Showing posts with label Carabinieri. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carabinieri. Show all posts

July 26, 2016

Illicit Antiquities Trafficking an Ongoing, Organized Enterprise in Italy

This week, in the town of Teano, 30 kilometres northwest of Caserta on the road to Rome from Naples, the Carabinieri formally placed under investigation four individuals under suspicion of having committed a series of thefts “of historical interest” and then selling their stash onward via the illegal market.  In layman's English, the men were arrested for trafficking illicit antiquities and laundering them on via middlemen on to wealthy buyers.   The archaeological areas of Teano-Calvi have long been massacred for decades by tomb raiders without scruples.


One of those arrested was Emilio Autieri, a 65 year old registered nurse with Italy's Local Health Authority Service (Azienda Sanitaria Locale, ASL) which proves that even with a decent state pension, individuals can be coaxed into a world of illicit crime where money flows freely and behind closed doors.   He and 22 year old Antonia Pane have been placed under house arrest pending further investigation.   Massimo Aversano, 43 and 19 year old Domenico De Biasio have been released on their own recognizance with reporting conditions and restrictions to not leave the territorial area.

The investigation began in January 2016 following a not-publicized theft from the Archaeological Museum of Teano.  The case serves as a good example into the minds of criminals who receive, possess, conceal, store, barter, and sell, not just antiquity, but any goods, wares, or merchandise where there is a willing buyer willing to look the other way.

Following months of observation and chasing leads on various burglaries at private residences and shops, the Teano carabinieri conducted a series of wire taps and reviewed CCTV footage related to various burglaries.  This in turn lead them to execute search warrants which uncovered what appears to be a well structured group of organized criminals who moved objects via fences working in the archaeological sector who had a supply of buyers willing to turn a blind eye to the illicit origin of the pieces they purchased. 

During the July sting operation, authorities recovered and sequestered more than 200 historical objects; antiquities which initial examination appears to date from from as early as the 9th and 8th Century BCE to as late as the 1st and 2nd century CE. Law enforcement has estimated the value of the seizure to have a combined value of €500,000.00 on the illicit market. 

The objects  brought into police custody include various sculptures in terracotta, ivory carvings, marble architectural elements, terracotta amphorae, as well as Bucchero pottery, common in pre-Roman Italy.  The team also had a stash of votive statues, and various metal and stone objects, buckles, brooches and earrings.  Interestingly, authorities also seized stolen objects not of an archaeological nature.  This shows that the ring of thieves and fences, did not restrict their dealings to stolen goods solely from antiquity. 


Earlier, in March of this year, a well-respected surgeon, Domenico Bova from nearby Sessa Aurunca and Gerardo Mastrostefano, an attorney from the same town as this weeks arrests, were investigated for their own related involvement to this offence and receiving stolen archaeological goods after 33 ancient finds were confiscated from their individual residences. Along with them an unnamed fence was reportedly involved as the ring's middleman.  The investigation into these prior individuals coupled with this week's formal charging of four others seem to lend credibility that the zone continues to have weaknesses that in the past have made it well adapted to the trafficking of culture.

In January 2014 an ex capo and former Camorrista of the Casalesi clan turned justice informant, Carmine Schiavone, stated that the Camorra had infiltrated the cities of Teano, Vairano, Caianello and other areas in Alto Caserta.   Schiavone, prior to his death was a former member of the Casalesi clan from Casal di Principe in the province of Caserta between Naples and Salerno and a cousin of former Camorra superboss Francesco Schiavone.  Heavily entrenched in the clan's business, he could be considered a person well informed as to the illicit activities in the region.

Is this summer's heritage crime case localized to one small group of organized bandits or part of something more sinister?







January 21, 2016

Three Stolen Paintings Recovered by the Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Ancona

© Copyright ANSA
The Carabinieri TPC (Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale) in Ancona have recovered three stolen paintings dating from the seventeenth century.  The investigation, started in early 2014 and coordinated by the Public Prosecutors at the Court of Rome and in Perugia involved two paintings stolen in a private home in the province of Siena in 2007 and a third which had been taken from a house in Rome in 1991.  

