Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Illicit Art and Antiquities Trafficking Prevention Act

A bill to extend the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act to regulate the art trade is now  before the US Congress’ House Financial Services Committee.

Peter Tompa describes the implications of HR 5886, the Illicit Art and Antiquities Trafficking Prevention Act, here:

According to Congressman Luke Messer, its Indiana Republican sponsor, HR 5886 is intended to “reduce international money laundering and crack down on terrorist organizations like ISIS.”

According to Tompa,

"Passage of HR 5886 would add dealers in antique coins, art and antiquities, even small businesses selling $50,000 per year, to the Bank Secrecy Act, 31 USC § 5312. Currently, the Bank Secrecy Act applies to banks, financial institutions, credit card institutions, casinos, and dealers in precious metals. The regulations are not specified in the bill, but release from Congressman Messer suggests that they will be similar to those applied to the category of dealers in precious metals, stones and jewels (31 CFR 1027.100).

If so, similar regulations would require detailed reporting to the Department of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The detailed inventory, customer identification, and audit requirements would place a significant cost and time burden on small art businesses.

In other regulated industries, FinCen has required reporting of currency exchanges totaling as little as $1,000, Suspicious Activity Reports for amounts as low as $2,000, and has a $10,000 Currency Transaction Threshold. FinCEN also has the authority to lower this threshold."

Tompa goes on to point out that:

"There are an estimated 5,000 firms that deal in coins in the United States, mostly small businesses or sole proprietorships with sales under $1 million per year.

Placing regulatory requirements on business that already use regulated institutions for banking seems like regulatory overkill, especially given the high cost of compliance for small businesses (estimates range from $2,000-5,000 per year) ..."

He goes on to observe that

"Most of all, the ancient and antique art industry worries that FinCen will demand provenance information that simply does not exist as part of its due diligence/chain of custody requirements. Dealers would like to have these records and be able to supply them; they often increase the value of an object. However, because many objects have been in circulation through private hands over decades or even centuries, such records rarely exist.

Although this fact is well known to anti-art trade activists, they are likely to be the first to demand that art dealers provide such non-existent records as part of the compliance process."

As the proprietor of a small business in antique coins, I can state that this proposed legislation in its present form would have a very serious adverse effect upon my business, Classical Coins. In fact, at this point it appears that if Classical Coins became subject to such onerous regulations, it would no longer be possible for me to continue to operate my business.

Antiquities collectors worldwide should be alarmed at the prospect that the U.S., comprising roughly 50% of the worldwide market for antiquities, may impose such onerous and destructive regulations upon the trade. It is very probable that if this does occur, there will be an immediate demand from the archaeology lobby for these regulations to also be imposed within the EU and the UK.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Misrepresentation and Deception

Apparently things have gotten rather slow in the English language instruction business in Warsaw.

The focus is now back on "the pirates over on the Yahoo antiquities collecting forum" where "the scum" involved in "the Great Antiquities Trade Scam" seek to "launder antiquities by misdescription." Said "scum" are accused of "trying to avoid a customs official of the importing country ... asking for verifiable document of title and adherence to all the relevant procedures concerning entry onto the market and removal from the source country."

The theme of course is that the version of moral rectitude being preached over in Warsaw requires that anyone sending antiquities from one nation to another must describe them in a manner that openly states (and maybe even highlights) their "true nature" as "ancient artefacts subject to export controls and scrutiny of the importing country to make sure all procedures have been followed."

The said procedures are further described as including "a customs official of the importing country ... asking for verifiable document of title and adherence to all the relevant procedures concerning entry onto the market and removal from the source country."

(In the case of Yahoo dealers exporting or importing coins) "that is what this would be about if the objects concerned came from a dealer who had acquired them in a manner careless of obtaining the supporting paperwork."

Aha! Yet another regurgitation of the same old "broken record" theme: all antiquities are "illicit" if they are traded without full documentation proving their "licit" origin. Ten years ago, the original version of that theme allowed for traceability to a collection predating the 1970 UNESCO Convention being considered "licit origin." Recently it seems that now even this isn't good enough, if the "nation of presumptive origin" had restrictive laws predating that Convention.

Never mentioned in all this monotonous moralizing is the real issue: carrying on the international trade in antiquities would be practically impossible, if "full documentation proving 'licit' origin" is required. While the real objective of all this is to suppress antiquities collecting by attacking the trade that supports it, the blogger in question  has never admitted that (even though it's obvious to the rest of us) which seems to this observer to be utter hypocrisy and misrepresentation, of a character worse than what he accuses the "pirates over on the Yahoo antiquities collecting forum" of practicing.

This blogger's refusal to own up to his true goals, while hypocritically attacking antiquities collectors and their suppliers, led to unending controversy and his eventual expulsion from the Moneta-L and Ancient Artifacts groups by their listowners, and to his being driven away from the Unidroit-L group (now inactive) by an ad hoc coalition of members who saw through his false pretenses.

