Saturday 25 March 2023

A Greek Coin Case to Watch? A Munich-Zurich Link

       Coin surfaced on antiquities trade  

In the fallout from the ongoing Beale/Roma Numismatics case a Greek newspaper has printed some details of an old case that appears not to have been abandoned after all (Giannis Papadopoulos Αρχαιοκαπηλία: Το θρίλερ με το χρυσό νόμισμα του Βρούτου [Archaeocapilia: Brutus' Golden Coin Thriller] 23.03.2023). In Google translation it alledges:

The case file in Patras
The auction house involved in this case has also concerned the Greek authorities in the past. In October 2016, his name was mentioned in a security document of Patras, without naming its owner, in the context of the dismantling of a multi-member ring of antiquities. Two years later, the Appellate Council of Patras issued a 2,546-page resolution to refer 47 defendants to trial. The relevant documents analyse the route of ancient objects (mainly coins) from their illegal excavation to their sale, the suspicious role of foreign auction houses in laundering antiquities, as well as techniques for manipulating electronic auctions with virtual "hits". However, no relevant prosecution was brought against representatives of the international houses at the time, as it was judged that there were insufficient indications of guilt. [...] [the documents detail] auction process of an ancient Corinthian cut silver stater by the British house. The specific coin, dated 500-480 BC, weighing 8.65 grams and 19 millimeters in diameter, depicts Pegasus on one side and was allegedly taken from Greek territory by illegal digging. It sold for between €1,500 and appeared at auction in September 2016 with a starting price of £8,000. In the description of the catalogue it was mentioned that the coin comes from a collection before 1920. According to the case file, there is also a reference to the specific coin and its auction in a telephone conversation with a Greek defendant which has been recorded. The case was set to be tried in first instance in October 2020, but after a series of postponements it is unexpectedly expected to start in June 2023.
Uh-oh. Sounds familiar. Those "techniques for manipulating electronic auctions with virtual [bids]" are known as shill bidding, this is illegal, but very commonly applied in the online collectables market, including antiquities, and is just one of the deceptive and lawless practices this unsustainable and exploitative industry functions on.

The case referred to may be found in articles from 2020 (for example 'GCT', 'Five rare ancient silver coins returned to Greece' Greek City News October 6 2020):
The Ministry of Culture and Sports on Monday announced that five rare silver coins dating to the 5th and 4th centuries BC were returned to Greece, before being auctioned off in Munich and Zurich.
Three of them were repatriated on September 30 from Munich: a stater from Lindos (Rhodes) of the first half of the 5th century BC, an octadrachm of Getas, the king of Edonians in Thrace, dated to around 480-460 BC and a stater from Elis dated to around 328 BC. The coins were handed over to the Consulate General of Greece in Munich by Bavarian police, and are now in the care of the Numismatics Museum of Athens, which helped identify them.

Another two silver coins were returned from Zurich to Athens on September 27. They were an Athenian tetradrachm (of the so-called new style), dated to 136 BC, and a tetradrachm of Ptolemy IV Philopator cut in Sidon around the end of the 3rd century BC.

Both coins which are now at the Archaeological Museum of Patras, were confiscated when a criminal ring was dismantled by Patras police in October 2016. The criminals were based in Greece but had an extensive network abroad, where they transferred looted antiquities. "A total of 126 ancient objects and 2,024 coins were confiscated in Greece, while in March 2017 Germany returned 33 Mycenaean vessels, 600 ancient coins and other antiquities of various periods, which were illegally exported by the looters," the Ministry of Culture and Sports added in the statement.
 I also discussed the Patras Bust in earlier posts on this blog: PACHI Wednesday, 5 October 2016, ' More on the Patras Bust - They Have Buyers' Names' and PACHI Wednesday, 5 October 2016, ' Dealers, where - precisely - do those artefacts come from?'. 
"Greek police have busted what they say is a criminal organisation that has been looting antiquities from ancient sites in the country for the past 10 years and smuggling them out to auction houses and private buyers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the UK. A spokesman for the Patras police department in western Greece, which led the 14-month investigation, said on Wednesday that more than 50 people were involved in the ring and 26 arrests have been made. [...] Police said the works were sold using fake provenance documents attributing them to private collections in Europe, but that the auction houses involved (which have not been named) knew the coins were illicit property and often helped inflate the final prices paid for them. Officials added that extensive paperwork will help them track down many of the objects that have already been sold. “For very many of the coins we have full documentation, starting from when they were discovered in the earth to the auction at which they were sold,” the police spokesman Haralambos Sfetsos told The Associated Press.

Sadly, very little was released from the ongoing investigations, if it comes to trial in the next few weeks, all that may change, quite dramatically.   Beale may be just the beginning. 

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