Wednesday, 1 September 2010

UK Antiquities Dealer Convicted of Dealing in Stolen Greek Artefacts

Where's the Scandal?

Malcolm Hay runs an "antiques" business from his home in Kensington. In 1999, he sold "hundreds of broken pottery pieces" to a visiting dealer from Athens with whom he had previously done other business. The invoice shows that:
on July 15, 1999, he sold a female trader from Athens 582 potsherds and other small items for £1,800. He said he bought them at fairs and described the artefacts as “junk”. But at the same time, Greek police were investigating the female trader, who ran a shop in Athens. She was found to have more than £100,000 worth of unbroken pots and figurines from around 4-6BC, which by national law belonged to the Greek state. She then claimed she bought them from Mr Hay.

The upshot of all this is that there was a trial concerning these stolen antiquities bought at which both Hays and the Athens dealer were defendants and...
To Mr Hay’s “complete shock”, he was found guilty and jailed for four years. He has appealed against the verdict and is awaiting a hearing later this year. If he loses the appeal, the extradition process will begin again.
Hays maintains he is innocent. Apparently he is claiming that the objects about which the Athens court were concerned were not bought from him and he has been framed by his client. He implies she had received the artefacts from somebody else.

But then, somebody who buys loose items like this from individuals at "fairs" and is unable to show that he took any steps to verify that those particular items were not stolen from archaeological sites and illegally removed from the source country is surely asking for trouble in the antiquities trade. If he had such documentation on file it would be an easy matter to show this to the Athens court, quashing the accusation that the items were illegally obtained. Likewise if he cannot actually document what objects were actually packed up in his place of business and on their way to an Athens shop, more fool him. It is becoming increasingly the case that to fend off such doubts, the collecting history of artefacts on the market is indispensible. The no-questions-asked market is (all too) slowly becoming a market where ethical collectors and dealers are asking for this vital information in order precisely to avoid situations where they can be later accused of handling stolen material.

This is precisely what is needed. A group of apparently stolen items is identified and the chain of ownership followed back to the person who cannot document that they came by them by legal means. The more smuggling cases that do not end in mere "repatriation" but actually tracing the paper trail back, the sooner this market will be cleaned up. Mr Hay should have kept better records, as all dealers in ancient artefacts know (since the 1970 UNESCO Convention showed the way things were going) they should, he did not and may end up having a long stay in jail for it.

A lawyer for the US coin dealers says on his blog that
Greece's heavy handed approach to these issues suggest that our own government should resist excessive Greek demands as to the scope of any MOU.
Well, as far as I can see what the paper he quotes (the Daily Torygraph) is on about are those nasty Europeans who want to arrest Brits. The "heavy hands" complained about are the British. [The Telegraph suggests that The apparent crime, “illicit appropriation of an antique object”, is not even an offence under British law. Well, it is, see the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, in particular Art 2 (3). ]

Some artefacts which an Athens court has determined are stolen surface and it is determined that the supplier of some of them was Mr Hay, and Mr Hay cannot show (a) where precisely the items he sold came from and (b) that he took any steps to avoid buying stolen property or (c) indicate precisely who sold the material to him whom the Greeks could prosecute as well. Is it ACTUALLY so difficult for dealers in portable antiquities to keep proper records of what they handle like dealers in other commodities (such as eggs)?

The Greeks have asked the US to instruct its customs officials to make sure no illegally exported items comes onto the US market, this will protect US dealers from suffering the same fate as Mr Hay when buying material now "surfacing" on the US market.

For more on the case see:
Greek courts use anti-terror rules in bid to have dealer extradited, Antiques Trade Gazette 18 February 2008.
European Arrest Warrant sees dealer taken into custody again Antiques Trade Gazette 22 February 2010.
Greek court gives UK dealer three years in prison, Antiques Trade Gazette 23 March 2009.

Marc Glendening Beware of Greeks Bearing Warrants; What exactly does the EAW do for us?

