Tuesday, October 6, 2015

State Department Extends Cultural Property MoU with Nicaragua Despite AAMD Opposition

Earlier this year the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) shifted its stance on bilateral agreements authorized by the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) when the group decisively opposed the renewal of U.S. import restrictions covering endangered archaeological material coming from Nicaragua. The State Department disagreed with the AAMD, and today backed a fresh memorandum of understanding (MoU) that extends these protective trade barriers for another five years.

Writing in opposition to Nicaragua's petition for a rejuvenated MoU, the AAMD argued in January that the Central American nation "simply fails to protect its own cultural property in the manner required by the CPIA."

The CPIA is the federal law that authorizes the enactment of heritage protection measures consistent with the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

"Refusing to extend the MOU could be the very wake-up call Nicaragua needs to undertake real and substantial efforts at a critical time in its history," the AAMD contended in a statement submitted to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC), the group that reviews MoU requests.

The State Department's Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs, however, "determined that factors continue to warrant the imposition of import restrictions and no cause for suspension exists," the Federal Register reported. "Accordingly, these import restrictions will remain in effect for an additional 5 years, and the CBP [Customs and Border Protection] regulations are being amended to reflect this extension until October 20, 2020."

The import controls cover pre-Hispanic artifacts including ceramics, vessels, statues, mace heads, jewelry, and more. Similar barriers were first erected fifteen years ago in an effort to deter the looting of archaeological objects.

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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Newly Obtained Documents Reveal Suspected Ties to Terrorism and Money Laundering in Antiquities Trafficking Investigation; "Seize and Send" Outcome Flags Urgent Need for Specially Designated Prosecutors to Bring Criminals to Justice

ICE returned smuggled antiquities to Afghanistan
during a photo-op held in Washington, DC in 2013.
No prosecutions resulted from the case.
Newly obtained documents released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reveal that ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigated a suspicious shipment of cultural heritage objects imported into the United States in 2011. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the HSI New York El Dorado Task Force (EDTF) seized the falsely labeled package, which bore the hallmarks of antiquities trafficking.

ICE investigators voiced concern about the possibility of money laundering, ties to terrorism, and how the same importers already had been involved in previous investigations. Meanwhile, they openly spoke about artifacts pouring out of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Authorities seized the goods on the basis of violations of federal law, including the commission of felony crimes. Yet the investigation produced no arrests, no indictments, no prosecutions, and no convictions even for those who lied on the customs forms. In fact, the newly released documents confirm that no prosecutor was assigned to the case.

ICE is the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It is tasked with conducting criminal investigations; combating transnational crimes that exploit legitimate trade, travel and financial systems; enforcing the customs and immigration laws; and protecting the nation against criminal and terror organizations. HSI was formed in 2010 through the unification of ICE's former Offices of Investigations, Intelligence and International Affairs.

While the police agency routinely announces numerous arrestsand prosecutions in cases ranging from child exploitation, illegal narcotics, human trafficking, financial crimes, contraband cigarettes, and more, ICE rarely generates criminal prosecutions in cultural property cases.

CHL readers will recall, for example, the highly publicized return of an Assyrian limestone headfragment earlier this year when ICE ambiguously reported "one arrest" related to Operation Lost Treasure--a police program focused on antiquities smuggling--but announced no arrests, indictments, prosecutions, or convictions connected with the illegal importation of the $1.2 million head from Iraq. The object had been brought to the United States illegally in 2008 from the United Arab Emirates.

This "seize and send" policy is starkly revealed in ICE's 2011 antiquities trafficking investigation as well, the details of which have now been revealed by documents disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). CHL filed the FOIA request in September 2013.

ICE's investigation was part of the touted Operation Lost Treasure program. In place of grand jury indictments, ICE held a photo-op ceremony in Washington, DC in September 2013, returning the evidentiary fruits of its investigative work to Afghanistan.

The carefully redacted and cherry-picked documents released on July 31, 2015 show that authorities intercepted a small shipment passing through New Jersey's international airport during March 2011. The package contained a pitcher and ancient gold objects, and HSI had reason to suspect a link to terrorism.

After the shipment arrived at the Central Air Cargo Examination Facility (CACEF) at Newark Liberty International Airport, CBP notified the HSI Special Agent in Charge New York (HSI SAC/NY), "requesting assistance with the importation of possible smuggled cultural property via express consignment (Fed Ex)," according to a police report dated April 21, 2011.

