Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Night Before the Theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Concert
Who went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum the night before the notorious theft of over a dozen artworks?

Carmen Ortiz, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, and the FBI released a video last week seeking an answer to this question. “With the public’s help, we may be able to develop new information that could lead to the recovery of these invaluable works of art,” Ortiz announced.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Twenty-five years ago, thieves in Boston stole Vermeer’s The Concert and Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee among several other pieces. The case remains unsolved a quarter century later.

The poor quality security tape (displayed below) shows a car parked at the rear entrance of the museum. The FBI says that “[t]he car matches the general description of a vehicle that was reported to have been parked outside the Museum moments prior to the theft on March 18, 1990.”

According to agency officials, “The video also shows an unidentified man exiting the automobile and then being allowed inside the Museum, against Museum policy, by a security guard. That event occurred at 12:49 p.m. on March 17, 1990, almost exactly 24 hours before the thieves entered the museum through the same door.

Anyone who has information about the theft or the events captured on the security video should call the FBI at 617-742-5533 or the Isabella Gardner Museum at 617-278-5114.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Nominate CHL to the Annual Blawg 100

Support the Cultural Heritage Lawyer blog!
Click here to nominate CHL to the Annual Blawg 100.
August 16 is the deadline, so time is short.
Thank you for your support!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Steering Clear of ISIS Loot: Don't Buy, Apply Strict Due Diligence

Ancient artifact collectors share a passion for history, culture, and aesthetics. The best collectors embrace their role as stewards of heritage by dutifully caring for cultural material through conservation, storage, display, and study. But as fighting in Syria and Iraq intensifies, principled collectors are asking how to avoid purchasing "blood antiquities."

Like archaeologists, heritage preservationists, and the concerned public, collectors have seen the disconcerting satellite images of looters' pits that confirm severe damage to the archaeological record, and they have listened to assessments by law enforcement officials pointing out that ISIS/ISIL/Da’esh engages in the looting and sale of antiquities. They are also cognizant of the U.N. Security Council's unanimous decision in February to adopt Resolution 2199, which plainly expresses that terrorists "are generating income from engaging ... in the looting and smuggling of cultural heritage items ... in Iraq and Syria...." And today they learn that the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take up S.1887, legislation that is similar to H.R. 1493, which authorizes emergency protections for endangered Syrian cultural property.

To steer clear of collecting potential ISIS loot, Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, recently tweeted this judicious guidance, “Don't sell; don't buy. That's one solution." Collectors would be well advised to heed this recommendation and avoid purchasing cultural heritage objects that appear to have surfaced from war-torn Syria or Iraq.

Yet a number of undaunted collectors will continue to shop the nubilous marketplace, optimistic that they will discover authentic and legal artifacts that, hopefully, do not contribute to terrorist funding or money laundering. For them, caveat emptor should remain the guidepost and strict due diligence the rule, particularly since mounting evidence offers abundant reasonable suspicion that would compel an ethical collector of ordinary caution to demand clear answers from a dealer about the exact origins, export, import, transshipment, and chain of possession of art, artifacts, or antiquities believed to have originated from the Middle East.

The justifiable suspicion that heritage trafficking funds terrorism received added confirmation in May when U.S. Special Operations Forces seized 700 cultural objects during a raid on an ISIS compound in the al-Amr region of eastern Syria. That area borders Iraq's Anbar and Nineveh provinces. The Department of Defense (DoD) implicated the owner of the collection in ISIS combat operations and asserted that the man, known only as Abu Sayaff, "helped direct the terrorist organization's illicit oil, gas, and financial operations as well."

The captured trove reportedly included bronze coins with Greek, Latin, and Arabic inscriptions (top); silver dirhams (right); copper bracelets (bottom left); gold dinars; cylinder seals; and more. As is typical with the black market trade, the genuine articles appear to have been mixed together with reproductions.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Stuart Jones, offered the opinion that the raid revealed more than the ordinary measure of evidence. He contended, during a ceremony repatriating the objects, “These artifacts are indisputable evidence that Da’esh—beyond its terrorism, brutality, and destruction—is also a criminal gang that is looting antiquities from museums and historical sites and selling them on the black market."