This is not the first time Ancona's Carabinieri TPC squad has been successful in recovering stolen art. In September 2015 the unit recovered an oil painting from an unknown artist dating from the XVI / XVII century, depicting a 'Madonna with Child'.  This artwork had been stolen sometime in the evening between the 5th and 6th of June 1990 from the Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Paolo where it had been displayed above the alter.  .The painting had turned up in an an antique store in San Benedetto del Tronto. 

Details on the recent paintings recovered and the conditions of the artworks are expected during a forthcoming Carabinieri TPC press conference. 

July 29, 2015

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - ,,, No comments

A Carabinieri officer, Amelia residents, and Uganda: ICAD works to provide maternity services to a mission in northern Uganda; Volunteers can attend a course on security

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 
  ARCA Blog Editor


Luca Del Moro, an officer with the carabinieri office in Amelia, was stationed in Uganda from 2004 to 2008 — however, the hard work of Italian Catholic missionaries in this land-locked African country left an impression on him. Del More is CEO and Founder of ICAD Onlus - International Cooperation and Development Association.

This September, Del Moro will be leading the third course on security and volunteering. The course on security in countries plagued by terrorism will be held for teachers from the United Nations, universities, armies, police, and missionaries. The subjects include radio communication; personal security (working with interpreters; negotiation and communication; security risk assessment; survival skills; weapons awareness; basic first aid; basic self defence; four-wheel drive vehicles (driving, maintenance and map reading); travel, convoy and vehicle security; and Italian Embassy and crisis unit; background, history and cultural awareness; stress management; and making photo reports and interviews.

In July, Ambassador Grace Akello, Head of the Diplomatic Mission of Uganda to Rome, wrote a letter to ICAD expressing her gratitude for the organization’s participation in a promotional event for Uganda’s role at Milan EXPO held on April 27 in Rome.
My colleague Ambassadors who came to the promotional events, appreciated how your organization is helping to building practical capacities in all the areas that you are working in. This means that if ever you were to decide to move out, the people left behind would continue as normal and would not be left bereft of knowledge. Secondly, my colleagues appreciated your statement that you did not go there to change people. They saw this as expressing the right to people to manage their own lives, with your technical input, that also passes on the soft and hard technology. This way people learn from you and make their own choices on how they want to utilize this knowledge in their own communities. This is what partnership is made of. Allow me to take this opportunity to assure you of my highest esteem.
You can find out more information about ICAD through Facebook, searching under Luca Del Moro (http://www.facebook.com/luca.delmoro.33/), or ICAD Onlus (http://www.facebook.com/ICAD.org/)

Giulia Spernanzoni
Another Amelia resident, Giulia Spernanzoni, a university student studying security, traveled with ICAD Onlus to the northern part of Uganda (Karamoja) in February to follow different project and inspect the clinic which will be supplied by “tools and medicines for the benefit of the IK tribe gatherers and hunters” (ICAD).

Ms. Spernanzoni is also a member of the ICAD board. She attended the 2nd Course for Humanitarian Operators, completing both phases in Italy and in Uganda.

ICAD has focused is efforts to help new mothers and their children at a maternity center in northern Uganda. A more modern facility opened in April 2014, but ICAD is working to raise funds for other structures such as the kitchen, the toilettes, and sleeping areas. 

One of the founding members and board members in charge of ICAD, Msgr. Sandro Bigi, passed away in the middle of June, his funeral at the Duomo in Amelia closed down the town as everyone turned out to remember “his big heart and his dedication in helping his neighbors” (ICAD).

In June at the Parish of Saint Maria Maddalena of Torre Angela in Rome, ICAD held a charity dinner to raise funds needed to building a small house for the pregnant women living near the Morulem Maternity Centre (Uganda).

Next September, during the last two weekends (19-20 and 26-27) there will be the 3rd Intensive Course for Humanitarian Operators - Safe & Secure approaches in Field Environments. The cost is 250 euros, included the application and accommodation. The location is the gorgeous “La Tenuta dei Ciclamini” (www.iciclamini.it/) in Avigliano Umbro, owned by the famous Mogol. For more information write at info@icad-italy.org.

