January 14, 2017

Auction Alert and Antiquities Seizure: Royal-Athena Galleries, New York

On January 8, 2017 forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis alerted Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos in Manhattan and ARCA that he had identified another looted antiquity, apparently being laundered via the US art market.  The object in question had been listed for sale via Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery which is operated by Jerome Eisenberg

Screen Capture - Royal-Athena Galleries 1
According to Tsirogiannis the object identified was a 64.8 x 90.8 cm. sarcophagus fragment which matches four polaroid images and three handwritten notes found in the Becchina archive. 

This accumulation of records was seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during raids conducted on Gianfranco Becchina’s gallery, Palladion Antique Kunst, as well as two storage facilities inside the Basel Freeport, and another elsewhere in Switzerland.  The Becchina Archive consists of some 140 binders which contain more than 13,000 documents related to the antiquities dealer's business.  

These records include shipping manifests, dealer notes, invoices, pricing documents, and thousands of photographic images.  Many of the images are not slick art gallery salesroom photos, but rather, are point and shoot polaroids taken by looters and middlemen which depict recently looted antiquities, some of which still bear soil and salt encrustations. 

In 2011 Becchina was convicted in Italy for his role in the illegal antiquities trade and while he later appealed this conviction, looted antiquities traced to his trafficking network, like this sarcophagus fragment, continue to surface in private collections, museums and some of the world's most well know auction firms specializing in ancient art.  

In releasing his identifications to ARCA Tsirogiannis said:

"Regarding the sarcophagus fragment, each of the four Polaroid images depicting the fragment is included in a different file of the Becchina archive:

I discovered the first image (attachment no. 1) in a file that Becchina created to archive the antiquities he was receiving from a Greek trafficker termed in the archive ‘ZE’ or ‘ZENE’ (the beginning of his surname) or ‘Giorgio’ (Giorgos, his first name in Greek). This trafficker, now deceased, was well-known to the Greek police art squad.

attachment no. 1

In a separate handwritten note (attachment no. 2), Becchina records that he received the antiquity (‘1 Frto. [meaning ‘Fragment’] di sarcofago’) for 60.000 Swiss Francs on 25 May 1988. 

attachment no. 2
This antiquity is recorded as the 9th object included in the 34th group of antiquities that ‘Zene’ sent to Becchina (see attachment no. 3).

attachment no. 3
Another note (attachment no. 4), a handwritten page, lists a group of antiquities that Becchina bought from ‘Zene’, from November 1986 until October 1988, for more than $250,000, including the sarcophagus’ fragment (no. 9).

attachment no. 4
The fifth attachment is a photocopy of a Polaroid image, depicting the same antiquity; this image was attached to a blank A4 page, together with other Polaroid images depicting other antiquities that ‘Zene’ smuggled from Greece to Becchina, under the title ‘in PF’, meaning that all these antiquities were stored at the time at the P[ort] [F]ranc (the Free Port) of Basel. 

attachment no. 5
In Becchina’s list of antiquities stored in his warehouses in the Free Port of Basel, the sarcophagus fragment was number 21 (see sixth attachment, another Polaroid image).

attachment no. 6
Finally, I am sending you another handwritten note (attachment no. 7), in which Becchina is asking one of the restorers he was using, Andre Lorenceau, to clean (‘reinigen’) the fragment and to add a base (‘sockeln’), as a support (by drilling into the antiquity). I discovered this note in the Becchina file dedicated to his cooperation with the restorer Andre Lorenceau."

attachment no. 7
According to the Royal-Athena Galleries website, the sarcophagus fragment has been attributed by Dr. Guntram Koch, an academic with an expertise in Roman sarcophagoi. 

Screen Capture - Royal-Athena Galleries 2

In addition to notifying the New York authorities, Tsirogiannis informed INTERPOL and the Greek police art squad. 

The object in question was seized by US authorities at approximately January 14 2:00 pm EST.

Nearly ten years ago in November 2007 Eisenberg returned eight antiquities stolen from museums and archaeological sites worth US$ 510,000 to Italy. Given the fact that it often takes sound identifications, such as those conducted by researchers such as Tsirogiannis, restitutions by art market dealers should not be misconstrued as spontaneous. In most cases pieces are relinquished merely to avoid lengthy litigation or in order for suspect dealers to remove themselves from the negative publicity caused by being subject to criminal charges.