Given the totality of data uncovered over the last several years linking trafficked heritage with terrorism, war, and money laundering, the largest community of collectors—museums—have taken steps to warn the public about the proliferation of the black trade. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) in September 2013 published a Red List spotlighting Syrian cultural objects at risk of plunder, and just last month the organization distributed a refreshed Red List covering Iraqi artifacts. The Red Lists help readers identify the kinds of artifacts looted from archaeological sites, stolen from museums, or smuggled across borders so that the distribution and sale of these precious heritage objects can be stopped.

The Red Lists signal extreme caution, and collectors of all stripes would gain peace of mind by provisionally abstaining from the purchase of objects that are believed to have originated from Syria or Iraq. Curbing consumer demand at the present time would have the added benefit of sending a message to suppliers that even the slightest hint of conflict-related commodities will not be tolerated in the legitimate stream of commerce.

Collectors determined to remain in the market, meanwhile, should employ a strict due diligence strategy to sharply limit the chances of acquiring possible contraband or facilitating money laundering. One suggested due diligence guideline—authored by individual collectors and presented to the pro-collecting Ancientartifacts forum in 2009—is titled A Code of Ethics for Collectors of Ancient Artifacts. It remains a useful resource today, admonishing collectors to:
  • protect archaeological heritage and uphold the law
  • check sources,
  • collect sensitively,
  • recognize the collector’s role as custodian,
  • keep artifacts in one piece and consider the significance of groups of objects,
  • promote further study, and
  • dispose of artifacts responsibly.
To achieve these goals, the ethics code highlights common sense due diligence and acquisitions advice, including:
  • "Ask the vendor for all relevant paperwork relating to provenance, export etc."
  • "Take extra care if collecting particular classes of object which have been subjected to wide-scale recent looting.”
  • "Verify a vendor’s reputation independently before buying. Assure yourself that they are using due diligence in their trading practices, and do not support those who knowingly sell fakes as authentic or offer items of questionable provenance."
  • "Do not dismember any item, or acquire a fragment which you believe to have been separated from a larger object except through natural means."
  •  "Consider the implications of buying an item from an associated assemblage and the impact this could have on study."
  • "Liaise, where possible, with the academic and broader communities about your artifacts."
Collecting can play a constructive role in the stewardship of legally acquired and suitably documented artifacts. But in today's conflict-ridden environments in Syria and Iraq, guarding against criminal trafficking and the facilitation of terrorist financing is a heightened concern, which should prompt collectors to effectuate appropriate safeguards. "Don't buy" is the best protective measure, while strict due diligence remains a secondary, yet imperfect, line of defense for those willing to assume the risks in the traditionally opaque marketplace.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of State

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

House Adopts The Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act

The Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act passed the House of Representatives late this afternoon. H.R. 889, which received broad bipartisan support by legislators in Congress, now goes to the Senate.

The committee report accompanying the legislation explained that "a provision in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) discourages foreign governments from lending government-owned artwork and objects of cultural significance to U.S. museums and educational institutions for temporary exhibition or display. Foreign governments are discouraged from such lending by the possibility that it will open them up to litigation in U.S. courts for which they would  otherwise be immune. This legislation fixes this problem by making a narrowly tailored change to FSIA."

The House adopted similar versions of the bill in the past, most recently in May 2014, but the bills failed to become law.

The CHL blog penned an argument in favor of this legislation in 2012.

The video below, courtesy of C-Span and clipped by CHL, shows today's floor debate.


Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

House Passes Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act

On Monday afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1493, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act.

CHL has prepared a video snippet of the debate and vote, courtesy of C-Span. Watch below or click here if you are experiencing difficulty.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Culture Under Threat Conference in Cairo: Red Arch Raises Important Questions Posed by U.S. Imports of Art, Collectors' Pieces, and Antiques

Why did the declared value of U.S. general imports of antiques over 100 years old from Syria climb 133% between 2012 and 2013, from approximately $4.7 million to $11 million?

Why did the declared value of U.S. general imports of antiques over 100 years old from Iraq skyrocket 1302% between 2009 and 2013, from $322,564 to $4,523,126?

These were some of the questions posed by Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research at an historic international summit held in Cairo on May 13 and 14.

Antiquities Coalition co-founder and Red Arch board member Peter Herdrich
(far left) stands with delegates and organizers of the Cultural Property Under Threat conference.

