Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Change of Venue Motion Filed in US v. Khouli et al. Previews Possible Defenses in Alleged Antiquities Trafficking Case



Federal courthouse in Brooklyn, NY.
Photo by Jim Henderson.  CC
The latest pleading filed by Salem Alshdaifat’s attorney in the case of US v. Khouli et al. asks for a change of venue. The defense argues that personal and financial hardships faced by Alshdaifat, a Michigan resident, urge a transfer of the case from the federal district court in New York to Detroit.

The motion provides a possible preview into some of the defenses that may be available in the case, including:
  • a characterization of the charged conduct as “regulatory-based criminal charges,”
  • a claim that the objects that are the subject of the multi-count indictment are neither stolen nor contraband, and
  •  an argument that Alshdaifat was a middle man who did not possess criminal intent.
A federal grand jury charged Alshdaifat in May 2011 with conspiracy to smuggle, alleging that he directed Mousa Khouli to wire $20,000 to Ayman Ramadan’s UAE bank account and that Alshdaifat received an airway bill from Ramadan showing that “wooden panels” were being shipped by Ramadan’s company in the United Arab Emirates to JFK airport in New York.  Moreover, Alshdaifat is charged with money laundering conspiracy.  He is also charged with smuggling goods into the country as well as fraudulent importation and transportation of goods.  The indictment describes the goods as an Egyptian inner coffin, Egyptian funerary boats and limestone figures, and a portion of an outer lid of a nesting Egyptian coffin set.  (A grand jury indictment is a mechanism that initiates a criminal case; it is not a finding of guilt.)

Writing in support of the motion for change of venue, Alshdaifat’s attorney previews the possible defenses in the case.  The following are excerpts from the Memorandum of Law dated November 21, 2011:
  • “The facts surrounding these charged criminal violations of the Customs laws arise out of the importation of rare Egyptian antiquities, including a three-piece set of sarcophagi and other funerary objects. These artifacts were allegedly shipped to the United States in several packages, variously by international air mail and by private air and sea carriers. The government does not claim that the Egyptian artifacts were stolen or were otherwise contraband when they entered the country. Instead, the government's charges rest on a theory that the alleged conspirators willfully falsely or vaguely declared these artifacts in entry documents into the United States because the importer purportedly had insufficient or incomplete documents of origin for the objects and this might have caused them to be detained at a United States port-of-entry if detected.” (emphasis in the original)
  •  “Mr. Alshdaifat was neither the U.S. importer nor the foreign exporter of the subject Egyptian artifacts. Based on the government's own claims, he is alleged to have been the “finder” or middleman that put the alleged foreign source of the artifacts (defendant [Ayman] Ramadan) in contact with the U.S. importer, or interested antiquities dealer (defendant [Mousa] Khouli). Despite being charged with a role that essentially ended prior to the importation process, Mr. Alshdaifat is charged with his co-defendants for knowingly participating in making false or intentionally incomplete statements on shipping labels on various shipments of these Egyptian antiquities.  The government's claims against Mr. Alshdaifat, therefore, rely on findings that he knew and intentionally joined a conspiracy to falsely declare the Egyptian artifacts in their shipment to the United States after his role in being a broker to the transactions was already completed.” (emphasis in the original)
  •  “In the Egyptian sarcophagi transactions, however, Mr. Alshdaifat only had a broker's interest and did not deal in the artifacts himself. Somehow, however, he now finds himself charged together with the principals of those transactions for allegedly violating technical Customs laws in the mailing and shipping of the merchandise, a process in which he did not participate.”
  • “The government’s position in support of criminal liability on the charged air mail shipments is based largely on the claim that Mr. Alshdaifat's co-defendants put these pieces in international mail or on an airplane as air cargo without completing more formal U.S. Customs paperwork with the specific intent to avoid Customs’ detection of these shipments and break U.S. Customs' law.  No lay witnesses exist to testify as to whether a defendant's act of putting these parcels in the mail or on an airplane constituted an intentional and clandestine conspiratorial effort to get the charged, legal merchandise into the United States.” (emphasis in the original and footnote omitted)
  •  “In any event, Mr. Alshdaifat is not even implicated in the government's discovery with doing anything – in New York or elsewhere – to assist in the importation of the merchandise. He is charged with putting the alleged source of the Egyptian coffins and artifacts (defendant [Ayman] Ramadan) in contact with the New York antiquities dealer who purchased them (defendant [Mousa] Khouli). The government must concede that Mr. Alshdaifat was neither the importer nor exporter of the charged shipments, and therefore had no role in the actual shipment of the merchandise, i.e., the packaging, labeling and placing of the merchandise in international mail.  As such, he never had any contacts with New York.”
  •  “The government does not charge that the Egyptian coffins and funerary objects were stolen property. The objects imported, therefore, are not contraband or unlawful to possess in the United States. The government's claims in this Indictment rest instead on the precarious theory that the method in which the artifacts were shipped into the United States was intentionally fraudulent even though the goods themselves were not banned or prohibited from entry. Indeed, the government does not even claim that the method of importation was intentionally fraudulent to avoid import duties, since antiquities are excluded from any import tax.” (emphasis in the original)
The defense contends that the government’s conduct materially affected Alshdaifat’s business.  Alshdaifat writes in a Declaration to the court dated November 21, 2011 that he started dealing in ancient coins in Canada, selling them primarily over the internet and at international trade shows.  He describes himself as a specialist in ancient Judean coins who gained admission to many coin auction houses and membership associations.  Alshdaifat adds that he was the moderator of the “Judean ancient coin section for the largest numismatic worldwide web community.”  Defense counsel’s Memorandum of Law explains:

“Mr. Alshdaifat's circumstances are particularly extraordinary. These include the fact that from his initial arrest, the government stacked the deck against him, making it untenable for him to get his fair day in court. On July 13, 2011, the government arrested Mr. Alshdaifat in his Michigan home and confiscated his entire business inventory of ancient coins, thereby effectively shutting his business down.  It did so despite the fact that the criminal charges in the Indictment had nothing to do with Mr. Alshdaifat's coin business. Subsequently, the government returned his coins but not until his business suffered a crushing, and possibly, fatal blow. Mr. Alshdaifat's reputation as an honest coin dealer has been battered; more importantly, he has been removed or suspended from all of the auction houses where he sold his coins. His business is in dire shape.” (emphasis in the original)

Information supplied to the court describes the relationship between Alshdaifat and co-defendant Ayman Ramadan.  Court papers remark that “Mr. Alshdaifat has purchased ancient coins before from defendant Ramadan in the United Arab Emirates ("U.A.E.") and has sold coins to defendant Khouli in New York. 
 That is how he knew two of the other parties charged in this Indictment.”

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Egyptian Museum No Longer Accepting Cultural Object Inquiries (For Now)

The Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Source: Bs0u10e01, Creative Commons
According to an email by the General Director of The Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the museum will not be in a position to respond to inquiries regarding any artifacts until June 2012. This information is important to anyone conducting provenance research relating to Egyptian cultural objects. The email appears below:


To whom it may concern,

Due to the current situation in Egypt, I regret to say that the
Registration, Collections Management and Documentation
Department (RCMDD) and the curatorial staff of the Egyptian
Museum, Cairo will not be accepting any new requests for
object information and images starting from 1 December, 2011
until 30 May, 2012. This is due to the huge backlog that was
created following the events of January 28th, as well as the
renovations that are currently happening in the Museum.
Information on objects from our collection can still be obtained by
accessing the intranet version of the Museum Database on the
computers dedicated to scholars in the RCMDD office, located in
the museum basement.  The department is open to scholars from
9:30 am until 2:00 pm, Sunday-Thursday.

Sincerely,
Dr. Tarek El Awady
General Director,
The Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Source: Egyptologists' Electronic Forum, forwarded by Dr. Yasmin El Shazly.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Status Conference Held in Case of US v. Khouli, Alshdaifat, Lewis

Egyptian coffin seized by ICE
in the case of US v. Khouli et al.
Photo: ICE
The US District Court for the Eastern District of New York held a status conference in the criminal matter of United States v. Khouli et al. on November 17, 2011.  The court waived all three of the defendants’ presence at the hearing.  The defendants include Mousa “Morris” Khouli, Salem Alshdaifat, and Joseph A. Lewis II.  Ayman Ramadan remains a fugitive.