By: Lynda Albertson

January 11, 2017

Seminar: Risk Management in the Art and Antiquities Markets Part II: Criminal and Compliance Risk - 7 February 2017

Seminar Venue: K&L Gates LLP, One New Change (Watling Street entrance), EC4M 9AF, London
Date and Time: Tuesday, 7 February 2017, 9.30 am- 4.00 pm.
Tickets on sale between £63.89 – £82.88
Buying and selling art is a business of passion. But that passion has never seemed so fraught with risk. Money laundering, criminal sanctions, regulatory compliance, charges to tax, corporate governance issues, the threat of cyber attack, online fraud, disputed attribution, question marks over title, and forgery on an industrial scale - all are variously and increasingly interwoven with the day-to-day challenges posed by borderless commerce, big data and globalised criminality. Make one false move, and the price can be high. Businesses, reputations and livelihoods are on the line.
As announced at the Art Business Conference on 1 September 2016, this short series of half-day seminars brings together experienced specialists in their respective fields to address commercial, compliance and cyber risks. The aim of each seminar is to bring together senior art market professionals, and to promote discussion around identifying the risks, and responsible strategies for mitigating and resolving them.
Each seminar takes place at the offices of K&L Gates, overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral. The seminar will commence with breakfast networking and registration at 9.15 and will include a sandwich lunch.
The second seminar is on “Criminal and Compliance Risk.” It takes place on 7th February 2017. Speakers confirmed so far, and topics under discussion will include:
·       Professional codes of ethics, combatting the illicit trade in art and antiquities, and new regulatory challenges on the horizon (Professor Janet Ulph, Leicester Law School, University of Leicester; Dr Sophie Vigneron, Kent Law School, University of Kent; and Ivan Macquisten, art market advisor, campaigner and lobbyist)
·       Risks associated with anti-money laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act offences, and their mitigation (Sasi-Kanth Mallela, Special Counsel, K&L Gates; and Richard Abbey, Partner, Ernst & Young Fraud Investigation and Dispute Services)
·   Keeping track of lost and stolen artworks and antiquities: some challenges and opportunities (Ariane Moser, Chief Operating Officer, Artive Inc. and James Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries & General Counsel, Art Loss Register, in conversation with Sean Kelsey, Senior Associate, K&L Gates)

To purchase tickets to attend the event please visit the Art Market Minds event page.

January 7, 2017

Saturday, January 07, 2017 - ,,, No comments

The officers who serve to protect art in the UK Military: A personal account by Lt Col Tim Purbrick

This article is republished with permission from the official British Army Blog viewable here.

During the latter stages of the Second World War a group of American and British archaeologists, museum curators and architects formed up as a curious military unit called the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section which became known as the Monuments Men. Their job was to protect the cultural property wherever the conflict was being fought. This included places as diverse as North Africa and Italy, northern Europe, Greece and the Far East. The wartime activities of this specialist Allied military unit have been written about extensively and were recently portrayed by George Clooney, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Matt Damon and others in the movie Monuments Men.

Lt Col Tim Purbrick
After the war the nations of the world considered the implications of the damage, destruction and looting of cultural property which had taken place during the Second World War. It was felt that the international humanitarian law extant during the war for the protection of cultural property during conflict could be strengthened. This led to the introduction of the Hague Convention (1954), which was followed by its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999. The UK signed the Convention in 1954 but did not ratify it, which means that the Convention was not brought into UK law. In 2004 the Government decided that the effect of the 1999 Protocol met the criteria for ratification and announced that the Convention would be ratified at the earliest opportunity that Parliamentary time permitted.

US Military personnel recover paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration/American Jewish Historical Society/Center for Jewish History

At the back end of 2013 I was standing at the magazine racks next to my desk at Army HQ congratulating myself as I read an article which I had written on green energy in the British Army Review (BAR). The BAR is a largely internal Army magazine which was then published by the Army HQ Concepts Branch where I work for a day a week as an Army Reserve. Flicking through the other pages of the same issue of BAR I came across a far more interesting article about what activities the military should undertake for the protection of cultural property during conflict. It had been written by Professor Peter Stone OBE of Newcastle University.

To understand why I was fascinated you need to know the three pieces of baggage that I brought to the start of Prof Stone’s article. Our family company, which I now work for, are private art dealers in London. We deal in Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art. I have been hanging around the business for 25 years and some of it rubbed off on me over that time! I had also spent 12 years tracking down stolen plant and equipment and stolen art and antiquities for The Equipment Register and The Art Loss Register so I had some understanding of the issues around cultural property theft. Underlying these was been my long term interest in the activities of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives sections during the Second World War, an interest which had been triggered by reading Lynn Nicholas’s outstanding book The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. It led me to many other books on the same subject.