Antiquities Coalition Chair Deborah Lehr (7th from right) spearheaded the historic gathering.
Titled Culture Under Threat and cooperatively organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute, the conference featured government ministers from ten nations. Together, they signed the Cairo Declaration, a document proposed by Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty, calling for:
  • the establishment of a high-level task force to coordinate regional and international efforts against cultural heritage trafficking,
  • the creation of a public awareness campaign against the black market trade, and
  • the formation of an independent center to combat antiquities laundering.

Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates proffered the Declaration in the wake of widespread plunder and destruction of archaeological, historical, and religious treasures located in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

“Criminal networks and terrorist groups have systematically looted historic sites and profited from the sales of these antiquities in international black markets,” the government ministers decried. They further denounced the sale of “blood antiquities,” which help fund ISIS and other terror groups.

In light of the extensive cultural heritage looting in the MENA region and because transnational commodities traffickers have been known to penetrate complex trade systems in order to turn contraband into cash, international trade data presented by Red Arch Research sparked important discussions among conference participants. The data highlighting U.S. imports of nondescript antiques from war-torn Syria and Iraq may prompt law enforcement and customs authorities to confirm or dispel any suspicions raised by the numbers.

Additional questions posed by the trade data include:

Why did the declared value of U.S. general imports of archaeological, historical, or ethnographic pieces from Egypt jump 105.5%, from approximately $5.2 million in 2012 to $10.7 million in 2013, which made Egypt the #2 source of such commodities by value behind the United Kingdom at $11.4 million?

Why did the declared value of U.S. general imports of archaeological, historical, or ethnographic goods from Lebanon spike 4,483%, from $6,546 in 2012 to $300,000 in 2013?

Why did the declared value of U.S. general imports of collectors’ coins (excluding gold coins) surge
- 82% from Turkey, from approximately $1.7 million in 2012 to $3 million in 2013?
- 417% from Lebanon, from $54,651 in 2012 to $282,434 in 2013?
- 2,604% from Libya, from $4,793 in 2012 to $129,620 in 2013?

UN Office of Drugs and Crime Regional Representative
Masood Karimipour listens as Red Arch Director Rick St. Hilaire
addresses the Cairo conference delegates.

Smugglers have been known to over-value or under-value invoices to disguise money transfers—a practice called trade based money laundering. Criminals also have been known to create shell import and export companies to hide the origins and transfers of illegally trafficked cultural goods. In past years, the CHL blog has chronicled cases where traffickers surreptitiously described Hindu sculptures as "handicrafts” on customs forms, affixed "Made in Thailand" stickers on ancient Ban Chiang pots to make them appear modern, manipulated the description of a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton from Mongolia as a fossil reptile from Great Britain on import paperwork, or falsely declared ancient Egyptian artifacts as “original sculptures and statuary” from Turkey, the UAE, and other nations. These cases illustrate the Basel Art Trade Guidelines (2012) warning that:
In comparison with other trade sectors, the art market faces a higher risk of exposure to dubious trade practices. This is due to the volume of illegal or legally questionable transactions, which is noticeably higher in this sector than in other globally active markets. Far more serious than shady dealings in a legal grey 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.
Because the legal art and antiquities marketplace nurtures opacity, placing excessive emphasis on discretion over transparency, a black market temptation exists among smugglers, fences, and launderers to hide drops of illegally acquired goods deep within the sea of legitimate commerce. And the sea is vast. Declared American imports of art, collectors’ pieces, and antiques alone totaled over $9 billion in 2013, crowning the U.S. as the top global importer of commodities classified by this customs heading.

Answers are required to the critical questions lurking behind the import statistics: Who is importing the cultural heritage material? Who are the exporters? Exactly what “antiques,” “archaeological pieces,” and “collectors’ coins” are being shipped to the U.S.? From which archaeological sites and through what transshipment countries? And which imports are legal versus illegal? Indeed, uncovering black market trading pipelines, supply chains, and distribution networks navigating within the legitimate stream of commerce should be a key goal of the Cairo conference delegates as well as INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization, dealers and auction houses, and other stakeholders. 