By way of letter dated November 4, 2011 and written by his attorney, Khouli sought leave to attend a coin show in Baltimore, Maryland, reportedly scheduled for November 16 and 20.  The short letter explained: “As an antiquities dealer, Mr. Khouli’s livelihood depends on his ability to attend coin shows and other similar events.”  The court granted Khouli’s request and extended the ruling, waiving the appearance of the other co-defendants.

Internet records reveal that the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore Expo was held during this time.  Palmyra Heritage, the name of the business owned and operated by Khouli, was listed as occupying booth #1107 while Holyland Numismatics, the name of the business owned and operated by Alshdaifat, was listed as occupying booth #1154 at the event that took place at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Salem Alshdaifat’s attorney filed documents soon after the November 17 status hearing requesting a change of venue in an effort to curtail any hardship to Alshdaifat, who lives in Michigan.  Submitted on November 21, the pleadings reveal more information about Alshdaifat’s background and his association with co-defendant Ayman Ramadan.  The pleadings also supply a preview of Alshdaifat’s possible legal defenses.  These topics are discussed here.

The next court status conference is scheduled for January 27, 2012.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

CPAC Public Session Wrap-Up: Requests by Bulgaria and Belize for Cultural Property MoUs Considered

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met between November 15 and 17, 2011, holding a public session on November 16. Professor Patty Gerstenblith, newly appointed chair and director of the Center for Art, Museum, & Cultural Heritage Law at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, presided over the meeting.

Bulgaria and Belize both petitioned the United States government for a memorandum of Understanding (MoU) seeking cultural property import protections pursuant to Article 9 of the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (the UNESCO Convention). The requesting nations’ official public summaries appear here:  Bulgaria | Belize.  CPAC will ultimately provide advice about the adoption or rejection of these MoU requests.

CPAC received testimony to consider whether the countries’ requests satisfy the four determinations enumerated in the federal Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). They include:

1. Whether the cultural patrimony of the requesting nation is in jeopardy from pillage;

2. Whether the requesting nation has taken measures to protect the cultural patrimony;

3. Whether import protections would be of substantial benefit to deter serious pillage, and whether there are other less drastic remedies; and

4. Whether the implemtation of import protections is consistent with the global exchange of cultural property for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

Roman ruins in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Author: Kyle Taylor
Creative Commons license.
CPAC received 503 online submissions prior to the public session, and seven people presented live testimony regarding the Bulgarian request. Those appearing in person before CPAC were:

• Kevin Clinton, President of the Board of Trustees of the American Research Center in Sofia (ARCS). See his prior written comments here.

• Brian Daniels of the University of Pennsylvania Museum's Cultural Heritage Center.

• Nathan Elkins, a professor of Greek and Roman art and history at Baylor University who focuses on ancient coins.

• Stephen J. Knerly, an attorney who routinely appears before CPAC on behalf of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). Read his previously submitted written statement here.

• Christina Luke Roosevelt, a lecturer and archaeologist at Boston University who appeared on behalf of the Archaeological Institute of America’s (AIA) Cultural Policy Committee. Read her previously submitted written statement here.

• Peter Tompa, an attorney appearing on behalf of the International Association of Professional Numismatists. He is an officer of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) but did not appear in this capacity. His previously submitted personal comments appear here.

• Kerry Wetterstrom, a governing officer of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild.

Maya archaeological site in Caracol, Belize.
Author: Pgbk87. Creative Commons.
Public comments were also submitted discussing Belize’s MoU request. 153 online submissions were made, and five people appeared in Washington, DC to present live testimony. They were:

• Brian Daniels of the University of Pennsylvania Museum's Cultural Heritage Center.

• Elizabeth Gilgan, an archaeologist who worked in Belize. She serves on the board of directors of Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE). Her previous written submission appears here.

• Stephen J. Knerly, an attorney appearing on behalf of AAMD. Read his previously submitted written statement here.

