking for, namely “certain reports or records where they have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory investigations or proceedings, or in the conduct of intelligence or counterintelligence activities, including analysis, to protect against international terrorism.” 31 U.S. Code § 5311. That is why federal law should require art and antiquities sellers to file Suspicious Activity Reports with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

It's time for the Secretary of the Treasury, under authority of 31 U.S.C. § 5312(a)(2)(Z), to designate art and antiquities dealers and auction houses as businesses “whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters,” and therefore subject to the anti-money laundering/ counter-terrorist financing requirements of federal law. This is one of six law enforcement recommendations CHL has prposed to combat transnational cultural heritage trafficking.

Photo credit: Manuel De La Pena /

Text and original photos copyrighted by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Disturbing Evidence of Genocide and Heritage Destruction by ISIS Revealed at UN Congress

The annihilation of cultural and religious heritage is genocide's autograph. Landscapes fashioned by monuments, buildings, and houses of worship are obliterated into rubble when blood-thirsty men wish to exterminate the souls--not just the bodies--of an entire people whom they hate.

Panelists share evidence of ISIS atrocities with
the international community from the chamber of
the UN Economic and Social Council.
A United Nations report published in 2014 expressly recognized the link between heritage destruction and atrocity crimes, and last week a UN congress meeting in New York brought this distressing feature into focus.

Titled Defending Religious Freedom and Other Human Rights: Stopping Mass Atrocities Against Christian and Other Believers, the UN congress revealed shocking first-hand evidence of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed by ISIS against Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.

The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN assembled the international event in the wake of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's unexpected declaration last month that accused ISIS of committing genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shiite Muslims as that term is defined by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and its enabling statute in the U.S., the Genocide Convention Implementation Act.

Carl Anderson, CEO of the 1.9 million member Knights of Columbus (K of C), the largest lay Catholic charitable organization in the world, testified that Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities have been repeatedly subjected to rape, murder, property confiscation, slavery, and forced expulsion by ISIS.

It is estimated the number of Christians has dropped from 1.5 million to 200,000 in Iraq, and from 1.5 million to 500,000 in Syria, Anderson declared to the international congress with a notable sense of urgency. He warned the community of nations that indigenous Christians with ancient ties to the region "are at risk of disappearing entirely," declaring that "[r]eligious minorities have an indisputable right to live in their homeland."

Along with attacks on religious minorities, jihadists have destroyed churches, monasteries, mosques, and shrines, including St. Elijah'sIraq' oldest Christian monastery; the al-Kabir Mosque in Aleppo, Syria; a Yazidi shrine in Sinjar, Iraq; and numerous Chaldean, Armenian, and Greek Catholic churches in Syria. The American Schools of Oriental Research's Cultural Heritage Initiatives regularly tracks these and other episodes of vandalism.

report titled Genocide Against Christians in the Middle East, which the K of C presented to the State Department in March and submitted to the UN congress last week, lists the names of 1,131 Christian victims murdered in Iraq. The nearly 300 page document specifically identifies 125 attacks directed against churches. An envoy sent by the charitable organization to Iraq in February spoke with 44 refugees, who supplied direct eyewitness testimony of atrocities that had been committed.

Attorneys L. Martin Nussbaum and Ian Spear, together with Catholic University law professor Robert Destro, authored a legal brief buttressing the Genocide report. They concluded that the evidence formed "probable cause to believe that ISIS has committed genocide, and that the Department of State should make a referral to the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice and the Security Council of the United Nations."

One congress panelist reminded the global participants that the preservation of cultural and religious heritage is important, but safeguarding human lives is even more urgent. Fr. Douglas Al-Bazi, a Chaldean Catholic priest, who held up a blood-stained shirt as evidence of his kidnapping and beating at the hands of jihadi extremists, asserted that the forced immigration of Iraqi Christians is causing Christianity to disappear in the region. While he said that outside observers might argue that Christianity should survive in Iraq "for a culture and historical reason," the cleric pleaded that the Christians of Iraq "are living and breathing human beings, not museum pieces."  "My people are losing hope," he worried aloud. "Soon we will be small enough for the world to forget about us completely."

Participants attending the UN Congress in NY.
A missionary in Aleppo, Sr. Maria de Guadalupe, told about the persecution of Syrian Christians, but she added, in the face of danger, they have courageously exclaimed, "The experience of death has made us understand the sense of life."

The brave and tearful voice of a young 15 year old Yazidi girl, meanwhile, described the repeated rapes she suffered, committed by the violent hands of ISIS militants after kidnapping the girl and her family two years earlier.

