Thursday 19 April 2012

New York Antiquities Dealer Pleads Guilty


Mousa Khouli (also known as Morris Khouli), a Brooklyn antiquities dealer reportedly pleaded guilty on Wednesday to smuggling ancient Egyptian treasures, including a coffin, into the United States. Khouli, 38, admitted smuggling artefacts into the US from Dubai using false declarations to US Customs regarding their place of origin, their value and the importance of the objects. He also pleaded guilty to making a false statement to law enforcement authorities.
Khouli arranged for the purchase and smuggling of a Greco-Roman style Egyptian coffin, a three-part nesting coffin set, a set of Egyptian funerary boats, and Egyptian limestone figures between October 2008 and November 2009, officials said. The antiquities were exported from Dubai into the United States with false documentation. Khouli also settled a civil complaint seeking forfeiture of Egyptian and Iraqi artifacts, prosecutors said.
The mention of seized Iraqi artefacts is significant. We remember how adamant ACCG dealers were that "no" artefacts stolen from Iraq were on sale in the US, now we find out that while they were arguing this, a fellow member of the ACCG had some in his stock.  The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Karin Orenstein and Claire Kedeshian. The defendant entered his plea before the Honorable Edward R. Korman, United States District Judge, at the U.S. Courthouse in Brooklyn and he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.
All the antiquities have been recovered by law enforcement. The innermost coffin of the nesting set was seized during a search of Khouli’s residence in September 2009. The middle coffin and most of the outer coffin lid were seized in November 2009 at the Port of Newark, New Jersey. The Greco-Roman sarcophagus, funerary boats and limestone figures were seized during a search of co-defendant Joseph A. Lewis II’s residence in July 2011. The missing pieces of the coffin lid were forfeited to the government in court today. They consist of four wooden bird-like figures that attach to the four corners of the coffin lid, and four wooden panels that comprise the rectangular bottom of the coffin lid. Hieroglyphics on the coffin indicate that the name of the deceased was “Shesepamuntayesher” and that she bore the title “Lady of the House.”

 David Gill ('Dealer pleads guilty over Egyptian antiquities', Looting Matters April 19, 2012) notes: "
 "The case will no doubt be of serious concern to those private collectors and public museums who have been purchasing material from Khouli".

The United States Attorney's Office, Eastern District of New York, Press release April 18, 2012, Antiquities dealer pleads Guilty to Smuggling Egyptian Cultural Property: Forfeits Missing Pieces of Ancient Coffin. Hrag Vartanian, 'Dealer Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Egyptian Antiquities into US',, April 18, 2012.

SAPA (Reuters), 'Dealer admits smuggling Egyptian treasures', Independent Online, April 19 2012.

For much more on the background to this important case see Rick St Hilaire's '"Antiquities Launderer" Pleads Guilty - Co-Defendants Continue to Litigate in case of US v. Khouli et al.', Cultural heritage Lawyer Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cultural Property Observer still refuses to acknowledge that this case is going on, even though it involves two coin dealers. 

Photos: Some of the objects involved in the case (Hyperallergic)

UPDATE 19.04.12

You really have to laugh at the comic antics of the coiney lobbyists. About an hour after I posted that Peter Tompa's CPO blog has so far refused to discuss the ongoing New York case(s), Tompa obliges with a post: "Small Businessman Pleads Guilty to False Statements; Government Ignores Allegations of Misrepresentations to Congress". The coin dealer's lobbyist expresses his expectations:
Hopefully, the Court will not sentence Mr. Khouli to anywhere near the 20 year maximum for the offenses. Any such penalty would be very harsh for the conduct alleged in the indictment. One must also question a system where a small businessman can potentially be sentenced to 20 years for falsifying import documents [...]
How "small" Mr Khouli's business was (and what kind of business it was) are rather debatable points. It is apparent that the coin lobbyist for international coin dealers considers falsifying import documents as a cover for smuggling and making false declarations to law enforcement agencies rather "minor" infringements of the law and - presumably professional ethics.  Is this the position of the professional bodies he represents? The PNG and IAPN, do they consider antiquity smuggling a minor infringement not deserving of harsh punishment to the extent of the law?

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