Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty today reports that Iraqi authorities seized ten ancient gold coins along with two paintings during a sting operation that broke up an antiquities smuggling ring.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Several paintings were discovered stolen from the Paris Museum of Modern Art during the morning of May 20, 2010. They are of inestimable cultural and monetary value.

When a major theft such as this one occurs, it is reasonable for investigators to presume that the crime is part of a broader plan. For instance, paintings can be used as collateral for weapons purchases or as payment for sizeable drug buys. Because it is more portable and discreet to carry a canvas worth millions through an airport rather than carrying the equivalent in cash, valuable artwork can be used to move large amounts of cash without being detected. It is also reasonable for the police to assume, in the first instance, that information or assistance may have been provided by someone on the inside of the institution. As evidence develops, the police can rule in or rule out these suspicions.

I have included a list below of the stolen paintings, and links to their images on the web. If you spot any of these artworks or have any information related to the theft, you can contact your local INTERPOL central bureau. In the United States you can report any information to the FBI via the internet at

1. "Pigeon with the Peas" by Pablo Picasso

2. "Pastoral" by Henri Matisse

3. "Olive Tree near Estaque" by Georges Braque

4. "Woman with a Fan" by Amedeo Modigliani

5. "Still Life with Chandeliers" by Fernand Leger
no image found

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

When we speak about the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) process, we should acknowledge that it takes place in the context of broader American foreign policy objectives. Indeed, the process is spearheaded by the State Department, the international relations arm of government, with decisionmaking ultimately in the hands of the White House, which is constitutionally designated to carry out foreign affairs. This week it is expected that Washington will continue to demonstrate its awareness of foreign policy issues and consider the four determinations of the Cultural Property Implementation Act in the context of its foreign policy goals.

On May 6 and 7 the Cultural Property Advisory Committee will review the Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Italy. Italy seeks to preserve its cultural heritage by renewing this MoU, which creates barriers to stop at-risk archaeoligical and ethnological objects from seeping through America's borders. The Archaeological Institute of America describes the upcoming CPAC hearings on its web site at

It is no secret that US-Italian relations have not been the strongest in recent years, so renewing the MoU could foster some degree of goodwill needed to embrace one of America's closest allies. Italy has provided some steps to support the US in the last several years that could merit some affirmation by the White House. These steps include, among others, the merger between Fiat and Chrysler that rescued the failing American automaker; the Italian troop commitment in Iraq, representing the fourth largest military contingent deployed to that country in support of US objectives; and Italy' willingness to receive some of the Guantanamo Bay detainees.

When issues such as the shooting death by US forces in 2005 of an Italian secret service agent--who was escorting a released Italian hostage in Baghdad--still loom large in the background of US-Italian relations; or when Italy remains unsettled by its unwilling demotion from prominent G-8 country to a lower-tiered G-20 nation, it may become important to strengthen US-Italian ties.  A renewed MoU between the US and Italy could therefore serve to refresh strained foreign relations.

Photo by NuclearVacuum.  CC license.