Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mousa "Morris" Khouli will be sentenced this week in federal court in Brooklyn.  Khouli's lawyer, Gerald Shargel, seeks a sentence of probation while the prosecution wants imprisonment.

[UPDATE 11/21/12: Judge Edward R. Korman on November 20 sentenced Khouli to terms that included six months home confinement, one year probation, up to 200 hours of community service, and a criminal monetary assessment of $200.  Judge Korman departed from the federal sentencing guidelines when issuing the order.  Khouli also agreed to forfeit the property seized.]

Assistant United States Attorney Karin Orenstein submitted written arguments to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in advance of the sentencing, asking for 46-57 months of incarceration. The prosecutor writes:

Source: ICE
"The smuggling of the Egyptian antiquities that are the subject of the Indictment comprised but a small part of the defendant's smuggling career. ... His willingness to invent provenances to 'launder' cultural property has added an air of legitimacy to items that should be scrutinized as potential stolen property. Indeed, the defendant sold at least one antiquity, the terre-crue head, that was stolen from Iraq. Last, the defendant lied to government agents repeatedly to cover up his criminal conduct."

But Khouli's lawyer argues in court papers that similarly situated defendants have not received sentences of imprisonment. Cultural property dealers, an American soldier, a book author, and a hand surgeon have all received probation for smuggling cultural property, the defense argues.  The defense points to ten criminal cases involving 25 defendants to show that probation is the typical sentence handed down by the courts.

Federal prosecutors counter in their pleadings "that the combination of the rarity of cultural property smuggling prosecutions accompanied by a pattern of non-incarcerative sentences has failed to have a deterrent effect. To the contrary, the remote possibility of a non-jail felony conviction has become the cost of doing business." They add, "Unlike securities dealers or government contractors, dealers in cultural property can continue to work in the same field despite convictions for smuggling and lying to government agents."

Prosecutors concede that "smugglers of cultural property have generally received non-incarcerative sentences" but observe "that that these sentences often include a period of six months or a year of home detention as well as forfeiture and fines." Cases cited by federal prosecutors include (with descriptions and sentences supplied by this author):
  • United States v. Malter, (a case that includes Malter Galleries, Inc.) 09-CR-834 (C.D. Cal.): Pleas of guilty in 2012 to illegal trafficking of artifacts from federal land in violation of the Antiquities Resources Protection Act. Charges dropped involving illegal pre-Hispanic ceramic vessels and artifacts from El Salvador.  Sentence imposed of one year home detention, two years probation, payment of $10,000 of community service to the National Park Foundation Pacific West Region Archaeological Investigation fund, special assessment of $100, restitution in the amount of $6,215.57, and a fine of $8,000.
  • United States v. Perez, 07-CR-499 (C.D. Cal.):  Plea of guilty in 2012 to a single count indictment of smuggling a pre-Hispanic bowl from El Salvador in violation of 18 USC 545 without an export permit as required by 19 USC 2606(a) of the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). Sentenced to six months house arrest and a fine of $10,000.
  • United States v. Johnson, 08-CR-491 (S.D.N.Y.):  Egyptian stolen property case with a plea of guilty in 2008 to misdemeanor count (dropped from a felony) of receiving stolen property within special maritime and territorial jurisdiction pursuant to 18 USC 662.  Sentenced to restitution in the amount of $21,200 plus a special assessment of $25 and 18 months probation with the first six months served in home detention.
  • United States v. Braude, 03-CR-1009 (E.D.N.Y.):  Pleas of guilty to smuggling under 18 USC 545 and false statements under 18 USC 1001 for trafficking three Iraqi cylinder seals. Sentenced to six months house arrest and a fine of $2000 plus $300 assessment.
"Khouli's professional life has suffered tremendously," argues Khouli's attorney, adding that others do not want to engage in business with a felon who is seen a "a pariah in the industry."  That is why "the government's deterrence arguments [in favor of incarceration] are meritless," he writes.

The defense additionally takes issue with the prosecution's assertion that Khouli had knowledge that an Iraqi terre-crue artifact was stolen.  The defense also emphasizes that "their is no claim that any antiquities at issue in this case were stolen or looted, possessed by Khouli in violation of U.S. law, or imported in violation of Egyptian patrimony laws" (emphasis in the original).

Federal prosecutors want the court to consider that "the defendant flouted Customs regulations time and time again for his own pecuniary gain" and that "Khouli lied to Customs for years and covered up those lies by making false statements directly to investigating agents." They conclude, "A nonincarcerative sentence under these circumstances does not promote respect for the law."