Richard Edwards and Jackie Williams, Antique dealer attacks 'scandalous' European extradition laws , Daily Telegraph.

British antiques dealer sentenced to four years in prison for something not even a crime in UK on the Fuckfrance nationalists' blog - note the comment near the bottom from a US-spelling UncleBernie: "ownership of ancient artifacts is a right...".


rickwitschonke said...

Dear Mr. Barford:

If I may, I would like to add a few details to the published accounts of the Malcolm Hay case. When Mr. Hay sold the group of fragments to Ms. Patrikiades in London, he was not in violation of any UK or EU law. When her premises in Athens were raided, and a valuable stock of clearly illicit antiquities (bearing no relation to the purchase from Hay some years before) discovered, her defense was that she had purchased them from Hay (incredible on its face), and her proof the old invoice for miscellaneous fragments. So the Greek court added Hay to the complaint, and filed for his extradition. Subsequently, the court, for reasons about which one can only speculate, dropped their charges against their primary target, Patrikiades, leaving Hay as the sole defendant. Regardless of ones' views on the antiquities trade, it is hard to argue that justice has been served in this case.

Rick Witschonke

Paul Barford said...

Well, I gave a list of press articles about the case which in fact contain most of the information you "add", so really you are merely here commenting on them. I do not know whether you claim to have any inside information on this case.

The news items I have seen to date have been slanted towards two aspects, one the EU-bashing britpress moaning about the European Arrest Warrant being used on one of their citizens who'd "done nuffink wrong". (there is a lot of controversy about the EAWs - some of it justified). Then there is the antiquities trade press which also wants us to believe the guy had "done nothing wrong" in selling these antiquities. Then of course there are secondary reworkings of that (like on Peter Tompa's blog).

I really cannot say if "justice has been served" or not, we cannot see the Athens court documents and are mostly hearing one side of the story.

I suspect the case might not be as cut-and-dried as the available news reports suggest. I note that Hay said that the woman had bought "other" items from him apart from what is on the invoice he presented, can he document what else she bought other than those "sherds"? Maybe that is a clue to what the court decided? I could not say. Apparently this is a case of insufficient documentation on his part of precisely what antiquities passed through his hands.

As for her charges being dropped, well that being "unjust" is not EXACTLY what your pals the US coin dealers say. They claim they are not guilty of any offence as they bought the items outside the source country "in good faith" from a dealer who claimed at the time he had title to sell. Why would they go to jail for that? If the dealers of the ACCG and V-Coins, CNG and all the rest claim that for themselves why do you think this cannot apply to the Athens dealer?

After all the rest of the objects in question (not on the invoice) are merely "unprovenanced". Would you like to see her go to jail for having "unprovenanced" artefacts? Would you apply that to all antiquities dealers Mr Witschonke?

If you buy a car from a dealer which turns out to have been stolen, its the guy who sold it to you under false pretences that should get the rap, not you. She presumably demonstrated to the court that she was applying due diligence to the acquisitions she made from Mr Hay - and Mr Hay cannot, and ended up with it being documented that he had had what the court decided was stolen property on his hands, the origins of which he could not properly account for.

It is undenied that she did buy Greek antiquities from Hay, and he cannot demonstrate that those items (which she is documented as having bought from him and declared by the Greek court to be illegally obtained) were of licit provenance. As far as the court is concerned he sold her stolen property.

As I said in my text you are wrong that he broke no UK law, these are tainted antiquities in the understanding of the 1993 dealing in cultural property (ofences) Act.

"Regardless of ones' views on the antiquities trade, it is hard to argue that justice has been served in this case". My view is that the trade needs to be more transparent to allow stolen items to be traced right back to the person who initially handled them. In this case the trail apparently goes back to Mr Hays. This is precisely an example of why collecting history (provenance) is so important in the antiquities trade, as is in the car trade, or as I pointed out with things like eggs, to trace back the source of a problem.

Paul Barford said...

Sorry, that should of course be: "Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003". I should get more coffee in my system before writing anything. The bit we are particularly interested in is Art 2 (3).

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