Recent Criminal News. Report by Eleni Vassilika.

Over this period of lockdown, shielding or imposed furlough, many of us have turned to reading crime novels. However, within our field there has been enough criminal activity to absorb art historians.

Hackers posing as London art dealer Simon C. Dickinson Ltd tricked the Rijksmuseum Twenthe (Enschede, Netherlands) into paying £2.4 million for a John Constable painting into a fraudulent Hong Kong account bank account. The museum is holding the painting and has been refusing to return it to Dickinson, who has not been paid and did not know that a crime had been committed. Judge Mark Pelling refused the museum’s claim for damages. January 2020

Collector Jaime Botin (uncle of Banco Santander SA Chairman Ana Botin) was sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined € 52.4 million euros for smuggling a Pablo Picasso painting out of Spain. January 2020.

Italian carabinieri have caught up with antiquities 27 buyers, also through internet buying. January 2020.

A Bronzino painting of Saint Cosmas (ca. 1544) on loan from the Alana Collection Masterpieces of Italian Painting (US) to Paris’ Jacquemart André Museum was seized by French customs officials as part of an international investigation involving possibly forged Old Masters works. January 2020

An Egyptian court convicted Raouf Boutros Ghali (brother of a former finance minister, and nephew of former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali), to 30 years for smuggling Egyptian antiquities out of Egypt. In the same trial the former honorary consul of Italy in Luxor, Cav. Ladislav Otker Skakal was convicted in absentia to 15 years imprisonment.  January 2020

30 art objects were seized “due to a suspect authenticity or provenance” from the Brussels Antiques & Fine Arts Fair. January 2020

The Art Loss Register announced the forthcoming repatriation of a fragmentary Kushan sculpture to Afghanistan after its recovery TimeLine Auctions (UK ). January 2020.

A manuscript poetry collection of the 14th century Persian poet Hafez of Shiraz, stolen from the private possessions of Iranian ex pat art collector Djafar Ghazy in Neuhausen, Germany, has been recovered and will be returned to the owner’s family. January 2020

Having been persuaded by the Sarr-Savoy report on colonial collections and the necessity of restitution, President Emmanuel Macron promised to return artefacts from the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac in Paris, taken as colonial spoils from the Kingdom of Dahomey in 1892, to Benin. Emmanuel Kasarhérou Director of The Quai Branly Museum is charged with choosing which objects to restitute. Meanwhile a group of French art dealers with strong moral principles chose to jump start the restitution process by buying up 27 looted objects at auction to return them to Benin. January 2020

An 18th century ceremonial crown was returned to Ethiopia by Sirak Asfaw, a political refugee who fled to the Netherlands in the 1970s. An unnamed houseguest in 1998 left a suitcase with Sirak, who later discovered the crown. February 2020

Steve Green, President of the Hobby Lobby and Founder of the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC, is to return 11,500 recently acquired antiquities to Iraq and Egypt. March 2020

Dr Dirk Obbink, an associate professor in papyrology (Oxford) was arrested in connection with the sale of papyrus fragments to the Museum of the Bible (Washington DC) that were housed at Oxford’s Sackler Library, but were owned by the Egypt Exploration Society. April 2020

The Parisian antiquities dealer Christophe Kunicki, who sold the Egyptian gilded sarcophagus to New York’s Metropolitan Museum, was charged with fraud along with his husband and associate Richard Sampaire and three others. June 2020

Facebook announced that it would remove any content “that attempts to buy, sell or trade in historical artifacts.” June 2020

Christie’s withdrew ‘looted’ Greek and Roman treasures due to the representations by  Christos Tsirogiannis (planned speaker for the February 2020 conference ‘Violated national heritage: Theft, trafficking and Restitution’) from illicit excavations. June 2020

The contents of the remarkable ancient art collection in the museum of the Bulgarian gaming czar Vasil Bozhkov were confiscated. The collection comprises some 3,000 antiquities of Greek, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine and Thracian cultures (from 4,000 BC though the 6th century AD).  The objects are of questionable provenance. Bozhkov fled Bulgaria (January 2020) to avoid charges of murder, money launderingtax evasion and rape. From his flat in Dubai he announced his intention to enter politics once he returns to Bulgaria. June 2020

The National Museum in Stockholm is to return a painting by the School of Lucas Cranach the Elder to a museum in Poland after documentation demonstrated that the work was stolen after the Second World War. June 2020

100 historic and illegally exported Tunisian objects were withdrawn from Paris’ Noblesse & Royauté auction organised by Coutau-Bégarie. June 2020.

Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen” (1884) from the Groninger Museum loaned to the Singer Laren Museum (both in the Netherlands) was stolen during Covid-19 lockdown. The art detective Arthur Brand released two photos, of the front and verso, between a New York Times newspaper and the Dutch autobiography by Octave Durham “The Master Thief”, who stole two other van Gogh paintings (2002). June 2020.

Inigo Philbrick, contemporary art dealer (son of Harry Philbrick founding director of Philadelphia Contemporary museum), was arrested having repeatedly sold multiple artworks to different collectors and investors. He was known to use the same works of art as collateral for loans while faking his ownership of the works. The story is recounted in GQ magazine 6 May 2020. On the run Philbrick was apprehended by US law enforcement agents on the Pacific island of Vanuatu. June 2020

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