Mousa "Morris" Khouli pleaded guilty on April 18, 2012 to smuggling Egyptian cultural property into the United States and making a false statement to law enforcement authorities.  The antiquities dealer was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2011.  Also indicted were Joseph A. Lewis II, Salem Alshdaifat, and Ayman Ramadan who continue to litigate their cases. Ramadan remains at large.

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dinosaur seized by ICE.  Source: ICE.
Judge P. Kevin Castel yesterday denied Eric Prokopi's motion to dismiss in the case of United States v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton. Prokopi's lawyers petitioned the federal district court in Manhattan to quickly consider the motion following Prokopi's October 17 arrest for alleged illegal dinosaur bone importation and sales.

Prokopi is the claimant seeking the return of a Tyrannosaur Bataar skeleton (the "Defendant Property"), which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized on June 22, 2012 on grounds that the bones are stolen property.  The American government seeks to repatriate the bones to Mongolia.

Prokopi's lawyers argued that the government cannot forfeit the dinosaur skeleton as a matter of law and policy.  The federal court itself raised doubts about federal prosecutors' forfeiture arguments, but permitted the government to file a new complaint.  The claimant thereafter filed a renewed motion to dismiss.

The district court now concludes that the amended complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York "contained sufficiently detailed facts to support a reasonable belief that the government will be able to meet its burden of proof at trial."

The court notes that "the amended complaint alleges that Prokopi is a commercial paleontologist who has excavated skeletons in Mongolia before. This, coupled with Prokopi's alleged attempts to obscure the Defendant Property's country of origin on importation paperwork, raises a reasonable inference that Prokopi knew the Defendant Property was stolen from the Mongolian state."

Judge Kastel makes the following conclusions in his 19 page order:
  • "Prokopi contends that the failure of the government to provide regulatory guidance on determining the proper country of origin or value of fossils leaves importers 'hard-pressed to respond to a customs broker's inquiry about the country of origin of a dinosaur fossil that existed millions of years before the emergence of Homo sapiens and even longer before the concept of a 'country' was established.' (Cl. Br. 14-15.) This argument fails because the statutes in violation of which the Defendant Property is alleged to have been imported do not prohibit the importation of paleontological objects in contravention of certain regulations, vague or otherwise (and indeed, Prokopi submits that there are no applicable regulations). Instead, they prohibit importation by way of knowingly false statements. 18 U.S.C. § 542. The prohibition in Section 542 against importation by means of 'any false statement' is not vague or ambiguous, and it does not make reference or in any way depend upon regulatory guidance concerning the proper country of origin or value of fossils."
  • "The amended complaint alleges facts that ... suggest that the Defendant Property was unearthed, not millions of years ago, but between 1995 and 2005 (Compl. ¶ 44), and that, based on its size and coloration, the Defendant Property came from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. (Id. ¶ ¶ 42-44, 58-65.) The amended complaint also raises a plausible inference that Prokopi's statements in connection with importation of the Defendant Property were knowingly false."
  • "The amended complaint alleges that Prokopi erroneously listed the country of origin as Japan and Great Britain on importation paperwork when in fact the Defendant Property was from Mongolia. (Id. ¶ ¶ 38,51-54.) The amended complaint further alleges that Prokopi is a commercial paleontologist who had excavated fossils in Mongolia's Nemegt Formation himself before. (Id. ¶ ¶ 82-84.) These facts give rise to a plausible inference that Prokopi unearthed the Defendant Property himself in Mongolia, or, even if he did not, that he had reason to know that such fossils likely carne from Mongolia. The inference of knowing wrongdoing is buttressed by the allegation that Prokopi changed the country of origin on the March 22, 2007 shipment from Mongolia to Japan. (Id. ¶ ¶ 52-53.) There may be an innocent explanation for this change, but on its face the allegation suggests Prokopi's awareness of illegality and his attempt to avoid detection."
  • "The same goes for the value of the Defendant Property. Collectively, the three shipments identified in the amended complaint had a stated value of $69,000, whereas the Defendant Property was listed at auction as having a value between $950,000 and $1,500,000. (Id. ¶ ¶ 38, 51, 54.) While it may be the case that Prokopi's efforts in assembling the contents of the shipments into a single display piece constituting the Defendant Property significantly increased the value of the fossils contained in the shipments, it is not implausible that the declared values--which appear to have understated the value of the Defendant Property by more than an order of magnitude--constituted knowing misstatements, and it is reasonable to draw an inference of wrongdoing on these facts at the pleading stage.
  • "Prokopi's fair notice argument concerning Mongolian law also fails. It may be, as Prokopi contends, that 'fossil collectors could have no fair notice of Mongolia's laws cited in the Complaint,' as these are 'not readily available to the general public' (Cl. Br. 15), or perhaps that Mongolian law itself is impermissibly vague, but this does not appear on the face of the well-pleaded complaint and hence is not appropriate for consideration on a motion to dismiss."
  • "Finally, Prokopi argues that the Defendant Property is not stolen property for purposes of any of the statutory bases of forfeiture because the amended complaint fails adequately to allege that Prokopi knew the Defendant Property was taken from Mongolia without that state's permission, and further because Mongolian law does not make fossils the property of the state. Although this argument raises a question of foreign law that the Court could decide on a motion to dismiss, the Court declines to make a final determination as to the content of Mongolian law in this interlocutory order, finding it sufficient to hold that the amended complaint states a claim for relief ...."
Hat tip: Gary Nurkin

