Thursday, 19 January 2012

Coin Weekly Misinforms

Coin Weekly has a news item (19 Jan 2012) on "Seizure and Detention at the New York International" about the Weiss case. The magazine quotes a CNG press release dated January 19 (sixteen days after the event took place):
"On January 3, 2012 the New York County District Attorney’s Office seized two coins from a joint Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (“CNG”) and Nomos AG auction that was to be conducted the next day. Dr. Peter Weiss, the Chairman of Nomos AG, was detained at the time for questioning. CNG is fully cooperating with the New York County District Attorney’s Office and is not a target in this investigation. CNG and its attorneys are conducting an internal review of CNG’s consignment policies and procedures in light of this event".
Yes, really? The article then notes, citing as its source the "Chasing Aphrodite" blog which includes a (leaked?) deposition:
Peter Weiss is accused of criminal possession of stolen property with a value in excess of $ 50,000 in the second degree with intent to benefit a person than an owner of the property and to impede recovery by an owner thereof. The affair got under way – according to the deponent – due to information of the Italian Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale. John Freck said that a “confidential informant” had recorded a conversation, in which Peter Weiss said about the tetradrachm of Catane: “there’s no paperwork, I know this is a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago ... This was dug up two years ago. I know where this came from.” The deponent claimed that Peter Weiss himself had informed him that he purchased the coin in 2010 for $ 250,000 in order to sell it for approximately $ 350,000.
This is old stuff, but I wanted to juxtapose what he had said with what he says next which illustrates part of the problem with coineys. Having said that, the writer of the article falls flat on his face by solemnly warning his readers:
The verdict will concern not only the defendant, but also all who collect ancient coins in the U.S., because this lawsuit will put forward a convincing case for all those, who want to include coins in all international agreements on cultural property known as MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). Here coins are concerned, which average collectors will never be able to afford. But as soon as a collector has to prove that his coins are legally in the U.S., all those collectors will be in trouble who collected cheap coins, which never were sold in auctions.
What on earth is this moron on about? The charges he cites above that unfortunate surmise have no connection with the MOU already signed with Italy. The paperwork concerning the manner how and when this coin left Italy (or wherever) are not mentioned in the deposition quoted above, they are apparently not part of the charges (we simply have no information about the export paperwork, only the assurance of Nomos that the coins "left Europe legally", I presume that in this context can only mean in the eyes of US law too). So, on what basis does this writer intend to contradict that? These people seem fixated by the issue of the CCPIA and do not recognise that there are other laws in existence in the US with which the collector is increasingly being called to comply. Here the journalist (the article is unsigned) is simply unaware of this, or - more likely - is intent on keeping his readership in the dark, as a greater awareness of these issues is not going to be good for business. Indeed, wider awareness of the issues currently emerging could have a catastrophic effect on the no-questions-asked business. That is why groups run by dealers such as the ACCG are keeping collectors in the dark, an action that it seems certain coiney trade publications are also tacitly engaged.

the problem for the collector/owner of lot 1009 in the "Cabinet W" sale is however set out by Mark Fox in another coiney trade magazine, Numismaster:
Italian law, namely the Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage, has vested absolute and true ownership of all antiquities found in Italy after 1909 in the Italian government. According to informant, who examined the coin after it was seized, the government of Italy is the true owner of the tetradrachm under catalogue number 1009, and the Italian government never gave defendant or anyone permission, consent, or authority to remove said coin from the ground or to remove it from Italy”.
It is on these grounds that lot 1009 is liable to treatment by US authorities as stolen property, just like if somebody nicks my car from the garage and sells in in New Jersey. The same applies to any other coin of origin in a country with this type of state-vesting legislation and for which there is lacking paperwork giving the original owner "permission, consent, or authority to remove said coin from the ground or to remove it from Italy". Collectors who have well-documented coins of legitimate origins and can show the paperwork which they took care to obtain from a responsible dealer handling such material have no such problems. Those who have not should be watching this case with much more attention than all this loose talk about what might or might not be in a future MOU.
The complaint states that “the defendant knew that coin 1009 was ‘freshly dug’ and that, therefore, it had to be the property of the Italian government.” The fact that the Katane tetradrachm was most likely discovered and already in the U.S. before the current Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Italy and the US went into effect (Jan. 19, 2011), unfortunately doesn’t mean such coins are free to stay in U.S. collections. Under the McClain doctrine, as confirmed by the Schultz decision and upheld by three U.S. District Courts of Appeal, any object that is covered by a source country national patrimony law (such as the 1909/1939 Italian laws) and can be proven to have been imported into the U.S. without an export certificate is considered stolen property under U.S. law, and anyone who knowingly trades in such objects is subject to prosecution.
caveat collector.

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