Saturday 10 April 2010

UK government approves sale of 'looted' Italian treasures to pay tax bill

This, if true, is disgusting. Apparently the artefact-collecting-friendly British government are encouraging the sale of up to 1,000 antiquities allegedly stolen from Italy, in order to pay the debts of antiquities dealer Robin Symes. The artefacts concerned are "Roman bronzes, Etruscan gold other treasures [...] include Etruscan gold and amber necklaces, lead figures of warriors and a bronze mask of Acheloos, a river deity. There is also an Attic cup decorated with dolphins and a Roman bronze statuette of a bull. Many are still soil-encrusted [...] One of the fragments with the liquidators comes from a looted vase that has been returned to Italy by the Getty Museum". These items are now going to be placed on the market by liquidators acting for the government in an attempt to recover unpaid taxes. [Dalya Alberge, UK accused over sale of 'looted' Italian treasures to pay tax bill, the Observer, Sunday 11 April 2010]. The liquidator, BDO Stoy Hayward, declined to comment for the Observer article. The collection is expected to raise well over £100,000 for the British government.

In documents seen by the Observer, Paolo Giorgio Ferri, the relevant prosecutor in Rome, has repeatedly asked Britain to return the Symes antiquities to their "rightful owner". The UK government has caused fury by stating that the
antiquities could instead be bought. Symes's collection includes objects dating back 3,000 years, which Rome says form a vital part of Italian heritage. Ferri said: "It's like the Italian government making a profit from the mafia selling drugs."
Lord Colin Renfrew, about the only British archaelogist prepared to stand up and express disapproval of artefact collecting now the British archaelogical establishment through the Portable Antiquities Scheme has entered into a resource-eroding "partnership" with British antiquity collectors, described the handling of the case as a "scandal". He called called again for decisive action to end London's reputation as "a clearing-house for looted antiquities". So far he seems to be a voice crying in the wilderness, British politicians say they are determined to do this... but then that is as far as it ever goes. But in this case they go even further.

Renfrew said: "These illicitly exported objects are being sold to pay Robin Symes's debts, which means that they are being sold for the benefit of the British government. This does reflect unfavourably on the British Treasury and Revenue and Customs, as they are encouraging the sale of material that the Italians say is looted. "Many of the antiquities are Etruscan and could only have been found in Italy. They left Italy illegally because they would require an export licence. I can't see how the Home Office can dispute that."
Well, of course they do not, because actually they really do not care where they come from. Obviously Britain's "partnership" with collectors is not having too good an effect on notions of international responsibility, even in the Home Office.

The Italians said that requests to the Home Office asking for details on how the antiquities arrived in Britain [...] have been frustrated by "unhelpful", delaying responses. For its part, the Home Office has asked Italy for evidence that the artefacts "were in fact stolen".
And where have we heard that kind of response before?
A Home Office spokesman said its policy is "to neither confirm nor deny the existence of a [repatriation] request to the UK, or to comment [on it]". Hmmm.

Read more about Robin Symes here, and here on Looting Matters. Also here and probably lots of other places. Shame on you Britain.

UPDATE: David Gill, Robin Symes Assets: the UK Government in "an absurd situation" "The Home Office appears to be unaware of the detailed evidence demonstrating Symes' links with antiquities from Italy". How can it be "unaware"? But you hit the nail on the head David.


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