Fortuitously, my current post is in the Concepts Branch of Army HQ. Our job is to work with academics, think tanks, military scientists and subject matter experts to attempt to understand what the future environment looks like so that we can propose how best to shape the Army to meet the challenges of that future environment. By the time I came across Prof Stone’s article I had already written one of our papers, which we call analytical concepts, on the future of the media and Army media operations. A second paper, on the future employment of cyber at the tactical and operational level, was already on circulation for comments by senior officers. These analytical concepts are highly detailed pieces of research work akin to a university dissertation or even, I kid myself, a Phd as it is generally a unique, first time look, in depth at a key issue for the future development of Army capability. Could cultural property protection (CPP) be my next analytical concept?

Literally the moment that I had finished reading the article I tracked down Prof Stone’s telephone number at Newcastle University and rang him up. Prof Stone and I had one of those interesting conversations: ‘you don’t know who I am’, I said, ‘but I have read your article in the British Army Review, I work at Army HQ and I think that there’s something that we may be able to do about your proposals.’ Prof Stone is also head of the UK Committee of the Blue Shield, an organisation which works with Governments to advise on the protection of cultural property during conflict. The Prof had some experience with the Armed Forces having advised NATO on what and where not to strike in Libya during OP ELLAMY in 2011. He had been trying to persuade the Armed Forces to take more of an interest in CPP so he was quite surprised to have someone from the Army calling him out of the blue to suggest that we could possibly do something about protecting cultural property during conflict.

I drafted a proposal for an analytical concept paper and took it to my Concepts Desk boss, Col Tim Law. Col Tim immediately agreed to let me write the proposed paper. Even though this issue was more current and not one of our future concept papers which look out 20 years, Col Tim and his boss, Brig Simon Deakin, saw the merit of the recommendations in Prof Stone’s article and in the Concepts Branch writing and circulating a paper. Over the coming weeks this became a draft document titled Delivering a Cultural Property Protection Capability. In the way that happens with all our papers, in a process that was to take to the end of July 2015, it was first circulated around Army HQ at Colonel level, comments were received back from these officers, the paper was amended, then it was sent out to Brigadier or 1 star level, comments were received and so the process went on until it had been all the way to the top of the Army where it was seen by Lt Gen Sir James Everard KCB, Commander of the Field Army.

Alongside the start of this internal circulation, with such a complex issue and with such little expertise on it within the Armed Forces, it was important for the paper’s credibility to have it validated by the real experts in academia, museums and amongst our Allies who had either already been involved in CPP for years or who had cultural property protection policies and plans in place for armed conflict. So, I shared the draft paper widely with many of those who quickly became key advisors, amending technicalities and suggesting generalities, giving the paper credibility inside and outside the Army and also giving us all a stake in the paper’s success.

In parallel to the paper and further afield I met up with a group of cultural property experts at the Defence College in Shrivenham. The group included Prof Stone, Richard Osgood, the MOD’s senior archaeologist at the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, Victoria Syme-Taylor from King’s College London, and Dr Nick Marquez-Grant and Prof Andrew Shortland from Cranfield University. Also attending were military educator Maj Dave Mason from the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit (DCSU) at RAF Henlow, to assist with identifying and drafting the individual skill sets required by cultural property protection officers, and Lt Col Alasdair Morrison, a military lawyer from the Operational Law Department in Warminster, to advise on military and international law.

This group became the Military Cultural Property Protection Working Group and it met for the first time in early 2014.

January 6, 2017

Conference: Save the Date - The Amelia Conference - Call for Presenters

ARCA will host its 2017 interdisciplinary art crime conference the weekend of June 23rd through June 25th.  Known as The Amelia Conference, the association's weekend-long event aims to facilitate a critical appraisal of art crimes and the protection of art and cultural heritage.  The event brings together researchers and academics, police, and members from many of the allied professions in the art world, who come together to discuss issues of common concern. 

This conference is held annually in the historic city of Amelia, in the heart of Italy's Umbria region.  Amelia also plays host to ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection and for the first time, the joint ARCA-HARP Provenance Training course, “Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets.” 

