Thursday, January 22, 2015

Opposition to MoU's: A Change in Policy for the Association of Art Museum Directors?

Museums are vital to the protection of cultural heritage. They preserve art and artifacts for the benefit of present and future generations, and they inspire visitors, students, and scholars to appreciate and safeguard history.

Most museums are tax exempt charitable corporations, holding the public's trust as stewards of human civilization. They are expected to lawfully and ethically acquire artifacts. They also are counted on to promote policies that preserve cultural objects.

So it is with interest that the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) last Tuesday opposed the renewal of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) meant to retain American import barriers on endangered heritage objects from Nicaragua. The group's objection follows a sequence of opposition to MoU's begun in 2014. Does this mark a new policy direction for the organization?

The AAMD is made up of important stakeholders, representing the directors of some of the largest and most distinguished cultural institutions in North America. The group often recites that “it deplores the illicit and unscientific excavation of archaeological materials and ancient art from archaeological sites and the destruction or defacing of ancient monuments” and that it “is committed to the responsible acquisition of archaeological materials and ancient art.” From this point of departure, the AAMD traditionally has supported—albeit softly—cultural property protection agreements authorized by the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). Lately, however, even this mild support has given way to clear opposition to bilateral agreements, which serve to protect archaeological and ethnological objects in danger of destruction.

By way of background, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) reviews petitions submitted by foreign nations that request American help to safeguard endangered cultural material. The help given takes the form of U.S. import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological objects in jeopardy of looting. The process used to enact these import barriers is defined by the CPIA, the federal statute that gives effect to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The CPIA requires CPAC members to assess whether a requesting government has satisfied four determinations. The full committee then offers a recommendation to the President about whether he should enact import barriers to protect cultural heritage in jeopardy. If import controls are approved by the White House, a Memorandum of Understanding is signed between the U.S. and the petitioning government. The MoU is often referred to as a bilateral agreement.

When Bulgaria requested American restrictions on cultural goods in 2011, the AAMD told CPAC in a written statement that the "AAMD supports the request for a Memorandum of Understanding from the Republic of Bulgaria with … concerns …..” The organization’s concerns seemed to have swallowed its articulated support, but the AAMD, nevertheless, expressly backed the adoption of the MoU. When CPAC considered a renewed bilateral agreement with Guatemala in 2012, the AAMD once again articulated its “concerns,” but it still offered support for the agreement. The AAMD offered similar backing for the Mali renewal in 2012 (“Subject to the concerns set forth above, the AAMD supports the request of Mali for an extension of the 2007 MOU”). Moreover, the proposed MoU with Honduras in 2013 garnered the AAMD’s endorsement, along with the usual tempering language, “Subject to the concerns raised below….”

Cambodia’s request for a renewed bilateral agreement in 2013 notably attracted the organization's clearest affirmation for an MoU (“For the reasons set forth above, the AAMD supports the renewal of the MOU”). The AAMD, meanwhile, did not offer an express objection to the enactment of an MoU with China, even though its position might be characterized as nuanced.

Then, nine months ago, the AAMD struck an entirely different chord, capped by last week's written comment directly opposing the renewal of a bilateral agreement with Nicaragua.

The AAMD’s statement on the renewal of the MoU with Nicaragua voiced unequivocal disapproval. “The AAMD respectfully recommends that the Cultural Property Advisory Committee … decline Nicaragua’s request…." For the first time, the organization included a paragraph captioned, “All Four Required CPIA Determinations Cannot Be Made for Nicaragua,” although the AAMD actually argued that only two determinations could not be satisfied. Regardless, the group expressed clear opposition to the adoption of an MoU.

The AAMD characterized Nicaragua's request as a plea for an “extraordinary type of protection” that could only be granted if the requesting nation itself proved "significant improvement in the protection of cultural property." The AAMD disquietingly added, “Any time that a country requests and is granted import restrictions without strict compliance with the requirements of the CPIA, the entire program contemplated by the CPIA is placed in jeopardy.”

The objection to a renewed U.S.-Nicaragua agreement followed demurrals aimed at petitions filed by El Salvador and Egypt last year.