The customs paperwork accompanying the package obscurely declared, "Brass Jug, Plated Pendants, Unmanifested Gold Pieces" from Great Britain. "No Antique Statement nor provenance supplied," a CBP officer noted. 

According to a document titled "Case Agent Cultural Property Art and Antiquities Repatriation Checklist," the import consisted of more than simple housewares and jewelry from England. Instead, there were cultural heritage objects that included:
Oinochoe seized by ICE and sent to Afghanistan.
1. A late Roman oinochoe, or wine pitcher, 5th-8th century A.D.. of ovoid form with reeded body and central band of figures within arched reserves, shaped handle Height 4 (sic) 
2. Three (3) Scythian gold repousse, foil appliques. 5th century B.C., each depicting Antelopes. Height of each: 4 inches. Width of each: 3-1/4 inches 
3. Two (2) antique coiled gold ornaments, possibly 17th century. Height of each 3.8 inches. Weight of each: 2 ounces (approximate)
Authorities retained an appraiser who found that the retail values of the objects totaled $29,000 USD, almost 30 times greater than the trifling £650 GBP ($1,048.94 USD) claimed by the importer on the customs paperwork.

The objects had been devalued significantly, probably to bypass the formal customs entry, the kind of entry typically used when importing goods for commercial or resale purposes and the kind of entry that would have required more oversight. The importer likely knew that devaluing the objects below $2000 would cause the shipment to be less eye-catching. The value threshold today for an informal customs entry is $2500.

According to the appraiser, the values that should have been listed on the customs form were:
  • Oinochoe, Fair Market: $4,000; Retail: $8,000
  • 3 Gold Repoussé, Fair Market, $6,000; Retail: $12,000
  • 2 Gold Ornaments, Fair Market, $6,000; Retail: $9,000
A federal investigator confirmed, "It is ... suspected from prior case experience ... that this shipment is being imported improperly as an informal entry versus a formal entry. ... Cultural Property smugglers often utilize this tactic to avoid having their express consignments garner added scrutiny. Formal entries are required to have Harmonized Tariff Schedules, proper provenance or affidavits, invoices, shipping documentation, etc. The failure to provide adequate paperwork also makes this shipment subject to seizure and forfeiture according to 19 CFR 145.11 and 145.1218USC 54218USC 54519 USC 1595a (c)1(a)." Such forfeitures are predicated on individuals committing illegal conduct, especially prosecutable crimes.

An email sent by the CBP Supervisory Officer assigned to Newark Liberty International Airport and dated April 22, 2011 explained that officials actually seized two shipments in March 2011. In addition to the oinochoe and the gold objects, which the customs officer initially believed to have been from the first century, authorities seized Iranian artifacts
On April 21, 2011 Officer from CACEF-FedEx/UPS along with Special Agents from SAC/NY, El Dorado Task Force (EDTF) Financial Group VI seized two cultural property shipments. 
In one shipment UPS officers targeted and examined a shipment listed as ''Antique Decorative Persian Metalwork". Research by CBPO ... and ICE SA ... determined that the items were from around the 12th century and the actual origin of the shipment to be Iran. The items were being shipped in violation of the 1987 United States Executive Order 12613 imposing an import embargo on Iranian origin goods and services.
In the second shipment FedEx officers targeted and examined a shipment coming from Great Britain that was manifested as "BRASS JUGS PLATED PENDANTS". 
Examination of the shipment revealed a brass jug, gold colored embossed plates and two gold colored pieces. Research by CBPO ..., ICE SA ... determined that these items were being brought in with a false country of origin, undervalued and were from approximately 100 B.C. These items were seized for being violation of 18 USC 545 - Smuggling Goods into the United States." 
Supervisory Special Agent  
Intellectual Property Art and Antiquities Investigations 
Department of Homeland Security
The released documents reveal nothing further about the Iranian objects.

With regard to the shipment containing the jug and gold items, not only did the importer provide bogus descriptions and phony values on the customs paperwork, the importer also misleadingly claimed that the goods originated from Britain. Because the package had been shipped from the Walthamstow neighborhood in London, the importer probably hoped that he could get away with this misrepresentation.