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Federal prosecutors on Friday filed a motion to amend their forfeiture complaint in the case of United States of America v. A 10th Century Cambodian Sandstone Sculpture, Currently Located at Sotheby's in New York, New York.  The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York filed the petition in Manhattan federal district court following a September 27 hearing on the claimants' motion to dismiss.

The government's case is an attempt to seize, forfeit, and repatriate a statue (the so-called Defendant in rem) offered for auction by Sotheby's this past spring. Sotheby's and Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa are the claimants who want the Duryodhana sculpture to remain under their legal control.  Both claimants have vigorously contested the civil forfeiture action.

Federal lawyers, in their memorandum asking the court to accept the amended complaint, write that "[at the September 2012 hearing] the Court repeatedly inquired as to the facts the Government expected to be able to prove at trial with respect to the theft of the Defendant in rem from Prasat Chen, and Sotheby's knowledge that the Defendant in rem was stolen."  The proposed amended complaint and the supporting memorandum filed on November 9 contain the government's response to the court's inquiry, supplementing information provided by prosecutors in their initial April 2012 court complaint.

The  Duryodhana is alleged by prosecutors
to have passed through Bangkok (above).
The government's latest memorandum contends that the Duryodhana statue "was stolen from Prasat Chen in 1972, with the head removed first and the torso afterwards, and acquired by a well­ known collector of Khmer antiquities (the "Collector"), via an organized looting network. (Am. Compl. ¶  17-18). The Amended Complaint further alleges that the 1975 sale of the Defendant in rem was conducted for the Collector by an auction house which had full knowledge of its illicit origin. (Id. 19-20)."  The amended complaint specifically claims that the Duryodhana and a companion piece, termed "the Museum Statue," were transited through Thailand. "The heads of the statues were removed and transported first, followed by the torsos, and ultimately delivered to a Thai dealer based in Bangkok (the 'Thai Dealer'). The Defendant in rem and the Museum Statue were then obtained by a well-known collector of Khmer antiquities ('the Collector'). At the time of this purchase, the Collector knew that the statues had been looted from Koh Ker," write the government's lawyers.

[Author's sidebar: A companion statue to the Duryodhana, a Bhima sculpture, has been identified at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.  Meanwhile, two other related statues are reportedly located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  See e.g., PRI's The World.]

The government's memorandum further avers that the "Amended Complaint ... alleges additional facts regarding Sotheby's knowledge that the Defendant in rem was stolen. Among other things, the Amended Complaint alleges that (1) Sotheby's and Ruspoli were aware that the Collector had been the seller of the Defendant in rem in 1975; (2) that Sotheby's consulted with the Collector prior to the importation of the Defendant in rem and throughout the 2010-2011 sale process; (3) that Sotheby's never included information about the Collector's pre-1975 acquisition of the Defendant in rem, or his role as the seller in 1975, in the provenance information it disclosed to the public, potential buyers, the Kingdom of Cambodia, or United States law enforcement; and (4) Sotheby's provided inaccurate provenance information to potential buyers, the Kingdom of Cambodia, United States law enforcement, and others, specifically that the Defendant in rem had been seen in the United Kingdom in the late 1960s, at least three years prior to its actual removal from Prasat Chen. (Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 21, 29-30, 37, 43-44.)"

