Saturday, March 21, 2015

"We need to strengthen our ability to stop history's looters from profiting off their crimes," declared Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.-16) on Friday after introducing H.R. 1493, whose stated purpose is to "protect and preserve international cultural property risk due to instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters, and for other purposes."

The proposed legislation is similar to a bill the lawmaker introduced last congressional session, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (H.R. 5703), which failed to become law.

The text of the current bill is expected to be published by the Government Printing Office shortly and will be available here.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

This week U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) returned a looted fragmented limestone head of Assyrian King Sargon II to Iraq. The stone carving once sat atop a sculpted winged bull.

In remarks prepared for Monday's repatriation ceremony held at the Iraqi Consulate in Washington, D.C., Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and ICE Director Sarah R. SaldaƱa declared, “ICE will not allow the illicit greed of some to trump the cultural history of an entire nation.”

ICE offered limited details in a press release about the artifact's history. But the agency revealed that, "[a]s part of 'Operation Lost Treasure,' HSI New York special agents received information on June 30, 2008, that an antiquities dealer based in Dubai was selling looted Iraqi antiquities to dealers around the world. The special agents seized the limestone statue on Aug. 13, 2008, after it was shipped to New York by a Dubai-based antiquities trading company owned by the antiques dealer."
Assyrian limestone head fragment of Sargon II
repatriated by the U.S. to Iraq on Monday. Courtesy ICE

The press statement added that the "investigation identified a broad transnational criminal organization dealing in illicit cultural property. Some of the network’s shipments were directly linked to major museums, galleries and art houses in New York."

ICE reported that its investigation "resulted in one arrest, multiple seizures of antiquities ranging from Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan, and the return of many of artifacts. A repatriation ceremony with Afghanistan was held two years ago and future repatriations are anticipated."

Publicly available information fills in some of the details about the trafficked head fragment.

A CHL blog post dated July 24, 2013 reported that federal prosecutors petitioned to forfeit the Assyrian head in federal court in the Southern District of New York. The complaint, filed in the case of United States v. One Iraqi Assyrian Headalleged that Dubai antiquities dealer Hassan Fazeli exported the artifact from the United Arab Emirates to the U.S. on July 30, 2008. Prosecutors, at the time, did not identify the head as a carving of Sargon II.

Prosecutors explained that Turkey was listed as the country of origin 
on the customs import form rather than Iraq. And the import form incorrectly listed the value as $6500 rather than $1.2 million, , according to the court complaint.

Prosecutors sent notice of the forfeiture to Hassan Fazeli Trading Company in Dubai, the potential civil claimant. But after time passed without a reply, on June 17, 2014 the federal district court entered a default judgment, awarding the Assyrian sculpture to U.S. authorities with instructions that the head must be repatriated within 90 days "or as soon thereafter as conditions in Iraq permit."

The court granted an extension for the repatriation after a request made by an assistant prosecutor, who told the court that more than 90 days would be needed to return the artifact "[i]n light of [the] current state of world affairs."

The judge asked why there had been a gap between the 2008 seizure of the artifact and the 2014 forfeiture. The assistant prosecutor responded:

I am not aware of why there was. I can offer that in many cases, your Honor, where there are assets to be forfeited, sometimes there are parallel investigations, criminal matters, and sometimes the government proceeds to file criminal charges in matters and items are forfeited in connection with criminal matters. Sometimes the government decides to just proceed civilly. This is a civil complaint in which the forfeiture is purely in rem and only the item that is at issue is being forfeited.
The assistant prosecutor told the court that a confidential source informed law enforcement officials that
Mr. Fazeli ... was attempting to sell this stolen item or an item that we believe to be removed from Iraq in violation of Iraqi law and in contravention of United States regulations as well. This individual, Fazeli, tried to sell it to the CS [confidential source] and based on recorded conversations, based on an investigation by Homeland Security, eventually was able to ship it to the United States with false documentation indicating false origin, actually indicated that the item was from Turkey.
Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York named Hassan Fazeli Trading Company as a potential claimant in another forfeiture case. The civil case involved three ancient Egyptian limestone reliefs, a block statue, and a funerary boat valued at $57,000. It may be the one referred to by ICE on Monday when officials explained at the Iraqi repatriation ceremony that the investigation into the Sargon II head resulted in multiple seizures of antiquities, including from Egypt.

Docketed as U.S. v. One Ancient Egyptian Fragment Depicting Procession of Offering Bearers et al. and reported by CHL on March 23, 2013, the complaint alleged that the Egyptian archaeological material arrived in a FedEx shipment in August 2010 at Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey. The ancient objects "were sold in and exported from Dubai, UAE by Hassan Fazeli Trading Company, LLC .... [They] were purchased and imported by [Salem] Alshdaifat, by and through Holyland [Numismatics],” claimed the prosecutors.

Alshdaifat pleaded guilty in December 2012 to a misdemeanor charge of accessory after the fact in the case of U.S. v. Khouli et al and received a sentence of a $1000 fine.

At this week's ceremony repatriating the Assyrian head to Iraq, ICE referred to a previous repatriation ceremony with Afghanistan that took place two years ago. The agency has only reported two repatriations to that country around that time, so ICE officials may have been referencing an event that occurred at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C. in September 2013.

At that ceremony, federal authorities returned an ancient Roman oinochoe, three 5th century B.C. gold foil appliques, and two 17th century gold ornaments from approximately the 17th century. ICE explained in an accompanying press release:
On March 21, 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the HSI New York El Dorado Task Force seized a shipment containing the gold artifacts and the ancient vase at Newark Liberty International Airport, Central Air Cargo Examination Facility, after HSI New York special agents discovered they were destined for a New York City man and later to a New York business suspected of dealing in looted cultural property. Through the investigative process, the antiquities were found to have originated in Afghanistan. On Jan. 25, 2012, the shipment was administratively forfeited.
If these artifacts from Afghanistan somehow were tied to the Assyrian sculpted head fragment from Iraq, that connection has yet to be explained by ICE.

