Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Prospect of Transparency and Accountability is Rattling the NY Antiquities Trade

Will New York district attorney’s new unit clean up the antiquities market—or shut it down? (Laura Gilbert, 'Tough new scrutiny by district attorney rattles New York antiquities trade' Art Newspaper 9th March 2018).
Over the past year, the Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance has stepped up seizures of allegedly looted artefacts, some worth millions of dollars, with highly publicised raids targeting the billionaire collector Michael Steinhardt, Phoenix Ancient Art gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There may be more to come: in December, Matthew Bogdanos, the assistant district attorney (DA) leading the charge, was granted a dedicated antiquities trafficking unit. He now has as many as 40 open cases, including some concerning well-known collectors, according to a figure familiar with the investigations.  [...] one effect of the DA’s actions is clear: an increasingly jittery antiquities market. “New York is now upside-down. No one knows what’s going to happen”, says a market participant who, like others, requested anonymity for fear of drawing Bogdanos’s attention. “The veil of privacy on personal holdings has been opened”, says William Pearlstein, a lawyer who has represented others who have had antiquities seized. “The high end of the antiquities market is fairly narrow, with a limited number of dealers selling to a limited number of collectors”. The fact that the warrants have been served on not just dealers, but also collectors and museums indicates Bogdanos “has a good snapshot of who owns what”, he says. 
And of course in the case of objects which are part of the heritage of us all, kept sequestered away in private caches, it is time for that 'veil of privacy on personal holdings' to be  rent asunder and torn down. The antiquities market is a swamp that needs draining. Laura Gilbert continues:
[R]ather than bringing a civil suit to determine the legal owner of the objects, Bogdanos is using the criminal process, apparently trying to build cases that could result in prison time. The search warrant for Michael Steinhardt’s residence, for example, sought computers, mobile phones and documents that could uncover the names of his potential “co-conspirators” and “accomplices” and the “modus operandi of the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree”.
Rick St Hilaire notes:
Under NY criminal law, a dealer is presumed to know that a stolen object is in fact stolen when he/she deals in that kind of object. So receiving stolen property prosecutions against dealers in looted antiquities is easier in NY.

Vignette: Cyrus Vance Jnr 

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