The AAMD withheld its support for El Salvador’s renewal request this past September, gingerly writing, “The AAMD encourages the Cultural Property Advisory Committee … to carefully review El Salvador’s compliance …  In addition, the AAMD questions whether renewal of the MOU would meet the test of  19 U.S.C. § 2602(a)(1)(C)(i),” one of the CPIA’s four determinations. “Looting does not appear to have been significantly curtailed even after more than 27 years of United States import restrictions,” the organization added, and it asked “whether a new and different approach to an MOU is necessary.”

With respect to Egypt, the AAMD staunchly advised CPAC in May that it “not recommend any memorandum of understanding … between the government of the United States and the government of the Arab Republic of Egypt … or emergency restrictions at this time.” The AAMD questioned the foreign state's request, pointedly quizzing “Is Egypt Meeting the CPIA Determinants?” and answering the query in the negative, simultaneously downplaying archaeologists' observations of site looting in that country. “At this time, Egypt fails to satisfy at least two of the four determinants,” the AAMD flatly contended.

Given its opposition to bilateral agreements between the U.S. and Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Egypt, will the AAMD oppose future requests for American assistance under the CPIA? If this is the group's new policy, will all 237 members back it?

A number of art museums have been traveling a different road. While countless books and news articles have chronicled how museum collections formed, in part, from plundered archaeological, ethnological, and paleontological material, more than a few major institutions have turned away from--or are starting to turn away from--this legacy of loot.

In fact, the past few years have witnessed a greater awareness among art museum administrators of heritage trafficking. In 2013, for example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art repatriated two Khmer sculptures discovered to have been stolen from Cambodia. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) meanwhile, developed a close cultural exchange partnership with Italy after taking fresh steps to resist the accession of contraband antiquities from that country. The MFA even hired a curator for provenance to bring real integrity to its collecting practices. The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art joined the MFA, and they are now among the institutions that employ full-time provenance researchers who perform due diligence investigations to find out the true collecting histories of pieces. Dallas Museum of Art director Maxwell Anderson, moreover, spearheaded the effort to deaccession and repatriate artifacts believed to have been looted and smuggled. He earned praise for injecting principles of fairness and transparency to the discussion on heritage preservation as chair of the AAMD's Task Force on Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art.

Whether the AAMD continues to oppose bilateral agreements or chooses a different direction, only the time will tell.

Photo credit: Mike Thorn

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. 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, January 15, 2015

U.N. Report: Destruction of Heritage Flagged as Risk Factor Related to Atrocity Crimes

The destruction of objects of cultural or religious heritage is a signature feature of  genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. That is the assessment offered by a recent United Nations report examining, what are collectively called, atrocity crimes.

Published by The Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes: A Tool for Prevention describes risk factors associated with grave criminal conduct directed toward specific groups, civilians, and legally protected populations.

Several threats to cultural and religious heritage are listed by the report "that point to the likelihood that certain actors are taking steps towards a scenario of mass violence and possibly atrocity crimes." The risk factors include:
  • The "[d]estruction or plundering of ... property related to cultural and religious identity;"
  • "Attacks against or destruction of ... cultural or religious symbols and property;
  • "Signs of patterns of violence against civilian populations, or against members of an identifiable group, their property, livelihoods and cultural or religious symbols;" and
  • "Threats or appropriation, seizure, pillaging or intentional destruction or damage of ... property that belong, represent or are part of the cultural, social or religious identity of those protected under international humanitarian law, unless used for military purposes."
The report should prompt collectors of cultural property, who fail to use rigorous due diligence when purchasing objects, to carefully evaluate how their acquisitions of conflict antiquities or wartime looted art contribute to atrocity crimes.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. 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, January 12, 2015

Back Again: A Bill Weakening the NHPA Has Been Proposed in the House

A bill that would weaken the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) is back on Capitol Hill.

Last week, California congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA-49) introduced H.R. 135, the latest incarnation of an earlier legislative proposal that would empower a single federal agency head to unilaterally prevent a property from placement on the National Historic Register or from designation as a National Historic Landmark.

