AC’s Tess Davis Discusses the Return of A Looted Greek Gospel in The New York Times

Looted and stolen objects often end up in the hands of collectors who sell these pieces to esteemed art museums. While some museums delay identifying stolen heritage within their walls, others are attempting to regain credibility by returning stolen objects to their rightful homes. 

The Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, recently returned a more than one thousand-year-old handwritten gospel to the Greek Orthodox Church after determining that it was looted from a Greek monastery during World War I. This repatriation is part of the museum’s ongoing efforts to investigate the provenance of its entire collection.

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, detailed the significance of this return in a recent New York Times article:

“I think the Museum of the Bible is a great example of how not to build a collection, but I do wish other American museums would follow its example when dealing with their own existing problematic collections,” said Davis. “In this case, curators saw red flags, they followed where they led, realized the manuscript was stolen, reached out to its rightful owner and voluntarily returned it.” 

The manuscript’s repatriation to the Kosinitza Monastery in northern Greece is scheduled for next month.

Read the full story here.

VOA Interviews Researchers at AC Luncheon Celebrating Return of Cambodian Antiquities

Following the August 8 repatriation of the Statue of Ganesha and 29 other looted Cambodian antiquities, researchers now report that former looters aided in the return of these objects. 

Prak Thida and Prum Kanha, two researchers working with the Cambodian Ministry of Culture, were interviewed by Voice of America (VOA) during the Antiquities Coalition’s August 11 roundtable luncheon to discuss how looters helped the team recover the Ganesha by detailing where and how it was looted. 

Kanha says, “[Former looters] realized they shouldn’t have done that, so they dedicated their lives to helping find the sculptures.”

This historic return inspires hope that additional antiquities will be returned to their home countries, and that former looters will continue to come forward to aid in these returns.

The Ganesha was part of the “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities” list, illustrating some of the most significant looted, stolen, and missing artifacts from around the world. The Antiquities Coalition will release an updated guide featuring a new Cambodian antiquity to find and recover.

Watch the full interview here.

The Antiquities Coalition Addresses The Need For Proactive Policies in Live Webinar

Global conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and now, Ukraine have highlighted the catastrophic impact of war on cultural heritage. With this conflict comes an increase in the looting and illicit trade of antiquities. It’s important that policy makers, as well as the public, understand the stakes and consequences events like global conflict, natural disasters, climate change, and pandemics have on our shared heritage. 

On August 15th, top experts from academia, civil society, and law joined the Antiquities Coalition for an important discussion on The Need for Proactive Policy. As evidenced by the situation in Ukraine, our current policy framework is failing. Leaders need to strengthen global efforts against the destruction of cultural objects before it’s too late. 

During the webinar, these experts discussed recommendations for how international public and legal policy should take a proactive stance aimed at eradicating threats to cultural heritage globally. The discussion featured key takeaways from the Antiquities Coalition’s Think Tank and our roadmap for the G20, Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones, as an example of how leaders can strengthen global efforts against the looting and trafficking of cultural objects.

Strategies include: 

  • Providing sustained focus, support, and funding on investigating and preparing policy to protect cultural heritage. 
  • Ensuring that existing laws related to the protection of cultural heritage are up to date and enforced, and increasing awareness so that these laws act as a deterrent. New policy is not always needed.
  • Creating a warning system in order to prioritize and adapt resources accordingly, so that policy makers have the tools they need when they need them.
  • Increasing awareness among policy makers and the public that crimes against cultural heritage are crimes against humanity. 

The AC Hosts Roundtable Discussion on the Successful Return of Cambodian Antiquities

As Cambodia battled decades of civil war and genocide in the late 20th century, criminals took advantage of the unrest to loot and steal artifacts from its ancient capital of Koh Ker and other archeological sites. Among these items was the Ganesha, a 1000-year-old elephant-headed statue that has long been on the Antiquities Coalition’s radar as one of the “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities.” 

The Ganesha, along with 29 other looted Cambodian antiquities, finally returned to the Cambodian government on August 8, 2022. These antiquities were stolen from Cambodia as part of an organized looting network and sold by Douglas Latchford to private collectors and a museum in the United States.

Following this success, the Antiquities Coalition hosted a roundtable luncheon with a visiting delegation from the Royal Government of Cambodia to celebrate the kingdom’s recent efforts in finding, recovering, and bringing home its looted masterpieces.

