Archive for the ‘Looting’ Category

California man indicted for Roman mosaic looted from Syria

Saturday, August 1st, 2020

Four years after a massive mosaic looted from warn-torn Syria was first confiscated, its trafficker has been indicted in federal court. It’s not much of a charge for so bold a crime; just one count of entry of goods falsely classified, which he has admitted doing already.

The mosaic is 18 feet long, eight feet high and weighs one ton.  It depicts Hercules, the skin of the Nemean lion draped over his left arm, his club on the ground next to him, on his 11th Labour, stealing the golden apples of the Hesperides. In this scene he is shooting an arrow at the eagle coming to feast upon Prometheus’ endlessly regenerating liver. It is believed to date to the 3rd or 4th century A.D. and the style is consistent with mosaics found in Idlib, a city in northwest Syria near the border with Turkey.

The FBI seized the mosaic in 2016 in the home of Mohamad Yassin Alcharihi in Palmdale, California, as part of an investigation into looted antiquities. He had imported it through Long Beach in 2015 along with two other mosaics and 81 vases. The paperwork declared the mosaics to be “ceramic tiles” and the entire shipment, mosaics and modern vases, to have been been acquired in Define-Hatay, Turkey, and to be worth a total of $2,199. The raid on his house turned up another ginned up document which even more ridiculously claimed he had bought the mosaic rolled up like a carpet in a 2009 yard sale from a family who had owned it since the 1970s.

Alcharihi admitted to authorities that he had paid $12,000 for the objects and lied on the form to dodge duties. He also admitted that he knew the mosaic was ancient, not a vague assortment of “ceramic tiles.” The feds found emails from him to a potential buyer in which he said the mosaic had been lifted from a historical building in Idlib and which included photographs of the mosaic in situ in 2010.

In 2018, the US Attorney’s Office of Los Angeles filed an asset forfeiture complaint against the mosaic, alleging Mohamad Yassin Alcharihi had illegally imported it into the country using fraudulent documents. Only now have the slow wheels of justice ground out an indictment, meagre though it may be.

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Stolen Van Gogh “proof of life” pics circulate

Monday, June 29th, 2020

A “proof of life” picture of the Van Gogh painting stolen from a museum in March has emerged. The photograph shows the painting topped by a May 30th issue of the international edition of the New York Times on one side and a book on the other. The book is Meesterdief by Wilson Boldewijn, a biography of one of the art thieves who stole two paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2002. A second photograph shows the label on the back of the painting.

(The choice of book is obviously pointed, the art crime version of a weird flex. One of the two paintings stolen in 2002 was Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, a different scene of the same church where Van Gogh’s father was minister. Both paintings were found outside of Naples in 2016 after having been passed around as currency in a Camorra organized crime network for years.)

The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in the Spring (1884) was stolen from the Singer Laren Museum outside Amsterdam in the early hours of Monday, March 30th, what would have been Van Gogh’s 167th birthday. The smash-and-grab raid targeted the painting which was on loan from the Groninger Museum. The thieves broke in through the glass door, took the painting and fled before the police could arrive.

These are almost certainly photographs of the authentic work. The image of the label on the back of the painting is particularly telling because as far as Andreas Blühm, Director of the Groninger Museum, knows, no photograph of the label has ever been published before.

The images were received by Arthur Brand, a private eye who specializes in retrieving lost art works. He is not naming his source, but he has extensive knowledge of and connections to the art crime underworld. He has seen more than these two pictures of the stolen painting, so it seems that the thieves are circulating these snapshots to find a buyer.

“In some cases when art is stolen, the thieves get nervous, they can’t get rid of it or they think the police is on their tail so they destroy it,” [Brand] told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “So these pictures show that we are dealing with professionals. So the painting is still alive, I wanted to say.”

Brand said he had shared the photos with police investigating the theft.

Police spokeswoman Laetitia Griffioen said the photos “are part of the investigation.” She declined further comment.

Professionals though they may be, they are not handling their cash cow with anything like appropriate care. From the photo, it looks like the painting is on a garbage bag and the newspaper and book are casually plopped on top of its unprotected surface. There is also a white mark in the bottom center just below the fence posts. It could be a scratch because the original painting was done on paper and later mounted on board.

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19,000 trafficked artifacts seized in worldwide busts

Saturday, May 9th, 2020

A massive joint international law enforcement effort has resulted in the arrest of 101 suspects in the traffic of antiquities and the recovery of more than 19,000 works of art and archaeological artifacts. The investigations involved Interpol, Europol, the World Customs Organization and national police forces from 103 countries all over the world, including Spain, Colombia, Romania, Argentina, Chile, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Afghanistan and Italy.