An April 21, 2011 investigative report expounded on this legal violation. "On April 18, 2011, the SME [subject matter expert] further elucidated that none of the items in this shipment could have had Great Britain as a country of origin." As a result, the report recorded that "[t]his importation contained a material false statement related to the country of origin," It pointedly added, "Individuals who smuggle cultural property often utilize false countries of origin to avoid Customs scrutiny in order to import controlled antiquities. Listing a false country of origin is a violation of 18 USC 542 (Material False Statement). If this shipment was destined to an antiquities dealer, they should know and would be responsible to know the country of origin. In this instance [it] is suspected that the false country of origin listed as Great Britain was a known false statement and a violation of 18 USC 545 (Smuggling). The shipment would be subject to seizure under 19 USC 1595 a (c) (Introduction Contrary to Law)."

The oinochoe and gold pieces were supposed to be delivered to a man living in New York City who resided at the same address as a registered New York corporation, referred to here simply as "Bactrian Global Enterprises" (BGE). DHS investigative report number 20 dated October 11, 2011, classified "BGE" as "a business that is suspected of antiquities smuggling and money laundering."

Concerns about smuggling, money laundering, and ties to terrorism almost certainly should have prompted a prosecutor to be assigned to the case. But the documents released by ICE reveal that no prosecutor was assigned. Whether ICE failed to ask for one or whether a U.S. Attorney's Office declined to assign one is unknown. What is known is that no prosecuting attorney was attached to a case flagged as one involving transnational felony conduct. A May 9, 2011 reply to an email sent a few days earlier from a chief CBP paralegal in the Office of Fines Penalties & Forfeitures explicitly confirmed that no attorney had been designated. The Paralegal Specialist asked if there was an Assistant U.S. Attorney involved. "No AUSA" was the dispiriting reply given.

By way of contrast, wildlife trafficking crimes, which are typically investigated by special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), have designated prosecutors at the Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section (ECS) available for consultation. Following the best practice of assigning a prosecuting attorney to a serious or complicated felony-level investigation, the Justice Department points out, "An ECS prosecutor often gets involved early in an investigation, such as when the investigator swears out a search warrant or when a grand jury’s investigative power is needed.  Once the necessary evidence is collected, the prosecutor presents the case to the grand jury for indictment. After indictment, the prosecutor guides the case through complex white collar and environmental law issues and prepares it for trial." ECS prosecutors also partner and coordinate with front-line prosecutors based at U.S. Attorneys offices.

Repouseé gold foil applique depicting antelope
seized by ICE and sent to Afghanistan
Because ICE failed to arrest, indict, prosecute, or convict any individuals connected with the 2011 investigation, CHL will not identify the names of those who imported the cultural heritage objects or disclose the specific address where the shipment was bound.

With that said, ICE agents paid a visit on September 16, 2011 to the Manhattan address of "BGE" on the pretense of hand-delivering a property seizure notice prepared by a paralegal specialist four days earlier. Delivering it "would be a perfect excuse for an interview," a September 2, 2011 email divulged.

