Friday, 24 September 2010

Bavaria: Looter's Paradise?

In the middle of September, at the behest of the Federation of European Professional Numismatic Associations and perhaps the local Münzmafia, Bavarian Martin Zeile (Bavarian Minister of Economic Affairs, Infrastructure, Transport and Technology) proudly informs the US Government that dealers in ancient dugup antiquities "apart from very few exceptions" do not need any documentation of legal export from the source country, nor any to ensure legal export from the state. I remarked: "so basically if you are a Greek looter and have a bucketload of 'hot' coins on your hands, obviously the legislative framework of Mr Zeile's state invites you to stick them in the post or hop on a train" and take them along to the many dealers based in Munich. Then I recalled that there had actually been at least one such case recently:
Among the items returned from Germany included 96 copper and ceramic pots and vessels, dating from the 3rd or 4th century BC from Thessaly, in northern Greece. Officials said the items were seized by customs authorities at Nuremberg, Germany in 2007 in a truck arriving from Greece.
Then there is the case of the Munich connection in the case of the Eid Mar denarius bought by the London office of coin dealer CNG:
It was June 14, 2005, and McFadden was expecting them — one of them, anyway. A small-time Munich coin dealer of Greek extraction had called to say he had an EID-MAR coin to sell.
The transaction however was questioned by Greek and British authorities.
[...] The man who sold it to CNG turned out to be a Greek national with a criminal record for trafficking in stolen antiquities, and the transaction was arranged by a Munich coin dealer who once worked for a notorious European trafficker, a member of a Munich cartel whose looted treasures found their way to studios, museums and auction houses around the world. A CNG executive said his company had no idea. [...] neither British nor Greek officials (nor CNG) are disclosing the identity of the seller or the coin dealer who accompanied him to CNG's London office.
So how did it get to Munich then?

When the 60 kg (19860 items) of ancient coins shipped out from Bulgaria to the US was seized at Frankfurt airport in 1999 for some reason they were sent to the Bavarian jurisdiction where they were released back to the sender (how, why?), and then very probably the coins entered the US market as a result (Frankfurter elektronische Rundschau zur Altertumskunde 7, 2008, p. 4). Where are these coins now?

Another coin-related case was the "1991 hoard" which R.J. O'Hara mentions in passing here
largely dispersed through a series of auctions in Munich” (Ashton and Kinns, 2003: 8). This putative “1991 hoard” was probably deposited soon after 200 BC, and it contained, in addition to Persic-standard didrachms from the 250–200 BC period, fresh drachms naming ΕΧΕΚΡΑΤΗΣ, ΜΙΝΝΙΩΝ, and ΑΥΤΟΚΡΑΤΗΣ (one of the last of the didrachm magistrates), as well as fresh hemidrachms naming ΒΟΙΗΘΟΣ (noted above), ΔΕΙΝΟΣΤΡΑΤΟΣ, ΕΧΕΚΡΑΤΗΣ, ΜΙΝΝΙΩΝ, and ΠΟΣΕΙΔΩΝΙΟΣ.
The reference given is Ashton, R., and P. Kinns, 2003. Opuscula Anatolica II. Numismatic Chronicle, 163: 1–47. How did it get to Munich? Well obviously no paperwork being required there helps get loads of illegally excavated and illegally exported objects onto the market. Where are these coins now?

Partly because of the large numbers of Turkish Gastarbeiter in the region, Munich has also become the most usual stop-off point for antiquities smuggled from Turkey. This has been going on for a long time. A notable case was was the infamous Elmali hoard (and here) of almost 2,000 silver coins dating from the 5th century BC which was unearthed in Turkey in 1984. The coins had been sold in Istanbul to a consortium of Munich dealers and then these objects were bought from them for $3.5m by a partnership whose main investor was the Boston millionaire William Koch.

We also recall the case of Munich based dealer Aydin Dikman, a central figure in the looting and selling of Cypriot treasures ('From Cyprus to Munich') in the 1990s. In apartments owned and rented by him, police found Cypriot frescoes, mosaics, and icons, ancient coins, Precolumbian pottery and stolen paintings. Police estimated the artworks and artefacts to be worth more than $60 million.

David Gill discusses in his "Looting Matters" a number of cases of apparently 'hot' antiquities found in Italy "surfacing" on the market which involved dealers based in Munich. An early example is the Fano Athlete which had been acquired by Munich-based dealer Heinz Herzer (with the Artemis Group) in 1971. He discusses an amphora apparently illegally removed from Italy being sold by another Munich dealer. Munich was also the home of the Italian dealer Nino Savoca, mixed up in a number of controversial cases, such as the ivory face from Anguillara.The links of Munich dealers with Operation Ghelas are also noted.

Munich dealers are involved in other cases recently discussed here and on "Looting Matters", like for example the Mesopotamian gold vessel being sold by Münzenhandlung Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger of Munich. The verdict of one commentator was discussed by Gill:""Germany has become a hub for the illegal international art market".

Given that background, there seems something extremely disturbing about Minister Zeile's complacency about the trade in antiquities like coins in Bavaria not requiring any paperwork to prove legitimate origins.

Perhaps instead of just looking at the export papers of Greek artefacts from Greece, and in light of Minister Zeile's protests, in their efforts to prevent looted artefacts reaching the US market, American authorities would do well to look very carefully at the transactions between US suppliers of the antiquity market and their Bavarian business partners. There is at least one coin dealer from no-paperwork-required Munich who deals directly through ACCG President Bill Puetz's V-Coins store.
Vignette: Bavaria, which requires no evidence of legal export for imports of ancient artefacts like coins and thus has long been a looters' paradise and the Minister of the Economy isn't at all concerned.

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