Friday, 2 December 2016

Evidence of How the "Legitimate" Antiquities Market Operates and Deals with any Possible Paper Trail

Another interesting antiquities case involving a free port, Geneva and some anonymous players on the international antiquities market:
Swiss authorities said on Friday (Dec 2) they had seized cultural relics looted from Syria's ancient city of Palmyra, as well as from Libya and Yemen, which were being stored in Geneva's free ports. [...]  The confiscated objects, from the third and fourth centuries, include a head of Aphrodite and two funereal bas-reliefs. Most of the items reached Switzerland via Qatar and were taken by looters, Geneva's public prosecutor said in a statement. They were deposited at the free ports in 2009 and 2010 and the alarm was first raised in April 2013 during a customs inspection, prosecutors added. It was not immediately clear when they were seized. The customs office contacted the cultural authorities in Bern whose expert confirmed the artefacts were genuine, prompting the start of criminal proceedings in February. Three of the pieces came from Palmyra [...] Five of the confiscated objects were from Yemen [...] The Aphrodite relic was from Libya ('Swiss seize artefacts looted from Syria's Palmyra, stashed at free ports' Straits Times 2/12/16)
No mention w2as made of the arrest and charging of the owner of the store in which these items were found. He may well have waved his claim to the items, to prevent the case being tried.

Of course all these items have come from areas which are conflict zones today, but were in fact smuggled before those conflicts began, showing that those making money from conflict antiquities are most likely cashing in on pre-existing trade connections. .

Here we see how the so-called "legitimate trade' works. Items are smuggled out of the source countries to a 'laundering' location (here Qatar), where they may either be stashed, or got rid of quickly to a third country to lie in store, for (perhaps) a decade or more before releasing them on the market confident of the dispersion meantime of any document trail  (invoices for transactions in the source countries, shipping invoices and customs documentation for the smuggled cargo from the source country to Qatar, invoices for transactions in Qatar,  shipping invoices and customs documentation for the journey from Qatar to Geneva). That way the authorities have a warehouseful of undocumented artefacts ('innocent until proven guilty' shout the dealers' lobbyists knowing full well why the paper trail is cold) masquerading as 'old collection' leftovers which 'just happens to have lost any associated documentation before I bought it".* Forfeiting this is difficult enough, trying to follow back a cold paper trail to get the other people involved in the chain is next to impossible for them when all the paperwork will be buried ten years or more deep in some customs/shipping office's archives (if saved at all). In any case, if after years of work enough documentation is assembled to show how the items travelled across half a continent and who was involved, the statute of limitations will most likely apply. As the so-called "legitimate" dealers know full well.

THIS is why many so-called "legitimate" dealers cannot supply the paperwork to show that the material they handle is in any way licit (apart from that dubious category of 'They-Can't-Touch-You-For-It-legality', which is not at all the same as either legal or licit, and certainly has nothing to do with truly ethical and responsible business methods).

And from the shopfront of a "reputable dealer" in Geneva, the newly-surfaced but paperless antiquities can easily end up in the shop of any one of the dealers in the US, Europe or further afield that is willing to take items like this no-questions-asked, and employ lobbyists to argue for maintaining their 'right' to do that if they so please (and find it profitable). Shame on the lot of them.

Dealers challenge the outside world to show where the artefacts looted from holes all over the MENA region are, claiming again 'innocent until proven guilty'. I would say that as more and more of these 'grandfathered' stashes of antiquities laid-aside to 'mature' come to light, it will become increasingly clear that it is to members of the antiquities dealing world, including some masquerading as responsible (reputable) and 'legitimate' dealers, that this question should be addressed

*So don't buy!

Vignette: Antiquities laundering in progress

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