Two federal agents arrived at the Chelsea residence and found an unassuming building, the kind of four-story low-rise that New Yorkers walk by each day and never take a second look. Inside were unspecified antiquities. An agent summarized the encounter in a report dated October 11, 2011. (ICE redacted references to any names in the original report):
On September 16, 2011, Special Agents [   ] and [   ] conducted an interview with [   ] located at [BGE] located at [   ] New York, NY 10011. The interview contained but was not limited to the following topics of conversation: Special Agents [   ] identified themselves [   ] and asked permission to enter… Permission was granted and agents observed the address to be a basement level apartment of approximately two large rooms. One room was set-up as a residential space where two people appeared to be living. The second room appeared to be a large storage room with a computer. Stored in the room there appeared to be large quantities of crafts, jewelry and antiquities. [   ] stated that he lived at the address with his cousin and that the apartment was the location of a jewelry and craft business, and a real estate business. … [   ] relayed that he and his father are in the business known as [BGE] together and he was able to produce a business card attesting to this fact. The card also listed [   ] the cousin living at the address, as an employee of [BGE]. [   ] explained that the business is set-up to predominantly sell costume jewelry and textiles. 
SA [   ] stated he was there to deliver a seizure notice regarding an importation previously destined for [   ] at the address. [   ] stated that he was aware of it but that only his father knows about that specific shipment. [   ] stated that the merchandise for [BGE] comes from Pakistan. When asked specifically where the antiquities come from [   ] interrupted the conversation and stated that the antiquities were all from central Asia. [   ] was able to provide that their Customs Broker's name is [   ]. [   ] also stated that the shipment was sent to his father to sell on consignment and that his father didn't know much about it. SA [   ] explained to [   ] about the seizure notices and the accompanying paperwork and had him sign a sheet acknowledging receipt of the hand carried mail.
That no one knew anything of consequence is a fair summary of this same interview as memorialized by an HSI special agent's supplemental email dated October 5, 2011:
• He and his father are in the business together. They sell costume jewelry and textiles. 
• The father is the one that knows about the shipment.
• He did not know anything about the shipment.
• [   ] is their [customs] broker.
• There was another individual that was a real estate business partner of the father but not with ["BGE"]. Subject name was [   ] unknown proper spelling.
• [   ] stated that the shipment was sent to sell on consignment and that the father didn't know much about it."
Shortly after the interview, and for reasons not explained in the released documents, government information networks rang with alarm. Documents confirm that on Wednesday, October 5, 2011 computer terminals at U.S. border entry points flashed warnings over the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS):



Before HSI agents actually conducted their interview in Manhattan, they made an effort to secure a search warrant for "BGE." But they never got one. That likely sparked the idea of serving the property seizure notice as a justification for visiting the importer.

Interestingly, ICE went outside the jurisdiction for help with getting a search warrant. Based on the both the substance and style of a conversation archived in an email string sent on the afternoon of May 10, 2011, one unidentified party, who could be an investigative agent based in the jurisdiction of the Southern District of New York (probably Manhattan), and the other unidentified party, who could be a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York (probably Brooklyn), spoke about the matter.

The email string revolves around a request for an email search warrant. The presumed agent wrote that he or she learned that the suspect(s) already had been investigated for possible terrorism ties to Afghanistan, smuggling, and money laundering. Those cases were closed, and now there was a request for a fresh warrant. The emails offer the following exchange:

Agent: "I received this email a couple of months ago from a source and the pieces being offered are straight out of the ground. I recently seized a package in Newark destined for the address of ["Bactrian Global"] but the ultimate consignee was [    ]. When I inspected the shipment in person, the box (not the shipping label) was addressed to [   ] the principle behind ["Bactrian Global Enterprises"].

"The shipment was seized because it contained a false C/O [country of origin], and contained golden antiquities that were not declared. The shipment was seized on 4/21/2011.

"Would this all be recent and good enough for an email S/W [search warrant] in your opinion? If so, would you do it or could you recommend someone? I can send the ROI [report of investigation] related to the seizure and pictures if interested."

Prosecutor: "Is there any connection to the EDNY [Eastern District of New York]? How much do you think these pieces are worth? True CDO [country of declared origin]?"

Agent: "True C/O [country of origin] is most likely Iraq or somewhere in the middle east[,] the expert couldn't give one country 100% but she was 100% certain it was not GB [Great Britain]. Attached is the report. No estimate on value yet, but we are pretty certain it is more than declared because they failed to declare much of the shipment.

"Just learning that the principles (sic) have prior (failed and closed) investigations into them for money laundering, Cult. Prop. [cultural property] smuggling, and possible terrorism ties to Afghanistan.

"Does the same source who worked the UC op [undercover operation] that took place via JFK [Airport in New York] work [in order to form some legal tie to the Eastern District of New York]? Also, most of their shipments are via JFK. This one wasn't but it also used the wrong name on the shipping label."

Prosecutor: "I don't think we have venue here... I hate that there's dirt caked on them. Though it's so dirty, it makes you wonder if they're trying to increase value by faking a find."

Under the circumstances, a search warrant probably was not issued from the Eastern District of New York because the suspects were located in Manhattan, in the Southern District of New York. A specially assigned heritage trafficking prosecutor based at the Department of Justice in Washington probably could have facilitated this search warrant request by coordinating with the appropriate right U.S. Attorney's office. But no such specialist prosecutor exists.