ARCA welcomes speaking proposals from individuals in relevant fields, including law, criminal justice, security, art history, conservation, archaeology, or museum security and risk management. We invite individuals interested in presenting to submit their topic of choice along with a presentation title, a concise 250 word abstract, a brief professional biography and a recent CV to the conference organizers at:

italy.conference [at]artcrimeresearch.org

Accepted presenters will be asked to limit their presentations to 15-20 minutes, and will be grouped together in panels organized thematically, to allow time for brief questions from the audience at the conclusion of each panel session. 


For more details on this event please watch the conference information page on the ARCA website where you can register and where a list of speakers will appear March 30, 2017

We hope to see many of you in Amelia in June!

Key Dates:
Conference Date:  June 23-25, 2017
Call for Presenters Deadline: March 15, 2017

January 4, 2017

Wednesday, January 04, 2017 - , 1 comment

Update on three Iranian heritage workers shot and seriously injured by antiquities smugglers in the Kurdistan province of Iran

Image Credit: ISNA News
NOTE:  This article has been updated January 5, 2017 as more information has been reported.

In an interview with Iran news reporters the Director General of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization of the Kurdistan province in Iran, Seyed Mohsen Alavi, has stated that a primary suspect in the attack on three cultural heritage protection unit officers has been arrested.  He further indicated that following the culprit's interrogation, other arrests were expected to follow shortly. Those believed to have been involved in the incident have now been formally indicted by Iranian authorities.

The suspects in this case were conducting illegal excavations in a remote area searching for ancient objects.

Image Credit: ISNA News
According to Azad News Agency, on Monday, January 3, 2017 two site workers and one heritage bureau activist from the town of Baneh were ambushed by the looters shortly after they arrived at a location in rural Baneh County along Iran's western border with Iraq. Responding to citizen reports of illicit excavations near the village of Mirabad and Shrg·h, the heritage personnel came across tools used by the looters to carry out illegal digging, as well as a large excavated looting pit, estimated to be approximately twelve meters deep.

Image Credit IRIB News

Image Credit IRIB News
Seven armed men reportedly opened fire on the heritage workers using both pistols and shotguns and in the onslaught the three workers were struck by projectiles and a vehicle was also overturned and damaged.

Image Credit: Khabarduni News
One veteran 42 year old cultural heritage protection unit officer remains in the hospital having sustained a penetrating wound to the head. Another suffered shotgun pellet wounds to his neck and left shoulder. Another is reported to have suffered a seriously hand injury.

Image Credit: ISNA News
The area where the looters were working lies along the border between the Kurdistan province in Iran and Eastern Iraq, a lengthy remote area which stretches 230 kilometres along the territorial divide between the two countries. Because the city of Baneh sits inside this scarcely populated zone, it has long struggled with underdevelopment and high unemployment, both key contributors to the zone's reputation as an area where illegal transportation, goods smuggling and illicit drugs pass on their way to or from porous country borders which are difficult to secure.

Kulbar — a colloquial word for the region's border couriers or load carriers, smuggle untaxed and prohibited goods between Iraq and Iran frequently via the Kurdistan province. Small time smugglers move food, electronics, or other hard-to-find necessities.  Bolder traffickers move riskier merchandise: satellite dishes, illegal drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.  Sometimes violent confrontations occur between the kulbar and Border authorities but the payoff to traffickers and rampant poverty create a recipe for continued illicit activity, making it easy enough for heritage looters to use the already well-established smuggling conduit to transport looted antiquities out of the region.

Speaking to Iranian journalists during a press briefing the Director General of Cultural Heritage in Baneh in Kurdistan said that while violent incidents such as the one that occurred this week are unusual, he worries that there is an increased likelihood for events such as this to reoccur. Stating his concerns he said "Unfortunately, illegal excavations and smuggling have increased everywhere in the country and also [our] protection unit in the city does not have weapons. The poor empty-handed are sent out to these kind of locations more frequently and chances are, something like this could be repeated."

By: Lynda Albertson

Wednesday, January 04, 2017 - No comments

Provenance Research Training Course in Italy

Exhibition in the library of the Collecting Point, summer 1947
© Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte
The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) and the US-based Holocaust Art Restitution Project, [Inc.] (HARP), a not-for-profit group based in Washington, DC, dedicated to the identification and restitution of looted artworks, have teamed up to offer a unique short course in Amelia, Italy, this summer. This new thematic course “Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets” will address cultural plunder, undoubtedly one of the thorniest issues facing the art world today.