The bill seeks to amend  the NHPA so that the head of the agency managing federal property can deny--based on unspecified national security grounds--historically significant properties from receiving federal protection.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

[UPDATE 1/12/15 5pm]: The text and title of the bill have been released. Known as the Military Land and National Defense Act, its text may be found here.

Photo credit: Ben Shafer

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. 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, December 19, 2014

Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program for Museum Exhibitions: New Budget Law Sets Higher Limits

The Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program received a significant boost from lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week, and museums are sure to take note.

Tucked within the 1600 pages of the $1.1 trillion budget bill signed into law on Tuesday is a section that raises the indemnity limits for America's largest art insurance program.

Administered by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program protects temporary museum exhibitions against loss or damage and saves nonprofit cultural institutions $30 million dollars a year in costs they otherwise would have spent on expensive commercial liability policies.

That estimate is given by Ford Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums, who told senators in May that only $100,000 has ever been paid from the federal treasury over the last four decades of the art insurance program's existence.

Congress originally passed the indemnity law in 1975 to cover foreign art on loan to American museums. The statute was expanded in 2007 to cover domestic artworks as well. The law's text is codified at 20 U.S.C. Chapter 26A and 45 C.F.R. Part 1160.

The newly enacted Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 increases the aggregate of loss or damage to art or artifacts from $10 billion to $15 billion for international exhibitions and from $5 billion to $7.5 billion for domestic exhibitions. Coverage for a single international exhibition, meanwhile, goes from $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion. The indemnity limit for a single domestic exhibition rises from $750 million to $1 billion.

The new indemnity limits reflect the higher prices that have been paid in recent years for objects sold on the fine arts and antiquities marketplaces.

Photo credit: Anna Hunter

Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. 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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cultural Heritage Trafficking Requires Deterrence

Police officers are good at tracking down and arresting criminals. Prosecutors are good at securing convictions, even in some of the most complex cases. So why aren't police and prosecutors routinely investigating and prosecuting cultural heritage traffickers?

HSI officials returned smuggled cultural artifacts to the Turkish government
during a ceremony held last week in New York City. Source: ICE
Last week Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) repatriated ancient arrowheads, coins, and jewelry to Turkey, which were smuggled into Newark International Airport in February 2013. The objects represented some of the "more than 7,150 artifacts [that] have been returned to 27 countries" since 2007, which HSI touted in a press release.

No arrests were announced. In fact, the number of criminals taken into custody over the years for heritage trafficking has been infinitesimally small. That may be why HSI does not regularly report the number of arrests or convictions resulting from its cultural property, art, and antiquities investigations.

The impact of HSI's "seize and send" policy is that criminal infrastructures are left intact--i.e. bank accounts, smuggling routes, transshipment points, warehouses, and the like--while looters, smugglers, fences, couriers, and other offenders are returned to their criminal enterprises without consequence.

Cultural heritage trafficking needs to be deterred. It is the job of police and prosecutors to apply the law to combat this criminal activity, holding accountable those who illegally import contraband heritage and methodically dismantling the frameworks that facilitate trafficking operations.

Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nicaragua and Mali on CPAC's Agenda


The Federal Register has posted the following announcement:
There will be a meeting of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee January 21-23, 2015 at the U.S. Department of State, Annex 5, 2200 C Street NW., Washington, DC. Portions of this meeting will be closed to the public, as discussed below. 
During the closed portion of the meeting, the Committee will review the proposal to extend the Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Nicaragua Concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material from the Pre-Hispanic Cultures of the Republic of Nicaragua (“Nicaragua Agreement”) [Docket No. DOS-2014-0027]. An open session to receive oral public comment on the proposal to extend the Nicaragua Agreement will be held on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, beginning at 11:00 a.m. EST. 
Also, during the closed portion of the meeting, the Committee will conduct an interim review of the Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Mali Concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material from Mali from the Paleolithic Era (Stone Age) to Approximately the Mid-Eighteenth Century (“Mali Agreement”). Public comment, oral and written, will be invited at a time in the future should the Mali Agreement be proposed for extension.
Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Controversial Egyptian Statue Fails to Sell at Sotheby's Auction

An Egyptian statute failed to sell at Sotheby's Egyptian, Classical, and Western Asiatic Antiquities auction held today in New York. Valued at over $400,000, bidding for "Lot 6" collapsed at $350,000 and did not reach the reserve price.