This intricate global cooperation launched 300 individual investigations in a coordinated crackdown that focused on taking down organized crime networks that loot archaeological sites and museums and pillage  war-torn countries.

Spanish police busted three traffickers and recovered precious objects smuggled out of Colombia. The most unique among them is a gold mask made by the Tumaco people on the Pacific coast near what is now the border between Colombia and Ecuador. They thrived in the area between the 1st century B.C. and 1st century A.D. and are renowned for their goldwork, especially their 3-dimension gold figurines made of sheet gold. Tumaco figurines and finely decorated jewelry were among the confiscated objects. Another nine suspects were arrested in the Spanish operation and Roman archaeological materials  — a carved limestone lion, a architectural frieze and three columns — recovered.

While the busts were going down at Madrid’s Barajas airport and elsewhere in the country, police in Colombia worked the investigation on their end. Raids in Bogotá recovered another 242 pre-Columbian artifacts. It is the largest seizure of cultural patrimony objects in Colombia’s history.

In Argentina, the Federal Police Force seized 2,500 ancient coins by investigating one single online sale. The Latvian State Police took second place in the coin seizure stakes by confiscating 1,375 of them. Customs officers in Afghanistan intercepted and seized 971 cultural objects just before they were smuggled out of the country destined for Istanbul.

Law enforcement officers paid particular attention to the monitoring of online market places and sales sites, as the Internet is an important part of the illicit trade of cultural goods. […]

During what was called a ‘cyber patrol week’ and under the leadership of the Italian Carabinieri (Arma dei Carabinieri), police and customs experts along with Europol, INTERPOL and the WCO mapped active targets and developed intelligence packages. As a result, 8,670 cultural objects for online sale were seized. This represents 28% of the total number of artefacts recovered during this international crackdown.

“The number of arrests and objects show the scale and global reach of the illicit trade in cultural artefacts, where every country with a rich heritage is a potential target,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock. “If you then take the significant amounts of money involved and the secrecy of the transactions, this also presents opportunities for money laundering and fraud as well as financing organized crime networks,” added the INTERPOL Chief.

“Organized crime has many faces. The trafficking of cultural goods is one of them: it is not a glamorous business run by flamboyant gentlemen forgers, but by international criminal networks. You cannot look at it separately from combating trafficking in drugs and weapons: we know that the same groups are engaged, because it generate big money. Given that this is a global phenomenon affecting every country on the planet – either as a source, transit or destination, it is crucial that Law Enforcement all work together to combat it. Europol, in its role as the European Law Enforcement Agency, supported the EU countries involved in this global crackdown by using its intelligence capabilities to identify the pan-European networks behind these thefts,” said Catherine de Bolle, Europol’s Executive Director.

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Van Gogh painting stolen on his birthday

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

A painting by Vincent van Gogh was stolen from the Singer Laren museum just outside Amsterdam on what would have been the artist’s 167th birthday. At around 3:15AM on Monday, March 30th, thieves smashed through the glass door, stole Van Gogh’s Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring and made a quick getaway. The burglar alarm was triggered, but the perpetrators were gone before police arrived at the scene.

“I feel incredibly angry and now I’m starting to feel sadder too,” Jan Rudolph de Lorm, director of the Singer Laren Museum, told Reuters in an interview.

He appealed to those who had taken the painting to treat it with care “so that sooner or later it can be shown to the public unharmed”.

Van Gogh painted this piece in 1884 when he was living with his family at the vicarage in Nuenen where his father was pastor. This was a formative early period in his artistic life. It was Nuenen’s peasants and weavers who were the subjects of his seminal The Potato Eaters. He drew and painted the vicarage and its grounds a number of times, capturing it in different seasons. At 9.8″ x 22.4″, it is uncommonly wide.

De Lorm described the painting, which depicts a woman in a garden with red-flowered bushes and with a church in the background, as “an image of silence, of reflection and of tranquility, which undoubtedly offered him comfort and inspiration”.

“Through him, it gave us and our audience the same emotion,” de Lorm added.

The oil on paper on panel work was part of the museum’s Mirror of the Soul. Toorop to Mondrian exhibition focusing on works displaying the inner life of Dutch artists at the turn of the century. It’s a collaboration with the Rijksmuseum and was inspired by a book on the topic written by the Rijksmuseum’s senior curator of paintings. It features more than 70 paintings, drawings and watercolors from artists world-famous and relatively little known. It was fully insured, of course, and the insurers had inspected the museum’s security measures before the exhibition began.