Course Dates: June 22- 28, 2017  

Open to applicants interested in the restitution/repatriation of looted cultural objects and their trafficking, this 5-day course will provide participants with exposure to the research and ethical considerations of modern-day art restitution. As an added bonus students accepted to the course are automatically registered for ARCA’s Amelia Conference, June 23-25, 2017 a weekend-long forum for intellectual and professional exchange which explores the indispensable role of research, detection, crime prevention and criminal justice responses in combating all forms of art crime and the illicit trafficking in cultural property. 

“Provenance and the challenges of recovering looted assets”  will be taught by Marc Masurovsky, the co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project.  Mr Masurovsky is a historian, researcher, and advocate, specializing in the financial and economic underpinnings of the Holocaust and the Second World War. 

Born and raised in Paris, France, Mr. Masurovsky holds a B.A. in Communications and Critical Cultural Studies from Antioch College and an M.A. in Modern European History from American University in Washington, DC, for which his thesis was on “Operation Safehaven.” He worked at the Office of Special Investigations of the US Department of Justice researching Byelorussian war criminals, locating primary source documents, and interviewing war crimes suspects in North America and Western Europe. As a result of his early work on the transfers of looted assets from the Third Reich to the safety (safehaven) of neutral and Allied nations, Marc Masurovsky advised the Senate Banking Committee in the mid-1990s on the involvement of Swiss banks in the Holocaust, then lent his expertise to plaintiffs’ counsels suing Swiss banks on behalf of Holocaust survivors. 

Since 1997, Marc Masurovsky has focused his attention on the fate of objects of art looted by the Nazis and their Fascist allies. He has also played a major role in the January 1998 seizure of Egon Schiele’s “Portrait of Wally” and “Night City III” at the Museum of Modern Art of New York and was a director of research for the Clinton-era Presidential Advisory Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States (PCHA). 

Since 2004, Marc Masurovsky has overseen the creation, development and expansion of a fully-searchable, public online database of art objects looted in German-occupied France that transited through the Jeu de Paume in Paris from 1940 to 1944. Marc Masurovsky is co-author of Le Festin du Reich: le pillage de la France, 1940-1944 (2006), and is currently at work on a book on cultural plunder during the Nazi era and its impact on the international art market. 

For more information on the course and how to apply, please see announcement on ARCA's website here.

December 28, 2016

Recovered: 5 paintings stolen from the Levitan House Museum in Plyos, 3 arrests made.

© Russian Interior Ministry
Russian Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk has issued a statement relaying that Russian authorities have arrested three individuals, ages 29, 33, and 37, for their suspected involvement in the August 5, 2014 3:00 am theft of five paintings by 19th century classical landscape painter Иса́ак Ильи́ч Левита́н (Isaak Levitan).  The artworks were originally stolen by two individuals from the Levitan House-Museum in Plyos, a small town located on the Volga river in the Ivanovo Region where the painter lived and worked for a period of time. 

With the arrest of these three suspects, authorities have recovered all five of the stolen paintings.  The artworks are:

"Ravine behind the fence"
"A Quiet Pool"
"A Quiet River"
"Railway Stop"

One of Russia's most significant and celebrated landscape artists, Levitan's naturalistic scenes, depicting and tranquil forests and countrysides, introduced a new genre of paintings which came to be known as the mood landscapes. The artist's body of work includes approximately 1,000 paintings, sketches and drawings with the bulk of his work being held in Russian museums. At the time of the artworks theft, the five stolen paintings were estimated to be worth 77 million rubles ($1.3 million). 

According to the Interior Ministry, the three criminals arrested in this case were said to have been involved in a series of other crimes including an armed highway robbery of cash-in-transit couriers this past November in the Nizhny Novgorod region and an earlier May 2016 bank robbery of the Nizhny Novgorod Bank where the crooks made off with more than 5 million rubles ($82,200). 

Officers working a joint investigation involving the Main Criminal Investigation Department of the Russian Interior Ministry, the Russian Federal Security Service, CID GU MVD of Russia in Nizhny Novgorod region, and the CID AMIA Russia's Ivanovo region executed a series of search warrants.   During one, of a house in the Moscow region, Russian Interior Ministry authorities seized more than one kilogram of cocaine and recovered one of the five stolen artworks there-by detaining two suspects.  Russian Interior Ministry in Nizhny Novgorod then recovered the other four stolen paintings during a secondary search warrant of another location.

