Friday, 7 December 2012

The Primary Responsibility

The "Chasing Aphrodite" blog has a piece about the recent seizures of more Kapoor objects (see here) and it was the occasion for an interview with Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent James T. Hayes "about ICE’s work combating the [illicit] antiquities trade".
ICE has significantly ramped up their investigations of the illicit trade in recent years: more than 6,600 artifacts have been returned to 24 countries since 2007. But critics note that those forfeitures and flashy repatriation ceremonies with foreign officials have often not been followed by criminal charges against key players in the trade. “The focus is always to return stolen property to its rightful owners,” Hayes acknowledged, saying making criminal cases was desirable, but challenging. “You have to have a legal basis to prove those items, and you have to prove certain things and that proves very difficult. We’re dealing with laws around the world, in foreign courts and different jurisdictions.”
But the crimes which were committed by people on US soil surely should be subject to US law, and if the US law has holes in it preventing that, allowing immoral activities to take place which are not covered by the legislation, then surely it is ttime for activists to start lobbying public opiniuon to get those loopholes filled. Where are these people? Where is the AIA? Where is the US Department of Culture? Where is the Presidential advisory committee on cultural property (and a Congressional one?) when you need one?
To be sure, ICE investigators have played an important role in several recent criminal investigations that led to guilty pleas, including Arnold Peter Weiss and Morris Khouli.
Hmmm. Two dealers, is that the extent of the US trade in illicit ('minor') dugup artefacts, or the tip of a damaging iceberg? To my knowledge the same people involved in the two mentioned cases have failed to take advantage of at least one opportunity to pursue a case involving a network of dealers that would have been much more significant.  The fact that they appear to have given up on that one is extremely disappointing.
”From where I sit, we’re very focused on putting those smuggling networks out of business,” Hayes said. “At the end of the day, our primary responsibility is to get stolen property back to its rightful owners.”
What "networks" Mr Hayes?

- How far has your organization gone back along the Kapoor "networks"? Through Great Britain, Singapore and Thailand, activity on my blog suggests Thailand, Mr Hayes, is where it's at. There are a lot of worried people in Thailand it seems, hoping you are not going to follow the networks back...

- What about the Weiss network? The purveyor of fake coins (reportedly a US dealer) from whom Mr Weiss bought them from thinking he was buying looted stuff? Any charges there Mr Hayes? What about this gentleman's suppliers, in Sicily I believe? How far have you got with that network? Has the network which supplied the disputed coins now been put out of operation by Mr Weiss writing an article for a coiney mag, or anything ICE has done? Instead it looks to me the same guys are still in business selling coins.

-  Mr Khouli, his suppliers? That Egyptian coffin fell from a palm tree, or was supplied by people getting stuff out of Egypt under Mubarak (as it was then - a key US ally in the Middle East)? How far has the all-powerful US actually got in even remotely damaging those particular "networks"?

Yes, we appreciate it is "difficult" but that has not stopped the US in other circumstances.

I would say only when it is possiible to demonstrate actual success should the US be crowing, at their tables with the expensive photo-op tablecloths about "smashing networks" rather than just cosmetic (and much-delayed in two of the three cases) special-effects seizures.

'At the end of the day', Mr Hayes, getting the criminals, all of them, responsible for artefact looting and smuggling behind bars, and the collectors and dealers of one of the world's largest markets for such items watching their backs, that is the primary responsibility of those who actually are "combating the [illicit] antiquities trade". We should expect nothing less from those who claim to be.

"Chasing Aphrodite" blog [Jason Felch]:   'Feds: Subhash Kapoor “one of the most prolific commodities smugglers in the world.”...', Dec 6th 2012.

 Vignette: ICE's specially commissioned Tablecloths of Art Trophy Success
they probably have matching blue cloaks for illegal immigrants apprehended. 

UPDATE 10.12.12

 Rick St Hilaire makes similar points here: 'Cracking Down on Antiquities Trafficking by Changing Homeland Security's "Seize and Send" Policy ', Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire Blog,  Monday, December 10, 2012

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