Panelist presentations concluded with Egyptian-American attorney and human rights advocate Jacqueline Isaac, Vice President of Roads of Success, describing horrific details of the enslavement, rape, and torture of women and girls, which can only be characterized as gruesome and inhuman. Isaac called for the perpetrators to be held accountable by the International Criminal Court.

The Vatican repeatedly has expressed grave concerns over genocide as well as its coupling to the destruction of heritage. It is therefore no surprise that the Holy See sponsored the UN congress. Referring specifically to the conflicts raging in Syria, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, Pope Francis in his most recent Christmas message called attention to the "atrocities" and the "immense suffering" that "do not even spare the historical and cultural patrimony of entire peoples." In July, the pontiff decried that "a form of genocide is taking place [in the Middle East], and it must end." In a speech delivered to the UN General Assembly in September, moreover, the pontiff emphatically professed:
I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.
Among the many participants in last Thursday's congress were Ambassador Ufuk Gokcen of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; Lars Adaktusson, the European Parliament member responsible for the EP resolution condemning the mass murder of religious minorities by ISIS; and the parents of Kayla Mueller, an aid worker kidnapped and killed by ISIS in Syria.

The congress took place at a time when parallel legal efforts to curb terrorist activities in Iraq and Syria are in motion. They include the unanimously adopted UN Security Council Resolution 2199, which aims to restrict ISIS and Al Nusra Front from raising money by means of cultural heritage trafficking, oil smuggling, and kidnapping. The recently passed Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, likewise, is federal legislation that House and Senate leaders hope will curb smuggling of illegal Syrian artifacts into the U.S. That legislation awaits the signature of President Barack Obama before becoming law.

To help preserve lives and heritage in Iraq and Syria before they are wiped out, readers may contact In Defense of Christians, Roads of Success, the Knights of Columbus, or similar organizations that seek to help persecuted religious minorities in the region, which include Yazidis, Shia and Sunni Muslims, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabean-Mandeans, Kaka’e, Kurds, and Jews, as well as Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, Armenian, Catholic, Coptic, Evangelical, Melkite, and Orthodox Christians.

Video of the UN Congress on Defending Religious Freedom and Other Human Rights appears below, courtesy of United Nations Webcast.

Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

[UPDATE: Bill Signed Into Law] Video: Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act Passes House

[UPDATE: May 9, 2016: President Barack Obama today signed into law the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act.]

Earlier this afternoon, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted the Senate's amendment of the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act. H.R. 1493 calls for emergency import restrictions on at-risk Syrian cultural property. The bill now goes to the President for his signature.

View today's speech by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) on the floor of the House, just before the bill's passage by voice vote.

Source: C-SPAN

Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Legislative Ban on Syrian Cultural Property Moves Forward in the Senate

Since the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reworked the language of the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act in February, the proposed legislation is steadily moving through the halls of Capitol Hill. Yesterday the full senate passed the measure by unanimous consent.

The heart of H.R. 1493 calls for emergency import restrictions on at-risk Syrian cultural property within 90 days of the law's passage. It no longer mandates a cultural property czar like its predecessor legislation. Instead, the bill suggests that an interagency executive committee be created to help protect international cultural property.

Because the House of Representatives originally passed H.R. 1493 in a form that is different from what the Senate adopted, House lawmakers now must now consider the Senate's version of the legislation.

Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Russian Ambassador's Short Letter Makes Big Claims About Looted Syrian Antiquities

A letter from Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, Russia's envoy to the United Nations, has named dealers and shippers alleged to have facilitated the trade of looted antiquities from ISIS-controlled territory in Syria. Delivered to the UN Security Council on March 31, 2016 and released to the public today, the communication caught the attention of cultural property watchers, the media, and Turkey because of its blunt and provocative claims.

The two page correspondence identified the Turkish city of Gaziantep (see map below) as the focal point of smuggling "where the stolen goods are sold at illegal auctions and then through a network of antique shops and at the local market, BakırcılarÇarşısi (Eski Saray Street, Şekeroğlu district)." 

Ambassador Churkin announced that "new offices for the purchase of antiquities have opened on the Turkish-Syrian border in the administrative district of Akçakale...." He daringly identified the owner of an antique shop in the town of Kilis as a person "involved in the illicit trade" before proceeding to list individual Turkish transport companies that carried "bulky goods," describing how "[s]muggled artefacts (jewellery, coins, etc.) then arrive in the Turkish cities of Izmir, Mersin and Antalya, where representatives of international criminal groups produce fake documents on the origin of the antiquities."

