Friday, 6 August 2010

Montreal Antiquities Seizure

The Sofia-based news agency Novinte is reporting that an antiquity smuggling attempt was foiled in a recent seizure by Canadian customs at Montreal 21,000 antiquities of an estimated worth of some 100 000 Euros, probably of Bulgarian origin,(Novinte: Canada Seizes Bulgarian Archaeology Items in Smuggling Attempt, August 5th; Bulgaria's Culture Minister Demands Archaeology Items from Canada, 5th August 2010; Bulgaria to Recover Smuggled Archaeology Finds from Canada Shortly, August 6th 2010). The seized objects primarily consist of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Medieval Bulgarian and Ottoman coils, though ornaments and other metal and glass objects were also seized. The Bulgarian Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov has sent a letter to the Ministry of Canadian Heritage to thank them for seizing and looking after the antiquities and to ask them to send them back to Bulgaria. Owen Jarus of Heritage key tried to obtain further details from the Royal Ontario Museum which had reportedly been asked for expert advice and the Canadian Department of Heritage, as well as the Bulgarian Embassy, but his questions did not receive clear answers, though an Embassy official did confirm that "there is a situation underway – but would not discuss details".

Prosecutor Kamen Mihov (head of the International Department for Legal Aid of the Bulgarian Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassation) explained to journalists Friday that:
he expects no problems in the recovery of the archaeological items back to Bulgaria as this is not the first such case [...]. Mihov has disproved allegations that the Prosecutor’s Office has started to investigate Angel Borisov, brother of former Chief Prosecutor Nikola Filchev, for organizing the channel for the smuggling of the captured antiques. A trial for antiques contraband against Borisov, which started in 1995, has not been completed yet.

So these items, were they on the way directly to a Canadian dealer in ancient coins? Or a middleman in the North American coin trade who would then be a supplier for Canadian and US no-questions-asked dealers? Or were they going to just one very greedy collector of ancient coins? Will the public ever learn anything about the intended destination of the items seized, so people can make their own minds up about the no-questions-asked trade in antiquities?

The numbers of antiquities of declared, probable and presumed Bulgarian (and other Balkan) origins on the international market, including large quantities sold in the USA shows that this shipment is not an isolated occurrence. Neither has the flow of such material stopped since the shipment discussed earlier on this blog of a metric tonne of antiquities through Frankfurt airport in March 1994 (purchased a similar quantity a few years ago, probably (?) not the same shipment. Indeed it is clear that the current form of the antiquities market in the US at least owes a great deal to the sudden influx of bulk lots of metal detected antiquities coming from the Balkans and Bulgarian in particular in the wake of the social collapse and disorder and rise of criminal groups soon after 1989.

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