In the course of an interview with Russian media, Alla Chayanov, director of the Levitan House-Museum in Plyos, reminded the public that the theft of well known, catalogued and inventoried artworks of whatever financial value, are largely unsaleable on the licit art market where famous stolen works of art are easily recognised.   In cases such as this artworks only have value on the black market, usually as an alternative currency within the criminal world. 

A video of the recovery of four of the artworks can be seen in the news report below. 

As formal possessions of the Russian Federation, the recovered artworks will now be evaluated for authenticity by the matching of their accession numbers.  They will then likely be sent for conservation evaluation prior to being returned to the public's viewing. 

December 26, 2016

Some analysis of the Criminal Complaint against New York art dealer Nancy Wiener

In ARCA's December 25th blog post ARCA published the criminal complaint filed in Manhattan Criminal Court, signed by Special Agent Brenton Easter of the Department of Homeland Security, which indicated the charges presented against New York art dealer Nancy Wiener through her gallery Nancy Wiener Gallery.

Today we have thought to publish the sentencing guidelines should this defendant be convicted of the charges as well as a bit of distilled information about the individuals mentioned in the body of  the New York criminal complaint. 

In New York State, Criminal Conspiracy is punishable by law when one acts, agrees or performs with intent to commit a crime. Depending on the crime committed, a conspiracy charge could be prosecuted either as a NY State crime or as a United States Federal crime.  In this case a criminal complaint has been brought against Nancy Wiener for:

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in First Degree – NY Panel Law 165.54

A person is found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner, and when the value of the value of the stolen property exceeds $1,000,000. 

The pending case against New York art dealer Nancy Wiener the New York Penal Law 165.54  would be classified as a “B” non violent felony.  As a potential first time offender Wiener faces a minimum of one to three years in prison and a maximum of eight and one third to twenty five years. Probation and community service are not options.

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in Second Degree – NY Penal Law 165.52

A person is found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner, and when the value of the value of the stolen property exceeds $50,000.

The pending case against New York art dealer Nancy Wiener the New York Penal Law 165.52 would be classified as a “C” non violent felony. As a potential first time offender Wiener faces no minimum sentence but faces as much as five to fifteen years in prison. Alternate sentences include probation, probation coupled with jail, community service, fines and a conditional discharge.

There are four legal presumptions associated with New York Penal Law 165.55, the following are the two relevant ones in this case:
  1. A person who knowingly possesses stolen property is presumed to possess it with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner thereof. This presumption is often referred to as recent exclusive possession.” There has been a tremendous body of case law addressing this presumption which argues for the position that if an accused has had the exclusive possession of stolen property after a theft crime has been perpetrated and there is evidence or circumstances which show an inability to explain where the property came from, a negative inference may in fact be drawn. That inference being that there is a strong likelihood that the accused knew that the property he or she possessed was stolen.
  2. A collateral loan broker or a person in the business of buying, selling or otherwise dealing in property who possesses stolen property is presumed to know that such property was stolen if he obtained it without having ascertained by reasonable inquiry that the person from whom he obtained it had a legal right to possess it.
Conspiracy in the fourth degree – NY Penal Law 105.10(1)

A person is guilty of conspiracy in the fourth degree when, with intent that conduct constituting:
  1. a class B or class C felony be performed, he or she agrees with one or more persons to engage in or cause the performance of such conduct; 

The pending case against New York art dealer Nancy Wiener the New York Penal Law 105.10(1) would be classified as a “E” non violent felony.  Punishment ranges for this offence range from no jail with probation to up to fu years in state prison.

Conspiracy is relatively easy for prosecutors to prove because New York law does not require exact proof of language used in an agreement to commit a crime, and only requires the testimony of one party.  As seen in the complaint we published yesterday, there appears to be sufficient testimony to make this conspiracy charge stick.

Difference between a Criminal Complaint and a Criminal Indictment

A criminal complaint lists the charges that the prosecuting attorney will file against a person. It typically describes the nature of the offence and consists simply of a signed affidavit by the accuser.

A criminal indictment would be a written document, usually presented before a grand jury who decides if the charges warrant further action.  Criminal complaints require sworn testimony given under oath for the courts to move forward with the case.

UPDATE: Checking records at the New York State Unified Court System for this case, it now appears that this defendant has been indicted on Conspiracy in the fourth degree.    The defendant has entered a "Not Guilty" plea and has been released on her own recognisance.  Her next court appearance has been scheduled for February 28, 2017.

