Friday, 30 October 2009

Bulgarian dugup coin collection investigated

A forthcoming court case apparently involving the investigation of the origins of coins from a major private collection in Bulgaria will be one of its first tests of Bulgaria’s new law on cultural heritage (Petar Kostadino "A case study", Sofia Echo Fri, Oct 30 2009).

It comes two weeks after the new law’s deadline expired for all holders of archaeological findings to register them in court.

The case has aroused interest in US collecting circles because one of the people accused of involvment is Dimitar Draganov, a professor in numismatics from the town of Rousse on the Danube. Draganov is author of a number of publications (see Ed Snible’s blog for more details) and is also a member of the UK’s Royal Numismatics Society. “He is also manager of the Bobokovi Foundation of two Rousse-based business people, the brothers Plamen and and Atanas Bobokovi, who share a collection of coins, the reason for the accusations against Draganov”.

The case started in 2008 when Draganov was among 19 people arrested in Rousse on allegations of illegal treasure hunting. Police found about 400 ancient coins, worth 370 000 leva, in Draganov’s home. According to police, the coins were about to be sold abroad, with Draganov hired to record them as an expert. Draganov’s version of the story is different. He said that the coins were part of a collection owned by the Bobokovi Foundation and his job was indeed to register them as archaeological artefacts so that a catalogue could be compiled and a book written about them.
It seems the whole business started in the summer of 2007 with the publication and public exhibition of the massive coin collection of the Bobokovi brothers which aroused speculation about how the collection had been created. "The collection which police confiscated from my desk, I received from the Bobokovi brothers with a protocol so that I can do research on it", he said. The value of the coins found “in his desk” is the equivalent of 190 000 Euros. Draganov confirmed that the collection was registered and declared at the museum in Rousse as well as with the Ministry of Culture. Prosecutors want to see the papers used by Bobokovi and Draganov to register the collection. They suspect that some of the coins in the collection may have been illegally excavated by organised crime groups specialising in illegal treasure hunting intending to profit from selling archaeological finds abroad. Deputy Minister of Culture Todor Chobanov says that there are about 30 organised treasure hunting groups in Bulgaria which specialised in digging for archaeological artefacts which are then smuggled outside the country to be sold at auctions. Bulgarians buying illicitly obtained coins from such sources coins then get a bill of sale from a foreign seller which then legalises their import. The outcome of the case will beyond doubt serve as a precedent for future cases involving private collection holders in Bulgaria. Most of the illicitly-obtained antiquities reaching these foreign dealers do not return to Bulgaria, they go to foreign collectors in richer countries exploiting the difference between the strength of their country's economy with those of the central European and other states which produce the material they covet.

Photo: top - the Bobokov brothers in 2004 (Standart), below Dimitr Draganov .

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