There are works from the Singer Laren’s collection in the show, but the stolen Van Gogh was not among them. It was on loan from the Groninger Museum, a modern and contemporary art museum with an ecclectic permanent collection that contains exactly one Van Gogh. The painting has been in its collection since 1962 and its loss is incalculable, far beyond monetary value which is easily in the millions.

The theft is being investigated by local police and by Interpol.

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Ring gifted by Oscar Wilde found 20 years after theft

Saturday, November 16th, 2019

An 18-carat-gold inscribed gold ring that was a gift from Oscar Wilde to a friend during his undergraduate days at Magdalen College in Oxford will be returning to its alma mater 17 years after it was stolen.

The inside is engraved “O.F.O.F.W.W & R.R.H. to W.W.W., 1876,” the initials of gifters and receiver: Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, Reginald Richard Harding and William Welsford Ward, respectively. The three were close friends as undergraduates in Magdalen’s classics program. Ward was a year ahead of Wilde and he sort of took him under his wing, introducing him to his friends, to Freemasonry, going on rides through the woods where they argued about philosophy so vigorously that Wilde often fell off his horse. It was Ward, known as “Bouncer,” who introduced him to Harding, aka “Kitten.” Wilde’s nickname in this crew was “Hosky.”

Ward took his final exams in November 1876 and while he did well, he did not receive the First he expected. Instead of returning to Oxford as a fellow, Bouncer decided to go walkabout and travel to Italy. Hosky and Kitten had the friendship ring made as a memento of their happy trio. The inscription on the outside read in Greek: “Gift of love, to one who wishes love.”

The ring was part of the extensive collection of Oscar Wilde memorabilia held by his alma mater, Oxford University’s Magdalen College. It was stolen in the wee hours of Thursday, May 2nd, 2002, by one Eamonn Andrews aka Anderson, a former Magdalen cleaner and handyman who, fortified with copious quantities of whisky downed at the college bar, broke into the Old Library through a skylight on a drunken mission to find evidence his estranged wife, the head gardener at Magdalen, had had an affair with another man.

At some point he broke in, this harebrained half-scheme got even more stupid and morphed into the incredibly random theft of two rowing medals — the 1910 Henley Royal Regatta Grand Challenge Cup medal and a 1932 silver and a bronze medal. The alarm sounded but while the college porter was investigating, Andrews stole the gold ring from a display cabinet in another part of the college.

DNA analysis of blood traces found at the scene of the crime led to the arrest and incarceration of Andrews. He admitted his culpability and described the theft as an impulse, not premeditated or even a tiny bit thought through. He claimed he had no idea of the objects’ value and had sold them to a London scrap dealer for £150. He was sentenced two years in prison for the theft, to be served concurrently with the six years he had begun to serve for an earlier robbery.

Magdalen kept the news of the theft quiet in the beginning, hoping police would be able get the artifacts back. A week later, they announced the loss of the ring and offered a £3,500 reward, the equivalent of a tenth of its insured value, for any information leading to the its return. None was ever forthcoming.

More than a dozen years passed, and the ring was feared melted down. In 2015, Dutch art investigator par excellence Arthur Brand heard some scuttlebutt on the mean streets that a gold buckle-shaped Victorian ring with a “Russian” inscription had surfaced in the black market. Brand recalled the theft of the unusual Wilde ring and wondering if that “Russian” writing might actually be Greek.

The Dutchman then started to put out feelers.

Together with a London-based antiques dealer named William Veres, their enquiries eventually led them to George Crump, a man whom Brand described as a “decent man with knowledge of the London criminal underworld because of his late uncle, a well-known casino owner.”

Through Crump, Brand and Veres finally managed to track down and negotiate the safe return of the stolen ring.

It’s possible the ring only surfaced because it was stolen AGAIN, this time in the Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary, at an estimated  £200 million in jewelry stolen the largest burglary in English history. That burglary, perpetrated by a gang of septuagenarians, took place in April 2015 and after that gossip was rife in the demimonde that a bunch of previously stolen goods had been found in the vault.

The ring is now in a secure location in England. It will be officially returned to Magdalen College in a ceremony at Oxford on December 4th.