• Christina Luke Roosevelt, appearing on behalf of the AIA’s Cultural Policy Committee. Read her written statement here. You can also find AIA President Elizabeth Bartman’s online statement here.

• Patricia McAnany, appearing on behalf of the Society for American Archaeology and an archaeologist who has performed research in Belize.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cultural Heritage Lawyer Awarded Top 25 International and Foreign Law Blog Honors

Thank you to the readers of Cultural Heritage Lawyer making it become one of the Top 25 international and foreign law blogs.  The award correspondence received today says:

"I am pleased to announce that your blog has been selected as one of the LexisNexis Top 25 International & Foreign Law Blogs of 2011!"

"The Top 25 group includes some of the best talent in the blogosphere and creates an invaluable content aggregate for all segments of the International & Foreign Law practice. Most good blogs provide frequent posts on timely topics, but the authors in this year’s collective take their blogs to a different level by providing insightful commentary that demonstrates how blogs can—and do—impact and influence the world of international and foreign law."

You can always click on the Top 25 image at the top right of this web page to make this blog #1!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Briefing Schedule Set in Appeal of Rubin v. Iran v. Boston MFA and Harvard

The case of Rubin et al. v. the Islamic Republic of Iran v. Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard University et al. is in full swing at the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals.  The appeals court yesterday set a briefing schedule that calls for the appellant’s brief to be filed on December 27 and the appellee’s brief to be filed 30 days thereafter.  [Update 1/27/12: The court extended these deadlines.]

Monday, November 14, 2011

From Sculpture to Scrap: The Theft of America’s Copper Heritage

Bronze, a mixture of copper and tin,
is found in many statues and plaques,
which are vulnerable to copper thieves.
Frederic Remington, ''The Bronco Buster,"
given to the Lyndon B. Johnson Library.
Public domain image.




Copper theft continues to run rampant throughout the country. Museums, cultural institutions, churches, art galleries, universities, and more have been impacted by the great raid on copper and bronze sculpture and plaques. That is because the price of copper is high, largely driven up by rapid industrial development in China and India.

The recent press report of a sword swiped from a copper statue located at Abraham Lincoln’s tomb site in Springfield, Illinois has become common over the last several years. And thieves may be less interested in the art and more interested in the metal’s melted value.

Many states have laws that regulate scrap metal recyclers so that law enforcement can uncover scrap metal crimes. In New Hampshire, Chapter 322 of the Revised Statutes Annotated mandates junk and scrap metal dealers to be licensed, requires photo identification from person’s turning in metal for scrap, and permits law enforcement access to business records. Maine just announced its intention to stiffen regulations. Last week legislation moved forward in Augusta that would have scrap metal dealers check photo identification and vehicle information for anyone selling scrap metal, place a 72 hour delay on processing the metal, and have payments sent by check to a physical address. Penalties for noncompliance could include a license suspension for scrap metal processors.

Protecting outdoor statuary from copper theft may not be easy, but contacting a security consultant for a site assessment should be a first step for any cultural institution. Security options can then be considered in light of the actual risks and the institution’s budget.  Members of the nonprofit International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection may be able to help.

If a theft occurs, it should be reported to the local police immediately. Be sure to tell the police about Scrap Theft Alert, where law enforcement can report a theft to the membership of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

PART II OF II: US Attorney Reveals Legal and Factual Claims in Forfeiture Lawsuit Against Cristo Portacroce – Case Reveals Italy’s Refusal to Turn Painting Over to Gentili di Giuseppe Family


Portrait of Girolamo Romano,
painter of the disputed artwork known as
Cristo Portacroce Trascinato Da Un Mangoldo.
In support of the warrant seizing Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue (Cristo Portacroce Trascinato Da Un Manigoldo) from The Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science and in support of the civil complaint seeking forfeiture, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Florida supplies important details about the artwork’s asserted history.  Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agent Phillip Reynolds describes facts in an affidavit submitted to the federal district court that permits the construction of the following timeline and details:

June 1914 - Art collector Federico Gentili di Giuseppe, Italian and of Jewish descent and living in Paris, purchased the Cristo Portacroce from the Crespi family collection. The 16th century painting by artist Girolamo Romano, was lawfully exported from Italy.