CHL has been probing the history of the curious piece for several weeks and expects to publish its findings in a future blog post.

In the meantime, this week Glasgow researcher Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis found the archaeological artifact listed in the Schinoussa archive. That is the set of photographs seized by Italian authorities in 2006 at the villa of antiquities dealers Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides. Click here for Peter Watson's article about the pair. The archive catalogs suspicious antiquities.

The Egyptian statue was one of six lots that did not sell today.

Purchasers found a few bargains at today's event, but many pieces commanded high prices. A small clay tablet containing cuneiform script and valued at $9000 sold for $43,750. An Egyptian black granite statue valued at $30,000 fetched $137,000. And a red-figured krater was purchased for $137,000, more than double its appraised value of $50,000.

Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dinosaur Skull Forfeited by Federal Judge in Eastern District of NY

Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch wrapped up another cultural property case yesterday. The matter of U.S. v. One Alioramus Dinosaur Skull came to a conclusion after a federal district court judge in Brooklyn ordered the dinosaur head's forfeiture.

No claimants appeared in court to oppose the civil forfeiture, even though French dealer Gefossiles, Inc. once tried to convince American authorities that all was proper with the company's dinosaur shipment. U.S. Customs seized the dinosaur skull in Newark, New Jersey in 2004.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York alleged in its forfeiture complaint filed in September that the head had been illegally imported into the U.S., and it was stolen property originating from Mongolia. A full description of the prosecution's allegations can be found here.

"Smugglers will falsify documents and lie about the origin and value of a cultural artifact just to get it across our borders to sell to the highest bidder," remarked James Hayes, Jr., Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent-in-Charge in New York. His team investigated the case. No arrests were made.

Now that the district court has forfeited the skull, it is expected to be sent back to Mongolia. Foreign officials first must file a petition for remission to have the object repatriated.

Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.

Monday, November 24, 2014

CHL Selected as One of ABA Journal's Blawg 100

Editors of the ABA Journal announced today the selection of Cultural Heritage Lawyer as one of its top 100 best blogs.

Now that the editors have made their picks, the ABA Journal is asking readers to weigh in and vote for their favorites in each of the 8th Annual Blawg 100’s thirteen categories.

Click here to register and vote. Vote for CHL in the "Niche" blog category. Voting ends at close of business on Dec. 19, 2014.

CHL is grateful for the honor. Many thanks go to the blog's loyal readers, who make about 15,000 page views per month.

ABA Journal Editor and Publisher Allen Pusey remarked that law blogs play a crucial role in today's legal media landscape, explaining, “While traditional media sources often break news, law blogs dive deeper to offer insight into what the news means for clients, the legal profession and the public. And the ones on our list are well-written and, more often than not, entertaining.”

The ABA Journal is the flagship magazine of the American Bar Association, which is read by half of the nation’s 1.1 million lawyers every month. It features a directory of more than 4,000 lawyer blogs.

Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.

Monday, November 17, 2014

House Bill Calls for Cultural Property Protection Czar and for Import Restrictions on Syrian Heritage in Jeopardy

The fight to preserve our common cultural heritage, as well as to deny extremists such as ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] resources from the sale of blood antiquities, is yet another front on the global war against terror,” proclaimed Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.-4) in a press statement issued last week.

Congressmen Eliot Engel and Chris Smith, sponsors of the
Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act.
Rep. Smith, together with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.-16), introduced the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (H.R. 5703) in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday. The bill would create a cultural property protection czar and set up import restrictions to prevent looted and smuggled Syrian heritage material from crossing America's borders.

Rep. Engel, the lead sponsor of the bill, emphasized its importance: “Since World War II, the United States has been a leader in protecting cultural property. Today, ISIL and other terrorist organizations have found a lucrative source of revenue in artifacts they traffic out of areas of conflict. America must respond by denying terrorists and criminals the ability to profit from instability by looting the world of its greatest treasures.”

