Thursday, September 29, 2011

Massachusetts Court Dismisses Rubin v. Government of Iran v. Boston MFA and Harvard

A Massachusetts federal court has ruled that the Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard University will not lose their collection of ancient Persian objects to eight plaintiffs injured in a 1997 terrorist bombing. The United States District Court, District of Massachusetts, issued a five page opinion on September 15, 2011 denying the plaintiffs’ efforts to gain control over the artifacts to satisfy their multi-million dollar court judgment against the government of Iran.

Jenny Rubin and several other Americans were injured in Jerusalem after Hamas carried out three bombings. Because the terrorist group received backing from Iran, the eight plaintiffs sued the government of Iran in federal district court in Washington, DC, winning a $71.5 million default award after the Iranian government failed to show up to court. Since then, the plaintiffs have sought to recover that judgment.

The government of Iran would not be expected to pay the court award, so the plaintiffs searched for local Iranian assets to seize. One place they looked was Boston/Cambridge, Massachusetts, where museums housed artifacts excavated from ancient Iran. The plaintiffs initiated a court action--known as an attachment--against the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Harvard, the Harvard University Art Museums, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, the Fogg Art Museum, the Sackler Museum, the Semitic Museums, and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. But the judge dismissed the plaintiffs’ case in his recent court order.

District Court Judge George O’Toole ruled that the plaintiffs could pursue their attachment action under the federal Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 so long as they could prove, under Massachusetts state law, that Iran owned the artifacts in the museums. But the plaintiffs could not supply this proof. Judge O’Toole wrote: “In the present case, the plaintiffs have not shown that the ‘goods, effects, or credits’ at issue here are property ‘of the defendant’ Iran." He added that “[d]espite extensive discovery, the plaintiffs are unable to sustain their burden of showing that any particular item held by the Museums is the property of Iran . . . . It is not enough simply to show that antiquities held by the Museums originated from sites within Iran.”

The court highlighted that the plaintiffs failed to prove that an Iranian cultural patrimony law declared ownership of the artifacts. Judge O’Toole wrote: “For example, the so-called ‘1930 Law’ [the plaintiffs’] cite does not automatically vest ownership of excavated antiquities in the government of Iran. In the first place, the 1930 Law does not on its face purport to vest ownership of excavated antiquities in the government. Moreover, the 1930 Law clearly contemplates that antiquities may be owned by private persons. . . . Additionally, other courts have concluded that the 1930 Law permits private ownership and is inconsistent with automatic government ownership of all antiquities originating from Iran.”

The court struck down the plaintiffs’ further argument that an Iranian civil law, Article 26 of its 1928 Civil Code, makes the artifacts government property. The opinion declared that [t]he plaintiffs have not shown that any of the antiquities now held by the Museums were at the time of removal from Iran ‘Government property . . . in use for the service of the public or the profit of the state.’ The necessary conclusion cannot be drawn simply from the fact that the items are the products of archeological explorations that were conducted in Iran . . . .”

The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that antiquities from Persepolis were the property of the Iranian government. The court ruled that “[t]he plaintiffs’ specific argument that items taken from the ruins of the ancient city of Persepolis cannot be privately owned is also not persuasive. The legal argument relies heavily on Article 26 which . . . does not support a generalized conclusion that excavated items necessarily belonged to the government of Iran. The plaintiffs point to texts suggesting that foreign excavators unlawfully took items from Persepolis. Even if that is true as an historical matter, it does not get the plaintiffs where they need to go. As a general matter, establishing that a particular item was unlawfully exported or removed from Iran is not equivalent to showing that it now should be regarded as property of Iran subject to levy and execution. And as a particular matter, the plaintiffs simply are unable to establish that any item in the possession of the Museums, whether from Persepolis or elsewhere, is rightly considered to be the property of Iran.”

The case in the Massachusetts district court is now at an end.  Any appeal would be filed in the First Circuit federal court.

Contact information may be found at http://www.culturalheritagelawyer.com/.

Monday, September 26, 2011

ACCG Files Notice of Appeal in Baltimore Coin Case

After having its case dismissed in August, the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild filed a notice of appeal on September 21, 2011 in the US Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit. http://dockets.justia.com/docket/circuit-courts/ca4/11-2012/
A federal district court last month dismissed the ACCG's lawsuit, which challenged protective American import restrictions placed on Chinese and Cypriot ancient coins. The court ruled that the ACCG failed to make out a sufficient case. The ACCG started the test case when the organization brought 23 ancient coins to Baltimore on a transatlantic flight


Contact information may be found at www.culturalheritagelawyer.com. DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this web site/email/blog/feed/podcast is general information only, not legal advice, and not guaranteed to be current, correct, or complete. No attorney-client relationship is formed, and no express or implied warranty is given. Links or references to outside sources are not endorsements. This site may be considered attorney advertising by some jurisdictions. The attorney is licensed in NH. The attorney is not certified by the TX Board of Legal Specialization, nor certified by NY regulators as a so-called "specialist" or "expert." Do not send confidential communications through this web site or email.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Khouli +3 Case Update: Search Warrant Affidavit Describes HSI Investigation

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) petitioned for a warrant on July 12, 2011 to search Salem Alshdaifat’s home-based business and seize “antique coins and[/]or other antiquities or any other works of art or cultural antiquities of Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian, Islamic, European, Egyptian origin . . .” HSI also requested business records, correspondence, photos of merchandise, bank records, import records, and the like located at the home.