The delegation, joined by other cultural heritage experts actively engaged in the fight against the illicit trade of art and antiquities, spoke about their groundbreaking work that has resulted in the return of the stolen artifacts. In addition, they discussed the difficulties they encountered, lessons learned, and partnerships formed with American allies in law enforcement, civil society, and the arts while searching for these antiquities. 

The return of the Statue of Ganesha marks the first success from the Antiquities Coalition’s “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities”. The list will relaunch soon with a new Cambodian masterpiece to recover and return.

The Antiquities Coalition thanks the Royal Government of Cambodia and all participants in the roundtable discussion for their work to end cultural racketeering.

Antiquities Coalition Celebrates the Return of Looted Cambodian Masterpieces

Repatriated Collection Includes One of the World’s “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities”

NEW YORK, (August 8, 2022) – Today, the United States government repatriated thirty cultural treasures worth tens of millions of dollars to the Kingdom of Cambodia, including a monumental sandstone sculpture of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god. The return of the Ganesha to its rightful home in Cambodia marks the first success of the “Ten Most Wanted Antiquities,” the Antiquities Coalition’s 2020 awareness campaign to locate and recover some of the world’s most significant looted, stolen, and missing artifacts.

All 30 pieces had been sold to American collectors by Douglas Latchford—the now disgraced “adventurer scholar,” who made headlines in last year’s Pandora Papers for smuggling blood antiquities from Cambodian war zones and then hiding his millions of dollars in profits through the misuse of tax havens, trusts, and offshore accounts. The pieces were seized as part of a decade-long, and still ongoing, investigation into Latchford’s network by Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

The Ganesha was recovered from the collection of Netscape founder James H. Clark, who surrendered a total of 35 antiquities after learning from investigators that all of the pieces were stolen. In an interview with the New York Times, Clark detailed his business relationship with Latchford and why he felt obligated to return the stolen items voluntarily, saying, “my doing this might inspire other people to do the same, but I’m not sure — it’s hard for people to give up something they paid for, but for me, why would you want to own something that was stolen?”

Both the Ganesha and another of the masterpieces returned, the Skanda on a Peacock, hailed from Koh Ker, the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire from 928 to 944 C.E. Ancient Koh Ker statuary was revolutionary for its time given the size, dynamic positions, unique decorative features, and sacred ancestral representation of the art pieces. 

“We launched the Ten Most Wanted Antiquities list to shine a spotlight on cultural treasures from around the world that have been lost to crime and war,” said Deborah Lehr, chairman and founder of the Antiquities Coalition. “We’re thrilled that the Ganesha, as well as the Skanda on a Peacock and so many other pieces, are now being returned home to the people of Cambodia. This success demonstrates what wonderful things we can accomplish when governments, law enforcement, advocates, and responsible leaders in the art market work together.”

While the first of the original “Top Ten Most Wanted Antiquities” has been recovered, nine remain missing, along with countless other objects stolen from their home by thieves capitalizing on the chaos of war, unrest, or other crisis. These crimes leave a wound that persists for decades or even centuries. In recognition of the work that remains to combat cultural racketeering, the Antiquities Coalition will soon launch an updated most wanted list featuring a new missing masterpiece from Cambodia.

View the nine missing pieces and  learn more about the Top Ten here.

Live Webinar: The Need for Proactive Policy

Join us August 15 at 10:00 AM New York / 3:00 PM London / 7:30 PM Chennai for this Free Webinar

As the Russia-Ukraine War rages on, culture in Ukraine remains under attack.  

From recent conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and now, Ukraine, the international community has seen the catastrophic impact of war on cultural heritage. But conflict is not the only threat. Looting and illicit trade feed upon any weakening of civil society caused by globalization, natural disasters, climate change, and pandemics. In such situations, the international community scrambles to implement protective emergency actions – usually too late. What is worse, resources deployed in one emergency rarely prevent theft and illicit trade in future emergencies elsewhere, whatever and wherever they might be.

On August 15, the Antiquities Coalition will convene top experts from academia, civil society, and the law to make recommendations for how international public and legal policy should take a proactive stance aimed at eradicating threats to cultural heritage globally. The discussion will feature takeaways from the Antiquities Coalition’s roadmap for the G20, Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones, as an example of how leaders can strengthen global efforts against the looting and trafficking of cultural objects.