April 20, 1940 - Just before the Nazi invasion of France, Federico Gentili di Giuseppe died and left his estate to his son and daughter. They fled Paris without their possessions.

March 17, 1941 - The French Vichy government ordered the liquidation of the entire Gentili di Giuseppe estate.

April 23, 1941 - The Cristo Portacroce, and dozens of other paintings once in the Gentili di Giuseppe family’s possession, were auctioned. “Lemar” of Paris reportedly bought the Cristo Portacroce.

1994 - A Girolamo Romani catalog raisonné published by Alessandro Nova listed the Cristo Portacroce as having been owned by Federico Gentili di Giuseppe.

1997 – Descendants of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe sued the Louvre for the return of five paintings sold during the same auction as the Cristo Portacroce.

1998 - The Brera Art Gallery (Pinacoteca di Brera) took possession of the painting, although no details are provided regarding this transfer.

June 2, 1999 – a French court ordered custody of the five paintings at the Louvre to Federico Gentili di Giuseppe’s descendants, acknowledging that the 1941 auction was a “nullity” in that several painting were purchased by Nazis, including Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring. The court also ordered the Louvre to pay 40,000 francs (approximately $8300).

After June 2, 1999 – The Art Institute of Chicago, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Art Museum of Princeton University all returned works of art to the Gentili di Giuseppe family heirs. Institutions in Berlin, Cologne, and Lyons did the same.

January 10, 2000 and March 14, 2000 – Lawyer Jean Pierre Sulzer twice contacted the the Brera Art Gallery by mail on behalf of Gentili di Giuseppe’s descendants, receiving no reply.

2001 – The Brera Art Gallery referred the restitution claims of the Gentili di Giuseppe heirs to the Italian Ministry of Culture, and attorneys for the family wrote a letter to the ministry on October 3, 2001 asking for the painting.

June 6, 2002 – The Commission for Art Recovery of the World Jewish Congress, a New York based group that seeks to restitute cultural property taken from Holocaust victims, wrote a letter to Italian President Silvio Berlusconi after the Ministry of Culture reportedly rejected the claims of the Gentili di Giuseppe family. The letter urged the president to reconsider Italy’s position.  (The contents of the letter suggest that the Brera made an earlier reply stating that it acquired the painting--and a second painting--in good faith.  The Brera's letter is not contained in court documents).

March 14, 2003 – The Italian Ministry of Culture responded to the Commission for Art Recovery’s intervention by saying that it carefully reviewed the matter in light of the Washington Principles and could not find that it could accommodate the request for repatriation. (See the Washington Principles here).

2006 – The Commission on Looted Art in Europe reportedly contacted the Italian government in an effort to have the Christo Portacroce returned.

March 18, 2011 – The Brogan placed the painting on display at its museum in Tallahassee, Florida.

November 4, 2011 – The loan contract between the Brera and the Brogan was due to terminate on November 6, and the painting was to be delivered to Italy.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE seized the painting on November 4, 2011 to prevent its return to Milan, and the US Attorney filed its in rem action against the artwork seeking its forfeiture.

The prosecution will seek to prove these alleged facts as it attempts to convince the federal district court that it has the evidence to forfeit the Cristo Portacroce.  Time will tell if any party steps forward to contest the claim.

See Part I for a discussion of the US government's asserted legal claims in this case.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

PART I OF II: US Attorney Reveals Legal and Factual Claims in Forfeiture Lawsuit Against Cristo Portacroce – Argues That Painting Loaned to The Brogan by The Brera Was Stolen, Smuggled, and War Material


"The Brera,"
which once possessed the Romano painting
seized by ICE in Florida on November 4, 2011.
Author: Masi27185. Creative Commons License
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized the painting known as Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue pursuant to a court authorized warrant on Friday, November 4, 2011. Judicial records reveal that federal officials chose to seize the painting at that time because the artwork, which was on loan to and openly displayed at The Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science, was about to be returned to the Brera Art Gallery (Pinacoteca di Brera) in Milan, Italy. The Brera originally possessed and loaned the artwork, painted by Girolamo Romano around 1543.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida filed a civil forfeiture action in federal district court in Tallahassee the same day as the seizure. Seizure permits the government to take possession of the painting, but a forfeiture order issued by the court would allow the government to gain title of the painting. That is why the US Attorney’s Office filed an in rem (against the thing) lawsuit, naming the artwork as the defendant. The case is captioned and docketed as United States of America v. Painting Known as Cristo Portacroce Trascinato Da Un Mangoldo, 4:11-cv-00571-RH-WCS.

