Tuesday 23 February 2010

Half the Ancient Coins on the US Market are Looted, but nobody's going to Jail: Lawyer

The evasive text by coin collecting lawyer, Cultural property "Observer" and lobbyist Peter Tompa on his blog entitled I would rather just ignore Paul Barford, but... which I address in the post above this also discusses another point I made. I finish my original post with a series of rhetorical questions about whether collectors and dealers have thought through the potential future consequences of their refusal to do anything to clean up the no-questions-asked market and instead staging a head-on collision with the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Well, I drew the parallel with pot-diggers in the Four Corners area who are now having to document where the items in their collections came from.

I believe that if both the government agencies being challenged by antiquity collectors in the US were doing what they should be doing, they should launch an investigation into the practices of the part of the milieu that is being uncooperative with and now even trying to overturn national and international measures to protect the cultural heritage. There is also the growing evidence now being uncovered by investigative journalism that much of the no-questions-asked trade in antiquities is financing organized crime and probably also terrorism. We might recall the US once proclaimed it was going to invade foreign countries to conduct a "war" against this, though the failure to do anything about US money which is apparently going to finance it is puzzling to say the least. Certainly it seems like there is a lot that should be looked into by the US authorities.

Mr Tompa assures us that there will be no investigations of the movement of illicit artefacts in the US. "I'm not sure if this is more insulting to US collectors or US law enforcement. No, Mr. Barford, as far as I know, we do not live in a dictatorship here in the United States". No, I think that the US would prefer us all to believe that it is a society which decent and law-abiding.

The import of illegally exported dugup ancient coins into the US did not stop with the 1999 Frankfurt shipments, but has been going on all the time since. The ACCG itself imported at least one batch. This is happening right under the noses of US customs, and we might well ask why.

Tompa ends: "We may disagree on whether it is "okay" to collect unprovenanced ancient coins, but we should all agree that ACCG is entitled to seek judicial review of the applicable regulations". So are all antiquity dealers in the US. Interestingly, however, it is only the coin dealers that are expending a lot of time, energy and money to try and overturn measures that dealers in the rest of the antiques, art and antiquities trades are already applying. We hear of no "test cases" from importers of icons, furniture, paintings, antique pottery, bronzework or anything else from China, Cyprus or any of the other countries with whom the USA has an import control MOU. Despite the difficulties this produces for their businesses, these dealers are willing to responsibly abide by the law with the minimum of fuss. It is only the dugup coin dealers that are rocking the boat and ultimately going to spoil it for everyone.

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