Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Details of New York Coin Bust

Readers might be interested in the article in the new Coin World magazine about the investigations of the sales of two ancient Greek coins of Sicily (Jeff Starck, 'Officials seize two ancient coins at NYINC, Detain owner of coin with $2.5 million opening bid', Coin World online Jan. 09, 2012). The coins were scheduled to be sold at auction in New York City on Jan. 4 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan scheduled in conjunction with the New York International Numismatic Convention. The previous day (Jan. 3) however, officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the New York County District Attorney’s Office seized two coins and reportedly detained their owner and seller, Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss.

The coins were a silver decadrachm of Akragas, and a silver tetradrachm from Katane (lots 1008 and 1009). Both coins are rare types, of the 12 examples of the Acragas coin, six are in museums. In addition to the piece discussed here, the other five include those offered in 1998 by CNG in a 1998 Triton auction ("a dreadful example"). An example in better condition was part of the famous Nelson Bunker Hunt Collection sold in 1990. Two other examples are privately held in the United States, and one “apparently in Switzerland,” according to CNG. It was stated in the catalogue that the example that has been seized has been "in unnamed collections in the United States and Switzerland after being part of an English collection in London in the 1960s". It is worth noting that of the six in private hands, five are or have been in the United States, showing the predominance of the US in the global market in these kinds of objects.

Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss is a world renowned hand surgeon, a professor of orthopedics at Brown University School of Medicine and Rhode Island Hospital, both in Providence, R.I. He is also a partner in the Swiss-based coin dealing group Nomos AG, and a trustee of the American Numismatic Society.
Alan Walker, director of Nomos, said: “All the coins are in the U.S. legally. All of the coins left Europe legally. It was all handled 100 percent by the law, as far as we know.” Later, Walker added, “He [Weiss] has very good legal counsel and is 100 percent innocent.” [...] Victor England Jr., senior director of CNG, [...] declined to answer any more questions about the situation, saying, “Until we have talked to our attorney, we have no comment.”
This is a bit of a blow to the confidence of the coin market, CNG officials had anticipated the Akragas coin would become the most expensive coin of ancient Greece ever sold.
The high visibility of both of the coins — which received widespread press (including a story in the British media) — and the seller, altered the mood of the show. Discussions about the seizure of the coins quickly spread on coin collector chat forums.
At the moment, very few details of the seizure of the coins and the detention of Weiss are public, they will no doubt be published as they become available.

UPDATE 11.01.12:
In an exclusive article on the Chasing Aphrodite blog (rapidly becoming a key go-to resource) we read the following information concerning one of the recently-seized coins:
"According to a criminal complaint filed with the NYC District Attorney’s office, Weiss was secretly recorded telling a confidential informant that he knew one of the coins he was selling had been recently looted: “There’s no paperwork, I know this is a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago,” the complaint quotes Weiss telling the informant. “This was dug up two years ago. I know where this came from.” Weiss also allegedly told DA investigator John Freck that he knew the coin had been recently looted and belonged to the government of Italy, the complaint alleges. Under Italian law, all antiquities in the ground belong to the Italian state. [...] Weiss has been accused of one count of criminal possession of stolen property, a felony. He is due in court on March 21 for “possible grand jury action,” said NYC DA’s spokeswoman Diem Tran. (Case number 1299081) We’ve posted a copy of the complaint here.
This however refers only to one coin, the one which has the non-provenance of "bought in 2010", what is less clear is why the other coin (said to have a collecting history going back to the 1960s) was seized. Unsubstantiated comments on the Forum coin discussion list (philmcraighin January 08, 2012, 02:09:32 pm) has it that:
Further to what has been mentioned in postings, I have been told that Dr Wiess was arrested by homeland security and held for 48 hours at the Fed building in New York and an Italian dealer has now been questioned concerning the origin of the famous Akragas.
Rick St. Hilaire also has an informative text on the subject, setting out the legal background.

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