An HSI special agent applied to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan for the warrant to search the home. That is the location where it is reported that Alshdaifat runs the ancient coins business called Holyland Numismatics. The affidavit, now unsealed, reveals further details about the antiquities smuggling investigation into Alshdaifat and three other co-defendants--Mousa Khouli, Ayman Ramadan, and Joseph A. Lewis, II.

It should be noted that a search warrant affidavit is a narrative that a law enforcement official or prosecutor supplies to a judge. It is meant to demonstrate the probable cause to believe that an object or thing is at a specified location and that it is probable evidence of a crime. Information contained in a search warrant affidavit may or may not be admitted as evidence at a trial. That is why an affidavit should not be read to form a conclusion of criminal guilt. Only a jury can decide whether there has been a violation of law, basing its decision only on legally admissible evidence.

In the present case, the federal agent’s affidavit called attention to several observations and actions of interest. For instance, the search warrant petition was filed following a review of Alshdaifat’s Yahoo! email account. Also reported were Alshdaifat’s alleged sale of ancient Egyptian artifacts in 2009 and his alleged importation of ancient coins in Detroit in 2010.

Writing in the July 2011 affidavit, the HSI special agent explained that a March 29, 2010 search warrant probe of “Alshdaifat’s e-mail records . . . confirm[] that he uses e-mail to communicate with sellers, purchasers, dealers and transporters of cultural property including stolen and/or smuggled cultural property.” A January 2009 email exchange was described where Alshdaifat allegedly offered a hoard of coins “[u]ncleaned at $4.5 each.” The email continued: “[T]he hoard came from Egypt and [is] now in Dubai[.] I asked my partner to ship directly from Dubai to you. [T]his hoard came from Banha, I think we bought coins that we sold you befor[e] from Banha, it is very big Roman city. [Y]ou can wire the funds to my bank account.”

The partner referred to is Ayman Ramadan of Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading in Dubai (NEST). Alshdaifat referred to NEST as his Dubai office, and that “Ramadan ships antiquities from the UAE to Alshdaifat’s customers on Alshdaifsat’s behalf,” declared the affidavit.

A second email dated February 22, 2010 from Alshdaifat reportedly said:
“[F]or a hoard from Egypt this is real[l]y a[]lot :) , you got a small group[], we usually don[‘]t see them at all in Egypt, I was told today that they found in the same spot while they are making the hole bigger another group[] around 800 coins, they are still working in the area, I hope it will[] be bigger than what I think. [N]ext week I will get those 800 tog[e]ther with the 2000 coins. [I]t is much easy to sell uncleaned, I notice[e] that they already tried to clean some, but I told them to stop[.]”

The HSI investigating agent, without supplying specific details, added that Alshdaifat’s email account allegedly showed that he “has offered customers hoards of coins taken directly from Petra, Jordan and from Kyrene, Libya.”

Perhaps most directly related to the current federal indictment, the affidavit described allegations that Alshdaifat in May 2009 “offered a New York dealer a set of ancient Egyptian funerary boats and limestone figures for $40,000.” The New York dealer found a customer interested in purchasing these antiquities . . . and resold them to the customer for a higher price. Ramadan shipped the ancient boats and limestone figures to the New York dealer via mail from the UAE.” The shipping label said “antiques.”

On December 20, 2010, Alshdaifat carried coins through the Detroit Metropolitan Airport on his way back from Amman, Jordan, according to the affidavit. Customs reportedly seized the coins because Alshdaifat presented inconsistent sets of invoices during two separate airport inspections. The first invoice presented was from NEST to Holyland Numismatics for Byzantine gold coins and Byzantine gold tremissis coins totaling $234,875. The invoice stated that they originated from Syria, according to the affidavit. Alshdaifat then reportedly offered a second set of invoices listing Byzantine gold coins and Roman-Egyptian billion tetradrachms. When Alshdaifat returned later with two mail packages of similar coins in an attempt to convince federal authorities to release the detained coins, customs officials seized these packages too because they were without entry paperwork, declared the affidavit.

