Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Art and Antiques Legal Problems Around the World

1. SALT LAKE CITY (AP).- A Colorado antiquities dealer indicted as part of sweeping federal investigation into the looting of southwestern American Indian artifacts on Wednesday pleaded guilty to reduced charges in Salt Lake City's federal court.
Carl L. Crites pleaded guilty to three felony counts of trafficking, theft and depredation of government property before U.S. District Judge Dee Benson. In exchange for the plea, federal prosecutors dropped two other charges.
In court Wednesday, Crites acknowledged he had purchased a pair of basket-maker sandals valued at more than $1,000 from an undercover government operative and that he knew the slippers had been illegally taken from Utah public lands.
Crites, of Durango, Colo., also acknowledged helping the informant dig up human remains, pottery shards and a knife on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in southern Utah.
The charges carry a combined maximum punishment of 22 years in federal prison. Crites' wife, Mary V. Crites, also pleaded guilty Wednesday to one felony count of trafficking, which carries a maximum penalty of up to two years in prison. A second charge was dropped. Benson set an Aug. 11 date for sentencing. The Crites', who operated an antiquities business, have surrendered some five truckloads of American Indian relics to federal agents.

2.  Paris Drouot/Savoyard portering scandal French investigators believe that some – by no means all – of the corps of 110 self-regulating, uniformed Drouot porters have been systematically hiding away items from large estates left by art collectors or wealthy people. If someone complained, the missing item would mysteriously reappear. If the theft was not spotted by the heirs, the items were sold privately or auctioned at Drouot after a period of months or even years.
Police and art dealers say that slow motion thefts of this kind have been widespread for decades but have traditionally involved relatively low-value items. A small group of Savoyards is now accused of extending the practice to far more valuable objects, including a small Courbet oil worth about €100,000 (£90,000), a Chagall gouache and a collection of diamonds.
Eight of them have been formally accused of "organised theft" and belonging to a "criminal gang". An auctioneer licensed to operate at Drouot is accused of receiving stolen goods but is not thought to have played a leading role in the operation.
Georges Delettrez, president of Drouot, (established 1852) has been attempting to minimise the affair. "It is not because we have eight black sheep that all the flock is sick," he said. "We are also victims. These disgraceful thefts have nothing to do with Drouot."
The pastoral metaphor is appropriate. Portering duties at Parisian auction houses have been monopolised by men from the high Alpine pastures of Savoie since the 1830s. Before the invention of skiing holidays, villages such as Tigne had to export part of their male population to the big city. The hold of Savoyards on the jobs at Drouot was officially recognised by the Emperor Napoleon III in 1860.
The auction house does not employ them directly but pays their organisation a percentage of its profits which is then shared out among the porters. Each of the 110 jobs is numbered and passed on within the same families or sometimes, more recently, sold to other Savoyards for up to €50,000.
With the growth of employment in the winter sports industry, the original porter-supplying villages, such as Tignes, have shared out the jobs with other villages in Savoie and Haute-Savoie. Each porter wears a black uniform, with a red collar carrying his official number.
The job of the Savoyards is to collect items for sale, store them and carry them into the auction room. Over the years, they have also acquired permission to buy and sell items on commission or in their own right. These rights have now been suspended.
The extent of the illicit trade is unclear. Police have been searching through 125 large containers used by the Savoyards at a warehouse on the eastern edges of Paris. Only 10 containers – belonging to the accused porters – have been emptied so far. They are said to have contained scores of objets d'art, pieces of furniture or ancient books whose origins the owners of the containers could not explain. Searches at the homes of the accused men have discovered a gouache painting by Marc Chagall and a set of diamonds.
Parisian art dealers say that the illicit activities of some Drouot porters have been an open secret for years. So long as the thefts remained modest, dealers were reluctant to complain because they were fearful of upsetting the porters. "If you complained, there would be reprisals, like objects broken in transit," one dealer told Le Figaro.
Another common practice, dealers said, was for porters to steal parts of an object in transit– such as the doors of an antique wardrobe – and then buy the "incomplete" article for a low price. Several months later, the antique would be re-assembled and sold on for a big profit."Until now, these were small, occasional thefts," one dealer said. "Not a Courbet or a Chagall."
Detectives are trying to work out just how widespread the thefts had become. "There was no gang leader," one investigator told Le Parisien. "This was a cooperative of crime."
From pastures to porters
*The "Savoyards" or "collets rouges" (red collars) have been part of the Drouot landscape for 150 years.
*The corps of 110 porters are recruited from high Alpine villages in the Savoie or Haute-Savoie.
*Their monopoly at Drouot was decreed by Napoleon III in 1860, while making Savoie part of France.
*Each Savoyard wears a black uniform with a red collar, bearing his serial number. While at work, the Savoyards are never known by their real names but by nicknames such as "Corbeau" or "Narcisse". (museum-security.org)

3. Former Getty antiquities curator Marion True speaks out about her five-year trial in Italy January 5, 2011 The high-profile trial of Getty antiquities curator Marion True, charged by the Italian government with conspiring to traffic in looted art, ended last year on Oct. 13 after the statutes of limitations for her alleged crimes ran out. But the fear that this trial instilled in museums across the nation about acquiring antiquities persists, as do questions about True's history with her co-defendants, antiquities dealers Robert Hecht and Giacomo Medici.
This month, True published a statement in the Art Newspaper to rebut some of the "distorted and slanderous allegations" against her. In the process, she reminds readers of one of the great ironies or tragedies of the five-year, 43-session trial: Before the investigation, True's department at the Getty had a reputation for being one of the few museum teams on the better side of best practices in a fast-changing playing field, in which foreign governments often label works as looted after the fact of their sale or export instead of before.
In her words:
An employee of the Getty Museum for 23 years, I had been working for much of that time with Italian colleagues in the Ministry for Beni Culturali — Mario Serio (former director general), Adriano La Regina (former superintendent of the Imperial Fora), Pier Giovanni Guzzo (superintendent of Pompeii and Herculaneum) in particular — to find new ways of building collections at the Getty beyond market purchases... And from 1987, at the request of Getty president Harold Williams, I worked with legal counsel to formulate an acquisition policy for antiquities that called for direct notification of the ministries of Mediterranean countries when purchases were proposed, and requested any information or objections to acquisitions under consideration. The policy also demanded that the ministries have immediate notification of objects acquired and, most importantly, the return of any object that could be proven to be illicitly excavated or smuggled. At the time this policy was the most stringent among major US museums, and was strengthened in 1995 with the requirement that any object proposed for acquisition be published as something known to the scholarly world before 1995. (Culture Monster All the Arts, All the Time) See The Art Newspaper for Marion True's complete statement. see also Peter Watson's The Medici Conspiracy.

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