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Today in People Are the Worst news

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

On the night of Sunday, November 3rd, three complete and utter douchebags strapped a tree trunk to the hood of their car and rammed through a medieval side door of the UNESCO World Heritage Oloron-Sainte-Marie cathedral in southwest France. Once inside, they cut through steel bars protecting the chapel using a power grinder to create a large enough opening to go through. The sparks thrown by the power tool ignited a curtain in the chapel, but thankfully nothing else burned. They then smashed the display case glass and emptied it of its contents: gold chalices, monstrances, crosses, an 18th century nativity scene and a precious set of white and gold liturgical garments donated to the Bishop of Orlon by Francis I of France (r. 1515-1547). The church’s collection of vestments from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were found dumped unceremoniously in a pile on the floor. A statue and vase that were not stolen appear to have been deliberately vandalized.

These objects survived the orgy of anti-religious and anti-monarchical iconoclasm that saw so much of France’s cultural patrimony destroyed during the French Revolution. They are of inestimable historical value and were being kept in very fine condition by the church. The textiles were recently treated and being kept in conservation conditions.

The attack took place around 2:00 AM Monday. A neighbor heard the ruckus and reported it shortly before 2:30 AM. The gendarms and mayor arrived on the scene quickly, but the thieves had already escaped with the loot. They left the car which was damaged in the ramming behind and fled in a second vehicle. Props to the sturdiness of medieval wood doors for inflicting a small hit of instant karma on those jackasses.

The collection was insured, but authorities won’t comment on the assessed value because they don’t want the thieves knowing anything about what the objects might be worth. There is CCTV footage capturing the assault. The perpetrators were wearing hoods so their faces were not recorded. Police are looking at their arrival and departure on the footage to track where they might have gone.

The church is technically no longer a cathedral. Once the seat of the Bishopric of Orlon until its suppression in 1801, today it is the Church of Sainte-Marie even though it’s still commonly known as the Orlon cathedral. Built originally in the 12th century, much of the church was rebuilt over the centuries after riots, fires and the 16th century Wars of Religion took their toll. The 13th century nave, 14th century sacristy (where the thefts took place), 14th century choir and apse, 15th-16th century side chapels remain, but its crowning glory is the original 12th century Romanesque portal carved by an artist known solely as the Orlon Master who would begin his career and there before setting up shop in Spain. The church was granted World Heritage status in 1998 as part of a group of significant sites along the ancient pilgrim Route of Santiago.

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Head of Pan repatriated to Italy

Friday, October 25th, 2019

A marble head of Pan stolen 51 years ago has been returned to Italy. The statue head, which dates to the 1st-2nd century A.D., was looted in February 1968 from the Farnese Gardens on the Palatine hill. US Ambassador to Italy Lewis Eisenberg formally handed over the looted object to Culture Minister Dario Franceschini in a ceremony on Rome on Thursday.

Carabinieri special investigators spotted the marble head in a California auction catalog in 2016 and notified their U.S. counterparts.

U.S. attache Armando Astorga said the piece entered the United States in the mid-2000s, after spending many years in private hands in Europe.

So far, the investigation has not determined the original thief.

The Farnese Gardens were built over the in-filled ruins of Tiberius’ palace by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, grandson of Pope Paul III, in 1550. They were the first private botanical gardens in Europe, filled with rare plants imported from Africa and the Americas, grottos, aviaries, monumental gates, terraced balconies and staircases scaling the Palatine from the Campo Vaccino below. Alessandro Farnese’s collection of ancient statuary, assembled from finds on his own property and the acquisition of entire collections from other noble families, was installed in the botanical gardens.

The view from the garden included the Arch of Titus, the iconic three columns of the Temple of Castor of Pollux and the Basilica of Maxentius. In the 17th century the water supply to the Palatine was restored and the Farnese family expanded the garden to include fountains. Between the exotic plants, picturesque fountains, dramatic views and the Vatican museum-quality ancient sculptures, the Farnese Gardens became a popular stop for Grand Tourists of the moneyed classes.

The remains of the Roman and Imperial fora would be excavated in the 19th century, but by then the Farnese Gardens were almost as ruined as the great civic structures of the ancient city. When Antonio, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, the last Farnese of the patrilineal line died in 1731, Alessandro’s Palatine summer villa, botanical gardens and the greatest collection of ancient statuary assembled since antiquity passed into the hands of Antonio’s niece Elizabetta Farnese, Queen consort of King Philip V of Spain, and thence to her son Charles of Bourbon, soon to be king of Naples and the Two Sicilies. As absentee landowners, the Bourbon-Parmas neglected their Roman properties and by the mid-18th century the Farnese Gardens were already in decay. A century later, the villa and garden were largely in ruins.