Federal agents staked out Alshdaifat’s home in June 2011. After seeing a “for sale” sign posted, two HSI agents posed as potential buyers of the house and entered the home with a real estate agent. Alshdaifat was at the residence at the time. The agents reportedly observed pictures of coins on Alshdaifat’s computer and as well as books about ancient coins and artifacts.

Based on this information, federal authorities applied for a search warrant of Alshdaifat’s Michigan home. That search warrant preceded the eventual multiple count indictment against Alshdaifat and the three named co-defendants on charges related to antiquities trafficking.

Photo courtesy of ICE.

Contact information may be found at www.culturalheritagelawyer.com.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Heritage Protection Laws in Uganda

The 16th annual triennial meeting of ICOM’s conservation committee took place in Lisbon, Portugal this week. Many outstanding papers were presented.

I was privileged to moderate the Legal Issues in Conservation Working Group session. One paper of interest dealt with cultural heritage laws in Uganda. Frederick Nsibambi of Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda spoke of the laws covering the protection of heritage, commenting that a 1967 statute simply fined a person $1 for a violation. More about his organization’s projects can be found at crossculturalfoundation.or.ug.

Contact information may be found at www.culturalheritagelawyer.com. DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this web site/email/blog/feed/podcast is general information only, not legal advice, and not guaranteed to be current, correct, or complete. No attorney-client relationship is formed, and no express or implied warranty is given. Links or references to outside sources are not endorsements. This site may be considered attorney advertising by some jurisdictions. The attorney is licensed in NH. The attorney is not certified by the TX Board of Legal Specialization, nor certified by NY regulators as a so-called "specialist" or "expert." Do not send confidential communications through this web site or email.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Khouli +3 Update: Salem Alshdaifat’s Coin Inventory Returned

Salem Alshdaifat’s attorney sent two letters on August 17, 2011 to complain that coins seized from his client were not properly cared for by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and to request an inspection of the items after an initial effort to examine the coins resulted in objections from federal officials. Alshdaifat’s lawyer asserted that his client possessed documentation to prove bona fide ownership of the property. The court treated the correspondence as a motion for return of property.

A federal district court in Michigan issued an order on September 6 that recognized the issue as moot. That is because the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and Alshdaifat’s attorney reportedly reached an agreement to return the inventory. The terms of that agreement are unknown.

Meanwhile, highlights of the letters written by Alshdaifat's legal counsel reveal the following:

• “[T]he agents took the entirety of Mr. Alshdaifat's business inventory and related documentation . . . .”

• “Mr. Aishdaifat operates an ancient coins business from his home in Orchard Lake, Michigan. He has been in the business of trading ancient coins ever since he left his home country of Jordan more than ten years ago. He has been a student of numismatics his entire life. On July 13, 2011, federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") raided his home and seized his entire inventory of ancient coins, estimated at over 7,000 coins, and other property.”

• “ICE and CBP had decided to transfer custody to the ICE case agent in Brooklyn, New York all of the seized property from the four seizures of Mr. Alshdaifat's property that occurred in the Detroit area. These include: (1) the December 20, 2010 seizure of ancient coins at the Detroit Metro Airport; (2) the December 2010 seizure of two mail packages that were voluntarily brought by Mr. Alshdaifat to ICE offices in Detroit and [an agent]; (3) the February 2011 seizure of a Federal Express package for export to Singapore; and (4) the July 13, 2011 seizure of thousands of coins and other property from Mr. Alshdaifat's . . . home.” (For information related to most of these seizures, see the September 23, 2011 blog entry here).

• Additionally, through his attorney, Alshdaifat advised federal officials to store groups of coins “in open containers, not in closed plastic bags.” “The coins,” he said, “should also be stored in a dry environment, preferably with a dehumidifier.” He further recommended that authorities “[s]eparate the "diseased" coins from the rest. These coins can be identified by the green powdery substance on the surface of the coins. . . . The diseased coins should be handled with gloves, and when doing so agents should avoid exposure in closed areas with little air circulation.” Alshdaifat also advised that “[t]he silver and gold coins should be kept in individual coin holders” and that coins found in acid baths “needed to be washed in hot, running water and dried individually.” Finally, he requested that “[t]hose coins with soil incrustation should be separated from others with similar incrustation. Because soil taken from different places consists of various different minerals and it would be impossible to know if incrusted coins came from the same soil, those coins that are incrusted should simply be separated to avoid any chemical reaction from the interaction of different soil minerals.”