The proposed amended complaint specifically claims that "in or around 1974, representatives of [a United Kingdom] Auction House conspired with the Collector and the Thai Dealer to fraudulently obtain export licenses for the Defendant in rem and other antiquities to be shipped to the Auction House in the future."  The proposed complaint asserts that "prospective buyers were unwilling to purchase the Defendant in rem due to its lack of legitimate provenance and missing feet. The Auction House, however, ultimately succeeded in selling the Defendant in rem in 1975, with the torso and head now reattached, to a Belgian businessman, on behalf of a Belgian corporation he controlled. After a transfer to a second corporation, and the death of the businessman, the Defendant in rem was ultimately transferred to his widow, Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa (“Ruspoli”), in 2000."

The amended complaint continues with allegations that an officer in Sotheby's Indian and Southeast Asian Art section "retained a[] professional art scientist (the 'Scientist') to prepare a report on the authenticity of the head of the Defendant in rem and the condition of the work done prior to the 1975 sale to rejoin it to the torso. The Officer informed the Scientist that the head had been separated from the torso 'in antiquity,' rather than in 1972."  The proposed complaint cites an internal Sotheby's email that purports to describe the scientist's observation regarding "the perfect condition of the head compared to the distress suffered by the body." The email allegedly offers the scientist's explanation "that the sculpture was either forcibly broken for ease of transport from the find site and then put back together later OR that the head and torso do not belong together." The government writes that Sotheby's later"terminated the Scientist's engagement."

The government also alleges that Sotheby's agreed to contact the Cambodian government about the sale of the sculpture but advised that "this communication should not come from the senior Sotheby's officer" so as not to attract attention.

The claimant's will have an opportunity to respond to the pleadings filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

UPDATE 11/15/2012

The New York Times reports that Sotheby's denies the claims made by federal attorneys.

The news outlet also writes, "Prosecutors say that in 2010, when the statue was being imported into the United States, the owner submitted an inaccurate affidavit to American customs officials, at Sotheby’s request, stating the statue was 'not cultural property' belonging to a religious site."  This statement has prompted some confusion in the blogosphere, which is important to address here.

By way of background, federal prosecutors allege in both their original complaint and their proposed amended complaint the following:

"In or about late April 2010, Sotheby’s imported the Defendant in rem into the United States in order to offer it for sale at auction. In the commercial invoice prepared in connection with the importation, the Defendant in rem is identified as a 10th Century 'Khmer stone guardian' from Cambodia. The Defendant in rem arrived at JFK Airport on or about April 23, 2010.

"On or about April 26, 2010, at the request of Sotheby's, Ruspoli executed an affidavit that was submitted to United States Customs and Border Protection stating, among other things, '[t]o the best of my knowledge, the [Defendant in rem] is not cultural property documented as appertaining to the inventory of a museum or religious or secular monument or similar institution in Cambodia.'"

This information is not new to the proposed amended complaint.  But some readers may have thought otherwise, given that the latest news in the forfeiture case is the government's petition to file a newly amended complaint.  The New York Times story did not report that prosecutors petitioned to file a new complaint.

Meanwhile, The New York Times' description of the Ruspoli affidavit differs from what is reported by federal prosecutors in their proposed complaint quoted above. The newspaper's truncated description may have opened speculation that federal prosecutors might be attempting to build their forfeiture case on the basis of false statements made to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  But government lawyers thus far have not presented this argument either in their initial complaint nor in the proposed amended complaint.

Of the several legal grounds on which prosecutors seek forfeiture of the Cambodian sculpture, none is based on the contention that anyone entered false information on customs paperwork in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 542.  That federal statute prohibits the import of goods by means of false statements, and that statute can serve as the basis for a forfeiture of illegally imported goods as it did in the famous case of United States v. An Antique Platter of Gold.  While the government intends to support its forfeiture case by referencing the Ruspoli affidavit, it has not argued clearly how the affidavit should be weighed by the court.  Prosecutors have been careful to not explicitly characterize the Ruspoli affidavit as either false or true. The government, nevertheless, strongly implies that the affidavit in some way supports its legal theory of forfeiture of the Duryodhana statue, but not under 18 U.S.C. § 542.