October 1, 2012

"Art Predators and The Rediscovered Heritage ... the story of recovery" at the National Etruscan Museum in Rome's Villa Giulia shows archaeological fruits of 20 year investigation


Here's a link to a video showing an exhibit, "Art Predators and The Rediscovered Heritage .. the story of recovery",  at the National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia in Rome (September 29 through December 15, 2012) of recovered stolen antiquity objects recovered by Italy's Carabinieri Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale), the Justice Department, and archaeologists in an investigation lasting more than two decades.

The Villa Giulia-Museo Nazionale Etrusco is located north of the Piazza del Popolo in the western outskirts of the Villa Borghese (a really long walk from the Galleria Borghese as I once found out).

These hundreds of works of art were stolen by grave robbers in clandestine excavations in Etruria, Puglia, Sicily and Calabria (Google Translation of article by Irene Buscemi, "Predatori d'arte e patrimonio ritrovato in mostra a Roma", September 30, 2012, Il Fatto Quotidiano).  These amphora, kylix (pottery drinking cups) and bronzes were illegally sold in the 1970s and 1980s by merchants and traffickers to famous foreign museums (Getty Museum in Los Angeles, The Metropolitan in New York, and institutions in Australia and Japan).  Two archaeologists, Daniela Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini, assisted in the project and curated the exhibit.  Many of these objects were seized from a warehouse in the Free Port of Geneva in 1995 (for more information you may refer to "The Medici Conspiracy" (Public Affairs, 2006) by historian Peter Watson and Italian journalist Cecilia Todeschini).  The Carabinieri used polaroid photographs, charts, and documents found in this investigation to recreate the illicit trade that funneled objects through art collectors and auctions houses such as Sotheby's in London.

Here's a link to the exhibit at the Villa Giulia.  The exhibitors explain here that for the first time the National Etruscan Museum of the Villa Giulia is presenting some archaeological materials chosen from among 3,000 artifacts seized in 1995 by the Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Projection from the Free Port of Geneva and returned to Italy after a long legal battle based upon documents found in the raid that allowed the Carabinieri and prosecutors to reconstruct the trafficking routes and illegal excavations.  In this illegal operation, objects were illegal dug up out of the ground, moved from Italy to Switzerland, cleaned and then provided paperwork to market the objects to international museums:
The exhibition aims to raise awareness of the general public the hard work done in recent years by the Judiciary, flanked by Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection, with the Guardia di Finanza and the archaeologists of the Superintendent [Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Etruria meridionale], which has led to some important results, perceived not only through a high number of artifacts recovered, by especially in the significant drop in illegal excavations at the archaeological sites of Cerveteri, Vulci, and Tarquinia, once the subject of real raids [translated with the help of Google].

July 22, 2011

Laurie Rush on "Art Crime: Effects of a Global Issue at the Community Level"

by Mark Durney, Founder of Art Theft Central

At ARCA’s third annual international art crime conference in mid-July, Dr. Laurie Rush, the Booth Family Rome Prize Winner in Historic Preservation at the American Academy in Rome, presented on “Art Crime: Effects of a Global Issue at the Community Level.”

Dr. Rush’s lecture featured discussions of the role of military archaeologists in preventing the inadvertent damage and destruction of cultural heritage as well as limiting the illicit traffic in antiquities during the most recent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Egypt. For example, academic archaeologists in cooperation with military and NATO personnel were able to develop a 'no strike list' of 'at risk sites' in Libya within 36 hours after US participation was announced.

During the most recent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt, Dr. Rush worked with the Legacy Resource Management Program to create decks of playing cards inspired by the US military’s tradition of using playing cards as educational tools. However, rather than depict images of the most-wanted Iraqis like a previous deck, the Heritage Resource Preservation playing cards depict the challenges of preserving heritage during military operations as well as provide useful archaeological site preservation advice.

According to Dr. Rush, the constant rotation of military officers and the flux in standard practices that it creates can make it difficult to effectively maintain efforts to protect cultural heritage sites and institutions during conflicts. During the US-led military invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Garrison Commander  at the military base in Talil developed a strategy to protect Ur, the biblical birthplace of Abraham, by incorporating it within the installation fences. While it was a simple risk mitigation strategy, it enabled the US to effectively secure the site and protect it from potential looting. In 2009, the US returned control of the ancient site, which had been preserved in pristine condition, to the Iraqi authorities.