The ambassador's letter contended that " ISIL has been exploiting the potential of social media more and more frequently so as to cut out the middleman and sell artefacts directly to buyers. Preference is given to cash transactions, while transactions conducted over the Internet involve the same financial institutions as are involved in transactions for the purchase of weapons and ammunition."

While the ambassador professed that "profit derived by the Islamists from the illicit trade in antiquities and archaeological treasures is estimated at US$ 150-200 million per year," he failed to provide details would back the claim. Instead, he offered an overview of the antiquities trafficking pipeline, explaining how ISIS maintains an antiquities division that is "part of the so-called ministry for control of natural resources within the group’s 'government.'" He remarked that "individuals in possession of a written permit stamped by this 'department' are permitted by the Islamists to carry out excavations and to remove and transport excavated items." Such claims match those made by the US government last year.

"The antiquities are ... offered to collectors from various countries," ambassador Churkin commented, "generally through Internet auction sites," several of which he plainly singled out. The wrongdoers, he said, "employ concealment measures, such as IP-address spoofing, which makes it difficult to identify and determine the actual location of the seller."

Ambassador Churkin's statements have not been verified by an independent third party. Nevertheless, collectors of cultural heritage objects should continue to exercise reasonable caution during this time of conflict in Syria by steering clear of archaeological objects that potentially originate from the region.

The map marks the location of Gaziantep, a crossroads of antiquities trafficking according to Ambassador Churkin.
Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Two Art and Cultural Property Law Programs You Should Attend

Where can I learn more about cultural heritage law? CHL readers will want to take advantage of two upcoming opportunities that dive into the world of art and cultural property law.

Don’t miss Looted Art and Cultural Property: Current Controversies, Future Resolutions, a program sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation and Fordham Art Law Society. The all-day symposium will be held on March 25 at Fordham University Law School in New York City. The event hopes to spark serious discussions about the importance of protecting cultural heritage.

Panelists include leading professionals such as Attorney Leila Amineddoleh, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Attorney Pierre Ciric, the Getty Trust’s Dr. James Cuno, Dr. Brian Daniels of UPenn, Attorney Kate Fitz Gibbon, Attorney Lawrence Kaye, Attorney Thomas Kline, the Antiquities Coalition’s Deborah Lehr, Attorney Howard N. Spiegler, and many more.

Registration and more information about the program can be found here.

Abbey of San Galgano, Province of Siena
And who wouldn’t want to study the relationship between international law, art law, and cultural property law ... in Italy! That is why Tulane Law School’s summer program in Siena should interest many law students.

Featuring the expertise of Dr. Patty Gerstenblith—chair of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee and director of the Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law at DePaul College of Law—Tulane's Institute for International Law, Cultural Heritage and the Arts will start May 29 and end June 23.

Learn more about the Tulane program here.

Photo credit: Luca Biagiotti  /

Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Prosecutors, Detector Dogs, and Laws: 6 Law Enforcement Recommendations to Combat Transnational Cultural Heritage Trafficking

Transnational cultural heritage trafficking thrives on an opaque art and antiquities market. Attractive features of this marketplace include discretion surrounding business transactions, easy creation of shell corporations, the high probability that smuggled imports won't be detected, clever mechanisms to move money, infrequent prosecutions of traffickers, and limited regulatory resources.

Police and prosecutors need additional tools to build capacity, spot contraband, and capture the criminals. Here are six recommendations.

#1  Specialized federal prosecutors

At least two federal prosecutors should be assigned to focus exclusively on cultural heritage trafficking. One might be placed in the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington , DC and another in the criminal division at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, the heart of America's art and antiquities marketplace.

Only federal prosecutors have authority to prosecute federal felony crimes like importing goods illegally or falsifying import paperwork, crimes which are typically part of antiquities trafficking.

While there have been several commendable cases where federal authorities have seized contraband antiquities and sent them back to their country of origin--particularly in New York City--few have resulted in criminal convictions. This "seize and send" policy must mature into an "investigate and indict" objective, where authorities hold individuals accountable through convictions and criminal penalties. Otherwise thieves, smugglers, fences, and their accomplices will continue to experience no specific deterrence or general deterrence that the criminal justice system uses to curb criminal conduct.

