Saturday, 2 July 2011

Cultural Property Lawyer: Library of Congress Manuscripts "Stolen" by President's Grandson?

In a post about hypocrisy, Washington cultural property lawyer Peter Tompa has accused the Library of Congress of holding a collection of what he says might be "stolen" documents illegally removed from the Republic of China by the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt. This is an interesting development, given that not so long ago twelve US Congressmen signed a letter attacking the US International Cultural Property Protection program. The suggestion by a Washington lawyer that US Congress itself may be directly involved in the trafficking of stolen objects raises a number of questions which I think decent US citizens should be asking its lawgivers about their policies towards the trade in illicitly 0obtained artefacts.

But how true is this allegation, which must be very upsetting for the family concerned? It transpires from the accuser's own blog that in fact in writing what he did, he had not actually done the victim of his remarks the courtesy of actually ascertaining what the legal situation concerning export licenses for antiquities was at the time this alleged act was committed. Peter Tompa is a "cultural property lawyer" of the Washington firm Bailey & Ehrenberg (which "handles the most sophisticated legal matters", "our partners are experienced attorneys with solid reputations as strategic problem solvers, skilled negotiators..."). What kind of a cultural property lawyer is it that when asked for the legal basis of his insinuation of illegal activity, replies:
I could do all the research you ask, but I'm afraid I'd have to charge for it and I'm not sure you would pay.
Too right I would not, because unlike Mr Tompa, before I questioned what he said I checked the legislation pretty thoroughly, and determined that there was no legislation for that region of the Republic of China which applied to the export of folk art and antiques in the period when the collection concerned left China. Mr Tompa seems to have thrown out accusations without actually checking there was a law which applies to the situation he was "observing" (I use the term loosely). The law of 1950 does not act retrospectively, and the requirement to institute an export licencing system was a proposal of Article 6 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention - which I am sure (even though the US ignores it in their own half-hearted "implementation" of the Convention) Mr Tompa is - or at least should be - aware.

Mr Tompa's accusation of illegal activity by Quentin Roosevelt III with respect to the creation of a collection of artefacts of the Naxi (Nakhi) people are fabrications and crude insinuations with no basis in legal fact.

Followers of the hapless Mr Tompa might be interested in a website which sets it out in simple language for those who don't like books. Here are SOME of the laws concerned of the Kuomintang government, it can be seen that no mention is made of export licences and a distinction was being made between relics in state custody and those in private ownership, registered and unregistered. If Mr Tompa would do some "research" (to enlarge his own professional knowledge rather than for my benefit), I think he would find that export licences were only introduced into Chinese antiquities preservation legislation later, in the People's Republic.

UPDATE 5/7/2011: See the implications of Tompa's further development of his "argument" Baltimore Seizure Cash Coins: When did they leave China?


Cultural Property Observer said...

You might want to consider whether the 1935 law applies, did Ms. Ho? Note, it indicates that relics cannot be transferred to "aliens." What is a relic is defined by a commission, but could possibly include artifacts from the Naxi culture.

Paul Barford said...

Oh, but Mr Tompa, I have no intention of paying you to do this "research" you should have done before attacking the owners of this material. If you look more carefully at Art. 6 of the "Relics Preservation law" instead of picking out one word from it (seems to be a pattern) you will see that it refers to items in private possession ("related to archaeology, science of history, palaeontology and other cultures") which are registered - you will note I specifically referred to two specific categories of privately owned "relics" in my text.

Also as a lawyer working with clients who are (I presume - you do not represent looters do you?) exclusively at one end of the process, it will not have escaped your notice what the law says about who commits the offence in Art 6. By this law, the "alien" is under no sanctions.

You will also note that in no place in the 1935 law to which you refer is any mention made of export licences, the postulated lack of which was the specific target of your original sniping post. This was the basis for your accusation that somebody "stole" them ("according to the theories of the archaeological community" - a vague phrase as yet unexplained).

The items which these collectors acquired were not registered "antiquities", they were largely graphics of no great age at the time of their purchase. If you'd done what Cindy Ho suggests and read the book, you would have found out that the Roosevelt collecting expedition had the full support of the Chinese authorities and broke no law.

You owe the Roosevelts an apology, not to mention Cindy Ho.

Paul Barford said...

And of course Bailey and Ehrenberg's star cultural property lawyer refused to post the comment I sent his blog replying to his 7:32 remarks, and instead adds in its place:

"Since Barford presses, China's 1935 law may potentially apply to the Naxi material".

You all know to which "China's 1935 law" he refers, no need for the lawyer to give the title or a reference to any partiular part of it, eh?

So I guess the reader will never know what "Barford" was "pressing" over (it was accuracy). Casting about his mudpit for excuses, Tompa continues his attempted legal exegesis: "That law" (which law? Which part of it?) "seems to preclude transfer of relics of "other cultures" to "aliens". That is of course NOT WHAT IT SAYS. Tompa continues his schoolboyish extra-legal sniping:

" Did Ms. Ho do the "due dilligence" [spelling Mr Tompa] [which] "SAFE demands of others before lending her name to this project?

Well, we have already explained to Mr Tompa that SAFE does not concern itself with the licit trade in antiques and modern works of art (nor indeed is it an advocacy group about the illegal trade in antiques and modern art - there are other groups that do this). SAFE, as its name informs, is concerned about "antiquities" (in other words archaeological artefacts) and SAFE does indeed attempt to raise awareness that people who buy this material no-questions-asked (without due diligence) are responsible for the destruction of the world's archaeological record by looting. Obviously its not having much success with Bailey and Ehrenberg's star cultural property lawyer... The items in the exhibition which Tompa attempts to trash are not antiquities, as is clear from the catalogue.

Also Cindy Ho did not purchase this material, she merely was one of those that researched it (that is surely what the material in public collections is there for) so I am totally unclear what "due diligence" she personally should be engaged in. The origins and collecting histories of the exhibited items are fully clear and documented and unimpeachable. In fact, that is in part what the exhibition is about, isn't it?

I wonder if Mr Tompa can honestly say the same about the artefacts (dugup ancient Greek coins and Hungarian medieval dugup coins) which he collects, and the many items sold by the commercial artefact-dealing firms he represents? When will we be seeing the public exhibition and catalogue of the "Peter Karl Tompa Collection"? Or maybe he could just put them all online and share the provenance details with us, just to show the Rubin how it should be done.

Coming back to the Naxi exhibition, I suggest Mr Tompa should consider very carefully what the point he is trying to make actually is, he seems to be casting about wildly in his mudpit trying to scoop up more to sling. If he cannot find any justification for what he wrote, the "cultural" thing to do would be to apologise.

David Ian said...

I suggest Mr. Tompa throw one on the barbie and reflect on the forefathers' ideals instead of worrying about Roosevelt grandson or Cindy Ho, none of whom seem too concerned about Tompa. Nor should they, as Barnum & Bailey's Tompa (oops, no offense to the circus) is looking really small, if not idiotic and stupid here.

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