Rush believes that the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, which has been sent into numerous conflict zones in order to train local leaders and military personnel in the protection of cultural sites and institutions, should serve as a model for other countries that seek to develop similar cultural heritage preservation efforts. Currently, while based in Rome, Rush is working closely with the Carabinieri and examining their best practices. In addition to working with the military to protect sites during conflict, Dr. Rush stressed the need to focus attention and resources on developing strategies to maintain cultural heritage sites in the immediate aftermath of conflicts. Managing sites as community assets and rebuilding tourist attractions are critical to attracting local and international investment and attention. Dr. Rush believes that such efforts can be spearheaded by partnerships between academic institutions and government organizations.

June 27, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011 - , No comments

Carabinieri recover several important pieces of the Eva Peron jewelry collection

by René M. Du Terroil, ARCA Contributor

The Italian media reported last week finding jewels allegedly belonging to deceased Argentine former first lady Eva Peron.  The jewelry is worth over US$9 million and was found in a hotel in Milan in Northern Italy. According to reports, local police located the jewels in a joint operation with Spanish police.  Police sources report that the precious stones where recovered from a 2009 robbery to a jewelry store in Valencia carried out by a gipsy gang. One person has been detained so far.

A tiara, a gift from the Dutch king during the 1950’s, several rings and a pair o earrings were among the jewelry recovered by the Carabinieri police in a room of the luxurious Silver hotel in the outskirts of Milan. According to the police, seven Serb gypsies were responsible for the robbery. The jewelry was taken in December of 2009. One of the robbers was arrested in May of last year after the Spanish court extended the arrest warrant to all Europe.

The English-language press (copied in after the links to the story) inaccurately reported many of the facts.

The pieces were stolen from a Spanish jeweler in what is known as a "rip" where a jeweler is offered an exaggerated price for his merchandise with the proviso that he perform some type of under-the-table cash deal. This initial exchange goes through flawlessly, at considerable profit for the mark. Some time later the scammers approach the mark with a similar proposition, but for a larger amount of money (and thus a larger return for the mark). His confidence and greed inspired by the previous deal, the merchant agrees — only to have his money and goods taken, by sleight-of-hand or violence, at the point of exchange.

The Carabinieri and Spanish police had been working together for some time, and phone taps and Interpol were involved. Although 8 members of the gang were identified and arrest warrants issued, only one was apprehended in the Milan hotel. Several of the others were already arrested in Spain.  The jewels were recovered when the suspect left his hotel room and he was arrested later. Apparently many of the Serbian - Gypsy/Romanian families engaged in this activity live in the area.



August 24, 2010

ARCA featured in La Repubblica

ARCA was featured in an article in Italy's leading national newspaper, La Repubblica, on 23 August 2010. The article mentioned some of the statistics on art crime in Italy kept by the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. The Carabinieri TPC, as it is known, is the world's oldest and strongest art police unit, having been founded in 1969, and with a 300-plus strong force. They run the world's largest database on stolen art, containing over 3 million items, and have by far the best recovery rate of any of the world's police. In 2009 alone the Carabinieri TPC reported 13,219 artworks stolen in Italy (a significant decrease from the approximately 30,000 objects reported stolen as recently as 2001). In 2009 the TPC questioned 1220 people suspected of involvement in art crime, arrested 45, and recovered an astounding 19,043 stolen artworks.

The Carabinieri TPC were honored with the 2009 ARCA Award for Lifetime Achievement in Defense of Art, and were featured in a BBC Radio Four documentary which ran earlier this summer. In that documentary the Carabinieri reiterated that art crime is linked to the drug and arms trades and even terrorism, and highlighted the fact that most art crime involves organized crime, and therefore is something to be taken very seriously indeed.

June 16, 2010

January 19, 2010

Crackdown on Culture Crime: Italy’s Proud Carabinieri Art Squad


by Judith Harris

ROME –The message: it works! Italy’s campaign to crack down on thefts of its treasures of art and archaeology has borne fruit, and the proof is in the statistics in the year-end report, released January 14 in Rome by General Giovanni Nistri, head of Italy’s crack Carabinieri art squad. Cultural heritage thefts were down by 14.5 percent in 2009 over the previous year. In addition, some 60,000 looted artifacts—from ancient to modern paintings, preciously inlaid Baroque furniture, archaeological artifacts, fine items of church décor and rare books—were recovered during 2009 for a total estimated value of almost $240 million. During the three-year period 2007-09 all crime has decreased, with thefts of cultural heritage dropping from 1,031 in 2008 to 882 in 2009.

