Friday, 27 August 2010

Urgent Request from CNG: Help to Keep the Flow of Illegally Exported Artefacts From Greece Unrestrained by US Law

Five False Arguments in the service of the dugup coin trade:

The Staff at coin dealer CNG, Inc. with offices in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and London, England is sending out an "Urgent Request from CNG" by email to all (?) its clients. This document asks for their help "to oppose any new restrictions on the trade of coins" resulting from the Greek government's request to the US to curb imports of ancient artefacts illegally exported from Greece by application of the measures allowed by the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA). They are asking their clients to help by making their "thoughts known to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC), which will soon evaluate the Greek request". This matter is important because:
In the past, coins [illegally exported - PMB] from Greece have not been subject to restrictions of this type. If this new request is granted, the impact on both collectors and dealers could be substantial. Please see our instructions below to send CPAC your comments.
In case the poor dears cannot work it out for themselves The CNG instruct ancient dugup coin collectors how to do this and then give them some thoughts to express on their behalf:
Industry attorney Peter Tompa has suggested that collectors consider the following points:
(1) US law requires that restrictions only be applied on artifacts "first discovered in Greece." But hoard evidence demonstrates that Greek coins circulated extensively outside the confines of the modern Greek nation state.
(2) US law requires restrictions only be placed on artifacts of "cultural significance." But coins -- which exist in many multiples-- do not meet that particular criteria.
(3) US law requires that less drastic remedies be tried before import restrictions. But Greece has not tried systems akin the the UK Treasure Act before seeking restrictions.
(4) US law requires that restrictions be consistent with the interests of the international community in cultural exchanges. But restrictions will diminish the ability of American collectors to appreciate Greek culture and could greatly limit people to people contacts with other collectors in Europe.
(5) Restrictions are unfair and discriminatory to Americans. Collectors in the EU--including Greece-- have no similar limitations on their ability to import ancient coins.
[numbering of bullet points is mine PMB].
This is taken directly from a text posted a few hours earlier on Tompa's blog: Calling All Coin Collectors [Again]

What an extraordinary text. I am glad Mr Tompa is not my lawyer, though it is gratifying that he's the dugup coin industry's. Let us analyse these five interpretations of the CCPIA starting with the last.

Collectors in the EU in states which have signed or ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property have of course the same rights to buy illegally exported ancient artefacts as US collectors should an MOU be signed. None. Article 8 of that convention is one that is rarely discussed in the US, and it would be worth collectors looking at it and pondering what it means. It means that all nations signatory to that Convention have a right to expect that all states party to it will respect that to the same measure. The United States is a state party to that but by means of its 1983 cop-out law (CPIA) announces that instead of accepting Art 8, it will apply another additional criterion. So far illegally exported coins from nations (like Greece) who are not on the State Department's list of "special cultural property friends of the US" pass effortlessly both ways through the barrier of bubbles that US customs comprises for all types of dugup and other cultural property. It is the US here who having signed the 1970 Convention is being discriminatory.

Let us look at Tompa's second "point". According to him, the CCPIA "requires restrictions only be placed on artifacts of "cultural significance" and says this does not apply to coins. He is referring it would seem to the Act's Section 302 [definitions] (2). Take a look at it, it is really badly composed (as I say, it is a cop-out law). Nevertheless the term "archaeological material of the State Party" in the understanding of the CCPIA means (A and C) any object or part of object "of archaeological interest". Then there is the bit which Tompa is so interested in: "For purposes of this paragraph" (by which is meant paragraph 2 which is by no means clear from the way this document is published on the State Department website) "[...] no object may be considered to be an object of archaeological interest unless such object (I) is of cultural significance; (II) is at least two hundred and fifty years old; and (III) was normally discovered as a result of scientific excavation, clandestine or accidental digging, or exploration on land or under water".

So the Greek request covers artefacts up to the mid eighteenth century ("at least 250 years" old see the transparent and deceptive attempt by an ACCG officer to provoke collectors by claiming that the measures will affect nineteenth century coins) and ancient Greek coins certainly are "normally discovered as a result of scientific excavation, clandestine or accidental digging, or exploration on land or under water". But Tompa (who collects coins) says that ancient coins are "not of cultural significance". This is rich coming from a group of people who use "numismatics" as a "window to the past" as one of them puts it, who claim that by collecting them they are learning about past cultures, even adding to our knowledge of ancient cultures. That they have a right to access this culture. Ancient coins are a product of ancient cultures, they bear all sorts of culturally coded information on them (the basis of the ACCG's revised claim in the Baltimore Illegal Coin Import Stunt - apparently written by Tompa's law firm). The coineys cannot have it both ways, either coins are "not objects of cultural significance", or they are - which is the justification for collecting them. (Mr Tompa's numismocentric blog of course is called "Cultural Property Observer")