Friday, April 21, 2017

More Maladministration of the 1983 CCPIA

Taking a Closer Look At The Evidence

This image appears in an Obama Administration PR release from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency

ICE, CBP seize illegally imported ancient Roman coins

Further images of coins involved in the seizure appear here:

These images are, of course, not of sufficiently high quality to allow for reliable attribution, however they have been examined by interested collectors, and it seems clear that some of these coins were struck in Middle Eastern mints, and are therefore clearly not of "Italian origin."

It unfortunately appears to be the case that the officials involved in deciding whether coins should be detained in Customs for "illegal importation" are either not competent to accurately identify the actual location of their manufacture, or far worse, are ignorantly assuming that "Roman means Italian."

Italy was only one province of the enormous Roman Empire. At the time these coins were struck there were more than twenty active mints, most of which were located outside the borders of modern Italy. All of these mints had their own identifying marks, just as do US mints today. Collectors of the coins of the later Roman Empire understand these mint marks, which first appeared in the late Third Century a. d.

There are many ways in which maladministration of the law causes injustice and unfair hardships to law-abiding citizens. One of these ways is the unjustifiable and detestable practice of arbitrarily refusing importation of objects whose appearance merely resembles items included in the "Restricted List" published after the implementation of a Memorandum of Understanding with a state requesting import restrictions on ancient artifacts. That unfair and unreasonable practice enables an official to order Customs detention without going to the trouble of carrying out a detailed investigation, and places the entire burden of the investigation upon the importer, who then must assemble entirely at his own expense (and without much time to do so) a documentation package proving "legal origin" of the artifacts.

"Guilty until proven innocent" is a standard that the archaeology lobby very much desires should be applied to every ancient artifact. However, it is not a standard that is in any way compatible with with the time-honored traditions of English Common Law, which became the origin of both the British and US Constitutions, and the legal rights of citizens of the English-speaking nations.

It is to be hoped that the impending review and restructuring of the US State Department and the Department of Homeland Security will include elimination of the scandalous maladministration of the 1983 CCPIA.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reorganizing the US State Department

US Implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention Should Be Transferred to the Department of Commerce
The White House has solicited input from the public concerning reorganizing the Executive branch of government.

On behalf of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, Peter Tompa made the following request that the US State Department should be reformed:

"The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center should be reformed by moving the Cultural Property Advisory Committee and decision making on import restrictions on cultural goods to the Department of Commerce.

The Cultural Heritage Center has mal-administered the Cultural Property Implementation Act.  That well considered statute was meant to balance the interests of the public, the trade, museums and archaeologists in coming up with import restrictions which were to be limited in time and in scope to objects of cultural significance first discovered within and subject to the export control of a specific UNESCO State party.  Instead, the anti-trade and anti-collecting biases of the extremists within the archaeological lobby have been allowed to dominate.  The result has been very broad restriction on all cultural artifacts from placed on a given culture.  These restrictions have gravely damaged legitimate collecting and people to people cultural exchanges it engenders at $0 cost to the US taxpayer.  Instead, the Cultural Heritage Center has promoted expensive academic projects and studies of looting that have cost the US taxpayer millions of dollars with little to show for it.  In addition, it has required little, if any, self-help measures from other countries, placing most of the burden of policing the area on US Customs, which is ill equipped to perform the job in a manner that is fair to importers. 

Moving CPAC and decision-making to the Commerce Department would likely break this cycle and return our policy for imposing import restrictions back to a more targeted, fair approach."


Dr. Tompa's request is appropriate and sensible. I would add that the administration of the Cultural Property Implementation Act should be placed under the direction of an experienced administrative law judge, as I discussed in this post:

Political Correctness Loses

Monday, April 10, 2017

State Department Restructuring

Nervous State Department workers prepare for major restructuring

Career staff are reading budget documents and a Heritage Foundation report to figure out where the biggest cuts are coming. The changes facing State this time are sparking widespread nervousness because staffers are expecting large cuts and the elimination of entire divisions.

President Donald Trump came into office promising to run the federal government like a private business, and, like almost any new chief executive officer, he’s looking to restructure. One of his biggest targets? The State Department.

Conversations with more than a dozen people in and outside of State who are involved in or monitoring the administration's plans suggest some broad outlines are emerging about State's future, including from proposed budget cuts accepted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and from a 2016 Heritage Foundation report that laid out some dramatic ways to reshape the department.

Deep cuts are expected to hit State’s environmental and cultural programs, while divisions that deal with arms control and military affairs may see consolidation. The number of special envoys, who focus on everything from climate change to LGBT issues, will be pared down. The counterterrorism bureau will likely escape unscathed, but diplomats who deal with economics or women’s issues may see some changes.