Already the seizure and forfeiture of cultural property in federal court depends on a U.S. Attorney proving that a criminal statute was violated. So it only makes sense that the individuals who commit the underlying crime should be prosecuted too. Once cultural objects are sent away to their country of origin through the seizure and forfeiture process, there is no case left to prosecute because the primary evidence has been sent away, an outcome that occurred even in a case where investigators suspected terrorist financing.

Without federal prosecutions, U.S. attorneys fail to develop the trial or investigative skills needed to uncover and describe to juries criminal networks and their subtle money trails, clandestine trafficking routes, and shell corporations used to move contraband cultural property into the American marketplace.

Specialized prosecutors would be expected to work together to support Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI, which in turn would sharpen prosecutors' white collar crime skills to help guide investigations, craft search warrants, present cases before grand juries, and try cases in the courtroom. The art and cultural property theft cases successfully handled by the team of former Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Goldman and former FBI Special Agent Robert Wittman serve as an illustration. Roger Atwood's Stealing History tells some of their stories.

#2  State prosecutions

Matthew Bogdanos, a prosecutor at the New York County District Attorney’s Office, is pioneering efforts to apply state law to cultural property crimes. One example is the conviction he secured in the case of People v. Aaron Freedman. Manager of Subhash Kapoor's Art of the Past gallery in New York City, Freedman pleaded guilty in 2013 to felony conspiracy and five counts of felony criminal possession of stolen property. But we need more state prosecutors focused on these types of crimes.

While federal law has jurisdiction over illegal import cases, state law is best used to prosecute sellers of stolen cultural property. Since 2005, CHL’s author has discussed how district and county attorneys--who generally have lots of experience prosecuting property cases--may rely on state receiving stolen property statutes to target culpable sellers of cultural heritage objects.

Every state has enacted a receiving stolen property statute in some form, and these laws generally prohibit a person from selling, transporting, or receiving stolen property. State receiving stolen property laws are fundamentally similar to the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA), the federal statute that outlaws different forms of theft. But many states' laws give distinct advantages to district and county attorneys, allowing them to more easily hold dirty dealers accountable.

For example, over two-thirds of state laws require lower mental states. Where the NSPA requires proof that a criminal defendant had full knowledge that a cultural object was stolen, most state laws only require proof that the offender should know, had reason to know, had reason to believe, or simply believed that the property in a dealer's possession or offered for sale was stolen or probably stolen. A federal prosecutor would need to prove that a dealer actually knew an object was stolen, but a state prosecutor may simply need to prove that a dealer had reason to believe that an artifact had been stolen, which is a much lower legal burden.

More importantly, almost one quarter of the states have a built-in legal assumption that a dealer in goods is presumed to know an object was stolen when (a) the dealer did not reasonably gather information about whether the good was lawfully sold or delivered to the dealer, (b) acquired the good far below reasonable value, or (c) purchased or sold the good outside the regular course of business. New York Penal Law § 165.55(2) is an apt example: "A … person in the business of buying, selling or otherwise dealing in property who possesses stolen property is presumed to know that such property was stolen if he obtained it without having ascertained by reasonable inquiry that the person from whom he obtained it had a legal right to possess it."

In New York, like in other states, it is no defense that somebody else stole the property or that the property was stolen from out of state. And states, for the most part, don't require the stolen property to be valued at $5,000 or more, in contrast to the federal NSPA statute.

All these legal advantages give district and county prosecutors an edge to hold antiquities and other cultural property dealers accountable when a crime has been committed.

#3  Detector dog research

Detector dogs that could sniff out smuggled cultural heritage objects, particularly archaeological artifacts, certainly would help customs agents at U.S. ports of entry.

Huge numbers of commodities pore across America's borders each day. For customs agents to spot illicit art, antiquities, and collectibles arriving by cargo ship or air freight among the countless illegal drugs, guns, bird feathers, mangos, jellyfishes, seeds, counterfeit NFL jerseys, and the like can be overwhelming. Remember too that their highest priority is intercepting radiological, biological, and other explosives before they can cripple the homeland. That is why cultural property detector dogs could prove useful.

Sniffer dogs already have demonstrated their worth to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents by detecting pests and illegal agricultural goods. That is why research must be undertaken to see if detector dogs can be trained to identify smuggled antiquities and other cultural objects. Preliminary inquiries by Red Arch in consultation with relevant experts suggests that such a research project is worthwhile.

#4  Recordkeeping laws

When a healthy trade becomes a black market temptation for stolen and smuggled cultural heritage, new recordkeeping laws could assist prosecutors and police. These laws would require dealers, galleries, and auction houses to record the identities and transactions of suppliers and buyers of cultural property while upholding legitimate business privacy interests. See the detailed proposal here.

