Saturday, 21 January 2017

Market Strikes back

The Tell Sheikh Hamad Stele in the news again (Patrick Sawer, 'The strange case of the ancient Assyrian curse and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police' Telegraph 21 January 2017) This lower part of a stela of King Adad-Hirari is a fragment of an object from which comes the upper half in the British Museum, where it has been since it was acquired in 1881 from the private collector Joseph M Shemtob, two years after its discovery at the Tell Sheikh Hamad site in Syria. The lower part was offered for sale to the British Museum in 2011, but they declined it on the grounds that they were not satisfied that it had left the site and Syria legally. The object reappeared on the market three years later and was being offereed by Bonhams, but on the eve of the auction, officers from Scotland Yard’s art and antiques unit raided the Bonham's warehouse where it was being stored and seized the stele as evidence in any future trial. Now:
Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police [...] is being sued by a Lebanese antiques dealer after his officers seized the slab, known as a 'stele', following claims it had been stolen. The controversy began when it became known in art circles that Halim Korban was planning to auction the stele at Bonham’s, in Geneva, in April 2014. The Beirut-based Saadeh Cultural Foundation informed UNESCO that the stele had been obtained illegally, probably after being looted from a site in modern Syria, and should be returned to that country “as soon as circumstances permit”. [...]  Mr Korban has gone to court to have the artefact returned and is demanding £200,000 compensation for loss and damage as part of his claim. A spokesman for the art dealer told the Sunday Telegraph: “The stele is a valuable object which Mr Korban considers his and he wants it back. He can show proper provenance and utterly rejects the notion that it was obtained illegally.” [...]  Before the planned auction Bonham’s had said that the stele was "given as a gift from father to son in the 1960s" and that although no details about how it left Syria were available, it was confident of its provenance (sic). Mr Korban holds Mr Hogan-Howe personally responsible for the actions of his men in seizing the stone and preventing its planned sale. In his writ against the Commissioner he said: “At all times since their seizure of the stele the police have been aware of the claimant’s [Mr Korban] claim in respect of it, namely that he is its owner, and that he is who is entitled to its possession.” But Scotland Yard intends to mount a robust defence against his claims, [...] 
The stele had been offered in Bonhams with an estimate of £600,000 to £800,000,an interesting discrepancy.It will be interesting to see how this story comes out. Lobbyists for the antiquities trade insist that the reasons why cases like this are so rare is that dealers thing it is 'more economical' to surrender a questioned and seized piece than defend their legal title to it with the aid of their business documentation. Let us see how dealer Korban (who handled the Sevso Treasure in the past) fares with his.

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