Federal prosecutors argue in their civil complaint that forfeiture of the painting is proper under multiple legal theories. They cite the typical ones under the criminal statutes (Title 18 of the United States Code) and the customs statutes (Title 19 of the United States Code). But the government also makes a claim under Title 22, the foreign relations section.

First, prosecutors allege that the painting was smuggled pursuant to 18 USC § 545 and therefore must be forfeited under the terms of this criminal statute.

They also say that the artwork must be forfeited because it was illegally imported in contravention of the customs law at 19 USC § 1595a(c)(1)(A) since the painting was “stolen, smuggled, or clandestinely imported or introduced” into the United States.

Next, federal attorneys claim that the painting was about to be exported in violation of 19 USC § 1595a(d), a customs law requiring that the painting “shall be seized and forfeited to the United States” because its export would be “contrary to law.”

Federal lawyers also make a claim under the Illegal Exportation of War Materials statute at 22 USC § 401(a), saying that it mandates forfeiture of the painting: “Whenever an attempt is made to export or ship from or take out of the United States any arms or munitions of war or other articles in violation of law, or whenever it is known or there shall be probable cause to believe that any arms or munitions of war or other articles are intended to be or are being or have been exported or removed from the United States in violation of law” then the article may be seized and shall be forfeited.” (Emphasis added by the author).

Finally, the government makes the claim that the painting was stolen under 18 USC § 2314, the National Stolen Property Act, which criminalizes conduct whereby a person “transports, transmits, or transfers in interstate or foreign commerce any goods, wares, merchandise, securities or money, of the value of $5,000 or more, knowing the same to have been stolen, converted or taken by fraud.”

The court will decide if prosecutors possess the evidence to prove their case.  To date, the information prosecutors possess appears considerable. That material is discussed in Part II.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Museums at Risk - Results of the 2011 ICCROM-UNESCO International Storage Survey

Museums are at risk. That is the conclusion of the 2011 ICCROM-UNESCO International Storage Survey conducted between June and September by the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The published summary below shows significant deficiencies in museum storage, museum administration, risk management, and loss prevention.

Strategic planning, resource development, and risk preparation are crucial to maintaining first-class cultural institutions. Museums in need of assistance can contact the International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection (IFCPP) http://www.ifcpp.com/, RE-ORG http://www.re-org.info/, or other professionals who support cultural institutions.  The public, meanwhile, is encouraged to lend a hand to their local museums, libraries, and historical societies--both financially and by volunteering--so that history, art, science, and culture can be preserved and transmitted.  Many volunteer opportunities can be found at http://www.volunteermatch.org/.

A larger version of the report is available here.


CONTACT: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com

Saturday, November 5, 2011

ICE Seizes Stolen Art From Florida's Brogan Museum - Said To Be Taken During WWII

ICE seizes Romano painting said to be stolen by the Nazis.  Photo courtesy of ICE
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in Tallahassee, Florida yesterday served a seizure warrant on "Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rascal."  The painting had been held at the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science at the request of the US Attorney's office, northern district of Florida, while prosecutors determined whether the painting by Girolamo Romano’s was unlawfully taken from a Jewish family during World War II.  Now the artwork is now in federal custody.

Who will have final title and possession of the artwork ultimately will be determined by a federal district court judge.

[UPDATE: November 9, 2011 - Read more details here.]

Find the complete press release describing the seizure and issued by ICE here.  Also, listen to Chucha Barber, the Brogan Museum’s chief executive officer, who provides a short audio sketch of the ownership claims to the painting on PRI's The World.

