Thursday 16 January 2014

Italy Demands Return of Antiquities Stored in the UK

Italy has recently demanded the immediate return of what are believed to be looted antiquities illegally taken out of Italy which are currently in the hands of a British liquidation firm, BDO. The firm is believed to be in possession of the  assets of former art and antiquities dealer Robin Symes, who was declared bankrupt in 2003. It is also rumoured that the liquidator is currently
selling the material in the Middle East on behalf of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which is attempting to recoup tax owed by Symes’s firm, Robin Symes Ltd, which is now in liquidation. It is said that these sales of Symes' antiquities are taking place out of the spotlight,  in the Middle East, particularly to Abu Dhabi, who is in the midst of creating collections for several new museums that are scheduled to open in the next few years.
The case has angered archaeologists. “It’s a scandal for the British government,” says Christos Tsirogiannis, a British-based Greek archaeologist who has assisted the Greek government with its own investigation of the antiquities in the Symes collection. Tsirogiannis says that he requested access to the collection as part of his research for his PhD at the University of Cambridge but that BDO failed to respond to his queries. “It would be good to have official announcements from all the governments concerned about the Symes case, so that everyone can learn the whole truth about the key questions: why are the objects identified by the Italian state not being sent to Italy? Are the other governments concerned claiming any objects too? If so, how many and which are they?”
It seems the BDO is refusing to comment on Italy's claims, stating that if any unambiguous evidence any items were looted can be presented, then they would take the appropriate action.
Sources close to the Italian investigators say that Italy has provided ample evidence to substantiate its claim and that it is up to the liquidator to prove that the material is not looted. Greece is also investigating the Symes collection but is not believed to have submitted a formal claim for the return of any items.
Will the Abu Dhabi and other museums buying this stuff (if the rumours are true) be putting in their accession registers that the bought items passed through the Symes Collection, or will that information  be suppressed?

Here is BDO's Corporate Social responsibility statement. "At BDO we are committed to being a responsible business, both in how we work with our clients but also in terms of how we contribute to the wider community and the world around us."


Cristina Ruiz and Javier Pes, 'Italy threatens to sue UK firm over ancient ‘loot’...', The Art Newspaper  16 January 2014

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