The proposed legislation would advance four articulated U.S. policy goals designed to
(1) protect and preserve international cultural property at risk of destruction due to political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters;
(2) protect international cultural property pursuant to its obligations under the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and customary international law in all conflicts to which the United States is a party; 
(3) prevent, in accordance with existing laws, importation of cultural property pillaged, looted, or stolen during political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters; and 
(4) ensure that existing laws and regulations, including import restrictions imposed through the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) of the Department of the Treasury, are fully implemented to prevent the trafficking in stolen or looted cultural property.
To promote these objectives, the lawmakers want the White House to appoint a Coordinator for International Cultural Property Protection who will
(1) coordinate and promote efforts to address international cultural property protection activities that involve multiple Federal agencies, including diplomatic activities, military activities, law enforcement activities, import restrictions, and the work of the Cultural Antiquities Task Force established pursuant to the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2004 (Public Law 108-199); 
(2) submit to the appropriate congressional committees an annual report on interagency efforts to protect international cultural property based on information required under section 5 of this Act; 
(3) provide policy recommendations, if necessary; 
(4) resolve interagency differences in a timely, efficient, and effective manner; and 
(5) work and consult with domestic and international actors such as foreign governments, nongovernmental organizations, museums, educational institutions, research institutions, and the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield on efforts to promote and protect international cultural property.
Under the terms of the legislative proposal, the Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of Defense, and United States Agency for International Development Administrator would be required to submit reports to the cultural property protection czar that describe each department’s efforts to protect cultural property from the threats of armed conflict, political unrest, crime, construction activities, and natural disaster.

The bill curiously omits any duties that might have been placed on the Secretaries of Treasury, Interior, or Homeland Security to supply reports directly to the Coordinator. These cabinet officials supervise agencies that have an impact on international cultural property policyagencies like the the Office of Terrorism and Financial Assistance, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Internal Revenue ServiceU.S. Fish and Wildlife, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations and Customs and Border Protection divisions. At best, the proposed legislation would have the Attorney General simply offer a report "in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security."

Reps. Engel and Smith also want to implement safeguards to protect endangered Syrian cultural property. Their bill would mandate the President to immediately enact emergency import restrictions under the terms of the Convention on the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) 19 U.S.C. 2603 in order to stop looted and smuggled antiquities from entering the American marketplace.

The legislation attempts to offer a solution to the CPIA's cumbersome statutory framework, which currently requires Syria’s government—under whatever form that might be at present—to first ask the State Department for American import controls restricting cultural objects. Recall that the White House recognized the rebels as the legitimate governing authority of the Syrian Arab Republic in 2012.

The proposed Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, in both substance and procedure, mirrors the Emergency Protection of Iraqi Cultural Antiquities Act of 2004 as well as CHL’s 2013 recommendation for an Emergency Protection of Egyptian Cultural Antiquities Act.

It remains to be seen whether the 113th Congress will take up these critical requests for a cultural property policy coordinator or for import controls to protect threatened heritage. Congress is in a lame duck session following the GOP's sweeping election victory earlier this month. Yet the proposed legislation already has been referred to the House Committees on Foreign Affairs, Ways and Means, Armed Services, and Judiciary. The bill's sponsors, more importantly, are well-known fixtures in the House. They hail from from safe districts where constituents regularly vote them back in office by wide margins.

Rep. Engel is the ranking minority member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is a liberal Democrat who recently earned a fourteenth term after facing no opponent in a district that encompasses New York’s Westchester County and the Bronx. Rep. Engel is known for his sponsorship of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act.

Rep. Smith, meanwhile, first arrived on Capitol Hill following the election of 1980. He is a popular conservative Republican representing Trenton and central New Jersey. He possesses expertise on the topics of foreign affairs and organized crime, serving as senior member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe; chair of the Subcommittee on Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations; and chairman of the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus. Last year Rep. Smith introduced a resolution to establish a Syrian war crimes tribunal.

The full text of H.R. 5703, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, can be found here.