Two of the most important recovered items—a Roman-era fresco painting hacked out of a wall and a precious black-figure decorated ceremonial Greek pot with handles (krater)—stolen from Italy but turned up recently at the auction house of Christie’s in New York.

Most recently the campaign to protect the nation’s cultural heritage has showcased the ongoing trial in Rome of two Americans, former Getty Museum curator Marion True and the elderly Paris-based dealer Robert Hecht. As a result of this highly publicized trial, the Getty Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Cleveland Art Museum have all returned items which the Italians demonstrated were looted from its territory. This three-pronged effort to throttle clandestine looting and sales involved the successful coordination with the Culture Heritage Ministry, the Carabinieri, and prosecutors and magistrates.

The advent of the Internet has both helped and hindered the illicit traffic. Specialized and general-interest web sites frequently sell looted items, but at the same time the Carabinieri-created website showing illustrations of stolen artifacts has been a successful tool. An example is the Pompeian fresco which had been stored for decades in a museum warehouse. No one knew when it was removed from storage, but in 1997 it was declared missing, and, thanks to the Internet, was found at Christie’s before it could be stolen.

One disappointing setback: a father-so team Lebanese art restorers working in Switzerland, known as the Burki, were implicated with Robert Hecht. Some 500 archaeological items were seized from them but bureaucratic delays with justice officials in Switzerland meant that the statute of limitations ran out, and all the artifacts had to be returned to them. At present, according to the Carabinieri, of the 500 items, only 137 remain in the Burki possession.

Archaeological theft is particularly important because by definition the looted items have no provenance certification, as would be required for selling, say, master works by Renaissance artists. For this reason independent experts like Prof. Noah Charney estimate archaeological thefts to amount to about three-quarters of the total. To address this, the Carabinieri now patrol the territory in helicopters and low-flying airplanes, which allow them to see, literally, the clandestine digs that would otherwise be invisible. As a result, on two sites looters were caught red-handed, and four arrests made.

Put another way, both supply side and the demand side are under attack. Stolen archaeological items are harder to sell because collectors are frightened, and the more skillful sleuthing means that the number of known clandestine excavations has fallen by a stunning 76% in just one year as a result.

Perhaps as a result, the number of counterfeit objects—“and particularly works of modern art,” said General Nistri—seized has risen enormously, by 427 percent in just one year. The problem remains, obviously, and especially in Central Italy (Lazio, Campania Regions), Tuscany and Lombardy.

State-owned museums are better protected today than in the past, as the statistics also show. Museum thefts are down by 29% across the board. Relatively few take place in the larger museums, whereas the smaller, city-owned (and hence less protected by high-tech security) museums account for half of all museum thefts.

Thefts from private collections, religious institutions of all kinds and historic archives remain a major concern. Church thefts dropped by almost 12% over 2008, but that year had seen a small boom in looting, and thefts from religious institutions of all kinds still account for 44.5% of the total. The relatively large number of archival materials recovered suggests that combatting this type of theft remains a priority.

December 18, 2009

Breaking News on the Stolen Caravaggio Nativity

Caravaggio, Nativity with Saint Lawrence
 and Saint Francis, 268 x 197 cm


by Judith Harris

ROME - No U.S. post office has displayed the Holy Family in its rogues’ gallery of most wanted, but a Nativity scene painted by Caravaggio has had FBI star billing on its list of the “Top Ten Art Crimes” longer than any other work of art in history.

Caravaggio’s large altarpiece, the Nativity with Saint Lawrence and Saint Francis, valued at $20 million, was stolen forty years ago from the unguarded Oratory of San Lorenzo, a confraternity hall in Palermo. Persistent rumors had the paintings in the hands of the Mafia, and not long ago the former chief of the Carabinieri crack art squad hypothesized that it was “still somewhere in an attic.”

