Monday, 12 March 2012

Khouli and Lewis: The Mummy Case

Rick St Hilaire has a series of posts following the Windsor Antiquities case in New York. The latest in the series contains some information that might be worth discussing ('Pleadings Filed by Both Prosecution and Defense Attorneys Argue Lewis Dismissal Motion in US v. Khouli et al.'). Collector Lewis is trying to get the case against him dismissed. He is reportedly "charged with purchasing smuggled Egyptian antiquities transported into the United States, smuggling three Egyptian nesting coffins, conspiring to smuggle, and money laundering in support of smuggling". Through his lawyers he claims that the prosecution does not have the evidence to prove him guilty of the alleged offences, "[T]here is no witness, no document, and no email that even alludes to Joseph Lewis participating in the importation process or agreeing with others that it would be handled deceitfully".
In support of the memorandum of law, defense lawyers for Lewis produced an email reportedly between Lewis and co-defendant Moussa Khouli dated April 12, 2009. That email, in part, says the following:
"Hey Morris,

I am ready to wire the funds in the morning but because its a lot of $$$$, just to make sure that there are no misunderstandings; I want to doublecheck that you do guarantee the following:

1 - Provenance from your late father's collection, Israel 1960s; you have therefore established to the best of your knowledge, these items have not been illegally obtained from an excavation, architectural monument, public institution or private property.
2 - Clearance by US Customs (if the items are seized or detained more than 30 days upon arrival into the US you will issue a full refund)...."

This is a bit odd, because althought Khouli is a Syrian Jewish surname, Khouli's father had a gallery in Damascus for 35 years, and as we all know, Damascus is in Syria not Israel. One would have thought that a collector's due diligence would mean checking out such basic facts of geography. So the collector imagines he is buying something taken from Egypt (presumably) to either Israel or Syria before the late 1960s. Then at some time taken from there to a place whence it would be imported into the US. Yet the guarantees he seeks from the dealer (with whom he is on first-name terms) do not concern any of the hows and whens of this process. How did it leave Egypt for Israel for example when there was conflict between the two countries precisely in the late 1960s (over the Gaza Strip and Sinai and the Six Day War)? Where was it since Khouli's father's passing the collection over to the son and before its import into the US? What export documentation accompanied the movement of this material (presumably by 'Morris' Khouli himself) from Israel/Syria and why does the collector not ask to see it? How does the collector imagine the object will arrive at his front door from Israel/Syria? Through a black hole leading from one parallel universe to another, or through being put physically on a ship or plane and moved across international borders? In the latter case surely when "a lot of $$$$" are involved, in order to protect that investment, would not the normal response be to obtain some sort of copy of the documentation about how this took place? What would it mean if the extract quoted above seems to suggest the absence of that simple question "oh, and copies of the export licences stapled to your invoice please"? The cynics might suggest it means that he knows no such documents exist, they may very well think that, but I really could not possibly comment, and that is for a court of law to decide.

That phrase concerning establishing that these items to the best of the dealer's knowledge have: "not been illegally obtained from an excavation, architectural monument, public institution or private property". It is verbatim what we find for example in the Code of Conduct of Sue McGovern-Huffman's "Sands of Time: Ancient Art" gallery just up the road from Peter Tompa's office in Washington. Mieke Zilverberg in Amsterdam writes the same in her Code of Ethics. This is because it is also found in point 2 of the Code of Ethics of The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) . It is also point 2 of the Antiquities Dealers Association Code of Conduct. What is interesting is that in the cited correspondence with Khouli, Lewis has only selected that one point from the whole series of ethical issues covered by the IADAA code. But then take another look. What important affirmation is missing entirely from the IADAA code? One which in this case is the crucial issue. While items sought by the police as being from theft from "excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property" are mentioned (twice), there is absolutely nothing in the IADAA Code about kosher export procedures. So smuggled objects (as long as they were not stolen first, so for example dug up in a field which is not under excavation by archaeologists and not reported) are IADAA-OK?

It is worth noting that the email quoted above was sent a few months after an Egyptian coffin
being imported with agricultural products en route from Spain (where it had surfaced only in 2007) apparently to the Lewis collection was intercepted at Miami International Airport in 2008. Then the importer failed to show the necessary documents to prove legal ownership (the buyer later abandoned his claim - but that seems to have been after November 2009).


Paul said...


is it possible to contact you by email?

Thank you in advance.

Paul Barford said...

yes, of course it is. If you send me your mail address in a comment which I will not publish, I'll send you a mail and you can reply. I look forward to hearing from you.

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