So what looked like a criminal investigation into antiquities trafficking quickly turned into a seize and send case. Instead of holding the evidence and building the investigation for possible grand jury review, indictment, and conviction after trial or plea, ICE sought title to the antiquities through the forfeiture process, eventually sending the cultural heritage objects back to their country of origin. This seize and send disposition effectively terminated any chance of successfully prosecuting those responsible for lying on the customs entry paperwork.

An email dated January 25, 2012 from a Supervisory Legal Specialist at CBP 's Office of Fines, Penalties, and Forfeitures touched on this administrative process: "Please be advised that the cultural property in FP&F Case #: [   ] associated with OI #: [   ] has been administratively forfeited. I have attached the appraisal conducted on the seizure of this merchandise so you can determine the repatriation of these items to their rightful nations as per the seizure narrative of this case."

"Please send the seizure notice and Hold Harmless to [   ] Cultural Attache[,] The Embassy of Afghanistan...," requested an HSI SAC/NY special agent in an email dated April 5, 2013.

How Afghanistan and not Iraq or Pakistan came to be identified as the true country of origin remains unknown from the FOIA-released paperwork. Iraq had been mentioned as a possible country of origin in the police reports, and a special agent from HSI SAC/NY mentioned Pakistan in an email dated April 4, 2013, which pointed to the smuggling problem originating from South Asia. "You should see how much Afghan and Pakistani material we have from the [   ] case," the agent exclaimed. An unclassified but redacted email dated April 2, 2013 by an unknown government official echoed this troubling sentiment, "So much material is flowing out of Afghanistan and Pakistan; it really is a shame."

Although the repatriation essentially concluded the case, one undated document from HSI's Office of International Affairs insisted on the continuing nature of ICE's probe:
HSI New York's Operation Lost Treasure is an ongoing investigation targeting an organization smuggling items of world cultural heritage into the United States. The objects enter the antiquities market and the proceeds are laundered. Antiquities have been traced to Afghanistan, Iraq, Greece, Italy, Egypt and Iran and the funds have been traced to Dubai and London. To date, approximately 50 objects have been recovered with an estimated value of $2.5 million.
Whether ICE has probed this four year old case recently is unknown. What is known is that, according to NYS Department of State Division of Corporations Records, "BGE" today lists its principal office on the Upper West Side in New York City. "BGE," formed in 2006, is listed in the Yellow Pages as a home furnishings business that provides arts and crafts supplies. The company is a likely outgrowth of a preceding import/export company begun in the 1980's and now dissolved. Persons connected with "BGE'" and the 2011 investigation appear to use aliases that are subtle variations of their names, and the Manhattan address where HSI agents once visited currently houses at least four registered real estate corporations and an unregistered soft drink/grocery business, according to open source records. As of last month, an apparent relative of "BGE's" owner appears to have formed a brand new company at that address, which seems to be in the same type of business as"BGE."

HSI Assistant Director John Connolly emphasized during the repatriation ceremony of the artifacts to Afghanistan how HSI is "beating back this illicit trade through dedicated law enforcement efforts." But such a declaration remains inconsequential so long as crimes are committed and no perpetrators are brought before the courts. The participation of prosecutors are needed to do that. A designated group of specialist prosecutors working with HSI on their investigation may even have averted another "failed and closed investigation[]," as ICE put it, of cultural property trafficking.

Wildlife trafficking investigations should serve as a model for cultural heritage trafficking prosecutions. Because successful inroads have been made to combat this transnational crime, now more is being done. For the last five years, specialist prosecutors at ECS and their counterparts across the globe have been supported in their mission by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), a group of five international organizations--including INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization. The ICCWC's mission is "to usher in a new era where perpetrators of serious wildlife and forest crime will face a formidable and coordinated response, rather than the present situation where the risk of detection and punishment is all too low." USFWS notes that the consortium "was formed to increase prosecution and punishment for caught smugglers and poachers."

Cultural heritage traffickers need to be prosecuted and punished too, and the inside look into ICE's 2011 seize and send case illustrates the point.

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 CulturalHeritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Night Before the Theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Concert
Who went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum the night before the notorious theft of over a dozen artworks?

Carmen Ortiz, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, and the FBI released a video last week seeking an answer to this question. “With the public’s help, we may be able to develop new information that could lead to the recovery of these invaluable works of art,” Ortiz announced.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Twenty-five years ago, thieves in Boston stole Vermeer’s The Concert and Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee among several other pieces. The case remains unsolved a quarter century later.