Invaluable research assistance supplied by Keegan Trace Brooks, JD Candidate, Georgia State University. Data assembled by Red Arch Research from statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission. Photos courtesy of the Antiquities Coalition.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cultural Property Protection Bill Reintroduced in the House

"We need to strengthen our ability to stop history's looters from profiting off their crimes," declared Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.-16) on Friday after introducing H.R. 1493, whose stated purpose is to "protect and preserve international cultural property risk due to instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters, and for other purposes."

The proposed legislation is similar to a bill the lawmaker introduced last congressional session, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (H.R. 5703), which failed to become law.

The text of the current bill is expected to be published by the Government Printing Office shortly and will be available here.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Assyrian Head Repatriation: Filling in the Details of ICE's Investigation

This week U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) returned a looted fragmented limestone head of Assyrian King Sargon II to Iraq. The stone carving once sat atop a sculpted winged bull.

In remarks prepared for Monday's repatriation ceremony held at the Iraqi Consulate in Washington, D.C., Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña declared, “ICE will not allow the illicit greed of some to trump the cultural history of an entire nation.”

ICE offered limited details in a press release about the artifact's history. But the agency revealed that, "[a]s part of 'Operation Lost Treasure,' HSI New York special agents received information on June 30, 2008, that an antiquities dealer based in Dubai was selling looted Iraqi antiquities to dealers around the world. The special agents seized the limestone statue on Aug. 13, 2008, after it was shipped to New York by a Dubai-based antiquities trading company owned by the antiques dealer."
Assyrian limestone head fragment of Sargon II
repatriated by the U.S. to Iraq on Monday. Courtesy ICE

The press statement added that the "investigation identified a broad transnational criminal organization dealing in illicit cultural property. Some of the network’s shipments were directly linked to major museums, galleries and art houses in New York."

ICE reported that its investigation "resulted in one arrest, multiple seizures of antiquities ranging from Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan, and the return of many of artifacts. A repatriation ceremony with Afghanistan was held two years ago and future repatriations are anticipated."

Publicly available information fills in some of the details about the trafficked head fragment.

A CHL blog post dated July 24, 2013 reported that federal prosecutors petitioned to forfeit the Assyrian head in federal court in the Southern District of New York. The complaint, filed in the case of United States v. One Iraqi Assyrian Headalleged that Dubai antiquities dealer Hassan Fazeli exported the artifact from the United Arab Emirates to the U.S. on July 30, 2008. Prosecutors, at the time, did not identify the head as a carving of Sargon II.

Prosecutors explained that Turkey was listed as the country of origin 
on the customs import form rather than Iraq. And the import form incorrectly listed the value as $6500 rather than $1.2 million, , according to the court complaint.

Prosecutors sent notice of the forfeiture to Hassan Fazeli Trading Company in Dubai, the potential civil claimant. But after time passed without a reply, on June 17, 2014 the federal district court entered a default judgment, awarding the Assyrian sculpture to U.S. authorities with instructions that the head must be repatriated within 90 days "or as soon thereafter as conditions in Iraq permit."

The court granted an extension for the repatriation after a request made by an assistant prosecutor, who told the court that more than 90 days would be needed to return the artifact "[i]n light of [the] current state of world affairs."

The judge asked why there had been a gap between the 2008 seizure of the artifact and the 2014 forfeiture. The assistant prosecutor responded:

I am not aware of why there was. I can offer that in many cases, your Honor, where there are assets to be forfeited, sometimes there are parallel investigations, criminal matters, and sometimes the government proceeds to file criminal charges in matters and items are forfeited in connection with criminal matters. Sometimes the government decides to just proceed civilly. This is a civil complaint in which the forfeiture is purely in rem and only the item that is at issue is being forfeited.
The assistant prosecutor told the court that a confidential source informed law enforcement officials that
Mr. Fazeli ... was attempting to sell this stolen item or an item that we believe to be removed from Iraq in violation of Iraqi law and in contravention of United States regulations as well. This individual, Fazeli, tried to sell it to the CS [confidential source] and based on recorded conversations, based on an investigation by Homeland Security, eventually was able to ship it to the United States with false documentation indicating false origin, actually indicated that the item was from Turkey.
Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York named Hassan Fazeli Trading Company as a potential claimant in another forfeiture case. The civil case involved three ancient Egyptian limestone reliefs, a block statue, and a funerary boat valued at $57,000. It may be the one referred to by ICE on Monday when officials explained at the Iraqi repatriation ceremony that the investigation into the Sargon II head resulted in multiple seizures of antiquities, including from Egypt.