Thanks go to Gary Nurkin for alerting me to this news.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Los Angeles County Judge Orders Getty Museum to Mediate Armenian Zeyt'un Bible Pages Dispute

The Matenadaran in Yereva, Armenia
where the Zeyt'un Gospel Bible is housed,
minus the seven pages at The Getty in L.A.
Author: TigranMets (Creative Commons)

The Getty Museum and the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church are headed to mediation over the issue of the Zeyt’un Gospel pages. This week Judge Abraham Khan of the Los Angeles County superior court told the parties to return next spring if an agreement was not reached, reports the Los Angeles Times.

In June 2010 the Armenian Apostolic Church filed a civil lawsuit against the J. Paul Getty Museum alleging that the museum acquired stolen property. The church seeks the return of seven manuscript pages, parts of an illuminated Bible that was created in 1256 and later lost during the Armenian bloodshed that occurred during the early 20th century. The actual Bible, minus its missing pages, is located in Armenia at The Matenadaran (officially known as the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts).

The church sued the Getty on four counts:
• Replevin, which is the legal action that a party takes to recover personal property that was taken unlawfully;

• Conversion, which is the legal claim that a party unlawfully used personal property for its own use;

• Treble damages--specifically $105 million--which is a tripling of monetary damages that is permitted by statute, in this case California’s penal law; and

• Quiet title, which is a legal action intended to remove doubt about who owns a certain piece of property.

At issue in the case is the provenance of the biblical pages, which are canon tables or an index. The Getty Museum states on its web site that “[t]he Zeyt'un Gospels, made in the scriptorium at Hromklay for Katholikos Constantine I in 1256, are the earliest signed work of T'oros Roslin, the most accomplished illuminator and scribe in Armenia in the 1200s. These canon tables were separated from the manuscript at some point in the past and eventually acquired by the Getty Museum, while the rest of the manuscript is in a public collection in Armenia.” In a June 2, 2010 press release issued just after the lawsuit was filed, the Getty said that it “legally acquired the Canon Tables in 1994 from a private collection in the United States after a thorough review of their provenance. They have been repeatedly described and reproduced in publications in English, Armenian and French. Indeed, a notable Armenian scholar who also was the primate of the Armenian Church of America acknowledged key details about the Canon Tables' provenance in a 1943 article, including the fact that they were owned by an Armenian family in the United States. The pages have been publicly exhibited throughout the United States, including a well-publicized 1994 exhibition of Armenian art and culture at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.” The Getty Museum added: “Promptly after acquiring the Canon Tables, the Getty prominently featured them in the J. Paul Getty Museum Journal, Volume 23, including a cover illustration. The Canon Tables have been published and exhibited several times since the Getty acquired them. At no time in the ninety or so years that the Canon Tables have been in the United States has anyone questioned their ownership.”

The Armenian church, meanwhile, writes in its initial legal complaint that “the seven missing stolen pages (canon tablets) of the Zeyt’un Gospel Bible ripped from the full manuscript that became stolen property eventually ended up in a private collection of a family in Watertown, Massachusetts, where they were loaned to the Piermont Morgan Library in 1994 for an exhibition entitled “Treasures From Heaven.” The family’s name remained anonymous at that time. The Catholicosate was never informed by the family or by the Piermont Morgan Library of their possession of the seven missing stolen pages which clearly were part of the entire Zeyt’un Gospel Bible manuscript.” The church adds that it only discovered the missing pages when they were noticed “by chance” at the Getty Museum in 2007.

Also at issue in this case is the statute of limitations. However, the court has saved its assessment of this issue for a later date if the parties cannot reach a mediated settlement.