Who are the players mentioned in the antiquities looting network outlined in the criminal complaint?

From the content of the criminal complaint issued by New York prosecutors we get a preliminary outline of the pertinent facts alleged in the case that will then be presented in court should Ms. Wiener's case move on to trial.   The portrait painted by prosecutors illustrates what looks to be a complex network of looters, middlemen, and antiquities dealers that suggests the mentioned players have benefited financially from the trade in illicit antiquities for a number of years.

Here is a distilled summary of the key persons mentioned within the criminal complaint

Informant #1 - According to the criminal complaint this cooperating individual is a dealer in illegal antiquities known to the District Attorney. In the complaint Informant #1

  • allegedly implicated Co-Conspirator #1 in the purchase and sale of the Baphuon Shiva from Cambodia.
  • allegedly reported that Nancy Wiener had removed all records of where, when, from whom, and for how much each antiquity was acquired
  • allegedly reported that Nancy Wiener later told informant #1 that the records no longer existed. 
  • allegedly provided information on the Sharod Singh connection with the looted red sandstone relief (“Red Sandstone Couple”), from India, dated to the 1st–2nd Century C.E., 
  • allegedly provided information on the Vaman Ghiya connection with the a stolen mottled red sandstone relief depicting a Bacchanalian scene, dated to the 2nd Century C.E., 
  • allegedly implicated Co-Conspirator #5 in the sale to Doris Wiener of a silver-inlaid gilt bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara from Northeastern India or Western Tibet (China), dated to 10th-11th C.E.,
  • allegedly reported seeing objects procured by Co-Conspirator #6 the purchased by Nancy Wiener in New York unrestored, unmounted and/or without bases - classic signs of looting. 

Informant #2 - According to the criminal complaint this cooperating individual is another dealer in looted antiquities known to the District Attorney.  In the complaint Informant #2

  • allegedly provided information on the Naga Buddha
  • allegedly implicated Nancy Wiener in the purchase of Seated Buddha #1 from trafficker Vaman Ghiya
  • allegedly implicated Nancy Wiener in the purchase of Seated Buddha #2 from trafficker Vaman Ghiya
  • allegedly implicated Subpash Kapoor in the purchase and smuggling of the stolen Krishna Dancing on Kaliya (cobra) from Tamil Nadu, India, dating from the Chola Period (11th-12th Century)
  • allegedly implicated Co-Conspirator #4 in the handling and restoration of the stolen Krishna Dancing on Kaliya (cobra) from Tamil Nadu, India, dating from the Chola Period (11th-12th Century)
  • allegedly implicated Co-Conspirator #1 in the purchase of the stolen Krishna Dancing on Kaliya (cobra) from Tamil Nadu, India, dating from the Chola Period (11th-12th Century)
  • allegedly implicated Co-Conspirator #5 as being an antiquities smuggler of Tibetan descent based in Nepal and Hong Kong who was in frequent email contact with Defendant about illicit pieces from Nepal. 
  • allegedly implicated Co-Conspirator #6 and his father as being suppliers of illicit cultural property from primarily Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • allegedly provided information on false provenance provided for Christie's sale created for pieces that passed between Nancy Wiener and Co-Conspirator #6 

