Showing posts with label Christos Tsirogiannis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christos Tsirogiannis. Show all posts

May 2, 2018

Auction Alert - Sotheby’s New York - a bronze Greek figure of a horse

On May 01, 2018 ARCA was contacted by Christos Tsirogiannis about a possible ancient object of concern in an upcoming Sotheby's auction titled 'The Shape of the Beauty: Sculpture from the Collection of Howard and Saretta Barnet' scheduled for 10:00 AM EST on May 14, 2018 in New York City. The antiquities researcher had also notified law enforcement authorities in New York and at INTERPOL. 

Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist has drawn attention to and identified antiquities of potentially illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries auction houses, and private collections that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.  Tsirogiannis teaches as a lecturer on illicit trafficking with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.

Image Credit: ARCA
Screenshot taken 02 May 2018
Dr. Tsirogiannis noted that Lot 4 of the sale, a bronze Greek figure of a horse, lists the object's collecting history as:
Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, May 6, 1967, lot 2
Robin Symes, London, very probably acquired at the above auction
Howard and Saretta Barnet, New York, acquired from the above on November 16, 1973 .

For its literature, the auction house mentions the following text: Zimmermann, Les chevaux de bronze dans l'art géométrique grec, Mainz and Geneva, 1989, p. 178.

Through my own explorations I found that Scholar Paul Cartledge, in The Classical Review 41 (1):173-175 (1991), stated:

"Like Archaic Greek bronze hoplite-figurines (CR 38 [1988], 342), Greek Geometric bronze horse-figurines are eminently marketable (and forgeable) artefacts for which private collectors, chiefly in New York, London, Geneva and Basel, are prepared to part with a great deal of hard currency. Their (al)lure is undeniable; I have myself trekked halfway across Europe in pursuit of their elusive charm."

As if to underscore their allure, both past and present, Tsirogiannis sent along three photos of the object on auction which he conclusively matched to photos found in the confiscated Robin Symes archive. 

Three, (3) photos from the Symes -Michaelides Archive
provided by Christos Tsirogiannis

Saretta Barnet died in March of 2017.  Her husband had passed away in 1992. Collecting for more than 4 decades, the couple's collection included everything from pen and brown ink landscapes by Fra Bartolommeo, works by Goya, François Boucher, Lucien Freud, tribal art and a noteworthy collection of antiquities.  

In a December 01, 2017 article in the Financial Times, discussing this upcoming sale, their son, Peter Barnet, indicated that “his late parents bought carefully and took their time to make decisions. For that reason, they preferred not to buy at auction but from dealers.”  Apparently though, not all of those purchases were carefully vetted. 

Screenshot:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bulletin 3269091
In 1999 the family of Howard J. Barnet donated a Black-Figure Kylix, ca. 550-525 B.C.E attributed to the Hunt Painter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That object according to an article by Dr. David Gill, was relinquished by the museum via a transfer in title in a negotiation completed with the Italian Ministry of Culture on February 21, 2006 and returned to Italy in one of the first repatriation agreements between Italy and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

While the Barnet's may have been selective in the quality of the pieces they purchased for their collection, their relationships with dealers known to have dealt in plundered antiquities such as Symes, as well as collecting transactions with private collectors such as George Ortiz, who is also known to have purchased tainted objects, leaves one to question how carefully the Barnet's vetted the objects they acquired.

Given that the bronze Greek figure of a horse appears in photographs found in the Symes archive and the fact that at least one other object donated by the Barnet's was tied to illicit trafficking and was repatriated to its country of origin, this statue deserves a closer look.  With further research, the object and its past collecting history might lead to a link in the trafficking chain that has not yet been fully explored or considered. 

Take the provenance listed in this sales event for example.  If the object's listing of a sale at Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel in May 6, 1967 is not a fabrication, then exploring this sale in Switzerland, determining who the consignor was, might give us another name name in the looting/trafficking/laundering chain which could help us determine the country of origin and be worthwhile for law enforcement in Switzerland and New York to explore. 

At the very least, this upcoming auction notice seems to indicate that the auction house did not contact Greek or Italian source country authorities before accepting the object on consignment.  This despite the object's passage through the hands of a British antiquities dealer long-known to have been a key player in an international criminal network that traded in looted antiquities. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 11, 2018

Auction Alert - Christie's Auction House - an Etruscan 'Pontic' black-figured neck-amphora and a Roman bronze boar

ARCA has been informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified two potentially tainted antiquities, scheduled to be auctioned by Christie's auction house in New York on 18 April 2018.  The antiquities researcher had notified law enforcement authorities in late March.

On April 11th, 2018 one of these objects is now listed as withdrawn from the auction.

Lot 26, an Etruscan 'Pontic' black-figured neck-amphora attributed to the Paris Painter, Circa 530 BCE. was listed in the auction documentation, before its withdrawal with an estimated sale price of $30,000-50,000 USD.


The provenance published with this object is: 
"with Galerie Günter Puhze, Freiburg.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 1993."

The second item, Lot 48, is a Roman Bronze Boar, Circa 1st-2nd Century CE., is currently still listed with an estimate sale price of $10,000-15,000 USD.


The provenance published with this object is: 
"with Mathias Komor, New York, 1974. Christos G. Bastis (1904-1999), New York. The Christos G. Bastis Collection; Sotheby’s, New York, 9 December 1999, lot 159."

Photo from the Gianfranco Becchina archive
Exhibited: 
"The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Antiquities from the Collection of Christos G. Bastis, 20 November 1987-10 January 1988."

Tsirogiannis matched the black-figured neck-amphora with two Polaroid images found pasted onto a 22 June 1993 document located within the confiscated archive of Sicilian antiquity dealer Gianfranco Becchina. The white piece of paper describes the scene depicted on the object, while the two photos pasted to the document show the same antiquity prior to its restoration.  In this image, the vase is still broken into many fragments and is seen with soil and salt encrustations.   The dealers handwritten notes on the page include numeric notations and refer to an individual named "Sandro."

Becchina's archive, an accumulation of business records, seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002, consists of some 140 binders containing more than 13,000 documents related to antiquities, bought and sold, which at one point or another are known to have passed through Becchina's network of illicit suppliers.

As those who are familiar with Peter Watson's and Cecilia Todeschini's book, The Medici Conspiracy may recall, numerous handwritten notes and lists of antiquities, invoices, and etc., found in the Becchina archive refer to Sandro Cimicchi, an artifact restorer based in Basel, Switzerland.

This is interesting in that one of the supply chain elements in Becchina's enterprise frequently foresaw a first phase of restoration on the plundered artwork, then the subsequent creation of false attestations on the antiquity's origin, made possible also through the artificial attribution of ownership to associated companies.

Cimicchi's name also appears on a comprehensive hand-written organisational chart written by dealer/trafficker Pasquale Camera which was recovered by the Italian authorities in September 1995 during a Carabinieri raid.  This ‘organigram’ has been useful to Italian investigators and cultural researchers in piecing together members of this well known trafficking TOC group.  Starting from the bottom and working your way up, this document references everyone from tombaroli, to intermediaries, to restorers, to mid-level Italian dealers (Gianfranco Becchina and Giacomo Medici), and lastly, to wealthy international dealers Robert E. Hecht and Robin Symes.

Cimicchi name has consistently been connected with illicit antiquities dealers and had been noted to have been Gianfranco Becchina's usual restorer. 

Becchina was convicted in 2011 for his role in the illegal antiquities trade yet, this antiquity's passage, through or between Becchina and Cimicchi, has not been listed in the provenance details which were published by the Christie's auction house for its upcoming sale.

Tsirogiannis informed me that the second object, the Roman bronze boar, is depicted in two separate professional images in the business archive records of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides,  two other high-profile art dealers we have written about in detail. 


The Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives were presented publicly by the Italian judicial and police authorities during the trials of Giacomo Medici, Gianfranco Becchina, Robert Hecht, and dozens of Italian tombaroli in Rome from 2000-2011. Like the Becchina archive, this Greek file features a stash of images seized during a raid on the Greek island of Schinousa, that once formed the stock of Robin Symes and Christo Michaelides.

Unfortunately, neither Symes nor Michaelides appear in the provenance documentation published by Christie's for the upcoming sale on the Roman bronze boar.

With regularity, objects such as these, connected to tainted antiquities dealers, known to have profited from the trafficking of illicit antiquities, appear on the licit market.  Since 2006 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist, affiliated researcher and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has, with some regularity, identified antiquities of suspect origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses, liking passages in their collection histories to Giacomo Medici, Fritz Bürki, Gianfranco Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides. 

As part of a rigorous due diligence process, auction houses are encouraged to check with the Italian or Greek authorities to ensure that the antiquities going up for auction are clean, so as not to pass tainted objects on to new owners.  Yet dealers in the art market sometimes forgo this due diligence step, as talking with the  law enforcement authorities, means they would likely be required to provide the name of the consignor, should the archive control, come up with a matching incriminating photo.  

As this poses problems of confidentiality for dealers, this step, is too frequently omitted, leaving the only way for matches to be made being when pieces like this  ancient vase, or bronze boar, or marble statue, or Roman glass bottle, eventually comes up for sale during a public auction. Given that TEFAF's newly released report states that there are more than 28,000 auction houses trading world-wide, the task of monitoring them all becomes gargantuan. 

In UNESCO's recent “Engaging the European Art Market in the Fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property”  I suggested to personnel of the art market on hand for the meeting that the legal conundrum of client confidentiality could be circumvented by auction houses and dealers implementing a policy whereby the consignor themselves contacts the Italian and Greek authorities for a check of the the Medici, Bürki, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides archives before the auction house agrees to list these topologies of antiquities up for auction when the provenance the client has is short on clarity. This would eliminate the auction house's liability for disclosing a confidential client. 

While it might slow down the proposed sales cycle, or be an uncomfortable proactive step for good faith purchases who may have unfortunately purchased a suspect antiquity in good faith in the past, it would be the market's ethical step towards not furthering the laundering by selective omission and it would begin to help collectors understand that their purchases and eventual sales now need to be ethical ones given the onus for ethical behavior being placed on them. 

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as these seen in these two identifications, will encourage auction houses or collectors themselves to adhere to more accurate and stringent reporting requirements when listing their object's collection histories.  It is only in this way that new buyers do not continue to launder objects with their future purchases, further prolonging the damages caused by the the illicit antiquities trade.

January 25, 2018

January 24, 2018: New seizure at the residence of New York Collector Michael Steinhardt

A little more than two weeks ago, following a second set of seizures at the residence and office of Michael Steinhardt in New York City, ARCA wrote a blog post outlining other antiquities from the billionaire's private collection that have raised concerns with illicit trafficking researchers.  

One of those objects was this marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture from Sardinia. 

Image Credit: 
Manhattan district attorney's office
This idol was seized on January 24, 2018 during the execution of a new search warrant carried out by law enforcement authorities working with the Manhattan District Attorney and HSI.  The artifact was removed from Steinhardt's New York City residence.


Image Credit:  ARCA Screen Capture 
Tsirogiannis had matched the antiquity online via Christie's web version of its sale catalog to a photo contained in the confiscated archives of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.  Having made the ID, Tsirogiannis emailed his concerns to US Federal law enforcement and Italian law enforcement authorities working towards eventual repatriation should Italy file a claim.  Additionally he notified ARCA, in hopes of drawing further attention to potentially trafficked pieces that often resurface on the licit market but which omit passages through the hands of known dealers involved in the sale of illicit objects.

The sales catalog for the Christies auction is stored online here, although the photo of the idol has subsequently been removed from the object's accompanying Lot description.  Of note is the addition of a brief entry into the "Cataloguing & details" section of the listing, which states only that the object was withdrawn from the sale.

The artifact above matches perfectly with the image below which Tsirogiannis located in the dealer's archive.   In the art dealer's records the statuette appeared atop a turquoise background and broken in multiple pieces, prior to the object's subsequent restoration.

Image of the Sardinian idol
from the Medici
archive 
Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt in 1997, the Ozieri Culture idol, also known as the Turriga Mother Goddess figure, passed through Harmon Fine Arts and the Merrin Gallery, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of Leonard Norman Stern, the object had been displayed, but not photographed, in a 1990 "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27, 2014 when the contested object was pulled from the Christie's auction, it apparently was sent back to Steinhardt, where it was later re-identified as still being part of Steinhardt's collection when officers searched his New York City home on January 5, 2018 pursuant to an earlier search warrant.

By:  Lynda Albertson

January 15, 2018

IDs from the archives in the Michael Steinhardt and Phoenix Ancient Art seizures

Image Credits:
Left - Symes Archive, Middle - New York DA, Right - Symes Archiv,

Earlier today ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis of matches that he has made from the confiscated archives of Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides which are related to the recent antiquities seizures made by the state of New York law enforcement authorities earlier this month.

Identifications made from these archives, confiscated by the Italian authorities (with the cooperation of the French and Swiss) and Greek police and judicial authorities, have already facilitated numerous repatriations of antiquities which have passed through the hands of traffickers whose networks are known to have plundered objects from Italy and Greece.

Of the 16 artifacts reported as seized by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office from the home and office of retired hedge-fund billionaire Michael Steinhardt and Phoenix Ancient Art, an ancient art gallery co-owned by Hicham Aboutaam in New York City, Tsirogiannis has tied 9 objects conclusively to photos in all three archives.  Several others objects might be a match, but the DA's publically released photos have been taken from differing angels or opposite sides of the objects so they remain to be confirmed.

The object at the top of this article, a Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies, seized from Michael Steinhardt's property,  matches 5 images from the archive of British former antiquities dealer Robin Symes, all of which depict the vessel from various sides.


The Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl;
the Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion;
the Corinthian Bull’s Head;
the Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head;
and the Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African;
--were each purchased by Steinhardt in either 2009 or 2011.

These 5 objects along with the Rhodian Seated Monkey seized at Phoenix Ancient Art each match photographs found in the archive of antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

The Apulian Rhyton for libations in the form of a Head of an African listed in the warrant appears in a photocopied photo in the archive of antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina.

It should be noted that in the joined composite image of the archive photos above, each of the six antiquities have been photographed by someone using the same light-colored hessian (burlap) material as a neutral background.  This could indicate that the antiquities where photographed by a singular individual once the objects arrived under Medici's control. Alternatively, it could mean that the ancient objects have been photographed by a singular individual who then shopped the objects, directly or indirectly, through illicit channels to Medici, who in turn, kept the photographs in his archive as part of his inventory recordkeeping.

As demonstrated by this case, each of these dealer's inventory photos provide valuable insight into the illicit trade in antiquities and which when combined, includes thousands of ancient objects from all over the world.  Many of these objects, those without documented collection histories, likely passed through the hands of smugglers, middlemen, and antiquities dealers who "laundered” the illicit objects onto the licit market.

It would be interesting to know, from the antiquities buyer's perspective, how many private investors of ancient art, having knowingly or unknowingly purchased illicit antiquities in the past, later decide to facilitate a second round of laundering themselves, by culling the object from their collection and reselling the hot object on to another collector.  By intentionally failing to disclose the name of a known tainted dealer, these antiquities collectors avoid having to take any responsibility for the fact that they too have now become players in the game.

While staying mum further facilitates the laundering of illicit antiquities, this option may be seen as far easier to collectors who have invested large sums into their collections than admitting they purchased something, unwisely or intentionally, with a less than pristine provenance pedigree.  To admit to having bought something that potentially could be looted might bring about the loss of value to the asset.  Furthermore by confirming that the antiquity has an illicit background as verified in archives like those of these traffickers, would then render the object worthless on the licit art market.  Worse still, it is likely that their antiquity would then be subject to seizure and repatriation.

By: Lynda Albertson

January 9, 2018

List of 6 (additional) objects and warrant details on objects seized from Phoenix Ancient Art by New York State District Attorney's Office

Copy of search warrant executed at Phoenix Ancient Art in New York can be viewed here.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos also initiated seizures at Phoenix Ancient Art, New York, in connection with an investigation into the purchase of illicitly trafficked antiquities.

The second-generation family business Phoenix Ancient Art has galleries in New York and Geneva. The business was founded by Sleiman Aboutaam in 1968 and is now operated by his sons, Hicham and Ali Aboutaam.  The Aboutaam name comes up frequently on ARCA's blog. 

The search warrants executed at 47 East 66th street resulted in the seizure of the following objects:


A) Rhodian Seated Monkey with missing arms (the “Seated Monkey”)
Period: dating to 580-550 BCE
Measurement: 5.25 inches tall
Valued at: $150,000


B) Attic Female Head Flask (the Female Head Flask”)
Period: dating to 500-490 BCE
Measurement: 5.5 inches tall by 2 inches wide.
Valued at: $80,000


C) Ionian figural vessel representing a Siren (the”Siren Vessel”)
Period: dating to 500-525 BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.
Valued at: $35,000


D) Teano Ware figural representing a Dove (the “Dove”).
Period: dating to 330-300 BCE
Measurement: 4.5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide.
Valued at: $25,000


E) Corinthian figural representing a Ram (the “Ram”) painted with black dots.
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 2 1/8 inches tall by 3 1/8 inches wide
Valued at: $20,000


F) Corinthian figural representing a Sea-Serpent with a human torso and head of a man (the “Sea-Serpent”) painted with black dots.
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 4.5 inches tall by 1.75 inches wide
Valued at: $140,000

In addition to the antiquities, as with the seizures which were executed at Michael Steinhardt's residence and office, the DA's seizure warrant called for the seizure of:

any and all documentation or other evidence related to the appraisal, consignment, sale, possession, transportation, shipping, provenance, importation, exportation, restoration, marketing, or insurance of the listed antiquities, including but not limited to appraisals, insurance policies, agreements, leases, contracts, emails, letters, invoices, receipts, documents, handwritten notes, internal memoranda, photographs, recordings, financial records, address books, date books, calendars, and personal papers;

found in the premises and that constitutes evidence, and tends to demonstrate that the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree was committed.

List of 10 objects and warrant details on objects seized from Manhattan billionaire Michael Steinhardt's home and offices by New York State District Attorney's Office

Copy of search warrant executed at the office of Michael Steinhardt can be viewed here.

Copy of search warrant executed at the New York apartment of Michael Steinhardt can be viewed here.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, in the early morning 6:00 am chill of New York, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos initiated seizures at the office and New York City residence of Michael Steinhardt in connection with an investigation into the purchase of illicitly trafficked antiquities. 

After a series of high-profile raids involving antiquities dealers and ancient art collections owned by private collectors, some of which have been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Manhattan District Attorney's office has shown their resolve in concentrating on deterring the trade in illegal antiquities.  

According to the TEFAF Art Market Report 2017, compiled each year by Dublin-based research and consulting firm Arts Economics, the U.S. represents 29.5% percent of the world’s art market.   Classical antiquities, such as those seized in this month's raids, represent a smaller portion of that figure.

Their Manhattan DA's work, and the collaboration of multiple, mostly unpaid advising research scholars, has resulted in significant repatriations to countries where predation is a problem, including most recently a 4th century B.C.E marble torso, a 6th century BC statue of a Calf Bearer and a Marble head of a bull stolen during the 1970s from Lebanon during the that country's Civil War.

In total since 2012, the Manhattan DA's office has recovered several thousand trafficked antiquities collectively valued at more than $150 million.

The search warrants executed at Michael Steinhardt's home and office resulted in the seizure of the following objects:


A) Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos (the “White-Ground Lekythos”), used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies.  Vessel attributed to the Triglyph Painter and depicts funerary related iconography featuring a woman and a youth.  
Period: approximately 420 BCE.  
Measurement: 18 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.  
Purchased for $380,000 in 2006. 


B) Apulian Rhyton for libations (the “Apulian African Head Flask”) in the shape of the head of an African.  
Period: dating to the 4th century BCE 
Measurement: 7.5 inches tall by 3 inches at base.  
Purchased for $130,000 in 2009. 


C) Italo - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned upwards (the “Italo-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE 
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 5.5 inches long by 2.5 wide. 
Purchased for $25,000 in 2011. 


D) Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head (the “Ionian Ram’s Head”).
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE 
Measurement: 2.5 inches tall by 4.7 wide. 
Purchased for $70,000 in 2009. 


E) Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African (the “Attic African Head Aryballos”).
Period: dating to the 5th century BCE 
Measurement: 4 inches tall.
Purchased for $150,000 on or about December 17, 2009.


F) Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion (the “Corinthian Lion Vessel”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to 600-550 BCE
Measurement: 3.5 wide. 
Purchased for $25,000 on or about November 9, 2011.


G) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl (the “Proto-Corinthian Owl”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.2 wide. 
Purchased for $120,000 on or about October 14, 2009.


H) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned backwards (the “Proto-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period 
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.7 wide. 
Purchased for $130,000 on or about October 14, 2009.


I) Corinthian Bull’s Head (the “Corinthian Bull’s Head”). 
Period: dating to 580 BCE
Measurement: 2.2 inches tall by 2.8 wide. 
Purchased for $60,000 on or about October 14, 2009.


j) Bronze Handles (the “Bronze Handles”). 
Period: unknown
Measurement: 6.3 inches tall by 9.4 wide. 
Purchased for $40,000 in 1996.

In addition to the antiquities the DA's seizure warrant called for the seizure of:

any and all computers, as defined by Penal Law  § 156.00(1) or electronic storage devises capable of storing any of the above described property as well as their components and accessories, including, but not limited to, cords, monitors, keyboards, software, programs, disks, zip drives, flash drives, thumb drives, and/or hard drives;

any and all books, manuals, guides, or other documents containing Information about the operation and ownership of a computer, cellular telephone, camera, video recorder, video game console or other electronic storage device present in the target location, including, but not limited to, computer cellular telephone and software user manual;

any and all documentation or other evidence related to the appraisal, consignment, sale, possession, transportation, shipping, provenance, importation, exportation, restoration, marketing, or insurance of the listed antiquities, including but not limited to appraisals, insurance policies, agreements, leases, contracts, emails, letters, invoices, receipts, documents, handwritten notes, internal memoranda, photographs, recordings, financial records, address books, date books, calendars, personal papers, video footage, and stored electronic communications or data, whether recorded in physical documents are stored digitally as information and images contained in computer disks, DC or DVD ROMs, USB drives and hard drives that may be found at the target premises;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which tend to establish Michael Steinhardt’s intent to commit the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree per which tend to establish his state of mind prior to and during the commission of said crime;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which tend to establish (directly or indirectly) Michael Steinhardt’s knowledge that Steinhardt has committed the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree namely the possession of stolen or illicitly trafficked antiquities;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which tend to establish that Michael Steinhardt is a person in the business of buying, selling, or otherwise dealing in property, specifically art and antiquities;

any and all documentation or non-privileged communications indicative of or pertaining to inquiries made by Michael Steinhardt, or the lack thereof, that the persons are entities from whom he obtained any art or antiquities had the legal right to possess said items;

any and all documentation and non-privileged communication which contain any references to he purchase, and/or sale, and/or possession of looted, stolen, or illegally trafficked antiquities;

any and all documentation tending to identify, and/or connect Michael Steinhardt with accomplices, co-conspirators, possible accomplices and/or witnesses to the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree;

The aforementioned white collar crimes or theft offenses mentioned in the New York search warrant are described below: 

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.

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.

There are four legal presumptions associated with New York Penal Law 165.55, the following is the most likely relevant one 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.
By:  Lynda Albertson

January 7, 2018

More on the Manhattan billionaire Michael Steinhardt's whose private collection now faces further seizures


As mentioned previously in ARCA blog posts, Michael Steinhardt has a longstanding record of making astute financial decisions, many of which have led to stellar investment performance earnings totalling in the millions on Wall Street.  Unfortunately his culture capital record for making prudent, informed decisions when purchasing antiquities for his $200 million private art collection continues to raise eyebrows, and in Friday's case secure New York seizure warrants. 

As once-master of the hedge fund universe, Steinhardt has the liquidity to be choosy about his art purchases. With a current net worth estimated at $1.05 billion, according to a 2017 article in Forbes Magazine, as well as almost thirty years of collecting experience, he should be aware of the ethics of acquisition and the problems of acquiring objects through questionable dealers or with insufficient or dubious provenance.

Steinhardt is a member of Christie’s advisory board.  He also has a Greek Art of the Sixth Century B.C. gallery named after him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. All this to say that he should be sufficiently well informed about the ethical obligations of responsibly acquiring, managing and disposing of items in his burgeoning art collection.   When not sufficiently informed, his position of affluence and philanthropic influence affords him the ability to reach out to knowledgable art world connections, who could advise him of the regulatory structures in place and the moral economy of purchasing and collecting illicit antiquities should he have any doubts.

On Friday, January 5, 2018, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos again initiated custody of ten antiquities, prosecutors state were looted from the countries of Greece and Italy.

Purchased in the last twelve years, the ten objects seized in last week's raid are listed as:

A) Greek Attic Monumental White-Ground Lekythos (the “White-Ground Lekythos”), used to pour ritual oils at funeral ceremonies.  Vessel attributed to the Triglyph Painter and depicts funerary related iconography featuring a woman and a youth.
Period: approximately 420 BCE.
Measurement: 18 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide.
Purchased for $380,000 in 2006.

B) Apulian Rhyton for libations (the “Apulian African Head Flask”) in the shape of the head of an African.
Period: dating to the 4th century BCE
Measurement: 7.5 inches tall by 3 inches at base.
Purchased for $130,000 in 2009.

C) Italo - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned upwards (the “Italo-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall by 5.5 inches long by 2.5 wide.
Purchased for $25,000 in 2011.

D) Ionian sculpture figural representing a ram’s head (the “Ionian Ram’s Head”).
Period: dating to the 6th century BCE
Measurement: 2.5 inches tall by 4.7 wide.
Purchased for $70,000 in 2009.

E) Attic Aryballos in the form of a Head of an African (the “Attic African Head Aryballos”).
Period: dating to the 5th century BCE
Measurement: 4 inches tall.
Purchased for $150,000 on or about December 17, 2009.

F) Corinthian terracotta figural vessel representing a lion (the “Corinthian Lion Vessel”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 600-550 BCE
Measurement: 3.5 wide.
Purchased for $25,000 on or about November 9, 2011.

G) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing an owl (the “Proto-Corinthian Owl”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.2 wide.
Purchased for $120,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

H) Proto - Corinthian pottery figural representing a duck with its head turned backwards (the “Proto-Corinthian Duck”). This style of Greek perfume holder flourished at Corinth during the Oriental period
Period: dating to 650-625 BCE
Measurement: 2 inches tall by 2.7 wide.
Purchased for $130,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

I) Corinthian BUll’s Head (the “Corinthian Bull’s Head”).
Period: dating to 580 BCE
Measurement: 2.2 inches tall by 2.8 wide.
Purchased for $60,000 on or about October 14, 2009.

j) Bronze Handles (the “Bronze Handles”).
Period: unknown
Measurement: 3.6 inches tall by 9.4 wide.
Purchased for $40,000 in 1996.

Some of Steinhardt's previous risky antiquities gambles:  


2017
Sidon Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE) 
and 
a 6th century marble torso of a calf bearer

Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE) and
a 6th century BCE marble torso of a calf bearer.

Just last month the US repatriated two Eshamun Sculptures seized from Steinhardt's private collection.  Both pieces found their way onto the international antiquities black market after being stolen during Lebanon's tumultuous civil war.  Before their theft, both antiquities had been excavated at the Temple of Eshmun in 1967 near Sidon in southwestern Lebanon.

In the summer of 2017 Manhattan prosecutors seized the 2,300-year-old marble bull's head while it was on loan from Steinhardt to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Prosecutors and forensic art crime analysts also tied the bull's head to a second Steinhardt purchase, also through Lynda and William Beierwaltes.

The Beierwaltes sold the Sidon Bull's head and the Lamb Carrier torso to Michael Steinhardt in 2010 who later of whom loaned the bull's head antiquity to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  After learning that the marble head was subject to seizure, Steinhardt asked the Beierwaltes to retake possession of the object and compensate him for his purchase.

The Beierwaltes in turn relinquished all ownership claims when the illicit provenance of the objects was solidly made clear.

NOTE: The Beierwaltes were long-term clients of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides at the time of these purchases.

2017
An Anatolian marble female idol of Kiliya type, AKA The Guennol Stargazer

Screenshot from “The Exceptional Sale,” April 2017
Image Credit: Christie’s New York

On April 29, 2017 at the behest of a request by the Turkish authorities and following the interim judgement of the United States District Court, Christie's applied precautionary measures regarding the sale of the 9-inch, 5,000-year-old a rare 3rd millennium BCE idol, likely looted from the Akhisar district of Manisa province in Anatolia.  Turkey's Culture Minister Nabi Avcı told the press at that time that the auction house will abide by the Court's recommendation for a temporary hold on the antiquity while an investigation into the object’s provenance is conducted.

During that time period, the purchaser’s hammer price + buyer's premium bid of $14,471,500 USD was confirmed but not collected.  As a result of the object being contested, the would-be buyer bowed out from the purchase, shortly after the case began being discussed in the international press. 

According to documents, Michael Steinhardt had purchased the Stargazer from Merrin Gallery in August 1993 for under $2 million.  Had the sale not been halted, Steinhardt would have pocketed $12.7 million for the 5,000 year-old Guennol Stargazer, twice the object's pre-sale estimate.

Christie's and Steinhardt issued a motion to quash Turkey's lawsuit.  While the case has not been resolved,  ultimately Turkey's fight for repatriation may hinge on two critical points: whether the country can conclusively show that the piece in question was discovered in Turkey, and whether the nation laid claim to the artifact in a timely fashion, given the length of time Steinhardt had the object in his collection.

2014
A Sardinian Marble Female Idol of the Ozieri Culture


November 21, 2014 Christos Tsirogiannis identified a $1 million Sardinian marble female idol dating from 2500-2000 B.C.E. scheduled for auction as Lot 85 at Christie's on December 11, 2014 as having been matched with an image he found in the archive of convicted Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

Before arriving in the collection of Michael and Judy Steinhardt, the Turriga Mother Goddess figure had previously made its way through Harmon Fine Arts and The Merrin Gallery, both of New York.  Once part of the collection of pet food giant Leonard Norman Stern, the object was once displayed, but not photographed, in a "Masterpieces of Cycladic Art from Private Collections, Museums and the Merrin Gallery" event in 1990 where both Steinhardt and Stern were present. 

On November 27, 2014 the contested object was pulled from the Christie's auction.  Its current status has not be made public.

2011
United States v. One Triangular Fresco Fragment


April 20, 2011 an incoming parcel was detained in Newark, New Jersey by US Customs and Border Protection authorities.  Inside the package, shipped via the Swiss firm Via Mat Artcare AG, was a fresco fragment which appeared to be a cusp or pediment of an ancient painted tomb from the Necropolis of Andriuolo at Paestum. The shipper was listed as Andrew Baker of Vadus, Lichtenstein.   The consignee was Michael Steinhardt.

Despite the object's obvious Italian origin, the shipment had a customs declaration form which falsified the object's country of origin as Macedonia. The fragment was forfeited to the U.S. government and repatriated to Italy on February 24, 2015.

2007 
(Il)licit Excavations of Maresha Subterranean Complex 57: 
The ‘Heliodorus’ Cave




In early 2007 Michael Steinhardt acquired the so-called Heliodorus Stele from Gil Chaya, an antiquities dealers in Jerusalem, who reportedly is a nephew of the late Shlomo Moussaieff.  Moussaieff once owned one of the largest collections of biblical antiquities in the world, many of which have no verifiable provenance.  After the purchase, Steinhardt and his wife presented the stele to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem as an extended loan. 

The stele contains a magnificent 2nd century BCE Greek inscription which documents a correspondence between the Seleucid king, Seleucus IV (brother of Antiochus IV) to an aide named Heliodorus. Unsurprisingly though, the bottom portion of the stele was missing, leaving a gap in scholarship as well as a tell-tale clue that the stele had likely been looted shortly after its extraction, since its base was missing.  Earlier, during 2005 and 2006 excavations at the Maresha Subterranean Complex 57 at Beit Guvrin National Park three fragments were uncovered that were subsequently identified as matching the bottom edge of Steinhardt's stele.  

These fragments were discovered in a subterranean complex by participants in the Archaeological Seminars Institute "Dig for a Day" program.  The correlation of the fragments' epigraphy and testing of their stone and soil samples from the find site proved conclusively that the fragments were a match completing missing pieces of the stele. 

It was later determined that the stele had been stolen during a robbery at the Beit Guvrin National Park in 2005.  Tel Maresha's head archaeologist, Dr. Ian Stern verified that he remembered arriving on the site on a Sunday morning in 2005 only to find that the cave where the fragments were found, had been “turned upside down,” apparently by looters searching for ancient objects to be sold on the black market.

1995
A fourth century BCE gold phiale


November 9, 1995, U.S. Customs agents seized a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale used for pouring libations from Steinhardt's Fifth Avenue residence on Manhattan's Upper East Side.  The financier appealed the lower court's ruling, only to have the decision of forfeiture affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Despite clear proof that the object was smuggled out of southern Italy, Steinhardt petitioned the lower court's ruling all the way to the United States Supreme Court, in the hopes of retaining the object for his collection. 

The high court found no compelling reason to rehear Steinhardt's case, basing their decision on the basis that the importer had intentionally undervalued the object's worth, transited the object illegally from Sicily to Switzerland, and provided false statements misrepresenting the phiale's country of origin on the object's import documentation. 

The two antiquities dealers involved in the purchase, Robert Haber and William Veres, were each given suspended sentences of one year and ten months imprisonment.  The extent of Steinhardt's culpability though was left vague in the final court filings.  Yet Steinhardt's experience as an art collector and specifically his experience with Haber, with whom he had already purchased some $4-6 million in art objects, raises considerable doubts that his error in purchase could be chalked up to naïveté.  

The fact that the bill of sale from Haber to Steinhardt even stipulated that"if the object is confiscated or impounded by customs agents or a claim is made by any country or governmental agency whatsoever, full compensation will be made immediately to the purchaser" gives the impression that both the collector and his dealer were each fully aware of the potentiality for illegality in the market, possibly with this object specifically.

Each of the aforementioned examples outlined above highlight questionable pedigrees in relation to previous high risk acquisitions made by Steinhardt in relation to his antiquities collection.  Several purchases in fact, overlap with antiquities dealers and middlemen with well known histories of dealing in illicit antiquities.  Each of these purchases demonstrate how little, if any, due diligence was conducted in providing a reasonable assurance that the objects being acquired were not, within the legal statutes of the time, illegally exported from their country of origin.



November 15, 2017

Assets of Gianfranco Becchina seized in relation to mafia collusion

DIA Seizing Gianfranco Becchina assets 
Most people who follow the illicit trafficking of antiquities will already be familiar with the name of Gianfranco Becchina -- a name frequently linked to Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, and Bob Hecht and their roles in furthering the illicit antiquities trade.  Less well known perhaps, at least among the who's who list of criminals involved in art crimes, is Matteo Messina Denaro, or the details of Becchina's alleged involvement with the inner circle of this Cosa Nostra kingpin. This, despite the fact that Becchina seems to have been sent a warning message from the mob in January 2012, when someone fired shots from a shotgun at his door and left an intimidating gift of flowers.

L'omertà e la paura and the boss of bosses

With a name straight out of an Italian comic book, Matteo Messina Denaro, also known as "Diabolik", solidified his position in the mafia following the arrests of two of his predecessors, Salvatore "Totò" Riina in 1993 and Bernardo Provenzano in 2006.  He is said to command close to 1000 underlings, through 20 mafia families and white collar business associates.  This  makes his Trapani-based enterprise the defacto zoccolo duro (solid pedestal) of the Cosa Nostra, second only to the families in Palermo responsible for illicit trafficking across the Atlantic between the new generations of the American and Sicilian Cosa Nostra.

Ruthless and calculating,  Denaro earned a reputation for brutality by murdering rival Trapani crime boss Vincenzo Milazzo, and then strangling Milazzo's girlfriend who was then three months pregnant. A fugitive since 1993, he was convicted in absentia for mafia bomb attacks that killed 10 people in Rome, Florence and Milan and wounded many others.

As is common among organized crime syndicates, Denaro saught to diversify his interests.  Wiretaps obtained by prosecutors suggest that the crime boss had interests in more than 40 corporate entities and 98 properties, laundering funds through various third parties and third party entities.

In 2013 anti-Mafia task force investigators seized a prized Trapani-based olive grove in Sicily worth €20m on the basis that profits from this agricultural enterprise provided an economic support structure for the fugitive crime boss. In 2015, 16, and 17 more arrests and seizures followed as the authorities work to cut off the revenue streams of the boss on the run.

Despite being a fugitive from justice, this entrepreneur mafioso with dirty hands is thought to be hiding in plain sight somewhere in Sicily,  perhaps even in his home town, Castelvetrano, where Becchina resides and where Denaro's relatives and a daughter, conceived while on the lam, reside.

Image Credit: Bellumvider Cultural Society
Facebook page
To further dismantle Denaro's operational funding, this week Italy's Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (Dia), through the Court of Trapani's penal and preventive measures section, seized all movable assets,  including real estate and corporate enterprises attributable to Gianfranco Becchina on the basis of an order issued from the District Attorney of Palermo.  This includes Becchina's cement trade business, Atlas Cements Ltd., Olio verde srl., his own olive oil production company, Demetra srl., Becchina & company srl., and Palazzo Pignatelli, once the noble residence of the family Tagliavia-Aragona-Pignatelli, which is part of the ancient Castello Bellumvider (the public part is owned by the city and houses the town hall).  Investigators also seized Becchina's land, vehicles and bank accounts.

The Trapani branch of the Cosa Nostra is believed to have accumulated some portions of its wealth through the proceeds of illicit archaeological finds, many procured through grave robbers working at the isolated Archaeological Park of Selinunte, one of Sicily's great ancient Greek cities, located near Castelvetrano.  The archaeological site covers 40 hectares and includes Greek temples, ancient town walls, and the ruins of residential and commercial buildings and given its remote location, much of the site has not been formally excavated, leaving it prey to opportunistic looters.

Image Credit: Accademia degli incerti

The link from Matteo Messina Denaro to Gianfranco Becchina begins with Denaro's father,  Francesco Messina Denaro, who was the capo mandamento in Castelvetrano and the head of the mafia commission of the Trapani region. Francesco Messina Denaro was believed to have been behind the theft of the famous Efebo of Selinunte, a 3′ tall bronze statue of Dionysius Iachos from the 5th century BCE, stolen on October 30, 1962 and recovered in 1968 through the help of Rodolfo Siviero, who orchestrated a sting operation with mafia contacts by posing as the "nephew" of a Florentine art gallery that would purchase antiquities without asking too many questions about ownership.  When the mafia intermediaries tried to fence the statue in Foligno, six accomplices were arrested and the statue was returned to the Civic Museum of Castelvetrano, though not before a shootout with the authorities. 

Law enforcement authorities working on this case drew information about Becchina's connection to Cosa Nostra through former traffic cop, Concetto Mariano of the Cosa Nostra Marsala family. Mariano began cooperating with justice officials two months after being arrested.  A second informant, Giuseppe Grigoli, again a cooperating Cosa Nostra prestanome told the PM of the District Anti-Mafia Directorate of Palermo that between 1999 and 2006 he was given envelopes filled with money by Becchina, to be delivered discreetly to Vincenzo Panicola, the husband of Matteo Messina Denaro's sister Patrizia Messina Denaro, both of whom have been convicted for their own mafia collusion and have had substantial property holdings of their own confiscated.

The Dancing Satyr
Image Credit piazza Plebiscito Museum
A unnamed Marsala family informant also told law enforcement that he had been instructed by the head of his mafia command to steal the bronze statue of the Dancing Satyr, attributed by scholars to Praxiteles housed at the Piazza Plebiscito Museum in Mazara del Vallo.  The order for the theft (never executed) was said to have come directly from Matteo Messina Denaro, who would then be marketing it  through experienced Swiss channels.

Interestingly, this dancing satyr bronze was purportedly fished from the Strait of Sicily by a fishing boat from Mazara called the "Captain Ciccio" in 1997.  Mafioso Francesco Messina Denaro, also went by the name  "Don Ciccio"

Mere coincidence? 

Maybe, but along with the eight men of his crew, the captain and owner of the Captain Ciccio received a hefty reward for their fishing expedition.


Maybe, but along with the eight men of his crew, the captain and owner of the Captain Ciccio received a hefty reward for their fishing expedition.

Shipowner Toni Scilla received fifty percent; Francesco Adragna, as captain, received twenty-five percent; and the rest of the prize was divided between crew members in proportion to their job duties as boatswain, engineer, or shipmate.

UPDATE:  As of late morning a fire has broken out at Becchina's residence at Palazzo Pignatelli.   Reports say the fire occurred in his daughter's apartment during the execution of the DIA search warrant.  Investigators suspect that it was a Becchina family member intent on destroying certain documents.

No confirmation by the fire department yet as to if the fire was arson or accidental.