References:

CONTACT INFORMATION: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com/.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

AIA Submits Public Comments to CPAC in Support of Bulgaria's MoU Request

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) yesterday submitted public comments supporting Bulgaria's request for a Memorandum of Understanding that would implement US import protections covering cultural artifacts.  The comments were made to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee by Peter Herdrich, chief executive officer of the AIA:

"Dear Cultural Property Advisory Council,
I write to you to urge your support for the Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Bulgaria in order to help protect the cultural and archaeological heritage of this great and historic country. As Chief Executive Officer of the Archaeological Institute of America, I can assure you that our 235,000 members speak with one voice on this issue, agreeing that we should do whatever we can to create import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from across Bulgaria’s long history. Our members include professional archaeologists with academic and research interests in Bulgarian material, archaeological enthusiasts with a curiosity about Bulgaria’s past, and students who form the next generation of scholars. All recognize the value of Bulgaria’s unique archaeological patrimony. And that patrimony is under threat. In the January/February 2009 issue of ARCHAEOLOGY magazine, the entire country was listed as one on the world’s most endangered sites and described thus: 'Like its neighbors, Bulgaria is rich in archaeological remains—ancient Greek, Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. But rather than draw millions of visitors each year to its ancient sites, this poor Balkan country mainly exports its cultural heritage. The transition from Communism to a free market economy has left Bulgaria exposed to the swirling forces of the global illicit antiquities trade. Desperate poverty means huge numbers of Bulgarians…are involved in the trade.' The members of the Archaeological Institute of America agree that the United States should do whatever we can to stamp out that trade that threatens sites across Bulgaria and to support Bulgarian heritage. Therefore we ask that on November 16, you recommend the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding between our government and the government of the Republic of Bulgaria. Sincerely, Peter Herdrich Archaeological Institute of America"

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

American Research Center in Sofia Comments on Bulgaria MoU Request – CPAC Public Comments Deadline is Today

A vessel from the Rogozen treasure,
National Historical Museum,
Sofia, Bulgaria.
Author: Nenko Lazarof
Today is the last day to file public comments with the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) regarding Bulgaria’s request for a Memorandum of Understanding.  Comments may be filed electronically here.

One noteworthy submission was made by the President of the Board of Trustees of the American Research Center in Sofia (ARCS), Kevin Clinton. ARCS is made up of member institutions that include Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale and many more institutions. (Click here for the full list.)  Clinton write on behalf of ARCS:

“I can report that ARCS strongly supports the requested MOU on Bulgarian cultural property. Incorporated in New York in 2004, ARCS . . . is supported by a consortium of approximately 70 institutions of higher learning in North America.
We at ARCS were first confronted with the severity of the problem during our first academic session, in the summer of 2006. After a lecture by Professor Lyudmil Vagalinski, currently the Director of the National Institute of Archaeology and Museum of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (NIAM-BAS), he was asked by one of the American students whether illegal trafficking in antiquities was a problem. He responded by saying: “Bulgaria is being systematically raped of its cultural heritage.” To give us an example, he recounted an incident from 1999, when he happened to be at a conference in Frankfurt am Main. Customs at the Frankfurt airport seized a crate, illegally sent from Bulgaria and destined for the US, containing many ancient artifacts (coins, bronze statuettes etc.) illegally excavated in Bulgaria. Officials of the Ministry of Culture of the province of Hessen consulted him at the conference and told him at least two similar shipments had been let pass to the USA via the Frankfurt airport. When Bulgarian officials, after a bureaucratic delay, applied to German authorities to get back the shipment, they were told it was sent on to the US (after a Customs fine was levied) because Bulgaria had no contract on cultural property with the European Union and no MOU with the US. He was profoundly disappointed. He also pointed out to us that he was receiving a steady stream of e-mails from the US asking him to authenticate ancient artifacts that obviously had been illegally exported from Bulgaria (Determination C, 303(a)(1) CPIA)."

"In my travels throughout Bulgaria, I frequently found signs of looting, especially prevalent in the funeral mounds, where one can often still see tunnels dug by modern looters; such activity is noted also in virtually every excavation report. As one who has worked at archaeological sites, I am well aware of the devastation that illegal excavation and exportation cause, not simply by the loss of valuable and unique objects but by stripping sites to such an extent that they lose their historical and cultural identity. Looting of course can greatly hinder or even annul archaeological investigation, since such investigation requires a complete context, including even the most minute objects, for proper evaluation. More importantly, it robs a people of its historical and cultural memory, especially when it takes place on such a grand scale as has been happening in Bulgaria. Loss of historical and cultural memory is corrosive to a nation’s identity and humane development.”

The public submission by ARCS to CPAC can be found here.
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DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this web site/email/blog/feed 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.