Sunday, 15 March 2015

Landmark Coiney Libel Case Coming up?

Justice for coin dealers?
There is a lot of irresponsible journalism going around these days connected with alarmist stories on ISIL. At first sight, this looks like another piece of it from the Times:  Hugh Tomlinson, 'Antiquities looted by Islamic State turn up on eBay' The Times, March 14 2015.  Part of this text reads:
Antiquities plundered from heritage sites in Iraq and Syria are appearing for sale on eBay, as Islamic State militants make money from trading some of the world’s most important relics. Ceramics, coins and jewellery looted by the jihadists frequently pass via criminal gangs to collectors in the Gulf, often being sold off on trading websites. Larger items have disappeared into storage while traders prepare to release them on the open market in Europe, Asia and the US.[...] “We are seeing a more systematic approach to looting under Isis, linked to generating revenue,” said Axel Plathe, director of Unesco’s Iraq office. “Excavations at the sites have increased and we believe trafficking is on the rise but without access to the sites we still don’t know the true scale.”[...]  It is claimed that Isis takes requests from dealers in neighbouring countries, looting and delivering antiquities to order.
The text contains a number of the currently traditional tropes (bulldozers and taxation) slotted in - sometimes in places where they make no sense, I'll leave aside for the moment Plathe's claim, and the 'looted to order' stories. [I'll come back to these another time, a big post is due on the "site destruction" and "ISIL looting" themes once I've done some fact checking]. Mr Tomlinson's sources for any of this are not stated. Now look at this:
The volume of artefacts flooding out of the conflict zone is so great that it has forced down prices in some sectors of the market. [...] “The market for coins has fallen. You can buy ancient coins minted in Syria for between $20 and $100 online,” said professor Erin Thompson, a specialist in art crime at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York. “It is extremely difficult to tell if individual items were looted recently, long ago or come from a legitimate source. But when you see items from Apamea being sold on eBay, it gives a good indication that something is up.”
More tropes from her, then some dismissive crap from eBay. Prof Thompson  I guess does not know all that much about the cost of ancient coins on EBay - the market is not "depressed", it has always been that way.

What strikes me is that right under the heading is a picture of an eBay auction "Ancient coin", and the caption reads apparently unambiguously: "Stolen coins are among the plundered artefacts going on the open market". After a bit of a search, one may follow the clues back to the dealer whose auction has been highlighted.

It gets worse. The report is followed up, using the same auction as the example by Fiona Keating ('Priceless ancient relics looted by Isis in Iraq and Syria sold on eBay Antiquities looted from sites in Iraq and Syria appear for sale on online auction sites', International Business Times, March 14, 2015) and by Jack Crone ('2,000-year-old artefacts looted by ISIS from ancient sites in Iraq and Syria are being sold on EBAY', MailOnline , 14 March 2015). Mr Crone adds another coin sold by the same dealer to his list.

There is a difference between coins minted IN Apamea and artefacts dug up in the last year or two in Apamea. I think you have to be very careful how you phrase comments on this type of evidence (in the absence of any other information, 'Apamea' is the last place known where one can say that coin was). Erin Thompson should know that the satellite  photo evidence and its chronology (as well as the actual location of the site itself and recent history of the region) shows quite conclusively that the looting there has nothing to do with any ISIL or so-called Islamic state ('Syria, Who is Digging Up What Where?' PACHI Thursday, 16 October 2014).

If I were a dealer whose name figured in such a context, I'd probably be having a word with my lawyer tomorrow. Both newspapers have enough money to make a lawsuit with them worthwhile. A doddle - on condition that the dealer can come up with documentation that will stand up in court as proof that the claim is false. Can he? We will see what their next move is. This is an ACCG dealer, maybe Mr Tompa will offer to represent them in court?

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