Docketed as U.S. v. One Ancient Egyptian Fragment Depicting Procession of Offering Bearers et al. and reported by CHL on March 23, 2013, the complaint alleged that the Egyptian archaeological material arrived in a FedEx shipment in August 2010 at Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey. The ancient objects "were sold in and exported from Dubai, UAE by Hassan Fazeli Trading Company, LLC .... [They] were purchased and imported by [Salem] Alshdaifat, by and through Holyland [Numismatics],” claimed the prosecutors.

Alshdaifat pleaded guilty in December 2012 to a misdemeanor charge of accessory after the fact in the case of U.S. v. Khouli et al and received a sentence of a $1000 fine.

At this week's ceremony repatriating the Assyrian head to Iraq, ICE referred to a previous repatriation ceremony with Afghanistan that took place two years ago. The agency has only reported two repatriations to that country around that time, so ICE officials may have been referencing an event that occurred at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C. in September 2013.

At that ceremony, federal authorities returned an ancient Roman oinochoe, three 5th century B.C. gold foil appliques, and two 17th century gold ornaments from approximately the 17th century. ICE explained in an accompanying press release:
On March 21, 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the HSI New York El Dorado Task Force seized a shipment containing the gold artifacts and the ancient vase at Newark Liberty International Airport, Central Air Cargo Examination Facility, after HSI New York special agents discovered they were destined for a New York City man and later to a New York business suspected of dealing in looted cultural property. Through the investigative process, the antiquities were found to have originated in Afghanistan. On Jan. 25, 2012, the shipment was administratively forfeited.
If these artifacts from Afghanistan somehow were tied to the Assyrian sculpted head fragment from Iraq, that connection has yet to be explained by ICE.

Hopefully the federal agency will provide more complete details describing the investigation, recovery, and return of the Assyrian head fragment now that the matter has been concluded by ICE.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Cultural Property Crime on the U.N. Agenda: Upcoming Crime Conference Set to Tackle Heritage Trafficking

When the U.N. Security Council last month adopted a resolution targeting terrorists' ability to raise money, cultural heritage trafficking took a visible spot on the global stage. Now the U.N. Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice is set to address the topic at its April meeting in Doha, Qatar.

Representatives from Qatar meet with the U.N. Office on Drugs
and Crime in preparation for the Crime Conference in April.
A pre-conference document frames the discussion for next month’s quinquennial gathering of governments and experts in criminal justice. The document cautions, “Trafficking in cultural property and related offences are believed to be a constantly growing sector of criminality, and an increasingly attractive one for national and transnational criminal organizations.”

Conference participants are expected to urge U.N. member states to embrace the International Guidelines for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses with Respect to Trafficking in Cultural Property and Other Related Offences, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in October 2014.

The preamble offers straightforward explanations about why the Guidelines were written, and articulates some important clauses:
 Alarmed at the growing involvement of organized criminal groups in all forms and aspects of trafficking in cultural property and related offences, and observing that illicitly trafficked cultural property is increasingly being sold through all kinds of markets, inter alia in auctions, in particular over the Internet, and that such property is being unlawfully excavated and illicitly exported or imported with the facilitation of modern and sophisticated technologies,
Reiterating the significance of cultural property as part of the common heritage of humankind and as unique and important testimony of the culture and identity of peoples and the necessity of protecting cultural property, and reaffirming in that regard the need to strengthen international cooperation in preventing, prosecuting and punishing all aspects of trafficking in cultural property[.]

The Guidelines promote prevention strategies, criminal justice policies, and methods of international cooperation to combat cultural heritage crime. They range in scope from “improving statistics on import and export of cultural property” to encouraging “the widest possible mutual legal assistance in investigations, prosecutions and judicial proceedings.”

Of significance is the Guidelines’ call to transform perceptions of heritage crime from a novelty offense to a serious criminal enterprise that demands a strong legal response. They recommend that nations
consider criminalizing, as serious offences, acts such as:(a) Trafficking in cultural property;(b) Illicit export and illicit import of cultural property;(c) Theft of cultural property (or consider elevating the offence of ordinary theft to a serious offence when it involves cultural property);(d) Looting of archaeological and cultural sites and/or illicit excavation;(e) Conspiracy or participation in an organized criminal group for trafficking in cultural property and related offences;(f) Laundering, as referred to in article 6 of the Organized Crime Convention, of trafficked cultural property.