A final observation. Federal prosecutors are likely aware that the language contained in the Ruspoli affidavit parrots the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) at 19 USC § 2607, which states, "No article of cultural property documented as appertaining to the inventory of a museum or religious or secular public monument or similar institution in any State Party [to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on cultural property] which is stolen from such institution after the effective date of this chapter, or after the date of entry into force of the Convention for the State Party, may be imported into the United States."  It is important to observe that the government does not argue forfeiture of the Cambodian statue based on a CPIA violation.

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Prosecutors and police are talking more about cultural heritage crime.  Global antiquities trafficking was discussed at the International Association of Prosecutors annual meeting held in Bangkok last month.  And this week INTERPOL (International Criminal Police Organization) addressed art theft at its 81st general assembly in Vatican City.

INTERPOL President Khoo Boon Hui told the 1000 delegates in attendance that the global police organization "has recognized the need to collaborate with a whole range of partners in the public and private sectors to deal with emerging threats, such as ... trafficking."

Domenico Giani, Vatican City's Inspector General of the Corpo della Gendarmeria (chief of police) specifically addressed the threat of art theft aimed against churches. Giana observed that "[h]umanity's spiritual thirst and desire to praise God 'have given life to works of inestimable value and to a religious patrimony that gives rise to greed and the interest of art traffickers,'" according to the Catholic News Service (CNS).  Giani noted that objects of cultural heritage are particularly vulnerable "in countries where revolts are under way or there are internal struggles fed by a hatred so strong that people try to destroy anything that represents 'the enemy.'"

General Assembly meeting. Source: INTERPOL
The trafficking of art and cultural objects is a worldwide priority for INTERPOL.  It maintains an information clearinghouse for police on the topic.  Last month the organization hosted  a workshop in Manila on the prevention of cultural property trafficking.  INTERPOL also assembled a conference in Lyon to confront the growing problem of forged and faked cultural objects.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States of the Vatican State Secretariat remarked to conference attendees that "criminal activities are now articulated at a global level, with systems of coordination and according to criminal pacts that go beyond the boundaries of States. Hence, globalization has come to shape even this dramatic realm of human life. Sophisticated technical means, huge financial resources, at times dark political complicity, are elements that concur to furnish deleterious support . . . ."

To safeguard cultural and religious objects found in churches and religious institutions of the Roman Catholic faithful, the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church in 1999 issued a document titled Necessity and Urgency of Inventory and Cataloguing of the Cultural Heritage of the Church. The statement (found here in English) urges churches to accurately take stock of and to provide stewardship for the cultural and religious articles maintained and utilized by Catholic parishes worldwide. The Commission addressed a similar document to religious orders in 2006 called Inventory of the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Cultural Patrimony: Some Practical Considerations.

Dioceses, parishes, and religious orders in the United States needing advice about cultural property theft prevention are urged to contact certified members of the International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection. The IFCPP's mission is to safeguard objects maintained by museums, churches, zoos, and other centers of cultural heritage.

[UPDATE 11/13/12]: This link describes examples of church theft and the trafficking of relics from Bolivia.

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A pair indicted for their role in receiving a stolen Henri Matisse painting will be sentenced following a guilty plea hearing held on October 30.  A federal grand jury in Miami handed up indictments in July against Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo for their involvement with the Odalisque in Red Pants, reported stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas (MACCSII)) in Venezuela in or around December 2002.

Henri Matisse
The two signed off on proffers that describe their role in the possession, transportation, and sale of the painting.  The proffers state that Marcuello Guzman brokered the sale of the $3+ million painting to undercover FBI agents for a discounted price of $740,000.  Ornelas Lazo later flew from Mexico City to Miami International Airport carrying the Matisse painting in a tube.  The proffers go on to describe the following details of the transfer, switch, and sale of the artwork:

" ... Ornelas and co-conspirator Marcuello met the FBI under cover agents ("UCs") at a Miami Beach restaurant. During the meeting . . . Ornelas explained that she had taken multiple precautions to minimize being stopped by U.S. Customs and to minimize being inspected, such as in the manner of her packing, dressing lightly, and bringing no food into the U.S. Ornelas admitted taking the photographs of the painting that were sent to the UC's. Ornelas advised that she was present for prior inspections when experts inspected the painting and found it to be authentic. Ornelas added that one specialist said the painting was worth $3.7 million. During the meeting, Ornelas indicated that the experts were nervous because they seem to be aware of the painting's history. When one of the UCs asked if the experts were nervous because the painting was stolen, Ornelas replied affirmatively. During the meeting, Ornelas stated that she knew everything in regards to the painting.