The poor quality security tape (displayed below) shows a car parked at the rear entrance of the museum. The FBI says that “[t]he car matches the general description of a vehicle that was reported to have been parked outside the Museum moments prior to the theft on March 18, 1990.”

According to agency officials, “The video also shows an unidentified man exiting the automobile and then being allowed inside the Museum, against Museum policy, by a security guard. That event occurred at 12:49 p.m. on March 17, 1990, almost exactly 24 hours before the thieves entered the museum through the same door.

Anyone who has information about the theft or the events captured on the security video should call the FBI at 617-742-5533 or the Isabella Gardner Museum at 617-278-5114.

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.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Nominate CHL to the Annual Blawg 100

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Steering Clear of ISIS Loot: Don't Buy, Apply Strict Due Diligence

Ancient artifact collectors share a passion for history, culture, and aesthetics. The best collectors embrace their role as stewards of heritage by dutifully caring for cultural material through conservation, storage, display, and study. But as fighting in Syria and Iraq intensifies, principled collectors are asking how to avoid purchasing "blood antiquities."

Like archaeologists, heritage preservationists, and the concerned public, collectors have seen the disconcerting satellite images of looters' pits that confirm severe damage to the archaeological record, and they have listened to assessments by law enforcement officials pointing out that ISIS/ISIL/Da’esh engages in the looting and sale of antiquities. They are also cognizant of the U.N. Security Council's unanimous decision in February to adopt Resolution 2199, which plainly expresses that terrorists "are generating income from engaging ... in the looting and smuggling of cultural heritage items ... in Iraq and Syria...." And today they learn that the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take up S.1887, legislation that is similar to H.R. 1493, which authorizes emergency protections for endangered Syrian cultural property.

To steer clear of collecting potential ISIS loot, Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, recently tweeted this judicious guidance, “Don't sell; don't buy. That's one solution." Collectors would be well advised to heed this recommendation and avoid purchasing cultural heritage objects that appear to have surfaced from war-torn Syria or Iraq.

Yet a number of undaunted collectors will continue to shop the nubilous marketplace, optimistic that they will discover authentic and legal artifacts that, hopefully, do not contribute to terrorist funding or money laundering. For them, caveat emptor should remain the guidepost and strict due diligence the rule, particularly since mounting evidence offers abundant reasonable suspicion that would compel an ethical collector of ordinary caution to demand clear answers from a dealer about the exact origins, export, import, transshipment, and chain of possession of art, artifacts, or antiquities believed to have originated from the Middle East.

The justifiable suspicion that heritage trafficking funds terrorism received added confirmation in May when U.S. Special Operations Forces seized 700 cultural objects during a raid on an ISIS compound in the al-Amr region of eastern Syria. That area borders Iraq's Anbar and Nineveh provinces. The Department of Defense (DoD) implicated the owner of the collection in ISIS combat operations and asserted that the man, known only as Abu Sayaff, "helped direct the terrorist organization's illicit oil, gas, and financial operations as well."

The captured trove reportedly included bronze coins with Greek, Latin, and Arabic inscriptions (top); silver dirhams (right); copper bracelets (bottom left); gold dinars; cylinder seals; and more. As is typical with the black market trade, the genuine articles appear to have been mixed together with reproductions.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Stuart Jones, offered the opinion that the raid revealed more than the ordinary measure of evidence. He contended, during a ceremony repatriating the objects, “These artifacts are indisputable evidence that Da’esh—beyond its terrorism, brutality, and destruction—is also a criminal gang that is looting antiquities from museums and historical sites and selling them on the black market."

Given the totality of data uncovered over the last several years linking trafficked heritage with terrorism, war, and money laundering, the largest community of collectors—museums—have taken steps to warn the public about the proliferation of the black trade. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) in September 2013 published a Red List spotlighting Syrian cultural objects at risk of plunder, and just last month the organization distributed a refreshed Red List covering Iraqi artifacts. The Red Lists help readers identify the kinds of artifacts looted from archaeological sites, stolen from museums, or smuggled across borders so that the distribution and sale of these precious heritage objects can be stopped.