As evidenced by the situation in Ukraine, our current policy framework is failing—failing our cultural heritage, failing the communities and countries with the closest ties, failing their governments, failing law enforcement, and failing the legitimate art market. Such a stark assessment is daunting, and demands rigorous investigation and discussion. The Antiquities Coalition looks forward to your participation in this important conversation. 

Moderated by Dr. James K. Reap. 

AC’s Tess Davis Describes Douglas Latchford’s Crimes in Bloomberg Businessweek

Bad actors continue to exploit the global art market, putting our shared history and security at risk. For more than 40 years, Douglas Latchford was the world’s foremost dealer of Cambodian antiquities. Latchford spent decades trafficking the country’s art and antiquities, even allowing some objects to end up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York. 

The Antiquities Coalition is holding Latchford and the broader network that supported his crimes accountable through years of independent research and outside collaborations. In 2021, the Antiquities Coalition worked extensively alongside the Pandora Papers investigation in exposing Latchford on a global scale.

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, was mentioned in a recent Bloomberg article that explores Latchford’s crimes and the unique position that made him more culpable.

Davis has also detailed Latchford’s dark legacy and his lifelong tactics to pillage Cambodia during decades of civil war, foreign occupation, and genocide in an OpEd for The Diplomat. The Antiquities Coalition continues to call on the art world to return stolen items and urges museums like the Met to implement stronger protections against cultural racketeering.

Read the full article here.

Research from AC’s Tess Davis and Trafficking Culture Quoted in ABC Australia

Looted antiquities are usually traced back to a smuggling network that reaches all corners of the global art market. In a research paper, Simon Mackenzie of Trafficking Culture and Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, explore the anatomy of a trafficking network and identify the lynch-pin as a “Janus,” the Roman god who wears two faces:

“He is Janus — one face looking into the illicit past of an artefact and one looking into its public future where that dark past is concealed — the point of transition, or gateway between local looting and the international art market.”

Mackenzie and Davis’ research was quoted by Mario Christodoulou, an investigative journalist for ABC Australia, who detailed the secret history of Australia’s Khmer antiquities. Christodoulou writes that Peng Seng sold ancient Thai and Khmer sculptures, but Seng’s “Janus” is Douglas Latchford, who is widely known for trafficking antiquities during the Cambodian civil war.

Read the full article here.

New UNESCO and DCT Report Details COVID-19 Recovery for the Culture Sector

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant loss of life, devastating economic impacts, and major disruptions to livelihood. Cultural heritage and our shared history are no exception, with reports of cultural racketeering skyrocketing across the globe over the last few years.

In 2020, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warned that this public health emergency would result in a “glut of stolen artifacts” for sale online. Among the extensive list of nations impacted by this illegal trade, Egyptian officials reported that illegal excavations in the country had more than doubled since the outbreak of COVID-19.

New research shows the culture sector experienced a significant decline during the pandemic, with a loss of global revenue from 20 to 40 percent and approximately 10 million jobs lost in 2020 alone. Without individuals to protect and preserve art and antiquities in museums and other sites, cultural heritage faces a greater risk of being looted by bad actors who seek to exploit the global art market.

In response to the growing need for structural change, UNESCO and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT) released a new report, Culture in Times of COVID-19: Resilience, Recovery and Revival, to explore key trends and transformations that can boost coordinated multilateral recovery of the culture sector.

Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, Tess Davis, and Project Director, Helena Arose, were honored to attend the launch of the report in Abu Dhabi alongside UNESCO and DCT to discuss the key findings and the unique opportunity for lasting change.

The Antiquities Coalition has monitored the pandemic’s impact on cultural racketeering and historical sites that have suffered from looting and will continue to support research and recovery efforts that aim to build an inclusive, sustainable, and resilient culture sector for years to come.

Think Tank Emphasizes Cultural Heritage Has Become One of Russia’s Most Effective Weapons

In the latest policy brief from the AC Think Tank, How Does Russia Exploit History and Cultural Heritage for Information Warfare? Recommendations for NATO, authors Daniel Shultz and Christopher Jasparro provide a detailed case study illustrating how historical propaganda and the exploitation of cultural heritage have become a central component of the Kremlin’s information warfare campaigns, orchestrated from the top by Vladimir Putin himself. To combat this threat, they offer recommendations for NATO to raise institutional awareness of this threat in order to promote resilience, effective counters, and a more accurate understanding of adversary intent and vulnerabilities in the information environment.