In mid-2009, so-called pentiti, or “repentant” mafiosi, began making fresh revelations to Sicilian magistrates who were investigating other crimes, and one convicted mobster admitted physically removing the painting from above the altar. This December a second turncoat named Gaspare Spatuzza told investigators that during meetings of the Cupola the Caravaggio Nativity would be propped up against a wall.

Now Spatuzza has also admitted learning in 1999 that the Caravaggio Nativity had been hidden at some point in the 1980’s in a barn where it was “ruined, eaten by rats and hogs, and therefore burned.” Spatuzza said he learned this in a prison conversation with the boss of his own murderous Palermo Mafia clan, Filippo Graviano. Spatuzza’s testimony is part of an ongoing trial in Florence where a court is trying to unravel the possible connections between government officials and the Mafia in 1993, when a bomb killed six near the Uffizi Gallery. The testimony is technically hearsay. Although Graviano, like Spatuzza in prison, has been ordered to give testimony before the Florentine court December 16, he is unlikely to confirm the story because the Caravaggio theft is not part of that inquiry. However, Palermo chief prosecutor Antonino Gatto has requested the transfer of Spatuzza’s testimony, signifying that a fresh inquiry has opened there. This would put any inquiry there under official state secrecy.

How reliable is Spatuzza? For the moment, no one is talking, in part because of the presumed new inquiry in Palermo, but also because, as the head of the DEA told this reporter many years ago, “We are not dealing with choir boys.” Spatuzza’s motives are obviously being questioned, as are his ongoing relations with the former bosses he still considers dear friends, the Graviano brothers. one hypothesis is that the Mafia bosses (at least some of them) in Sicily consider the Premier Silvio Berlusconi a burned out case—he is not by any means--, and are casting about for political patrons in Sicily. For this reason interest in the destiny of the Caravaggio has taken very much of a back seat.

Now, a backward view. In 1992 the supposedly pentito Mafia killer Giovanni Brusco told a judge that he had personally tried to negotiate with the Italian State over the return of the Caravaggio Nativity in a swap for more lenient conditions for convicted mafiosi. Several years ago yet another pentito, Salvatore Cangemi, alleged that the Mafia still possessed the Caravaggio, which was put on view as a trophy at meetings of the top bosses of Cosa Nostra, the Cupola.

On the basis of other statements by pentiti, at least a partial reconstruction can be made. The first to speak of the stolen painting was Francesco Marino Mannoia, a particularly cruel Mafia boss who confessed in 1996 to having been among those who stole the painting in 1969. Mannoia said that he had used a razor blade to remove it from its frame and had then rolled it up (or perhaps had folded it), and had taken it to the unnamed individual who had ordered the theft. But when consignment was to be made, Mannoia said, the sponsor refused it because the painting had been damaged during transport. At that point, according to Mannoia, he destroyed the painting. Mannoia now lives in the US as a protected witness.

Investigative reporter Peter Watson then said that in late 1980 he received an offer for the painting from an individual at Laviano, near Salerno, but that the earthquake in the Irpinia interrupted the contact and that he presumed the painting was destroyed.

However, in 2001, according to General Roberto Conforti, who at that time still headed the crack Carabinieri art squad he had founded, “We were searching a farm near Palermo after we were given a ‘tip’ that the work was hidden under a cement cover—but then nothing,” he told Paolo Conti of Corriere della Sera in an interview published on August 24 2004.

A Sicilian press report also alleged that Carabinieri there reported at least three attempts made after the Irpinia earthquake to sell the painting. This might explain why the now retired General Conforti told the reporter from Corriere della Sera in 2004 that he believed the Caravaggio still existed in or near Palermo, perhaps “forgotten in the attic of some old lady who doesn’t know its worth.”

In 2005 the Australian reporter Peter Robb alleged that Mannoia had made a mistake, and that the canvas Mannois was referring to was not the Caravaggio at all.

According to Spatuzza, the canvas had been given to the clan of Gianbattista Pullara and his brothers in Palermo, who hid it in the barn where it was damaged and finally burned as a result.

This is unlikely to be the last such theft. Although top-flight works by Old Masters are hard to place on the international market, thefts of both works of art and archaeology (and especially the latter) are on the rise: the crackdown on international financial transactions following the Twin Towers tragedy has made works of art the material for hostage-like barter in cross-border swaps of arms and drugs, in place of cash, according to investigators here.

The brilliant, temperamental artist was born as Michelangelo Merisi in the town of Caravaggio near Milan in 1571 and studied art under Titian. After his vile temper led him into a brawl with a police officer, he fled, penniless, from Milan for Rome. By then in his early twenties, he continued as a maverick in both art and life. On the one hand his theatrical paintings, precursors of the Baroque style that would become the hallmark of the Rome we see today, literally revolutionized the art world, and he was befriended by an aristocratic Venetian cardinal who became his patron, Francesco Del Monte, who also introduced Caravaggio to Galileo.

In 1606 the ever truculent Caravaggio got into yet another tavern brawl and ran his sword through a man. A warrant for his arrest and execution was pending, and so he fled from Rome. While hiding out in Malta in 1608, he painted the grisly Beheading of John the Baptist but then, after another move that same year, this time to Sicily, he softened, painting two large, touching Nativity scenes. These are a far cry from the glorified Nativity scenes of the Venetian artists. The lost Palermo Nativity shows a somewhat forlorn Madonna with Baby Jesus laid upon a kerchief on straw on the rough ground surrounded by barnyard animals and saints in the guise of shepherds. On the lightly sketched ceiling beams of the barn the wing of a floating angel cast in an ominous shadow hints at the future in the form of a cross.

Art and archaeological thefts are on the rise, according to investigators here, who say that the crackdown on international financial transactions following the Twin Towers tragedy has made works of art the material for hostage-like barter in cross-border swaps of arms and drugs, in place of cash.

Most fortunately the second Nativity scene Caravaggio painted in Sicily for a church in Messina is still intact and indeed has just been placed under restoration, visible to the public through a street-front window, inside a building attached to the Italian Parliament in Rome.

July 13, 2009

ARCA Conference in the Study of Art Crime

The ARCA Conference on the Study of Art Crime
11 July 2009 in Amelia, Italy

Conference Schedule
10:30am Introduction by Noah Charney
11am Award presentation to Vernon Rapley
12-1pm Bernadine Benson
1-2:30pm Lunch
2:30-3:30pm Virgina Curry and Arthur Tompkins
3:30pm ArtGuard Award presentation to Francesco Rutelli
3:45-4:15 Francesco Rutelli talk
4:15-5pm Coffee Break
5pm Award presentation to the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage
5:15-5:30 pm Colonnello Luigi Cortellesca talk
5:45pm Vallombroso Award presentation to Professor Norman Palmer
6pm-6:30pm Award presentation to the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage
6:30-7 Colonnello Luigi Cortellesca talk
7pm Closing Comments by Noah Charney

‘Primo Convego Internazionale Patrimonio Artistico: furti e recuperi’ gathered together academics and experienced crime investigators to discuss issues in stolen and recovered art objects and honor their peers on 11th July in Amelia, Umbria.

Noah Charney, Director of ARCA and professor of art history at the American University of Rome, opened the day-long event at the Biblioteca Communale di Amelia, the home of the inagural postgraduate program in Art Crime, bestowing the ARCA Award for Art Policing and Recovery to Vernon Rapley, Director of Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiquities Squad.

Detective Sergeant Rapley graciously accepted the award followed by a presentation on the cases and expansion of the department through ArtBeat, the cooperative program with academics and museum professionals. Not only has the relationship decreased museum thefts and increased recoveries since 2005, but the close relationship has improved access and communication between Scotland Yard and the art market, the first step in improving security for art objects. Rapley’s department is focusing more on forgeries and fakes since thefts declined. Scotland Yard will make its database of stolen art objects available to the public next year.

Bernadine Benson, a University of South Africa lecturer on Police Practice, presented her methodology for identifying the illegal market for antiquities in South Africa, a model that many people in the audience said could be applied to other countries desiring an academic model for training police officials on procedures for handling illicit antiquities trading.

Presenters and attendees lunched at the wine bar of Punto Divino for a four-course meal before returning for the afternoon session.

Virginia Curry, a former FBI agent, fresh from an Etruscan archaeological dig, discussed examples of trusted academic and museum professionals who have misused their roles to exploit access, power, and opportunity to steal entrusted objects or enter into conspiracies. “Those same people smart enough to earn doctorates,” she said, “think they are too smart to get caught.”

Curry found in her experience that public institutions are reluctant to report thefts for fear of losing funding. In addition, she found that laws of evidence can also tie the hands of police.

Judge Arthur Tompkins, a District court judge in New Zealand, proposed a permanent International Art Crime Tribunal based upon the successful models of the International Crime Court and using principles from the World Trade Organization.

After a coffee break at Caffe Grande, returnees to the conference found municipal police, Carabinieri and members of the press – Francesco Rutelli, an Italian Senator and former mayor of Rome and a Minister of Culture, had arrived to accept the ArtGuard Award for Art Security and Protection.

ArtGuard, Bill Anderson explained, develops and markets affordable and simple individual alerts for paintings and art objects for budget strapped public institutions but the gadget has become so successful that it has been picked up by the National Gallery in Washington, DC and the Morgan Library, among other prominent institutions.

Signore Rutelli, with the effortless grace of an experienced Italian politician and the head of his political party, accepted his award and congratulated the audience on gathering to support the recovery of art crime. Rutelli stressed that Italy’s art recovery efforts were focusing less on litigation and more on dialogue and reciprocity, loaning objects from Italy of similar or more important value in exchange for repatriating stolen objects from American museums. Rutelli said that an object without a history, without a known archaeological context, is an object without a soul.

ARCA bestowed the ARCA Lifetime Achievement Award in Defense of Art to the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

Colonnello Luigi Cortellesca, the second in command of the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, graciously accepted the award and addressed the audience in full military uniform, describing the organization and highlighting cases. In contrast to Scotland Yard’s policy of treating art crimes as theft and prosecution of criminals first, Colonello Cortellesca said that his units priority is in recovering the art which is irreplaceable since criminals would repeatedly offend and other opportunities would arise to apprehend them.

Afterward, the group enjoyed the majestic view of the Umbrian countrywide, full of olive trees and sunflowers, from the garden of the Palazzo Farratitini with a tour of the ballroom and hotel rooms on the second floor.

A four-course dinner at Amelia’s Locanda Restaurant, with it’s views of the original Roman street, feted the speakers and attendees. The conference was a great success, bringing together politicians, police, and academics from different nations, in the midst of the summer program  focusing on the Study of Art Crime and Cultural Property Protection.

- by Catherine Sezgin

May 15, 2009

Carabinieri Celebrate 40 Years Fighting Art Crime

To celebrate 40 years of success against art crime, the Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and Italian Ministry of Culture has planned a series of major exhibitions, in Naples, Florence, and Rome, throughout 2009. 

Established in 1969, the Carabinieri Comando per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale was the world’s first dedicated art squad, established in response to a rash of thefts on the part of Organized Crime throughout the 1960s, culminating in the 1969 theft of Madonna’s Nativity from the chapel of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily. The Caravaggio, thought to have been stolen by the Sicilian Mafia, is still number one on the list of world’s most wanted stolen art. 

The Carabinieri are far and away the largest and most effective art police force in the world, with over three-hundred full-time agents. They also have much more to deal with, as Italy has nearly ten times as many art crimes reported per year than any other country. The Italian government has been one of the only governments to take art crime as seriously as the crime warrants, and to dedicate sufficient resources to the art police. Most countries have no dedicated art police, and those that do tend to be under-funded and receive insufficient support from their governments.

Exhibitions of recovered masterpieces will be held at the Palazzo Reale in Naples, the Museo Nazionale di Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, and the Galleria Palatina in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. An exhibition catalogue, entitled “L’Arma per l’Arte,” will also be published. Reviews of the catalogue and exhibitions will appear in the Fall 2009 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. 

ARCA is proud to support Italy and the Carabinieri, and would like to congratulate founding trustee Col. Giovanni Pastore of the Carabinieri for his efforts throughout his career. ARCA is also pleased to award Gen. Giovanni Nistri of the Carabinieri, with the 2009 ARCA Award for Lifetime Achievement in Defence of Art. The 2009 ARCA ArtGuard Award for Art Protection & Security will be presented to former Italian Minister of Culture Francesco Rutelli, at the awards ceremony at ARCA’s conference this July 11 in Amelia.