Contact information may be found at www.culturalheritagelawyer.com. DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this web site/email/blog/feed/podcast is general information only, not legal advice, and not guaranteed to be current, correct, or complete. No attorney-client relationship is formed, and no express or implied warranty is given. Links or references to outside sources are not endorsements. This site may be considered attorney advertising by some jurisdictions. The attorney is licensed in NH. The attorney is not certified by the TX Board of Legal Specialization, nor certified by NY regulators as a so-called "specialist" or "expert." Do not send confidential communications through this web site or email.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ayman Ramadan and Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading

Readers will recall that the US Justice Department issued a press release in July 2011 announcing the unsealing of a multiple count indictment charging four men charged with antiquities smuggling and money laundering. Ayman Mohammad Ramadan was one of the men indicted. (Note: an indictment is not a finding of guilt.) He is currently a fugitive.

The US Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York, summarized the alleged facts of the case in this way: “[F]rom October 2008 through November 2009, [Joseph] Lewis [of Virginia] purchased a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, a nesting set of three Egyptian sarcophagi, a set of Egyptian funerary boats and Egyptian limestone figures from [Moussa “Morris” Khouli, who earlier acquired those items from [antiquities dealer Salem] Alshdaifat and [antiquities dealer Ayman] Ramadan. Each of these antiquities was exported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and smuggled into the United States using a variety of illegal methods intended to avoid detection and scrutiny by U.S. Customs & Border Protection (“Customs”).”

Ayman Ramadan is described by US Customs in a July 2011 press release as “a Jordanian antiquities dealer and operator of Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading . . . . Ramadan was shipping goods to Windsor Antiques, a New York City gallery that showcased antiquities from around the world."

There is information to suggest that Ayman Ramadan may go by the name of Ayman Libzo. A Facebook profile bearing the name Ayman Libzo describes this named individual as the owner and president of Nafertiti Sculptures Trading L.L.C. It also lists Dubai as the place where this individual lives.

Paul Barford, in his blog on Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues, referenced Nafertiti Sculptures Trading in a 2010 entry. Commenting on a sale of artifacts by Salem Alshdaifat, Barford posted the following on September 4, 2010 to show what was reportedly advertised online by Alshdaifat, an apparent business associate of Ramadan and a co-defendant. The information suggests a business connection with Ayman Ramadan’s company, Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading.

"10 Ancient Egyptian Blue Faience Ushabti C.600 BC. Size around 3 inches high .(7 - 8cm long) Rare items in great looking blue Faience (paist clay and glazed) Mummyform ushabti (servant for the next life) . perfect condition for the type, a real rare chance to get them in this condetion, Guaranteed Authenticity. this lot will be shipped from our office in Dubai Nefertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading Co P.O Box: 111301 Bar Dubai, Dubai. United Arab Emirates. Price US$ 1,300.00" (Errors in the original.)

A recent search on the government of Dubai’s web site reveals no current trade names or active trade licenses for Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading or any variation of that name. There are also no companies listed that are associated with the names Ayman Ramadan or Ayman Libzo.

(As a side note, it is of interest that the government of Dubai maintains a relevant trade name category called “Authentic Antiques, Artefacts & Artworks Trading," classified by Activity Code 513969. Many art and antiques dealers, however, seem to place themselves in the “Novelties Trading” or “Gifts Trading” company category as a matter of course.)

There is also no listing in the UAE yellow pages or the Dubai commercial directory for Ayman Ramadan, Ayman Libzo, or any reasonable variation in spelling of Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading.

There is information on a web page, nevertheless, that an “Ayman Libzo for Ancient Antiquity” existed. What remains of the now inactive and sparsely archived web page, copyrighted 2008, is a ‘browse catalog” link, a generic Dubai business location, and a Dubai-based cell phone number. The catalog link is inaccessible. The other information listed on the web page states that the company is part of the Trocadero network, which is a fine arts and antiques online selling platform. The Ayman Libzo for Ancient Antiquity web site once bore the web address of www.trocadero.com/aylibzo/, as suggested by archived internet records.

There apparently was also an online store bearing the name “Ayman Libzo for Ancient Antiquity” at one time. It was likely located on eBay.es, the Spanish eBay. That page does not exist today and is not archived. It was referenced, however, in an eBay “arqueologia y falsificaciones” (archaeology and forgery) discussion group during a 2008 conversation about Egyptian artifacts.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement asks that anyone with information on the whereabouts of Ayman Ramadan contact the Tip Line at 866-DHS-2-ICE.



Contact information may be found at http://www.blogger.com/www.culturalheritagelawyer.com. DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this web site/email/blog/feed/podcast is general information only, not legal advice, and not guaranteed to be current, correct, or complete. No attorney-client relationship is formed, and no express or implied warranty is given. Links or references to outside sources are not endorsements. This site may be considered attorney advertising by some jurisdictions. The attorney is licensed in NH. The attorney is not certified by the TX Board of Legal Specialization, nor certified by NY regulators as a so-called "specialist" or "expert." Do not send confidential communications through this web site or email.