Sunday 7 March 2010

What Part of the Phrase "Export Licence" Don't You Understand?

The US-based "Cultural Property Observer" has whinged about some "Cypriot Icons: Presumed "Stolen" on Entry to America but "For Sale" Legally in Cyprus?. His complaint is that under current import regulations on material from that country, some icons from Cyprus are deemed "stolen" by the US government but some icons are being sold quite openly in Cyprus itself. He cites an upcoming auction organized by art dealers "La Parole Divine" (an art consultancy which advises collectors and promotes the work of selected artists across Europe, Russia and the US with especial expertise in the field of Byzantine, Greek and Russian icons).

I am not quite sure what cultural property lawyer Tompa thinks he is doing issuing such warnings to scare off US customers like this. Still less why he thinks any of the icons on sale in this auction might be regarded as "stolen". The press release indicates that some come from existing Russian and US collections,and I would be very surprised if any of those on offer were ripped from the iconostases of Cypriot churches.

But, and here is the point, if they were, it would be very remiss of the Cypriot authorities to give them the all important piece of paper which Tompa and his dugup-antiquity-gobbling mates in the ACCG are kicking against, an export licence. If Tompa had struggled to the end of the press release he would have seen that Cyprus is regarded by the organizers of the auction as a very welcoming place for such an event not least because "the island’s Governmental Regulations permit the importation and sale of cultural goods provided they are of clear provenance". He'd have known that anyway if he was one of the leading cultural property lawyers in the US. Anyway, it does. Anyone buying an icon at this sale and wishing to export it legally should apply for a licence. I expect if they are asked very nicely, "La Parole Divine" will help the successful bidders out. So potential US customers need not be scared off by Tompa's alarmist nonsense.

I have noted here before that the coin-fondling antiquitists seem to have mainly fluff and coin dust between their ears which has given cause to wonder if antiquity collecting is having an adverse effect on their mental health and cognitive abilities. We hear talk amoing them of fighting some non-existent "ban on imports" when no such ban exists, here we see an attempt to suggest that the US gub'nmint sees ALL icons from Cyprus as "stolen" the moment they approach US shores. Both of these statements are completely untrue and just require a little bit of reading of the CPIA to check out. What is required by the CPIA is for imported items of certain categories into the US to be accompanied by a valid export licence from the country of export (or failing that a mere piece of paper signed by the dealer that what he is selling is legally sold and exported). Check it out (pay attention to "Section 2606. Import Restrictions a) Documentation of lawful exportation", but also (b) Customs action in absence of documentation, and especially the 'wall of bubbles" cop-out clause: (c) "Definition of satisfactory evidence", (1) and (2)). The categories affected by such restrictions include
ritual and ecclesiastical ethnological material from Cyprus representing the
Byzantine period (which include icons). The 1999 Import Restrictions Imposed On Byzantine Ecclesiastical and Ritual Ethnological Material from Cyprus says:
"The materials on this list are subject to Sec. 12.104a(b), Customs Regulations (19 CFR 12.104a(b)). As provided in 19 U.S.C. 2601 et seq., and Sec. 12.104a(b), Customs Regulations, listed materials from this area may not be imported into the U.S. unless accompanied by documentation certifying that the material left Cyprus legally and not in violation of the laws of Cyprus. In the event an importer cannot produce the certificate, documentation, or other evidence required by Sec. 12.104c, Customs Regulations (19 CFR 12.104c)at the time of making entry, Sec. 12.104d, Customs Regulations (19 CFR 12.104d) provides that the port director shall take custody of the material until the certificate, documentation, or evidence is presented.
Seems quite simple and reasonable (see CPIA "Section 2606. Import Restrictions "(c) Definition of satisfactory evidence").
The 2007 "Extension of Import Restrictions Imposed on Pre-Classical and Classical Archaeological Objects and Byzantine Period Ecclesiastical and Ritual Ethnological Material From Cyprus" extends this, but still includes the original categories: "Importation of such materials continues to be restricted unless the conditions set forth in 19 U.S.C. 2606 and 19 CFR 12.104c are met".

So, the bottom line is, despite the collector-rousing alarmism of the ACCG anti-preservation activists, if the paperwork is in order the US buyer returning from this sale need have no fear that US customs will be impounding their purchases as "stolen". Quite a different matter are those who import items affected by such restrictions deliberately flaunting the requirement to have the documentation of legitimate provenance in order.

Photo: Unless I am mistaken, the icon used on the auctioneers website is 15th century Northern Russian, not Cypriot.

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