Informant #3 - According to the criminal complaint this cooperating individual is another dealer in looted antiquities known to the District Attorney.  In the complaint Informant #3
  • allegedly provided information on false provenance provided by Nancy Wiener for the Red Sandstone Couple
Co-conspirator #1 - According to the criminal complaint co-conspirator #1
  • allegedly is an antiquities dealer based in London and Bangkok
  • allegedly entered into an agreement with Nancy Wiener to purchase and sell a looted Baphuon Shiva from Cambodia, dated to the 11th Century C.E
  • allegedly shipped the Baphuon Shiva to London to be “cleaned, put together, and mounted.”
  • allegedly sold Nancy Wiener a bronze Buddha sitting on a throne of Naga stolen from Thailand or Cambodia, dated to the 10th Century C.E.
  • allegedly falsified provenance along with Nancy Wiener and Co-conspirator 2 for the bronze Buddha sitting on a throne of Naga stolen from Thailand or Cambodia, dated to the 10th Century C.E.
  • allegedly is a male 
  • allegedly admitted in email that he gave Co-Conspirator #2 bronze statues in exchange for false letters of provenance
  • allegedly purchased the Krishna Dancing on Kaliya from Subhash Kapoor
  • allegedly colluded with Nancy Wiener to create appraisal report for the Krishna Dancing on Kaliya 
Co-conspirator #2 - According to the criminal complaint co-conspirator #2
  • allegedly is a female research consultant for an American museum 
  • allegedly falsified provenance along with Nancy Wiener and Co-conspirator 1 for the bronze Buddha sitting on a throne of Naga stolen from Thailand or Cambodia, dated to the 10th Century C.E.
  • allegedly implicated by Co-conspirator #1 who stated he gave Co-Conspirator #2 bronze statues in exchange for false letters of provenance.
Co-conspirator #3 - According to the criminal complaint co-conspirator #3
  • allegedly is a New York-based restorer, 
  • allegedly restored the bronze Buddha sitting on a throne of Naga stolen from Thailand or Cambodia, dated to the 10th Century C.E. despite it having been struck by an agricultural tool, resulting in a jagged break - a sign of looting. 
  • allegedly restored the stolen marble Apsara ceiling panel.
Co-conspirator #4, - According to the criminal complaint co-conspirator #4
  • allegedly is a U.K.-based restorer used by Subhash Kapoor and Co-conspirator #1
  • allegedly restored the Krishna Dancing on Kaliya (cobra) stolen from Tamil Nadu, India, dating from the Chola Period (11th-12th Century).
Co-conspirator #5 - According to the criminal complaint co-conspirator #5
  • allegedly is an antiquities smuggler of Tibetan descent based in Nepal and Hong Kong. 
  • allegedly sold Doris Wiener a silver-inlaid gilt bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara.
  • allegedly incriminated Doris Wiener for providing false provenance on the silver-inlaid gilt bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara.
Co-conspirator #6 - According to the criminal complaint co-conspirator #6
  • allegedly is a male
  • and his father are allegedly suppliers of illicit cultural property from primarily Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • allegedly grew up in Pakistan and England. 
  • allegedly was implicated in several recorded conversations for shipping large quantities of newly dug-up, stolen antiquities from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Thailand, often via Hong Kong, and then to dealers from around the world.  
  • allegedly was implicated in selling Doris Wiener 14 stolen antiquities
Other individuals who are mentioned in the complaint

Vaman Ghiya - According to the criminal complaint, seized documents and statements made by informant #2 implicate Weiner in the purchase of the Seated Buddha #1 from Vaman Ghiya, someone who was listed as a long-time supplier from India who often used "Shantoo" to sell his looted antiquities. According to seized documents and informant #1, Doris Wiener was allegedly implicated in buying a stolen mottled red sandstone relief depicting a Bacchanalian scene from Ghiya that Wiener then allegedly falsely claiming that her mother had acquired from a private collection in London.

Ghiya is a known antiquities smuggler who allegedly confessed to selling 10,000 objects of Indian art via Sotheby’s—subject of a BBC sting operation.  Convicted in 2008 and sentenced to life imprisonment, the conviction was quashed on appeal because of procedural irregularities during the police prosecution.

Ranjeet Kanwar - According to the criminal complaint and statements by a former employee of Kapoor, “Shantoo” is the alleged nickname of Ranjeet Kanwar, one of Subhash Kapoor's alleged main suppliers of stolen antiquities from India.  His name appears on a computer disk file folder that contained three pictures of looted Seated Buddha #1 found at the Sofia Bros. Storage, in New York County, a storage facility rented by Subhash Kapoor.

Om Sharma - According to the criminal complaint, seized emails and statements by informants #1 and #2, it is alleged that Om Sharma is a supplier of illicit antiquities from India.  Wiener allegedly bought the stolen red sandstone figure depicting a Jain goddess from Sharma in 2009. The complaint also states that in August 2010, “Victor” had allegedly emailed Doris and Nancy Wiener separately to offer one of the Apsara Marbles, attaching pictures of the dirty, unrestored sculpture on the ground with what appeared to be cut marks. According to statements from informants #1 and #2, “Victor” is the alleged email pseudonym for Om and Badal Sharma.

Sharod Singh - According to the criminal complaint, informants #1 and #2, it is alleged that Sharod Singh is a supplier of illicit antiquities from India. According to emails and records provided by informant #1, Doris Wiener allegedly purchased a looted red sandstone relief (“Red Sandstone Couple”) from this individual in 2002 and the allegedly smuggled it into the US via via Kurt Anderson, Inc., a corporation owned by her.

The authorities have stated that they executed more than 50 search warrants as part of this investigation.