Photo credit: House.gov

By Rick St. Hilaire Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Cultural Property Cases of AG Nominee Loretta Lynch

U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch
It is not every day that an attorney general nominee actually has a record of handling cultural property forfeitures and prosecutions. But that is the case with Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Lynch is President Barack Obama's choice to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder.

Lynch's office has handled a few heritage trafficking cases, including...

Lynch's office filed a civil forfeiture complaint last month to forfeit a 65 million year old dinosaur skull. Prosecutors alleged that a fossil dealer unlawfully attempted to import an Alioramus head by failing to declare that it was real, that it originated from Mongolia, and that it had a value of $250,000.

2. U.S. v. One Ancient Roman Sarcophagus Lid with Sculpture of Reclining Woman
Litigation over a sculptured coffin cover came to a successful conclusion in September when Lynch's office finalized an agreement to forfeit the object from a collector so that it could be returned to Italy. The Roman sarcophagus lid was featured as an illicit antiquity in the Becchina archive.

3. U.S. v Victor Gordon
After a federal district court sentenced an ivory smuggler in June to a sentence of 30 months in prison, two years supervised release, a $7500 fine, and the forfeiture of $150,000 plus one ton of elephant ivory, Lynch remarked that “preventing the flow of illegal ivory through and within our borders” is an important American commitment. “This prosecution–which resulted in the seizure and forfeiture of one of the largest known caches of illegal elephant ivory in the United States and the imprisonment of the person who acquired and attempted to profit from it – is emblematic of that commitment.”

4. U.S. v. Khouli et al.
An antiquities trafficking case that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement billed in 2011 as "a ground breaking case for Homeland Security Investigations" ended with mixed results for Lynch's office. Only two out of four men were convicted. One case netted a sentence of house arrest for a New York gallery owner. Another saw a felony charge dropped to a misdemeanor; the defendant paid a fine. Prosecutors later dropped a third man's case after he satisfied a deferred prosecution agreement. And authorities later gave up looking for a fourth man, a fugitive from justice, after litigation came to an abrupt halt in 2013.

Lynch posted a vibrant press statement at the start of the prosecution when her office charged the defendants with conspiring to smuggle ancient artifacts, engaging in money laundering, and making false statements to carry out their crime. She said, "Antiquities dealers and collectors are on notice that the smuggling of cultural patrimony will not be tolerated." But her office's only other press release, issued the following year, was muted and devoid of any direct quotes from the U.S. Attorney.

The objects involved in the case included Egyptian sarcophagi, Iraqi glass vessels and clay relief plaques, and Iranian (Luristani) bronzes.

Photo source: U.S. Department of Justice

By Rick St. Hilaire Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Victoria Reed Headlines the 2014 Daniel Webster International Lawyer of the Year Ceremony Acclaiming Cultural Heritage Law

Dr. Victoria Reed and Attorney Rick St. Hilaire answer questions from an audience of legal and cultural heritage professionals at the Daniel Webster International Lawyer of the Year ceremony held in Manchester, NH. Van McLeod, Commissioner of the NH Department of Cultural Resources (pictured at far left), listens with interest.
Photo courtesy of Norman St. Hilaire.

International lawyers gathered last week at the New Hampshire law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green to recognize the positive impact made by international cultural heritage law to protect cultural property around the globe.

The attorneys listened attentively as Victoria Reed keynoted the Daniel Webster International Lawyer of the Year ceremony honoring the contributions made by the CHL blog.

Dr. Reed discussed the global trade in art and antiquities and explained the accessions practice implemented by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), which digs deep into the collecting histories of artifacts. Dr. Reed is the MFA's Sadler Curator for Provenance.

Scrutinizing an object's collecting history and its accompanying import/export documentation is vital, Dr. Reed emphasized. That is because the provenance information offered by a seller or donor may not always be correct. Performing due diligence research therefore is essential to discover the truth about an object's collecting history.

CHL is grateful to the NH Bar Association for acknowledging international cultural heritage law as an important legal discipline.

Attorney Robert Cheney, international law section chair of the NH Bar Association,
recognizes CHL's author as the Daniel Webster International Lawyer of the Year.
Photo courtesy of Dan Wise.

By Rick St. Hilaire
Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.