Thursday, 6 October 2011

Two Falats Return to Poland: Collectors Beware

Rick St Hilaire has an interesting article about two paintings by Falat which have been returned to Poland: 'Stolen Art Repatriated to Poland Following Default Judgment in U.S. v. One Julian Falat Painting Entitled “Off to the Hunt” and One Julian Falat Painting Entitled “The Hunt”..'. I cannot say Falat excites me greatly, but the case is worth mentioning here for another wholly different reason, the legislation used to deprive the collector/owner of their property and send it (back) to a foreign state. This may not be irrelevant to those in the US who collect dugup artefacts and are not too keen on getting the requisite documentation.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed an in rem forfeiture action against the paintings on December 13, 2010 in order to acquire the artworks. (In a court proceeding for civil forfeiture, the defendant is the property, not a person.) In its complaint, the prosecution alleged that there was probable cause for forfeiture. [...] The paintings surfaced when Christie’s and Doyle New York, respectively, offered them for auction. [... “Off to the Hunt” ...] The consignor had no purchase records and no import paperwork, according to the complaint. Additionally, HSI’s own search of customs records could not find any information related to the import. [...“The Hunt.”...] HSI itself could find no importation records relating to the painting, according to court papers. [...] The U.S. Attorney’s Office argued that the paintings could be lawfully forfeited under four alternative legal theories. First, the works of art could be forfeited under 18 USC 981(a)(1)(C) because they were proceeds arising from a violation(s) of the National Stolen Property Act. Second, they could be forfeited under 19 USC 1497(a)(1) because there was no declaration of entry made on any customs form when imported into the United States. Third, they could be forfeited pursuant to 19 USC 1595a(C)(1)(a) because there was probable cause to believe that they were imported in violation of the federal smuggling law or the National Stolen Property Act. Fourth, the paintings could be forfeited because there was “probable cause to believe that they were brought to the United States contrary to law, the possessors of the Defendant Paintings [were] aware that they were stolen and are attempting to offer the Defendant Paintings for sale . . . .”

The lobbyists working for the international dealers in dugup artefacts are careful not to alert collectors (the clients of the dealers) about the implications of cases like this. Dugup artefacts taken out of the source country without following the proper procedures are also stolen artefacts (and thus their posession in the US is a violation of the NSPA), they often enter the US without any documentation being created (thus should any future investigation sought evidence of legal import, none exists). The third and fourth legal conditions mentioned above therefore can be said to exist . Furthermore all collectors and dealers are well aware that national cultural patrimony laws exist ,making such items state property in many countries, and thus by handling them without confirmation that they are legally on the market they are guilty of knowingly handling items brought to the US "contrary to law". A few more cases like this setting a legal precedent may be the catalyst we need to persuade collectors that its not worth buying dugup artefacts and other such items no-questions-asked from dealers unwilling or unable to provide verifiable documentation of legal origins and legal transfer of ownership. But I do not expect, for obvious reasons, we will see the coin dealers' lobbyists discussing that in any detail in the near future ...

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