When pawn shops became magnets for stolen property, states overwhelmingly passed recordkeeping laws to help police as well as crime victims. States similarly passed scrap metal recordkeeping rules when stolen copper and aluminum flooded the marketplace. For banks, the USA Patriot Act enacted another kind of recordkeeping rule called Know Your Customer, which helps identify money launderers, terrorist financiers, and foreign corrupt practices within the financial industry. In like manner, law enforcement should have access to business records that would help uncover perpetrators of cultural heritage trafficking.

#5  Enhanced AML/CTF statutes

To zero in on untraceable shell corporations, laundered money, and terror financing associated with cultural heritage trafficking, existing anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing laws (AML/CTF) need to be enhanced to include the cultural property market.

Current statutes are designed to root out criminal exploitation of highly susceptible commercial and financial industries. Yet the marketplace for art, antiquities, fossils, ancient coins, and other cultural property remain absent from this list.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the seminal inter-governmental organization focused on AML/CTF, specifically identifies illicit trafficking of cultural goods, counterfeiting of antiquities, and the illegal trade of antiquities as facilitators of money laundering and terrorist financing. Moreover, the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Office of Anti-Crime Programs specifically refers to "art dealers" when  discussing AML/CTF  objectives. The Basel Art Trade Guidelines also point out, "Far more serious than shady dealings in a legal gray area, the sector’s shadow economy encompasses issues ranging from looted art, professional counterfeiting and fake certificates to the use of art sales for the purpose of money laundering.

Pawnbrokers, car dealers, dealers in precious metals and jewels, travel agents, and other NBFI's (non-bank financial institutions) are identified by AML/CTF laws as industries where criminals are known to clandestinely move large amounts of money or discreetly convert cash into high value goods. But the art and antiquities marketplace is not included in the Bank Secrecy Act, the USA Patriot Act, and other AML/CTF statutes. This needs to change.

An additional legislative change is needed to expose cultural property smugglers who set up a myriad shell corporations to discreetly hide their business operations. They create untraceable companies that only exist on paper and whose officers remain unknown, or they use layers of shell corporations to transfer cultural contraband through a maze of paper trails to throw off investigators.

One proposal currently wending its way through the U.S. Senate seeks a solution. The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (S. 1269 and similar companion bills) calls on the Department of Homeland Security to assign a single registration number to an importers of record. That way importers can't set up multiple import companies to hide their identities or their trade activities.

[Sidebar: Setting up a separate, companion corporation is not per se illegal. But hiding illegal business transactions in a shell corporation is not. Cases involving "Bactrian Global Enterprises" and Nimbus Import Export are two examples where separate corporations were maintained. Were they for legitimate reasons or not?]

#6  Adding the cultural property market to attorneys’ general consumer protection watch lists

Cultural property crimes impact consumers who may pay substantial amounts for ancient Greek vases, Egyptian sculptures, and similar cultural heritage objects. The objects might be looted, stolen, or smuggled, or they might be fakes. Because cultural property markets contain a number of recently surfaced artifacts without documented collecting histories, or with thinly veiled collecting histories, or with entirely false histories, consumers risk purchasing illegal or fake heritage objects. That is why state attorneys general should instruct their consumer protection divisions to be watchful.

Attorneys general typically enforce laws that protect consumers against deceptive, unfair, unconscionable, and/or unlawful business practices, and they are endowed with civil and criminal legal tools to investigate illegal misconduct by a particular company or by an entire industry.

New York General Business Law § 349(a) is one statutory example that proclaims, "Deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any business, trade or commerce or in the furnishing of any service in this state are hereby declared unlawful." Executive Law § 63(12) gives the Empire State's attorney general power to investigate and issue subpoenas, even in cases where there was no actual intent to deceive. Where representations or omissions may reasonably have misled consumers, the NY attorney general can bring an action on behalf of the affected consumers.

An example of an industry-wide consumer protection investigation is NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's recent probe into abuses found within the concert and sports ticket industry. Other investigations might focus instead on a single business. Oftentimes, state attorneys general will partner each other and/or with federal consumer protection agencies to confront systematic problems that are widespread.

So when the National Association of Attorneys General meets this month, its Consumer Protection Committee should add the cultural property market to its watch list.

Photo credits: Pixabay / David Mark, / Marc Dorsett, / Joe Zlomec, / dgood007, / Bob Smith, Pixabay / Edward Lich

Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.