The last King of the Two Sicilies, Francis II, sold the Farnese Gardens to Napoleon III of France. After the full Unification of Italy with Rome as its capital in 1870, the state bought the property and began to excavate it, seeking the remains of the ancient imperial palaces like the one Alessandro Farnese had so blithely filled in to make his garden. The archaeological site has been excavated off and on since then.

Just over a year after the head of Pan was stolen from the site, the Carabinieri Art Squad was founded on May 3rd, 1969. It was the first national police force division dedicated specifically to the protection of cultural heritage, anticipating by a year the UNESCO Convention combatting the illegal export and traffic in cultural artifacts. To mark the 50th anniversary of this important milestone in the fight against the illicit traffic in archaeological and artistic treasures, the Carabinieri are currently hosting an international conference on heritage protection. The head of Pan was repatriated on the opening day of the conference, a fitting celebration of the anniversary.

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Nedjemankh’s gilded coffin repatriated

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

The exquisite Late Ptolemaic gilded cartonnage coffin of the priest Nedjemankh was officially returned to Egyptian authorities in a ceremony in New York City Wednesday. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge for Homeland Security Investigations Peter C. Fitzhugh and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry presided over the formal repatriation of the six-foot coffin that was looted from Egypt in the wake of the popular uprising that overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.

The mummiform coffin decorated with thick layer of gesso reliefs and covered in an unbroken layer of gold was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017 for $4 million. The seller was French dealer Christophe Kunicki who gave the Met an export document from Egypt dated 1971 as proof that the exceptional, never-before-seen object had been legally removed from the country and been slumbering unknown in ye olde Swiss private collection. In February of 2019, after months of investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit informed the museum that the export document was a forgery, the coffin very recently looted and the Met defrauded of four million dollars.

The investigation traced the movement of the coffin from its theft in the Minya region in October 2011 to the United Arab Emirates, Germany — where it was restored — the auction house in France and finally New York. This is just the tip of the iceberg and the investigation is ongoing, active in three countries.

At a press conference attended by Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday, New York’s district attorney Cyrus Vance said the probe revealed “glaring inconsistencies” related to the coffin’s sale.

That the artifact first surfaced in 2011, a year that saw the revolution overthrow president Hosni Mubarak, “should have been a red flag,” Vance said.

Not to mention the reddest of red flags in the book, the Swiss private collection canard. I still can’t even believe I fell for that.

Vance said he had elaborated on details of the investigation “in the hope that folks in the industry will take note and perhaps use the lessons learnt in this case to better scrutinise their acquisitions.” […]

Vance said it was among hundreds of objects stolen by the same multi-national trafficking ring, and that “more significant seizures of prominent antiquities in the months and years to come” are possible.

Good. Can’t happen soon enough.

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Triple Hecate confiscated from smugglers

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

Police have recovered a striking Roman-era marble statue during a smuggling bust in Turkey’s southwestern Denizli province. Two vehicles were being followed as part of a police investigation into antiquities smuggling. Anti-smuggling and anti-organized crime police units pulled the cars over, searched them and the statue was discovered inside one. Four individuals were detained on suspicion of violations of the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage Law.

The reports in the press are meager with little in the way of detail. The sculpture is sketchily described as three-headed statue of a beautiful woman with torches and wings, but I don’t think that’s accurate. For one thing, each head has its own body, albeit squared at the side. You can tell from the Doric chiton they each wear that it’s three individual figures, not a single three-headed lady. The central female figure holds a torch in each hand, the side figures hold torches in one hand. The reliefs on the back described as “wings” just look like their second arms to me. They’re very roughly hewn with the draping lines indicating the short sleeves and Playmobil style gripper hands, so I can see why someone might consider them winglike.

This is a triple Hecate. Hecate was a protective deity, guardian of gates and crossroads, often depicted holding double torches and as a threesome, handy when you’re keeping watch over all lines of approach. Pausanias, in his 2nd century travelogue Description of Greece, claims that the 5th century B.C. sculptor Alcamenes was the first to create a triple statue of Hecate. If so, he started a trend that would outlast ancient Greece and Rome and still be going strong in artistic motifs by the likes of William Blake.

The worship of Hecate was widespread in Thrace and Anatolia. It may have even originated there and spread to Greece later. Hecate was a particular favorite of the ancient city of Byzantium who would become in its later Roman incarnation the capital of one empire, then the capital of another and is today the city of Istanbul.

Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, flush from a number of military successes, turned his attention to the Hellespont in 340 B.C., and besieged the city of Perinthus on the Sea of Marmara west of Byzantium. Perinthus, perched on a high slope with strong walls and stone houses jammed close together to act as a secondary barrier once the walls were breached, defended by the allied forces of Athens and constantly resupplied by Byzantium, proved too tough a nut for Philip to crack.

Hoping to choke off Perinthus’ support and take advantage of the absence of many of Byzantium’s troops, weapons and war machines, Philip peeled off half his army from the siege of Perinthus and hit Byzantium. His strategem failed. Neither city fell and Philip was forced to make a truce with them and their allies. Plutarch attributes Philip’s loss to skill of the Athenian general Phocion. Diodorus Siculus chalks it up to Philip giving up when a bunch of other Greek cities sent reinforcements to break his sieges.

The account of 6th century chronicler Hesychius of Miletus, on the other hand, posits a less terrestrial explanation for Philip’s defeat. It was a dark and stormy night. The moonless sky was a perfect setting for a sneak attack by Macedon’s troops. All of a sudden, a bright light illuminated the heavens and the city’s dogs barked loudly. Byzantium’s defenders awoke and fended off Philip’s soldiers, defeating the Macedonian decisively. The great light was the work of Hecate protecting her most devoted adherents with the aid of the animal most sacred to her, the dog. The dramatic end of the siege was commemorated with a great statue overlooking the Bosphorus of Hecate Lampadephoros, the lamp-carrier.

Triple Hecates have been found throughout the Roman Empire, and Turkey, which has a solid claim to the origin of the cult, is certainly no exception. There’s a beautiful example in the Archaeological Museum in Antalya 140 miles southeast of Denizli. It’s very similar to the one recovered by the police, only the recent discovery lacks its handsome proportion and attention to detail. It’s the budget option, basically.

The confiscated statue is now in the hands of archaeologists at the regional museum who will study it further.

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Stolen Alexander Hamilton letter found 80 years later

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

A letter by Alexander Hamilton to the Marquis de LaFayette that was stolen eight decades ago has been found. It was stolen from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Archives by clerk Harold E. Perry between 1937 and 1945. After he was caught, he claimed to have stolen the documents as a “collector,” but he just so happened to have made quite a career from trafficking in looted history. He also stole original papers of George Washington’s, Benjamin Franklin’s, Paul Revere’s and, fittingly, Benedict Arnold’s. The thefts weren’t found out for years.

The Archive was left with documentary evidence that it had once owned the letter — a notation on a 19th century index list and on a name and subject index — and a photostat copy done in the 1920s. (Actually, they only had a photostat of the 19th century index list, because the traitor had stolen the index too while he was looting the archive.)

Perry was arrested in 1950, but by then he’d sold documents to dealers all over the country. He removed Archive reference numbers to obscure their origins. The Massachusetts Attorney General sent letters to all the major dealers alerting them to thefts and seeking the return of any stolen materials. Some of them were recovered. The Hamilton letter was not.

It was rediscovered when the document was consigned for sale to an auction house in Alexandria, Virginia by a South Carolina family in November 2018. The letter was valued at $25,000-35,000, but it never went under the hammer because a researcher at the auction house discovered the letter was missing from the Massachusetts Archives. They alerted the MA which provided documentation of the theft and then the auction house called the FBI.

The would-be consigners had no idea they had attempted to fence stolen goods. They inherited it from a relative who collected documents. From what they know, he bought it in the 1940s from a rare book dealer in Syracuse, New York, named Elmer Heise.

The FBI in Boston is currently in possession of the letter. US Attorney Andrew Lelling has filed a civil forfeiture complaint, a legally necessary step in the process of returning the letter to the Archives. Once that goes through the court, the Hamilton letter will be back at the Massachusetts Archives.

Dated July 21, 1780, the letter was written at George Washington’s Preakness Valley Headquarters in New Jersey. Its recipient was in Danbury, Connecticut at the time.

My Dear Marquis
We have just received advice from New York through different channels that the enemy are making an embarkation with which they menace the French fleet and army. Fifty transports are said to have gone up the Sound to take in troops and proceed directly to Rhode Island.

The General is absent and may not return before evening. Though this may be only a demonstration yet as it may be serious, I think it best to forward it without waiting the Generals return.

We have different accounts from New York of an action in the West Indies in which the English lost several ships. I am inclined to credit them.

I am My Dear Marquis with the truest affection

Yr. Most Obedt

A Hamilton  Aide De Camp

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