Since the publication of the brief, news from Ukraine on this topic has been disturbing. On June 12, international experts reported that a specialist gang was committing targeted theft of cultural objects from Ukraine and smuggling them into Russia. “There is a possibility it is all part of undermining the identity of Ukraine as a separate country by implying legitimate Russian ownership of all their exhibits,” said Brian Daniels, an anthropologist and research associate at the Smithsonian Institution.

In light of this and other reports, the AC was pleased to convene top military and heritage experts this month to hear directly from Shultz and Jasparro on their recommendations as well as key insights from recent developments. This presentation was followed by a moderated discussion on counter-messaging, awareness-raising, and institutionalized training to combat Russian aggression. Due to the sensitivity of the subject, this briefing was closed-door, with invitees composed of representatives from government, the military, law enforcement, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and academia. This event is just one example of how the AC Think Tank is working to bring high-quality, innovative, and results-oriented research directly to decision makers.

For a summary and link to the policy brief, visit: https://thinktank.theantiquitiescoalition.org/how-does-russia-exploit-history-and-cultural-heritage-for-information-warfare-recommendations-for-nato/

The AC Joins Mediterranean Leaders in Signing Naples Declaration

Communiqué Calls for Stronger Cultural Heritage Protection Throughout the Region

On June 16-17, the Conference of the Ministers of Culture of the Mediterranean brought together governments with European, intergovernmental, and non-governmental organizations in Italy. This first cultural ministerial of the EU-Southern partnership—a coalition between the European Union, and its neighbors on the Mediterranean—concluded with leaders signing the Naples Declaration. The Antiquities Coalition was honored to be one of the few non-governmental delegations, and the only one from the United States, invited to sign the communique and speak at the broader event.

The Naples Declaration seeks to protect cultural heritage from disasters and other crisis scenarios, while highlighting how culture drives and enables sustainable development. It reinforces several previous commitments to safeguarding cultural heritage, including the G20’s 2021 Rome Declaration. Specifically, it urges nations to:

Strengthen measures to combat illicit trafficking in cultural goods through a multifaceted / intersectoral approach that takes into account its criminal, financial and social dimensions. To this end, explore measures to improve the legal frameworks for strengthening the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods, in particular their repatriation or return to their countries of origin, and explore measures for strengthening cooperation among police, customs, and authorities cross-border cultural administration.

Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, Tess Davis, emphasized how Mediterranean leaders can prioritize the protection of cultural heritage as part of her remarks during the event. While this ministerial and Naples Declaration send a strong message to bad actors in the art market, leaders throughout the Mediterranean region must take continuous action to ensure we effectively combat the illegal trade of cultural racketeering. 

The Antiquities Coalition looks forward to seeing how the Naples Declaration will strengthen cultural heritage protection throughout the Mediterranean and inspire other regions to combat cultural racketeering.

 

AC Chairman and Founder Details How China Combats Cultural Racketeering for China Pictorial

In 2021, the Chinese art market was valued at $13.4 billion, making it 20 percent of the global total, second only to the United States. But as interest in Chinese cultural heritage continues to grow, so does the risk that bad actors will attempt to exploit it.

In a recent article for China Pictorial, Deborah Lehr, Chairman and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition, details how the Chinese government is taking serious measures to crack down on the illegal trade of art and antiquities:

“For one, China has strengthened its laws, both nationally and locally. By the end of 2016, there were 154 local laws, 138 local government statutes, and more than 13,000 local regulatory documents related to cultural work across the country,” Lehr says. 

Lehr also outlines China’s strict approach to enforcement, highlighting the country’s 2021 crackdown that caught 650 gangs and resulted in the arrests of 61 most-wanted suspects of cultural relic theft.

Countries must work internationally and coordinate efforts with other governments to fight against antiquities trafficking. China is an example of how countries can develop laws, implement cultural heritage protection into urbanization planning, and engage internationally to ensure we can celebrate our shared history and preserve it for future generations.

Read the full article here.