Hopefully the federal agency will provide more complete details describing the investigation, recovery, and return of the Assyrian head fragment now that the matter has been concluded by ICE.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Monday, March 16, 2015

When the U.N. Security Council last month adopted a resolution targeting terrorists' ability to raise money, cultural heritage trafficking took a visible spot on the global stage. Now the U.N. Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice is set to address the topic at its April meeting in Doha, Qatar.

Representatives from Qatar meet with the U.N. Office on Drugs
and Crime in preparation for the Crime Conference in April.
A pre-conference document frames the discussion for next month’s quinquennial gathering of governments and experts in criminal justice. The document cautions, “Trafficking in cultural property and related offences are believed to be a constantly growing sector of criminality, and an increasingly attractive one for national and transnational criminal organizations.”

Conference participants are expected to urge U.N. member states to embrace the International Guidelines for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses with Respect to Trafficking in Cultural Property and Other Related Offences, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in October 2014.

The preamble offers straightforward explanations about why the Guidelines were written, and articulates some important clauses:
 Alarmed at the growing involvement of organized criminal groups in all forms and aspects of trafficking in cultural property and related offences, and observing that illicitly trafficked cultural property is increasingly being sold through all kinds of markets, inter alia in auctions, in particular over the Internet, and that such property is being unlawfully excavated and illicitly exported or imported with the facilitation of modern and sophisticated technologies,
Reiterating the significance of cultural property as part of the common heritage of humankind and as unique and important testimony of the culture and identity of peoples and the necessity of protecting cultural property, and reaffirming in that regard the need to strengthen international cooperation in preventing, prosecuting and punishing all aspects of trafficking in cultural property[.]

The Guidelines promote prevention strategies, criminal justice policies, and methods of international cooperation to combat cultural heritage crime. They range in scope from “improving statistics on import and export of cultural property” to encouraging “the widest possible mutual legal assistance in investigations, prosecutions and judicial proceedings.”

Of significance is the Guidelines’ call to transform perceptions of heritage crime from a novelty offense to a serious criminal enterprise that demands a strong legal response. They recommend that nations
consider criminalizing, as serious offences, acts such as:(a) Trafficking in cultural property;(b) Illicit export and illicit import of cultural property;(c) Theft of cultural property (or consider elevating the offence of ordinary theft to a serious offence when it involves cultural property);(d) Looting of archaeological and cultural sites and/or illicit excavation;(e) Conspiracy or participation in an organized criminal group for trafficking in cultural property and related offences;(f) Laundering, as referred to in article 6 of the Organized Crime Convention, of trafficked cultural property.

The U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime characterizes a “serious offence” as a crime that is punishable by at least four years in prison.

Further updates about the upcoming U.N. Crime Congress may be found here.

Photo credit: United Nations

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A New York criminal court has sentenced Salina Mohamed, one of several individuals implicated in the Subhash Kapoor idol trafficking case.

Chasing Aphrodite wrote extensively about Mohamed’s case after Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos charged the defendant for her role in laundering heritage objects stolen from India.

Mohamed pleaded guilty in December 2013 to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy in the fifth degree, which is the intent to commit a felony with one or more persons. The prosecution dropped felony charges of criminal possession of stolen property as part of a negotiated plea agreement.

Yesterday, the court handed down a sentence that consisted of a conditional discharge. The conditional discharge means that Mohamed must remain of good behavior for one year or face court-imposed sanctions.

Attorney Bogdanos is a pioneer in the prosecution of international antiquities trafficking cases under state law as opposed to federal law. He holds a masters in classical studies from Columbia University and investigated the looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad during his time in the military.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Maya mask subject to
renewed import restrictions
with El Salvador.
The United States has agreed to renew a bilateral agreement with El Salvador, which offers protections to cultural heritage in danger. The Central American nation is rich with history, including ancient Maya culture.

The State Department Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs has “concluded that the cultural heritage of El Salvador continues to be in jeopardy from pillage of Pre-Hispanic archaeological resources,” according to the Federal Register. As a result, the U.S. government has extended import controls on endangered archaeological material from that country through March 8, 2020. The terms are cataloged in a renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

Few offered comments about the MoU when the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) considered the renewal.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP)* backed the renewal, explaining that looting continues in El Salvador and that “numerous El Salvadoran objects that would be protected under the MOU are currently listed on ICOM’s Red List of Endangered Cultural Objects of Central America and Mexico.” LCCHP added that “El Salvador has long played an active role in safeguarding its property through legislation, enforcement, education, creation of inventories, and international cooperation.”

The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), meanwhile, opposed the MoU. In what may be a trend for the organization, the group complained that “El Salvador has benefited from more than 27 years of import restrictions by the United States and in that period … there does not appear to be a significant reduction in looting that can be linked to those restrictions.” The AAMD argued that “El Salvador is one of the best examples of why the current system of simply renewing MOUs is ineffective and inconsistent with the CPIA. The absence of a significant legitimate market in the United States for El Salvadorian Prehispanic objects has apparently had little or no effect on looting in El Salvador.”

The U.S. and El Salvador first entered a bilateral agreement—authorized by the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA)—twenty years ago, following American-imposed emergency import restrictions on endangered artifacts from the Cara Sucia region in 1987 and 1992. The MoU between the two nations has been renewed every five years since 1995.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of State
*The author is a board member of LCCHP.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.