The U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime characterizes a “serious offence” as a crime that is punishable by at least four years in prison.

Further updates about the upcoming U.N. Crime Congress may be found here.

Photo credit: United Nations

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Kapoor Idol Trafficking Conspirator Sentenced

A New York criminal court has sentenced Salina Mohamed, one of several individuals implicated in the Subhash Kapoor idol trafficking case.

Chasing Aphrodite wrote extensively about Mohamed’s case after Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos charged the defendant for her role in laundering heritage objects stolen from India.

Mohamed pleaded guilty in December 2013 to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy in the fifth degree, which is the intent to commit a felony with one or more persons. The prosecution dropped felony charges of criminal possession of stolen property as part of a negotiated plea agreement.

Yesterday, the court handed down a sentence that consisted of a conditional discharge. The conditional discharge means that Mohamed must remain of good behavior for one year or face court-imposed sanctions.

Attorney Bogdanos is a pioneer in the prosecution of international antiquities trafficking cases under state law as opposed to federal law. He holds a masters in classical studies from Columbia University and investigated the looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad during his time in the military.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Endangered Archaeology from El Salvador Protected by Renewed MoU with the United States

Maya mask subject to
renewed import restrictions
with El Salvador.
The United States has agreed to renew a bilateral agreement with El Salvador, which offers protections to cultural heritage in danger. The Central American nation is rich with history, including ancient Maya culture.

The State Department Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs has “concluded that the cultural heritage of El Salvador continues to be in jeopardy from pillage of Pre-Hispanic archaeological resources,” according to the Federal Register. As a result, the U.S. government has extended import controls on endangered archaeological material from that country through March 8, 2020. The terms are cataloged in a renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

Few offered comments about the MoU when the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) considered the renewal.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP)* backed the renewal, explaining that looting continues in El Salvador and that “numerous El Salvadoran objects that would be protected under the MOU are currently listed on ICOM’s Red List of Endangered Cultural Objects of Central America and Mexico.” LCCHP added that “El Salvador has long played an active role in safeguarding its property through legislation, enforcement, education, creation of inventories, and international cooperation.”

The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), meanwhile, opposed the MoU. In what may be a trend for the organization, the group complained that “El Salvador has benefited from more than 27 years of import restrictions by the United States and in that period … there does not appear to be a significant reduction in looting that can be linked to those restrictions.” The AAMD argued that “El Salvador is one of the best examples of why the current system of simply renewing MOUs is ineffective and inconsistent with the CPIA. The absence of a significant legitimate market in the United States for El Salvadorian Prehispanic objects has apparently had little or no effect on looting in El Salvador.”

The U.S. and El Salvador first entered a bilateral agreement—authorized by the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA)—twenty years ago, following American-imposed emergency import restrictions on endangered artifacts from the Cara Sucia region in 1987 and 1992. The MoU between the two nations has been renewed every five years since 1995.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of State
*The author is a board member of LCCHP.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Italy Asks for MoU Renewal to Protect Cultural Heritage

The Italian government has asked the United States to renew a bilateral agreement or Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) restricting American import of archaeological artifacts in jeopardy of pillage.

The protective MoU between the two nations has been renewed twice before. The current agreement, in place since 2011, covers pre-Classical, Classical, and Imperial Roman artifacts from Italy.

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) will meet in public session on April 8 in Washington, DC to discuss the latest request.

To submit written comments concerning the proposed MoU, click hereComments are due to CPAC by March 20 and must relate to one, some, or all of the "four determinations" laid out by the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). These include:

(A) whether the cultural patrimony of Italy is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials of the State Party; 

(B) whether the Italian government has taken measures to protect its cultural patrimony; 

(C) whether the application of the import restrictions, if applied in combination with similar restrictions by other nations individually having a significant import trade in such material, would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage, and whether remedies less drastic are not available; and 

(D) whether the application of the import restrictions is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

Photo credit: Aculine

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & PolicyResearch, Inc.