Saturday, 24 September 2011

How Some Fresh Dugups Ended up on the US No-Questions-Asked Market

Rick St Hilaire has another revealing post on the Holyland Numismatics case based on Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) documentation in the public domain (Khouli +3 Case Update: Search Warrant Affidavit Describes HSI Investigation). The material discussed includes a warrant on July 12, 2011 to search the premises of "Holyland Numismatics", in the Michigan home of one of the defendants. (Let us note the author's caution on the presumption of innocence in a case not yet brought to trial.)

It appears that the search warrant petition was filed following some sales of Egyptian artefacts (boat figures and statues) which allegedly took place in 2009, some questions involving ancient coin imports in Detroit in 2010 and apparently a review of Alshdaifat’s email account.

St Hilaire reports that at the end of December 2010, HSI documentation alleges that Salem Alshdaifat carried coins through the Detroit Metropolitan Airport on his way back from Amman, Jordan. They were accompanied by an invoice from 'Nafertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading in Dubai' (NEST) to Holyland Numismatics for Byzantine gold coins and Byzantine gold tremissis coins totaling $234,875 originating from Syria. At a second check, Alshdaifat reportedly offered a second set of invoices listing Byzantine gold coins and Roman-Egyptian billion tetradrachms.
When Alshdaifat returned later with two mail packages of similar coins in an attempt to convince federal authorities to release the detained coins, customs officials seized these packages too because they were without entry paperwork, declared the affidavit.
All that without an MOU with Jordan or Syria, just as the 1970 UNESCO Convention stipulates. It is not recorded if the dealer got them back in the end.

In the documents cited by St Hilaire, it is alleged that an examination of email records showed that the dealer had (unsurprisingly) communicated "with sellers, purchasers, dealers and transporters of cultural property" but also - it is alleged - that this included "stolen and/or smuggled cultural property.”
A January 2009 email exchange was described where Alshdaifat allegedly offered a hoard of coins “[u]ncleaned at $4.5 each.” The email continued: “[T]he hoard came from Egypt and [is] now in Dubai[.] I asked my partner to ship directly from Dubai to you. [T]his hoard came from Banha, I think we bought coins that we sold you befor[e] from Banha, it is very big Roman city. [Y]ou can wire the funds to my bank account.”
(My hyperlink - it is interesting how many of the artefacts in the news recently are coming from the same region of Egypt) Obviously the partner in Dubai referred to is NEST from which it is alleged in the affadavit that antiquities would be shipped to Holyland's customers on the dealer's behalf. What is not revealed is who bought these items knowing full well from the email quoted above that they had been freshly and illegally taken out of Egypt from the delta region. Was the sale made to a dealer or collector? Was this ever followed up by HSI? Was this person questioned to see what else he had been buying and from whom? We do not learn.

Hilaire goes on to discuss a second email dated February 22, 2010 from Holyland Numismatics to an unknown client. It reportedly said:
“[F]or a hoard from Egypt this is real[l]y a[]lot :) , you got a small group[], we usually don[‘]t see them at all in Egypt, I was told today that they found in the same spot while they are making the hole bigger another group[] around 800 coins, they are still working in the area, I hope it will[] be bigger than what I think. [N]ext week I will get those 800 tog[e]ther with the 2000 coins. [I]t is much easy to sell uncleaned, I notice[e] that they already tried to clean some, but I told them to stop[.]”

The HSI investigating agent, without supplying specific details, added that Alshdaifat’s email account allegedly showed that he “has offered customers hoards of coins taken directly from Petra, Jordan and from Kyrene, Libya.”
What is not clear is whether he would "get" these coins direct from the people who he seems to imply he is in contact with who are digging these objects up, or whether this transaction would have involved the Dubai office.

I think if the truth were known, we would find that the sort of activity that seems to be suggested in this firm's business correspondence actually underlies a very large amount of the international commerce in dugup ancient coins, especially in the US (which of course has no native sources of such items). How many dealers and collectors are willingly snapping up coins and other artefacts knowing full well that they were obtained in flagrant disregard of the legislation protecting the archaeological heritage from looting and depletion?

This case as it develops has great potential for revealing some of the mechanisms by which the US market is supplied with fresh dugups, and really should get collectors of such items thinking very hard about the connection of their hobby to illegal practices and the destruction and depletion of the world's archaeological record for commercial gain. Not that they will, of course.

Vignette: the Holy Land on a medal

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.