The first of Tompa's points is really odd. He says that the CPIA "requires that restrictions only be applied on artifacts "first discovered in Greece"...". Although the garbled construction of the 1983 US cultural property cop-out law does not facilitate exegesis, by my reading this is by no means the case. Look at Section 302 [definitions] (2) The term "archaeological [....] material of the State Party" means [....]; or (C) any fragment or part of any object referred to in subparagraph (A) or (B); which was first discovered within, and is subject to export control by, the State Party". Any object or part of object. The "first discovered in" clause preceded by "or" however clearly applies to the class "any fragment or part of any object" and not to the objects "referred to in subparagraph (A) or (B)". What this seems to be referring to is a situation where looted stuff is taken out of a country, broken up and then sold off as individual pieces piecemeal, like for example mosaics ripped off Cypriot church walls and sold as "panels" by European dealers (the famous Kanakaria mosaic case came to light after the CCPIA was enacted). This is because it could be argued that, by dismemberment the objects become different objects from the ones that were illegally exported.

Nevertheless divigations on this are totally beside the point. It is clear that what is being discussed is how US customs are to react to packages coming from Greece containing ancient artefacts. For the duration of any eventual MOU, they are to look more carefully at the paperwork than they otherwise do. That is all, importers and exporters of ancient artefacts from Greece must make sure their papers are in order, that is all. Is that so difficult? For many dealers in the legitimate art and antiques market, even in the US, this is second nature. These measures are intended to help fight illegal exports of ancient artefacts from Greece, rather than control the flow of ancient material of Greek origin globally. The latter depiction of what source nations are proposing is a fallacy fostered by the dealers' lobby (the material produced by the ACCG being a particularly egregious example) and swallowed by the more gullible and easily roused among collectors who apparently are incapable of thinking these things out for themselves.

Tompa's thought Number Four was that the CCPIA requires that measures adopted by the President be consistent with the interests of the international community in cultural exchanges. Tompa argues that restrictions on coins illegally exported from Greece [which is what the Greek request concerns]: "will diminish the ability of American collectors to appreciate Greek culture" and furthermore "could greatly limit people to people contacts with other collectors in Europe". Well, let us recall the name of the Convention the CCPIA partially "implements" ( Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property). I wonder just what sort of 'people-to-people contacts' are involved in the illicit movement of saleable artefacts around and out of Europe. Perhaps they are precisely the type that the US and its voracious no-questions-asked market for antiquities should not be encouraging. The prevention of the import of illegally exported dugup cultural property will not probably unduly affect the ability of 300 million American citizens "to appreciate Greek culture". I think many of them would anyway be appalled if they knew the extent of the problem being caused by US dealers and private collectors. Many of them can gain an appreciation of the culture through its literature, drama, the licitly exported artefacts available in museums, those art books, multimedia or other representations and indeed travel to Greece. Anyway, I thought Tompa was arguing that ancient coins are NOT objects of cultural significance, so if so, how can they in any significant way contribute to the "appreciation" of Greek culture? [By the way, to "appreciate ancient Greek culture", many collectors collect stamps, phonecards and banknotes depicting ancient Greek themes, there are a lot of them, and their collection does no damage to the archaeological heritage - but I would expect the ACCG coineys to claim they are in some way superior to those non-erosive other collectors].

Then we come to the funniest of the five. Tompa's third point is that collectors should be instructing the CPAC that the CCPIA "requires that less drastic remedies be tried before import restrictions. But Greece has not tried systems akin the the UK Treasure Act before seeking restrictions". Wow. This refers to Section 303 [3] [implementation of Article 9 of the Convention] (a) [Agreement Authority] (1) [4], (C) (i). In brief this means that the President can apply the measures defined by the CCPIA if he decides that there is a looting problem ("the cultural patrimony of the State Party is in jeopardy" - unqualified) in the requesting state party, that the requesting state (duh) is itself undertaking measures outlined by the Convention (only) to counter the problem and curbing imports of illegally exported material by the US would help but only after determining that "(ii) remedies less drastic than the application of the restrictions set forth in such section are not available". Taken in context of Section 303 it can be seen that this has absolutely NOTHING to do with "systems akin to the UK Treasure Act" in Greece since the measures the President considers applying instead are domestic, US ones to deal with the problem which would be less drastic than applying import restrictions. (Note this clause is part of subparagraph C and not subparagraph B of Section 303 (a) (1).)

By the way, collectors might like to look at article 8 of the 2002 Greek antiquities legislation and consider just where the difference is between that and the United Kingdom's 1996 Treasure Act. I do not see any, but then I guess the problem is that collectors who follow the ACCG's Pied Piper simply have not looked.

This discussion of the CNG "Appeal" seems well to deserve my "collectors being led by the nose" vignette, I think. Let us keep an eye on the public comments and see how many of them have been able to work this out for themselves, and how many are firing off protests which simply echo what they have been told to say by the ACCG and the commercial arm, the CNG.

Oh, and before you go, just do please take a look at this post about the CNG's last appeal for help - see any similarities?

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