Monday 23 July 2012

The Dead Dad Provenance

The case of four men accused of dodgy dealings with dugup antiquities from Egypt goes on. The key defendant in the case, Mousa (Morris) Khouli of "Windsor Antiquities", pleaded guilty to charges in April (and his sentencing is due next month). The fourth alleged conspirator, Ayman Ramadan, remains - according to US authorities "a fugitive at large". Rick St Hilaire has detailed  (Objection Filed: Prosecution Outlines Factual Claims in U.S. v. Khouli et al., 23rd July 2012) the further developments in the case ("U.S. v. Khouli et al.") against Salem Alshdaifat of Holyland Numismatics and in particular collector Joseph Lewis, II (CEO of a major cosmetics company). The defendants "are presumed innocent unless the government proves beyond a reasonable doubt that they had knowledge of the illegality and acted unlawfully".  After all, what kind of man would lie about his recently deceased father?

Readers may recall that Joseph Lewis II's lawyer argued a motion to dismiss the case against Lewis, maintaining that he was never directly part of (had any knowledge of or agreed to participate in) the alleged illegal importation process.  In the presentation of the recent objection to this motion, the government  outlines an interesting narrative of events describing the movements of certain pieces bought by Lewis some of which were found in his home when it was searched (a Greco-Roman coffin, a mummy board, a 3-piece nesting Egyptian coffin set, and Egyptian boats and limestone artefacts).  These were allegedly smuggled and supplied with provenances which the government charges are false. This is worth outlining as it gives some interesting insights into how "property of...." collecting histories and even documentation appearing to corroborate them are created in the antiquities trade. It also indicates that some dealers are capable of dismantling (ie intentionally damaging) antiquities to "portablize" them in order that they can be more deftly taken across international borders without attracting the attention of customs officers. How widespread are such techniques in today's international market? Of course many of the so-called "minor antiquities" like coins, intaglios, shabti figures, scarabs, and Greek pots are already available as smallish easily portable (postable) pieces). Larger objects need to be fragmented in order that they may be smuggled.

Mummy board,
The first artefact reportedly purchased by Lewis from Khouli was a mummy board (a decorated wooden board that fits inside a coffin along with a mummy). Lewis apparently purchased it in January 2009 from another customer of Windsor Antiquities for $60,000 before it had even left Khouli's hands. It seems that the bill of sale identifies the third party and a previous owners, and the origin was stated as Windsor Antiquities, "and previously, a private Dutch collection that [had] acquired the item in the 1960s". The object in the photo had apparently been sawn in half and in February on learning that the object had come back from "a restorer" and was ready for shipping to Lewis, the latter reportedly "[e]nquired as to whether the repair at the 'joints' was invisible, referring to where the cut pieces were joined together".

Greco-Roman coffin,
The day after that (February 11, 2009), Khouli reportedly offered Lewis two Egyptian antiquities: a Greco-Roman coffin and a bronze figure, claiming they were both from his father's collection. He was asking  $65,000 for the coffin, Lewis agreed to purchase it for half that sum. Khouli subsequently offered Lewis a mummy linen and mask, writing in an e-mail, 'I just got th[e]s[e] items[;] i described them to you last week . . . .' [...] 'It is very interesting[;] it was inside the coffin you bought from me according to the owner but he sold I[t] to me separately son of a gun.' Such a statement would apparently be wholly inconsistent with Khouli’s earlier claim that the Greco-Roman coffin had been in his own father’s collection for decades. Despite learning this, Lewis - trusting the dealer - went on with the acquisition of the Greco-Roman coffin without requesting clarification of the collecting history, indeed he reportedly went on to buy the mummy linen and mask.  Lewis’s records for the mummy linen and mask’s collecting history reportedly include a bill of sale from Khouli's Windsor Antiquities stating that these items were 'legally acquired by the late Jack Khouli in Israel in the 1960s' which Lewis seems not to have questioned, despite the information he had been provided at the time of the sale. Prosecutors allege that Khouli and Ramadan smuggled the Greco-Roman coffin into JFK Airport in New York by transferring two payments of $10,000 and $3400 and submitting false customs information (the customs papers listed the Greco-Roman coffin's country of origin as United Arab Emirates and not Egypt and described the coffin as "antique wood panel" valued at $3400). Although the actual seller reportedly was Ayman Ramadan/Nefertiti Eastern Sculptures Trading, it is alleged that the sales invoice attached to the customs papers had not originated from the actual seller. The Greco-Roman sarcophagus was reportedly seized during a search of  Lewis’s residence in July 2011.

3-piece nesting Egyptian coffin set,
Shortly after, on March 7, 2009, Khouli reportedly offered Lewis three nesting Egyptian coffins (saying the inner coffin had already been sold to another buyer who was willing however to part with it). Lewis agreed to pay the Dubai seller $310,000 for the set (including $150,000 for the inner coffin to avoid breaking up the set). There was no indication that the coffins now in Dubai had previously been in Mr Khouli's father's collection in Israel. According to the prosecution, Lewis’s terms for the purchase however reportedly included that Khouli would provide “[p]rovenance from [his] late father’s collection, Israel 1960s” and a guarantee that the items would be cleared by Customs within 30 days of arrival. The coffins were split up by the dealer which would avoid attracting attention, and arrived in the United States in pieces using various transportation methods through separate points of entry, and reportedly were variously described for Customs as wooden panels, Indian furniture, purchased by a Connecticut third-party, or valued at $900. Prosecutors further allege that Lewis knew that the Egyptian coffin parts required reassembly, Khouli reportedly sent an email to Lewis on April 29, 2009:
"“i (sic) got the first half of the cut inner coffin the second half is on the way, shall I send it to you or should I wait for the second half and have [a certain person] look at it and have it fixed?” (Gov’t Exh. 6; emphases added). Lewis responded, “[The certain person] needs to put them together, when will the other two coffins arrive?” (Id.; emphasis added)." 
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, after they arrived via sea cargo at the Port of Newark, New Jersey.  Hieroglyphics on the coffin indicate that the name of the deceased was “Shesepamuntayesher” and that she bore the title “Lady of the House.”

Egyptian boats and limestone artifacts.
In May 2009, Salem Alshdaifat allegedly sold Khouli two ancient Egyptian funerary boats and five limestone figures for $40,000. These were sent by Ramadan to Khouli by international mail and then to Lewis, but he reportedly sent the shipping documentation, which described the package as "antiques," to both Alshdaifat and Khouli. The funerary boats and limestone figures were seized during a search of Lewis’s residence in July 2011.

Although not mentioned in this case, readers may recall that Lewis' name was involved as the purchaser in the attempted importation of an Egyptian coffin found in Miami, Florida in 2008 the export of which was challenged by the Egyptian authorities, though the case never came to court.

Vignette: Joe Lewis, skin care product producer (' the pioneer of Cosmeceuticals') reckons he can stop the ageing process. Do you believe that?

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