The Red Lists signal extreme caution, and collectors of all stripes would gain peace of mind by provisionally abstaining from the purchase of objects that are believed to have originated from Syria or Iraq. Curbing consumer demand at the present time would have the added benefit of sending a message to suppliers that even the slightest hint of conflict-related commodities will not be tolerated in the legitimate stream of commerce.

Collectors determined to remain in the market, meanwhile, should employ a strict due diligence strategy to sharply limit the chances of acquiring possible contraband or facilitating money laundering. One suggested due diligence guideline—authored by individual collectors and presented to the pro-collecting Ancientartifacts forum in 2009—is titled A Code of Ethics for Collectors of AncientArtifacts. It remains a useful resource today, admonishing collectors to:
  • protect archaeological heritage and uphold the law
  • check sources,
  • collect sensitively,
  • recognize the collector’s role as custodian,
  • keep artifacts in one piece and consider the significance of groups of objects,
  • promote further study, and
  • dispose of artifacts responsibly.
To achieve these goals, the ethics code highlights common sense due diligence and acquisitions advice, including:
  • "Ask the vendor for all relevant paperwork relating to provenance, export etc."
  • "Take extra care if collecting particular classes of object which have been subjected to wide-scale recent looting.”
  • "Verify a vendor’s reputation independently before buying. Assure yourself that they are using due diligence in their trading practices, and do not support those who knowingly sell fakes as authentic or offer items of questionable provenance."
  • "Do not dismember any item, or acquire a fragment which you believe to have been separated from a larger object except through natural means."
  •  "Consider the implications of buying an item from an associated assemblage and the impact this could have on study."
  • "Liaise, where possible, with the academic and broader communities about your artifacts."
Collecting can play a constructive role in the stewardship of legally acquired and suitably documented artifacts. But in today's conflict-ridden environments in Syria and Iraq, guarding against criminal trafficking and the facilitation of terrorist financing is a heightened concern, which should prompt collectors to effectuate appropriate safeguards. "Don't buy" is the best protective measure, while strict due diligence remains a secondary, yet imperfect, line of defense for those willing to assume the risks in the traditionally opaque marketplace.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of State

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.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

House Adopts The Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act

The Foreign Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act passed the House of Representatives late this afternoon. H.R. 889, which received broad bipartisan support by legislators in Congress, now goes to the Senate.

The committee report accompanying the legislation explained that "a provision in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) discourages foreign governments from lending government-owned artwork and objects of cultural significance to U.S. museums and educational institutions for temporary exhibition or display. Foreign governments are discouraged from such lending by the possibility that it will open them up to litigation in U.S. courts for which they would  otherwise be immune. This legislation fixes this problem by making a narrowly tailored change to FSIA."

The House adopted similar versions of the bill in the past, most recently in May 2014, but the bills failed to become law.

The CHL blog penned an argument in favor of this legislation in 2012.

The video below, courtesy of C-Span and clipped by CHL, shows today's floor debate.


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.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

House Passes Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act

On Monday afternoon, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1493, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act.

CHL has prepared a video snippet of the debate and vote, courtesy of C-Span. Watch below or click here if you are experiencing difficulty.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Culture Under Threat Conference in Cairo: Red Arch Raises Important Questions Posed by U.S. Imports of Art, Collectors' Pieces, and Antiques

Why did the declared value of U.S. general imports of antiques over 100 years old from Syria climb 133% between 2012 and 2013, from approximately $4.7 million to $11 million?

Why did the declared value of U.S. general imports of antiques over 100 years old from Iraq skyrocket 1302% between 2009 and 2013, from $322,564 to $4,523,126?

These were some of the questions posed by Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research at an historic international summit held in Cairo on May 13 and 14.

Antiquities Coalition co-founder and Red Arch board member Peter Herdrich
(far left) stands with delegates and organizers of the Cultural Property Under Threat conference.

Antiquities Coalition Chair Deborah Lehr (7th from right) spearheaded the historic gathering.
Titled Culture Under Threat and cooperatively organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute, the conference featured government ministers from ten nations. Together, they signed the Cairo Declaration, a document proposed by Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty, calling for:
  • the establishment of a high-level task force to coordinate regional and international efforts against cultural heritage trafficking,
  • the creation of a public awareness campaign against the black market trade, and
  • the formation of an independent center to combat antiquities laundering.

Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates proffered the Declaration in the wake of widespread plunder and destruction of archaeological, historical, and religious treasures located in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

“Criminal networks and terrorist groups have systematically looted historic sites and profited from the sales of these antiquities in international black markets,” the government ministers decried. They further denounced the sale of “blood antiquities,” which help fund ISIS and other terror groups.

In light of the extensive cultural heritage looting in the MENA region and because transnational commodities traffickers have been known to penetrate complex trade systems in order to turn contraband into cash, international trade data presented by Red Arch Research sparked important discussions among conference participants. The data highlighting U.S. imports of nondescript antiques from war-torn Syria and Iraq may prompt law enforcement and customs authorities to confirm or dispel any suspicions raised by the numbers.

Additional questions posed by the trade data include:

Why did the declared value of U.S. general imports of archaeological, historical, or ethnographic pieces from Egypt jump 105.5%, from approximately $5.2 million in 2012 to $10.7 million in 2013, which made Egypt the #2 source of such commodities by value behind the United Kingdom at $11.4 million?

Why did the declared value of U.S. general imports of archaeological, historical, or ethnographic goods from Lebanon spike 4,483%, from $6,546 in 2012 to $300,000 in 2013?

Why did the declared value of U.S. general imports of collectors’ coins (excluding gold coins) surge
- 82% from Turkey, from approximately $1.7 million in 2012 to $3 million in 2013?
- 417% from Lebanon, from $54,651 in 2012 to $282,434 in 2013?
- 2,604% from Libya, from $4,793 in 2012 to $129,620 in 2013?

UN Office of Drugs and Crime Regional Representative
Masood Karimipour listens as Red Arch Director Rick St. Hilaire
addresses the Cairo conference delegates.

Smugglers have been known to over-value or under-value invoices to disguise money transfers—a practice called trade based money laundering. Criminals also have been known to create shell import and export companies to hide the origins and transfers of illegally trafficked cultural goods. In past years, the CHL blog has chronicled cases where traffickers surreptitiously described Hindu sculptures as "handicrafts” on customs forms, affixed "Made in Thailand" stickers on ancient Ban Chiang pots to make them appear modern, manipulated the description of a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton from Mongolia as a fossil reptile from Great Britain on import paperwork, or falsely declared ancient Egyptian artifacts as “original sculptures and statuary” from Turkey, the UAE, and other nations. These cases illustrate the Basel Art Trade Guidelines (2012) warning that:
In comparison with other trade sectors, the art market faces a higher risk of exposure to dubious trade practices. This is due to the volume of illegal or legally questionable transactions, which is noticeably higher in this sector than in other globally active markets. Far more serious than shady dealings in a legal grey area, the sector’s shadow economy encompasses issues ranging from looted art, professional counterfeiting and fake certificates to the use of art sales for the purpose of money laundering.
Because the legal art and antiquities marketplace nurtures opacity, placing excessive emphasis on discretion over transparency, a black market temptation exists among smugglers, fences, and launderers to hide drops of illegally acquired goods deep within the sea of legitimate commerce. And the sea is vast. Declared American imports of art, collectors’ pieces, and antiques alone totaled over $9 billion in 2013, crowning the U.S. as the top global importer of commodities classified by this customs heading.

Answers are required to the critical questions lurking behind the import statistics: Who is importing the cultural heritage material? Who are the exporters? Exactly what “antiques,” “archaeological pieces,” and “collectors’ coins” are being shipped to the U.S.? From which archaeological sites and through what transshipment countries? And which imports are legal versus illegal? Indeed, uncovering black market trading pipelines, supply chains, and distribution networks navigating within the legitimate stream of commerce should be a key goal of the Cairo conference delegates as well as INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization, dealers and auction houses, and other stakeholders. 

Invaluable research assistance supplied by Keegan Trace Brooks, JD Candidate, Georgia State University. Data assembled by Red Arch Research from statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission. Photos courtesy of the Antiquities Coalition.

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 service of Red Arch Cultural Heritage Law & Policy Research, Inc.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cultural Property Protection Bill Reintroduced in the House

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

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

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

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: 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.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Assyrian Head Repatriation: Filling in the Details of ICE's Investigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text copyrighted 2015 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: 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.