Cristina del Rivero has a blog called 'Art Meets Law', and discusses the upcoming Sotheby's auction of the privately held Benin Idi hipmask taken by one of the participants in the 1897 British looting in Benin as part of the infamous 'punitive expedition' (Another auction record price expected, albeit tainted by claims of illicit provenance'). In it she raises the question:
what of the allegation that Sotheby's is actively participating in trafficking illicit antiquities? When it comes to antiquities, the statistics are staggering -- it's been held that the provenance of approx. 80-90% of antiquities on the market would raise legal issues (S.M. Mackenzie), the resolution of those issues often being impossible given the origins and age of the antiquities. While it would not make sense to freeze virtually all sales of antiquities, sales of those that are suspected to have been illegally exported from their country of origin should not take place unless and until those suspicions are put to rest. Otherwise, the auction houses and dealers involved will be feeding the market demand fuelling looters all over the world (the causal link between market demand and supply for looted antiquities has been conclusively proven in my opinion).That'll please the no-questions-asked dealers and collectors' lobby.