"The following day, July 17, 2012, co-conspirator Marcuello, Ornelas, and the UCs met at a Miami Beach hotel to conduct the sales transaction for the stolen Henri Matisse painting. ...

"During the July 17, 2012 transaction, Ornelas advised the UCs that she had researched the history of the stolen painting online when it showed up years ago at her residence in Mexico. Ornelas further indicated that she had had the painting inspectedby experts in Mexico City, but that none had been willing to authenticate the painting in writing given its origins [referring to the painting having been stolen.]  Ornelas stated that employees at the museum in Caracas had done a "switch'' [referring to the replacement of the original painting with an imitation].

"At the conclusion of the July 17, 2012 meeting, the UCs agreed to purchase the painting and followed through with an ostensible attempt to conduct a wire transfer payment to a bank account supplied to the UCs by Ornelas. Ornelas and co-conspirator Marcuello were then arrested and the painting seized."

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

IAP President James Hamilton of Ireland.
Global antiquities trafficking is a crime that often goes undetected, unreported, uninvestigated, and unprosecuted. That was the message conveyed to over 400 prosecutors from approximately 80 countries during last week's convention of the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP) in Bangkok, Thailand. The conference focused on organized crime.

Antiquities trafficking was featured during a panel examining commodities crime and its funding of organized criminal networks. It was a privilege for me to have been invited to address the conference.

Prosecutors in attendance were informed about operating techniques used by artifacts traffickers, and how cultural contraband remains visible in the stream of commerce after being illegally dug up, transported, smuggled, laundered, and sold. 

"Impunity undermines the rule of law," said UN Special Rapporteur Gabiela Knaul as she advocated for accountability of organized crime participants. One method of enforcement suggested by Kier Starmer, head of the United Kingdom's Crown Prosecution Service, is to prosecute offenders and seize criminal assets, followed by post-conviction financial reporting by defendants in order to deter repeat offenses.

One of the IAP's stated objectives is "to improve cooperation between prosecutors to more readily combat international criminality."

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at Text and photo copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT:

Monday, November 5, 2012

Leyte GulfThe Untold Story of Cultural Heritage, World War II, and the Pacific

A Conference Marking the 70th Anniversaries of the Battles of of the Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal

Thursday, November 8, 2012 – Friday, November 9, 2012 THIS WEEK!

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Edward Rodley, senior Exhibit Director at Boston's Museum of Science (MoS), has written an article titled "The Ethics of Exhibiting Salvaged Shipwrecks," published in October's issue of Curator: The Museum Journal.  The article coincidentally appears as the MoS hosts a special exhibition sponsored by commercial maritime salvor Odyssey Marine Exploration called SHIPWRECK! Pirates & Treasure.

Curator magazine describes Rodley's article as follows:

"The contentious relationship between cultural heritage professionals and commercial entities is nowhere more fraught than in underwater archeological sites. More and more often, museums are drawn into this conflict through hosting traveling exhibitions. This article explores the ethical issues in two shipwreck exhibitions, Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds, and Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship, and the specific responses museums have made to address the ethical issues around commercial exploitation of cultural heritage. The article calls for museums to be more thoughtful and deliberate consumers, and embrace their potential as safe venues for exploring ethical dilemmas these sites embody."

Ed Rodley is a museum professional with a background in archaeology.  I spoke with Rodley about why he wrote the article.  He replied in an email excerpted below.

"Museum exhibitions are one of the main venues where the general public encounters archaeology, yet ethical issues get little to no acknowledgement or discussion in most exhibitions. In my experience, responses by the broader museum community to ethical issues tend to break down into either A) avoiding anything controversial, or B) pretending that there is no controversy by ignoring it. Both of these strategies deny the public the opportunity to explore these issues.

"I wanted to highlight the inadequacy of those responses and hopefully stimulate some discussion of other responses to controversy.

"I wrote the article to focus on museum responses to two underwater cultural heritage controversies; the Belitung wreck from Indonesia and the Whydah Galley. They are perfect examples of the dilemmas that face anyone working in cultural heritage. The different responses to these exhibitions are instructive for any museum thinking about hosting these kinds of exhibitions.

"Museums have the potential to be that ideal third space where people can engage with challenging ideas, and feel safe doing it. If the article encourages more conversation about ways museums can actually participate in the debate, then I'd consider it well worth the effort."

The article is worth a read.  Those wishing to learn even more about underwater heritage issues may find last year's Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation conference of interest.  The program may be viewed online here.

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT: