Monday, February 1, 2016

Senate Committee Rejects Cultural Property Czar; Supports Restrictions on Syrian Antiquities

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee met last week to consider the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (H.R. 1493). It favorably reported the measure for full consideration by the senate, but rejected the legislation's creation of a cultural property czar.

The original bill passed by the House of Representatives last June called for the appointment of an Assistant Secretary of State as the new United States Coordinator for International Cultural Property Protection. The senate committee stripped this position from H.R. 1493 in a comprehensive substitute amendment that members adopted last Thursday. Generally speaking, a substitute amendment makes substantive changes to a bill and replaces significant portions of an original bill's language.

The idea for a cultural property czar first emerged in similar legislation introduced in the House in 2014. But the substitute amendment instead recommends "that the President should establish an interagency coordinating committee to coordinate and advance the efforts of the executive branch to protect and preserve international cultural property at risk." Because the amendment's language declares that "the President should" rather than "the President shall", the White House is not obligated to form the interagency committee should the measure be enacted into law.

The substitute amendment suggests that the interagency committee be chaired by an assistant secretary at the State Department and that it work to protect and preserve international cultural property, prevent and disrupt looting and trafficking, protect sites of cultural and archaeological significance, and provide for the lawful exchange of international cultural property.

The substitute amendment calls on the President to provide annual reports, over a six year period, about "the efforts of the executive branch ... to protect and preserve international cultural property, including whether an interagency coordinating committee ... has been established and, if such a committee has been established, a description of the activities undertaken by such committee, including a list of the entities participating in such activities." Senators added a specific provision so that the White House would describe "actions to implement and enforce ... the Emergency Protection for Iraqi Cultural Antiquities Act of 2004 ... including measures to dismantle international networks that traffic illegally in cultural property."

The Foreign Relations Committee embraced the second crucial part of H.R. 1493's original language, calling for emergency import protections to be placed on at-risk Syrian cultural property within 90 days of the law's passage, as opposed to the 120 days sought by the House. According to the senate committee's substitute amendment, import restrictions would be placed on Syrian archaeological and ethnological material under authority granted by the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), "without regard to whether Syria is a State Party" to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The CPIA is the federal law that implements key terms of the 1970 UNESCO Convention in the United States.
 
Photo credit: Rabi Samuel

Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

MoUs: Italy Renewed; Egypt Still Pursued; Cambodia and Belize Get a CPAC Interlude

United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Treasury Department have promulgated rules, effective today, that extend import restrictions on archaeological material originating from Italy.

First erected by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the U.S. and Italy in 2001 and subsequently refreshed in 2006, 2011, and now 2016, the import barriers seek to deter cultural property looting and trafficking by denying entry to endangered pre-Classical, Classical, and Imperial Roman artifacts bound for the American marketplace.

The import barriers result from Italy's request for American assistance pursuant to Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Under import regulations authorized by the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), certain categories of 9th century B.C. through 4th century A.D. antiquities, armor, mosaics, jewelry, sculpture, and other archaeological material from Italy may be seized by CPB if trafficked across the U.S. border. The designated list of objects subject to the legal restrictions can be found here.

Italy asked for the latest MoU renewal in February 2015, and the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met in April last year to weigh the matter. The renewal process concluded within a usual time frame. By contrast, Egypt's first and only request for an MoU with the U.S. seems to have stalled without explanation.

Egypt asked CPAC to consider enacting protective import measures in April 2014, attracting a variety of public comments from preservationists, ancient coin collectors, the Association of Art Museum Directors, and other stakeholders. Yet despite CHL's admonitions in June 2011 and July 2013 for emergency legislation to protect at-risk Egyptian material, followed by a call in March 2014 to implement CPIA import restrictions "with all deliberate speed," import regulations covering ancient Egyptian artifacts still have not been approved.

CPAC, meanwhile, will be meeting in executive session next month for an interim review of MoUs covering jeopardized archaeological material from Cambodia and Belize, both approved in 2013. Public comments will be solicited at a later date should either agreement be considered for extension.

Photo credit: Matthew Strickland

Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Making a Difference: SAFE Founder Cindy Ho Awarded AIA's Outstanding Public Service Award

Indifference is a word unknown to Cindy Ho. A graphic designer and independent professional, Ms. Ho created Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) in 2003 in an effort to stop the destruction of humanity's heritage. She took action in direct response to looters ransacking the Iraqi national museum.

SAFE founder Cindy Ho
"We're dealing with a global problem that's fueled by the black-market antiquities trade," Ms. Ho announced soon after SAFE started. "It's important to inform the general public that our collective cultural heritage is in danger."

For her distinguished accomplishments and unwavering resolve, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) last week conferred its prestigious Outstanding Public Service Award on Ms. Ho during a ceremony held at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco, California.

"To know and not to act is not to know," she exhorted, quoting Chinese philosopher Wang Yangming, inspiring ceremony attendees to apply their collective knowledge to protect cultural heritage.

Ms. Ho's energy and perseverance propelled SAFE to become the preeminent grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the past through public awareness. During her leadership, spanning the time of its founding through 2014, SAFE spearheaded widely popular projects such as
  • the annual Global Candlelight Vigil, commemorating the looting of the Iraq Museum;
  • the Say Yes campaigns, rallying public support for import controls to protect endangered archaeological artifacts;
  • the Beacon Awards, honoring notable defenders of cultural heritage; and
  • social media messaging and podcasts, making the world of antiquities trafficking familiar to everyday Americans.
A lasting legacy of Ms. Ho's endeavors has been a new generation of cultural property professionals and stakeholders--including archaeologists, museum personnel, conservators, auction house employees, and collectors--who are keenly aware of archaeological site looting and antiquities smuggling.

In her acceptance speech, the SAFE founder celebrated this notable change over the last thirteen years, declaring that "others are paying attention in a significant way."

But much more needs to be done because what hasn't changed, Ms. Ho warned, is "the no questions asked antiquities trade is still the incentive for looting and destruction." With a call for greater action resounding in her voice, she asked, "How can we possibly tell our children and our children's children that the connection to their past is no longer possible because it has been sold off....?"

Former Director General of the National Museum of Iraq and a past professor at Stony Brook University in New York, the late Dr. Donny George Youkhannahailed SAFE’s work several years ago as "critical ... for the heritage of mankind," and declared, "All those who enjoy the benefits of democracy have a duty to stand up and support those actions that will stop the destruction of history.”

Cindy Ho, in fact, stood up to secure the future of archaeology, history, and culture. Because she did so, SAFE's architect demonstrated how one citizen can make a world of difference.

It is no surprise then that the AIA last Thursday praised Ms. Ho's "tireless efforts in raising public awareness about the need to safeguard archaeological heritage."

The AIA boasts over 200,000 members and is North America's largest and oldest archaeological society, chartered by Congress in 1906. Its public service award is presented annually to a recipient who makes exceptional contributions to archaeology and the preservation of the archaeological record.

Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

"Antiques" from Iraq: Trade Stats Raise Questions

Iraq has been identified as a source of conflict antiquities, which is why the International Council of Museums refreshed its Red List of endangered Iraqi cultural property in June 2014 and why the United Nations Security Council last February unanimously adopted a resolution targeting heritage trafficking in the region as a source of terror funding.

With this in mind, it is surprising that “antiques" ranked as the #4 declared import to the United States from Iraq by value in 2014, the latest date for which complete data is available from the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC). In fact, there were more antiques imported from Iraq than goods like lambskin leather, dates and figs, fruit juices, and even spices.

Totaling $3,378,296 in general customs value, these antique imports “of an age exceeding 100 years” were outpaced in value only by America’s largest and most predictable import from Iraq, namely crude oil (#1) and non-crude oil (#2), as well as reimports of various articles originally exported from the U.S. (#3).

Importers of record are legally responsible for declaring goods on customs entry forms by supplying information such as proper value, correct country of origin, accurate Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) classification, and complete product description. Of course there are many examples of traffickers who try to skirt their obligations in an effort to smuggle cultural heritage objects into the U.S. illegally, which is why antiques imports from Iraq should be scrutinized.

It is not known how many legal or illegal antiquities importers brought into the U.S. from Iraq last year. What is known is that declared imports of  "antiques" classified under HTS 9706 originated from a war zone where cultural heritage is in jeopardy. What commodities were exactly shipped to American ports of entry and why, in fact, did the bulk of declared HTS 9706 commodities originating from Iraq--$3,330,619 worth--get shipped to New York City remains a mystery, at least for now.

Were these imports deliberately misclassified to plausibly conceal illegally dug-up ancient tablets, foundation cones, sculptures, and more? Possibly. Or did a legal trade in vintage trays and antique coffee pots actually spike for some reason because of the conflict? Customs officials should find out for certain, particularly given the identified threat posed to archaeological site looting and museum and storehouse theft as a result of the unrest in Iraq.

There is another interesting observation. Among the 37 kinds of commodities imported into the U.S. from Iraq in 2014, antiques, together with with three other types of goods categorized under the broad import category of HTS 97 Works of Art, Collectors’ Pieces and Antiques, exceeded all other imports by value of primary Iraqi origin, except oil. The declared value of the HTS 97 commodities together totaled $3,554,595. So customs officials should also find out what goods importers actually classified as collections and collectors’ pieces of historical, archaeological, or numismatic interest under HTS 9705; as original sculptures and statuary under HTS 9703; and as paintings under HTS 9701.

One armed group operating in both Iraq and Syria is the terror organization ISIS, which reportedly has exploited cultural property as an important revenue stream. Suspiciously, the #1 U.S. category of imports by value from Syria in 2014 was “Antiques.” And now USITC trade data show that American imports from Iraq unveil further red flags.

Until the fighting subsides, and until customs officials learn more about the unanswered questions swirling around American imports of Iraqi cultural heritage goods, collectors would be well-advised not to buy heritage material from the region, or at least exercise rigorous due diligence when buying, in order to steer clear of acquiring potential ISIS loot.

Photo credit: Sam LeVan

Copyright notice: Although the data presented here is sourced from publicly available information, it is an original work of authorship that has been carefully selected, coordinated, arranged, and analyzed so that it is an original work of authorship subject to copyright protection as a compilation and/or a derivative work by CHL. The publication, retransmission, or broadcast of this compiled data is strictly prohibited without CHL's express consent.

Text copyrighted 2016 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Antiques" from Syria: U.S. Cultural Property Import Stats Raise Suspicion


Imports of Syrian goods into the United States have fallen dramatically since war broke out in the Mideast nation in 2011 and since the White House expanded the Syria Sanctions Program. Yet, despite the decline in U.S. imports from Syria, there are now disquieting trade statistics from 2014--the most recent complete data available--that should stir the attention of customs officials, police, and policymakers concerned about looted archaeology, stolen mosaics, and illicitly excavated coins trafficked illegally into the U.S.

Overall, America imported about $429.3 million worth of declared goods from Syria in 2010. Last year, that total collapsed to roughly $12.4 million, a stark decline over the five year period.

Moving in the opposite direction for a period of time were U.S. imports of antiques over 100 years old from Syria, which spiked to $11 million in 2013, a spectacular 133% increase in declared customs value over the previous year. While this figure noticeably fell last year to roughly $4.9 million, the value is similar to the $4.7 million worth of imported antiques recorded in 2012.

The 2014 statistic on antiques is striking because the five year trend line for imports of Syrian antiques failed to fade to black like other U.S. imports of Syrian goods. Instead, as the graphic above demonstrates, antiques constituted a decidedly large slice of the American import pie last year. They accounted for a whopping 40% of the value of all imports of every kind from Syria. In fact, goods classified by importers as Antiques of an Age Exceeding 100 Years under Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) 9706 were the #1 import into the U.S. from Syria. There simply was no other import category that ranked higher in value than antiques, including the #2 import of Syrian anise and cumin seeds and juniper berries classified under HTS 0909.

Notably, every Syrian import classified as an HTS 9706 antique was shipped to the customs district of New York City, the location of one of the largest and most important art and antiquities markets in the world.

What we do not know is what kind of objects these "antiques" were. They may have been at-risk archaeological objects like cuneiform tablets or ancient pottery, deliberately mislabeled by smugglers as being "of an age exceeding 100 years." Customs officials need to find out.

Enforcement officials also need to investigate the #3 American import from Syria in 2014, commodities classified by a code smugglers might use to disguise imports of ancient mosaics. Mosaics, of course, are architectural features made of stone, glass, and/or ceramic. They are spotlighted in the International Council of Museum's Emergency Red List of Syrian cultural property, which is why the import of $1.4 million worth of HTS 6802 goods--11% of the total value of all Syrian imports to the U.S.--is concerning. HTS 6802 is intended to cover worked monumental or building stone; mosaic cubes of natural stone; and artificially colored granules, chippings and powder of natural stone. Yet the code may have been used by traffickers to unlawfully classify 5th century mosaics.

Together,  the declared imports of HTS 9706 and HTS 6802 goods accounted for 51% of the total imports of all Syrian commodities by value in 2014, a striking statistic that simply cannot be overlooked by cultural property watchers focused on spotting trafficked heritage objects that may have illegally piggybacked on legitimate international trade.

Classified by HTS 9705 and amounting to approximately $303,000, collections of historical and archaeological material of Syrian origin was the #5 import by value in 2014. This number was almost a triple increase from the $118,000 imported the year before.

Looking deeper into this trade category, we find that the bulk of HTS 9705 imports from Syria to the United States consisted of Numismatic (Collectors') Coins, Except Gold, classified by HTS 9705.00.0060, having a declared import value of approximately $265,000, which was a quarter of a million dollar jump from the exiguous value of $12,064 declared in 2013. Just like imports of Syrian antiques, every Syrian collectors' coin declared under this HTS category went through the New York City customs district. Were these coins ancient Roman, Byzantine, or Islamic like the ones identified on the Red List? Customs enforcement officials need to find out.

Given the reasonable articulable suspicion that Syrian cultural contraband may be moving to the U.S. through ordinary channels of international trade, police and customs investigators are justified in scrutinizing import paperwork and asking detailed questions of importers and customs brokers that will confirm or dispel this suspicion. To protect cultural heritage in jeopardy, to defend against money laundering, and to protect against terror financing in Syria, it is vital to know exactly what cultural property has been shipped to the U.S. from Syria under the HTS 9705, 9706, and 6802 classifications and why heritage goods makes up such a large portion of imported Syrian commodities.
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Data source: CHL compiled, arranged, and assessed the import figures presented here using raw data collected by the U.S. International Trade Commission and the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

Copyright notice: Although the data presented here is sourced from publicly available information, it is an original work of authorship that has been carefully selected, coordinated, arranged, and analyzed so that it is an original work of authorship subject to copyright protection as a compilation and/or a derivative work by CHL. The publication, retransmission, or broadcast of this compiled data is strictly prohibited without CHL's express consent.


Note: Import data is reported to U.S. Customs and Border Protection by the owner, purchaser, or licensed broker of the consignee. They file the entry documents, not the customs officials who are unable to inspect and document every cargo shipment. So whether cultural commodities are properly classified as HTS 9705 archaeological material or HTS 9706 antiques is the responsibility of the importer. In fact whether imports are falsely classified so that they can be smuggled across the border or whether they are mistakenly classified because of an error in judgment is a function of the importing party. The import classification process is a self-reporting system, part of a shared compliance program overseen by U.S. Customs that obliges the trade community to regulate itself and follow federal law. Shared compliance allows the U.S. to competitively engage the world in global commerce. Smugglers, nevertheless, will try to exploit gaps and loopholes.
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Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Museum Raids Cases: Rare Antiquities. Rare Convictions for Gallery Owners. Rare Prison Sentence.

In the annals of cultural property law, prosecutions targeting transnational antiquities trafficking networks are rare. Even more rare are felony convictions. Scarcer still are prison sentences.

So what happened this week to a pair of California gallery owners tied in with the "Museum Raids" cases is a momentous achievement, an example of careful and intelligent case development by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, resulting in felony convictions for antiquities traffickers rather than a "seize and send" photo-op that cultural property watchers are accustomed to witnessing.

Jonathan and Carolyn Markell, aged 70 and 68 and owners of Silk Roads Design Gallery, were sentenced on Monday for their role in an elaborate scheme that mixed international heritage trafficking with tax evasion.

Calling the crime "significant," United States District Judge Dean D. Pregerson said it was “important to send a message” to art collectors, gallery owners and museums that they should avoid collecting and trading looted antiquities.

The court handed down an 18 month prison term to Jonathan Markell on a felony count of conspiring to import goods using false statements in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy) and 18 U.S.C. § 542 (importing goods using false statements). His wife, Carolyn, received a sentence of probation on a felony charge of conspiracy to commit tax evasion pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 371. Jonathan Markell also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit tax evasion.

“Mr. Markell’s greed placed his art gallery’s profits above the culture and heritage of the people of Thailand,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker in a press release.

There were no complaints about the court's 1 1/2 year sentence, even though prosecutors sought a 2 ½ year prison term for Jonathan Markell because, in prosecutors' words, "it is clear that Jonathan Markell has no respect for the law—not this nation's laws, nor those of other nations."

In seeking a prison term, prosecutors, notably among them Assistant U.S. Attorney and Environmental Crimes Chief Joseph Johns, sought both specific deterrence and general deterrence.

The attorneys pointed out the obvious to the court, that "it is rare that law enforcement officials have the opportunity to catch a broker, bulk sellers, or gallery owner that drives the illicit market for archeological resources." That is why, they contended,
Defendant Jonathan Markell’s antiquities smuggling case presents a unique opportunity to send a message and afford adequate deterrence to the 'upper end' of the criminal black market for looted archeological resources, i.e., the brokers and gallery owners who sell their wares to the collectors. If we are able to diminish and disincentivize the market (or demand) for illegal antiquities, then we may have an equal effect on taking the monetary incentives out of the act of looting itself. It is the market, or demand, which drives the looters at the ground level to provide the supply of stolen antiquities to meet that demand. 

Jonathan Markell’s sentence of 18 months behind bars perhaps is the most ordered by a court in a transnational antiquities trafficking case since U.S. v. Schultz, a federal case from 2002 that saw Frederick Schultz, a high profile and successful Manhattan antiquities dealer, sentenced to serve 33 months in prison after a jury found the defendant guilty of the felony of receiving stolen Egyptian antiquities that had been transported in interstate and foreign commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy) and 18 U.S.C. § 2315 (the National Stolen Property Act).

That case failed to serve as a warning to the Markells as the investigation into the husband and wife and their co-conspirators began the following year, in 2003 when a National Park Service (NPS) special agent began to uncover the trafficking network that had been smuggling archaeological material from Southeast Asia.

In January 2008, federal agents from several law enforcement agencies raided a variety of locations, including four museums in California. Police descended on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Bowers Museum, the Pacific Asia Museum, and the Mingei Museum with search warrants to “seize in place” ancient objects identified as potential evidence. Officials simultaneously seized evidence from the Markell’s home as well as their art gallery.

The museum raids generated three published criminal cases:

  • United States v. Robert Olson and Marc Pettibone, et al., which charged a conspiracy to smuggle Southeast Asian artifacts, including from Thailand and Cambodia, into the United States beginning in 2004;
  • United States v. Robert Olson and Jonathan Markell, which charged a conspiracy to smuggle Southeast Asian artifacts, including Burmese antiquities obtained in Thailand beginning in 2003; and
  • United States v. Jonathan Markell and Carolynn Markell, which charged a conspiracy to commit tax fraud by making false statements when donating smuggled artifacts to museums in an effort to receive tax deductions.
[Sidebar: At least one media report by the Pasedena Patch suggests that legal action against unnamed museums resulted in deferred prosecution agreements. These agreements do not appear in the court system’s public files. It is possible that they are held privately by the U.S. Attorney's Office and not subject to public disclosure]

The Markells pleaded guilty to criminal charges on April 16 after signing a written agreement with federal prosecutors the previous month..

As part of the deal, both defendants conceded that they conspired to knowingly and intentionally defraud the United States for the purpose of impeding, impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful government functions of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the ascertainment, computation, assessment, and collection of income taxes, by promoting and participating in a false charitable deduction scheme for the purpose of improperly claiming charitable deductions on federal income tax returns.

The Markells agreed to repatriate 337 artifacts by ocean-borne cargo to their countries of origin, specifically China, Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma; to pay the $25,000 estimated shipping cost; and to cooperate with the IRS to calculate back taxes and penalties from 2004 through 2007, estimated to be $39,891.

In a court pleading filed on December 3, attorneys for the government elaborated on the facts of the case:
In short, Jonathan and Carolyn Markell jointly owned and operated the business Markell Imports, Inc., doing business as the Silk Roads Design Gallery ("Silk Roads"). The Markells’ business model consisted of their purchase and importation of art, antiques, and archeological resources from Southeast Asia, and their resale of such merchandise through their Silk Roads art gallery in West Hollywood.

Part of their business model included the intentional use of false declarations and statements in United States Customs entry documents to “smuggle” or introduce the archeological resources “antiquities” into the United States.

The lawyers flagged a contention made by the Markells, one that is often echoed by ethically ambivalent antiquities dealers who complain that filling out customs forms is too burdensome for small business owners:
During [a police interview], Jonathan Markell stated that he and Carolyn Markell falsified the customs documents to disguise what they were importing because the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement classification process is difficult if they actually identify a piece as an "antique." Carolyn Markell agreed with her husband's statement.

The Markells further justified their behavior by claiming that United States Customs forces people to lie on import declarations because of the delay in clearing Customs if they properly identify an object as an antique.

Prosecutors added that the Markells failed to fully disclose their criminal conduct to investigators. “For example, they did not admit that Jonathan Markell had conspired with [a] co-defendant to not only falsely describe Burmese and Khmer antiquities in United States Customs import documents ... but also to falsely declare the import value of those antiquities as 25% of their true purchase price.”

The attorneys said that neither defendant “admitted ... that they knew that it was illegal to export archeological resources/antiquities from the countries of China, Thailand, and Burma—which is most likely the reason that the antiquities were falsely described in United States Customs import documentation.”

Focusing on the pairs’ systematic plan to dodge federal taxes, prosecutors noted that the operation “was heavily dependent upon the ready availability of Southeast Asian antiquities obtained ... through the antiquities smuggling scheme .... The Southeast Asian antiquities smuggled into the United States ... were bundled and sold for approximately $1,500. The[] $1,500 ‘package’ typically included antiquities from Ban Chiang, Thailand, false sales invoices to reflect an earlier sales date, along with a fraudulently inflated $5,000 appraisal that contained a fraudulent expert's signature.”

Prosecutors called the defendants' conduct a “complete contempt for this Nation's rule of law," spotlighting "Carolyn Markell's discussion of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act ("IEEPA") Burmese sanctions with the undercover agent ('UC') in this case":
During that discussion, she told the UC that she had been extremely worried about the last shipment of antiquities that she and Jonathan Markell had brought into the United States from Thailand in September 2006—which had included 7 Burmese statues. She related to the UC that the President of the United States had prohibited entry of any Burmese items into the country, and that she had lost sleep worrying that their import shipment would be intercepted by United States Customs authorities. She told the UC that she did not care about being dishonest, but that she didn’t want to get caught.

Jonathan Markell, meanwhile, “brought up a Los Angeles Daily News article about an individual that had been prosecuted for a tax evasion scheme involving antiquities and a museum," according to prosecutors. "Jonathan Markell laughed about the article, and then asked the UC if he thought that he (Jonathan Markell) was going to jail (for the tax evasion scheme). Jonathan Markell told the UC that the person who had been caught must have done something pretty stupid, and that the government was not going to look at any donation under $10,000.”

The tax scheme relied on the couples’ assumptions that customs officials would overlook mislabeled illegal shipments and that museums and collectors would fail to conduct the due diligence necessary to verify the archaeological objects’ legitimate collecting histories.


Antiquities mostly from Thailand's Ban Chiang World Heritage site were used to fuel the fraud, according to recitals found in the plea agreement, which described how Jonathan Markell “solicited co-conspirators to buy a 'charitable donation package' that included one or more Ban Chiang antiquities to be donated to a charitable institution.” Then “Silk Roads Design Gallery prepared false appraisals for donations of these antiquities to charitable institutions, such as museums and universities using another person’s name.” Jonathan Markell thereafter “contacted charitable institutions to get them to accept his, defendant Carolyn Markell’s, and his co-conspirators donations.” Specifically, prosecutors alleged:
“On or about December 26, 2003, CAROLYN MARKELL sent an email to a museum representative regarding the provenance of donated items as being a purchase in 1984.
Defendant CAROLYN MARKELL determined that she and defendant JONATHAN MARKELL would purchase items to be donated from a certain co-conspirator. Between an unknown date and January 2008, although defendant JONATHAN MARKELL knew that the seller of a donated item could not appraise the item for tax purposes, he prepared appraisals that falsely inflated the value of donation items he sold as part of a "donation package" he sold to co-conspirators. … In or about April 2007, defendant JONATHAN MARKELL advised an unindicted co-conspirator to change the listed purchase date on a museum donation form because it needed to appear that the co-conspirator had held the item for years, namely, ten years, to take the inflated value as a tax deduction. On or about March 10, 2006, defendant CAROLYN MARKELL contacted a museum curator to discuss the museum's policies and requirements. On or about June 14, 2006, defendant JONATHAN MARKELL solicited a Thailand museum curator's electronic signature which he fraudulently inserted on appraisals of items to be donated that he had prepared. ... On or about March 27, 2007, defendant JONATHAN MARKELL electronically mailed a request to the museum curator in Thailand to sign forms to support co-conspirators' charitable donation tax deductions and to sign six to eight blank forms in blue, to support fraudulently future donations. On or about December 13, 2007, JONATHAN and CAROLYN MARKELL delivered donations to a museum on behalf of a client. Around December 2007, defendant JONATHAN MARKELL donated Ban Chiang antiquities to a museum on behalf of co-conspirators, charging them $3,450 for the items and appraisals to support an $11,425 charitable donation income tax deduction.

Meanwhile, from 2004 through 2007, the Markells regularly donated Ban Chiang artifacts to an unidentified museum(s) and took a charitable tax deduction, “knowing the items had been stolen from the country of Thailand.”

In their steady march toward convictions and incarceration, the U.S. Attorney's Office tapped into its experience with wildlife trafficking cases—an instructive parallel to antiquities trafficking cases. Prosecutors wrote in a sentencing pleading dated Dec 3, 2015:
There are two types of archeological resource looters: (1) the looter that digs up and collects artifacts as a hobby for his or her own personal collection; and (2) the looter that digs up artifacts for the purpose of selling them to brokers or gallery operators. As with the protection of threatened and endangered wildlife species, the key to protecting and conserving archeological resources is to eliminate markets for illicit/looted antiquities. Without the existence of brokers, middlemen, and gallery owners who are willing to knowingly and intentionally profit from sales of parts and products of threatened or endangered wildlife species or looted archeological resources, there is little monetary incentive for wildlife poachers or archeological resource looters to engage in their nefarious trades.

One might be tempted to think that the archeological resource looter squatting in the deep mud and steaming jungle highlands of Ban Chiang, Thailand is primarily to blame for the devastation of pristine archeological sites and the information lost thereby—just as one might be tempted to lay the bulk of the blame for the loss of the last Northern White Rhinoceros at the feet of the poacher who killed it; but that line of thinking is incorrect. It is individuals such as Jonathan Markell ... the importers, the buyers, and the gallery owners who purchase and acquire such archeological resources or wildlife products for profitable resale who are primarily to blame for the underlying devastation. For these are the individuals who create the markets that create the monetary incentives that drive the poachers and looters into the fields.

The government's lawyers thereby laid the groundwork to argue for a prison term, “to reflect that seriousness and to promote respect for the law and to provide just punishment for the offense."

Meanwhile, they made the important point that “[a]rcheological resources are non-renewable. The looting of archeological resources causes widespread destruction of archeological sites and results in the loss of archeological information which would be gleaned from a properly excavated site."

They informed the court as well about the enormous impact of cultural plundering on the Thai people. “Many villages throughout Southeast Asia have been deprived of the opportunity to grow an economy based on archeological tourism because their heritage and archeological resources have been devastated by looting activity to supply to the purveyors of 'stolen time,' such as defendant Jonathan Markell."

Prosecutors poignantly added, "Criminal conduct, like that committed by defendant Jonathan Markell in this case, serves to deprive individuals from other countries of their own distinctive histories and heritages—in essence stealing not just their antiquities, but their 'time and history."

Two witnesses reinforced these arguments when they testified this week at the sentencing hearing. One witness was the NPS agent who investigated the case, and the other was archaeologist Dr. Joyce White, director of the Ban Chiang Project housed at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Dr. White analyzed more than 10,000 artifacts, mostly from Thailand, which police obtained through Operation Antiquity, the code name used by NPS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, and IRS Criminal Investigation for the Museum Raids investigation.

In a court Declaration, Dr. White made clear that antiquities exported from Thailand generally require a permit from the Thai Fine Arts Department. But, remarkably, she only saw one or two samples of antiquities where a permit actually had been obtained despite the thousands of samples examined.

Dr. White also noted that most of the artifacts were found intact, indicating that they had been illegally dug-up. “Intact artifacts are rare in archaeological sites and tend to come from human burials,” which would require “large scale excavations.”

The prison term and felony convictions imposed by Judge Pregerson this week are hoped to decrease the incentive to industrially excavate overseas archaeological sites overseas and to deter smuggling of contraband cultural property into the American marketplace.

More details about the cases can be found on Jason Felch's Chasing Aphrodite blog and at Trafficking Culture.

Photo credits: William Schenold and Kiwiodyse

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Federal Agents Easter and DiGiovanni Lauded in Heritage Trafficking Documentary

Click here to watch "The Real-Life Indiana Jones"

A new documentary lauds the hard work undertaken by Homeland Security's Senior Special Agent Brent Easter and retired Port of Newark Customs and Border Protection Officer Domenic DiGiovanni to uncover the Kapoor cultural heritage trafficking scheme.

The law enforcement officers are unsung heroes who have fought resolutely against transnational criminals who steal history and culture from abroad and then traffic their loot in the United States.

The pair have been singled out in the just released documentary titled "The Real-Life Indiana Jones," produced by ESPN's FifeThirtyEight Films.

Now we simply need specially designated federal prosecutors who will support these police investigations by indicting and convicting antiquities traffickers in U.S. courts of law.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thank You Readers! ABA Journal Names CHL to Blawg 100 for Second Straight Year

For the second year, Cultural Heritage Lawyer has been chosen as one of the ABA Journal's BLAWG 100. That is only possible because of readers like you. Thank you!

Editors of the ABA Journal announced yesterday that they selected Cultural Heritage Lawyer as one of the top 100 best blogs for a legal audience.

“For us, at the ABA Journal, this isn’t just another award. We view our annual list as service to our readers, pointing them to a collection of some of the very best legal writing and commentary on the Web.”

The ABA Journal is the flagship magazine of the American Bar Association, and it is read by half of the nation’s 1.1 million lawyers every month. The ABA is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & PolicyResearch, Inc.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Exploiting Cultural Property is an "Important Revenue Stream" for ISIS

Dr. Michael Danti testifying on Capitol Hill about ISIS terror funding.
“ISIS has developed an organized and systematic approach for exploiting portable cultural property as an important revenue stream, especially ancient antiquities.” That is the assessment Dr. Michael Danti gave to members of the congressional Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade this afternoon.

Dr. Danti is part of the American Schools of Oriental Research Cultural Heritage Initiatives (ASOR CHI). In partnership with the U.S. State Department, the ASOR CHI project has been investigating cultural property crimes in Syria and northern Iraq.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) chaired today's hearing, titled Terrorist Financing: Kidnapping, Antiquities Trafficking, and Private Donations.

Dr. Danti pointedly remarked that “all major belligerents operating in the conflict zone engage in cultural property crimes; however, all lines of evidence indicate ISIS ranks as the most egregious and brazen offender.”

When asked what we learned from the Abu Sayaff raid that we did not know before, Danti said that antiquities “were the functional equivalent to other resources." The military raid at a compound in eastern Syria in May killed the ISIS commander, and U.S. Special Operations Forces seized 700 cultural objects as well as documents showing that the terror group engages in antiquities trafficking.

CHL suggests that the best way to steer clear of purchasing conflict antiquities from Syria and Iraq right now is to avoid buying it.

Photo credit: House Foreign Affairs Committee

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, art law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Due Diligence: INTERPOL's "Most Wanted" Stolen Tapestry Found in Auction Catalog, Seized by Feds

Increasingly commoditized and always discreet, today's art market perilously tempts the black market. Reforms are needed to shine a light on the trade. For now, the marketplace must remain vigilant against money launderersterrorist financiers, and fences who peddle hot art in the cool stream of legitimate commerce.

Steering clear of stolen art requires due diligence. That means that dealers, auction houses, collectors, and associated parties actually must do the investigative diligence required so that they are not directly or indirectly aiding criminal activity. Because the art market is opaque, diligence is needed to discover an object's true chain of custody, transfer, and ownership.

The latest court case demonstrating the need for due diligence is United States v. The Tapestry Known as "The Ambassadors of Rome Offering the Throne to Numa Pomplio."

Before the tapestry surfaced last year in Bonhams' Fine American and European Furniture, Silver Folk and Decorative Arts and Clocks auction, it debuted in 2007 on INTERPOL's "Most Wanted Works of  Art" list. The auction house apparently did not discover this information before it published the piece in its sales catalog.


Bonhams richly characterized the silk and wool textile as "[a]n important Flemish historical tapestry," and suggested that it was part of the "[t]he complete set of the Life of Numa Pompilius," which can be "attributed with certainty to the painter Abraham van Diepenbeeck (1596-1675)." Auction house writers were less descriptive about the ownership history, enigmatically chronicling the chain of title with the nondescript phrase, "Property of various owners."

Prosecutors in the southern district of New York articulated a more complete description of ownership. In a forfeiture complaint filed with the federal district court in Manhattan in May, they declared that it had been stolen--along with a second tapestry--from the home of an identified man in Satiago in October 2006. Chilean investigators reported the theft to INTERPOL, and the international police agency posted the tapestry to its Stolen Works of Art Database under registration number 2007/2882-1.1. 

The United States Attorney in Manhattan wanted the stolen tapestry back to return it to the owner, so his office commenced a civil action to seize the tapestry and forfeit its title to the U.S. government. The legal pleading, verified by the FBI agent working on the case, provided sharp details surrounding the consignment and offer for sale of the tapestry, known formally as the Defendant in Rem:
On or about September 27, 2013, a private art dealer (the "Dealer"), a resident of Santiago, Chile, contacted Bonhams New York Gallery located at 580 Madison Avenue, New York, New York ("Bonhams") via email and inquired into selling the Defendant in Rem at Bonhams.  The email included a color photograph of the Defendant in Rem. 
On or about October 3, 2013, a representative from Bonhams replied to the Dealer's email and advised that Bonhams would be willing to sell the Defendant in Rem at auction with an estimated appraised value between $30,000 to $50,000. 
On or about October 7, 2013, the Dealer agreed to consign the Defendant in Rem to Bonhams in order to be sold at auction on January 23, 2014. 
On or about October 10, 2013, the Dealer mailed the, Defendant in Rem from Santiago, Chile to Bonhams' New York Gallery via DHL Express. On a DHL commercial invoice, the Dealer declared that he was exporting a "carpet" with an approximate value of "$700." 
On or about January 2, 2014, the Dealer executed a consignment agreement with Bonhams under which the Dealer consigned the Defendant in Rem to Bonhams for sale at auction. The Defendant in Rem was included as Lot 1201 in the auction catalogue (the "Catalogue") .... 
On or about January 10, 2014, Bonhams' representative emailed the Dealer advising him that they had received a request for information as to the Defendant in Rem's provenance. 
On or about January 13, 2014, the Dealer responded to Bonhams' January 10, 2014, email stating, in sum and substance, that he purchased the Defendant in Rem from an art dealer in Santiago, Chile in approximately March 2002. 
On or about February 19, 2014, agents of INTERPOL questioned the Dealer in Santiago, Chile regarding his ownership and provenance of the Defendant in Rem. In response to these inquiries the Dealer stated, in substance and in part, and in contravention of his email to Bonhams, that he had purchased the Defendant in Rem in late 2006 or early 2007 from two individuals in Santiago, Chile. The Dealer claimed that he could not state the names of either individual and that he no longer had any documentation regarding these individuals or this transaction in his possession.
The U.S. Attorney's Office accused the dealer of having "knowingly imported the Defendant in Rem into the United States knowing that it had been stolen, converted, or taken by fraud, and facilitated the transportation, concealment, or sale of the Defendant in Rem, knowing the same to have been imported or brought into the United States contrary to law."

The forfeiture pleading alleged violations of 18 U.S.C. § 545 (fraudulent importation of merchandise into the United States), § 2314 (interstate and foreign transport of stolen merchandise), § 2315 (concealment, storage, and sale of stolen property), and/or 19 U.S.C. § 1595a (introduction of merchandise contrary to law).

With the assent of prosecutors, the district court on September 8 ordered the release of the tapestry to the true owner. Today the case serves as another reminder of why conducting a meaningful due diligence investigation into an artwork offered for sale is vital.

Photo credit: Verified complaint, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural property law, cultural heritage policy, art law, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of any blog post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Watch Live: Monuments Men Awarded Congressional Gold Medal

The Monuments Men will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal today. Watch it live beginning at 3 p.m. today by clicking on the video box below.

UPDATE - The broadcast is now archived in the video below. The recording has intermittent audio and video problems. Please be patient.

Senate and House leaders of both political parties will bestow Congress's highest civilian award to the team of men and women who, during World War II, sought to preserve cultural heritage from destruction.

Both legislative chambers on Capitol Hill passed the Monuments Men Recognition Act in May 2014, which the president enacted into law on June 9, 2014.




Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-TX-12) was a primary sponsor of the legislation. Some of the lawmaker's remarks to members of the House appear in the video below.



Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer, a blog commenting on matters of cultural heritage law, cultural heritage policy, antiquities trafficking, and museum risk management. Blog url: culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited. CHL is a project of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

2016 National Cultural Heritage Law Moot Court Competition: Registration is Now Open!

The Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation and DePaul University College of Law once again will host the annual National Cultural Heritage Law Moot Court Competition. Registration is now open.

Oral arguments will be held on February 26 and 27 at the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, Illinois.

The 2016 Competition will focus on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and other procedural issues raised by a lawsuit brought by the Acropolis Museum against the British Museum seeking restitution to Greece of the Elgin Marbles/Parthenon Marbles.

The competition is open to 26 two- and three-member law student teams The registration deadline is November 19, 2015.

Visit the competition website at go.depaul.edu/chmoot for additional details or to register a team. Contact the Competition Board at chmoot@gmail.com with any questions.

Attorneys interested in serving as judges or brief graders should contact chmootjudges@gmail.com. CLE credit is available for attorneys who participate as judges.

Photo credit: Patrik Rzezwicki

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