Although it's still early and much is in flux, anxiety is rife at State. That's because, unlike in the past, the staffers are expecting not simply reshuffling or additional departments, but rather large cuts and the elimination of entire divisions. Even if Congress rejects the budget cuts proposed by the administration, as several leading lawmakers have indicated it will do, Tillerson is still expected to make major changes.

“I think there are some in the administration who are looking at this like a corporate reorganization, but one of the problems with a corporation, a business, is that the bottom line is earnings. But at the State Department, what is your bottom line?” asked Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. “Your bottom line involves the political part of security operations, the possibility of an unknown future crisis. It involves the protection of American citizens abroad and the promotion of American business. It’s very difficult to quantify.”

The prospect of reorganization is especially weighing on staffers dealing with issues that don't seem to be a top priority for the Trump administration, such as human rights. While many career officials said they’re not reflexively opposed to restructuring some operations, many are worried about shielding programs that have long been considered core to the U.S. diplomatic mission — and some “are creatively trying to figure out how to make a case for keeping some of the programs running that they built," said a former State official who regularly speaks to current employees.

Every new secretary of state wants to make his or her mark on the department, which employs about 75,000 people worldwide.


“My sense is that Tillerson wants to go big,” said a State Department official who's familiar with the discussions. “In terms of streamlining, he seems to like straight lines, direct lines, clear hierarchies with a small number of people reporting to him.”

Trump issued an executive order in mid-March asking Cabinet leaders for proposals by mid-September on how to restructure their agencies. The State Department declined to comment on Tillerson’s plans.


There's plenty of support across the State Department for scaling back the overall number of special envoys. Depending on how you count such envoys — a category some take to include so-called special representatives, coordinators and other advisers — there are about five dozen. Many of the slots have stayed vacant under Tillerson.


People familiar with Trump transition talks told POLITICO earlier this year that there was a belief that State should focus more on fighting terrorism and less on “soft power” subjects such as democracy promotion. And in proposing cutting the State Department’s fiscal year 2018 budget by about 30 percent, Trump aides specifically cast it as a “hard power” blueprint focused on boosting military might.


Multiple sources pointed to the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations as one ripe for elimination. The bureau was established in 2011 under Clinton with the goal of trying to prevent and defuse conflicts. But critics say its role has never been well-defined, concerns echoed in a 2014 inspector general’s report.

The administration last month also proposed cutting some $2.9 billion from what remains of the current fiscal year’s budget for State and related programs. That proposal, which also has met resistance in Congress, includes plans to whack State’s educational and cultural programs, its reproductive health initiatives, which affect many women, and its spending on international organizations.

Already, Tillerson has made what appear to be permanent changes to State's top leadership. He has emptied the slots of the department's deputy secretary for management and its counselor position and has indicated he will not fill those roles. Tillerson is expected to appoint a policy-focused deputy secretary for the department — the choice is reported to be GOP attorney John J. Sullivan. But Tillerson has left most of the other leadership slots at State vacant, another reason employees suspect he is pondering serious restructuring.


Some of the changes that have been discussed include streamlining what’s known at State as the “T” family, which includes bureaus that deal with arms control, political-military affairs and nuclear nonproliferation, the aide said. Another idea floated is bringing the U.S. Agency for International Development entirely under the purview of State.


This is not a new idea unique to the Trump administration, but it could mean major shifts in which desk officers and deputy assistant secretaries report to which division. For example, South America falls under the Pentagon’s Southern Command, while Canada and Mexico are under its Northern Command. But at State, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs includes South America as well as Canada and Mexico.

Some of the changes, such as making USAID part of State, will likely require authorization from Congress, officials and analysts said. The exact level of congressional involvement will depend in part on whether bureaus or various functions were somehow mandated by legislation.

“We’re not reflexively or allergically against changes,” the Democratic Senate aide said. “But exactly what they propose and the logic for it is something that we need to see.”

Various stakeholders nearly all mentioned the 2016 report by the Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer. A former senior State Department official said Trump transition aides were “enamored” of the report and took it into meetings.

The report has numerous recommendations, including culling the number of special envoys, eliminating the slot of deputy secretary for management and resources, and bringing USAID under the leadership of an undersecretary of state. It also suggests changes to State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs that include limiting activities that are primarily the responsibility of other U.S. agencies, such as the Treasury Department.


Even if every idea the Trump administration proposes doesn’t become a reality, Schaefer added, it’s worth simply having the debate. “Ultimately, in the end this is a healthy process,” he said.


Yes, this restructuring is a healthy process and in the case of the State Department, one that is long overdue. Much could be said about how the Federal government's bureaucracies have always grown, and almost never diminished. Any gardener knows that regular, extensive pruning is essential to keep a beautiful garden from turning into a hideous overgrown jungle, and that principle surely applies here as well.

One of the most controversial organizations within the State Department is the Cultural Heritage Center.  Its perceived mission is described here, where the aspect of this perceived mission which has led to the most intense controversy is described as follows:

"Through the Cultural Property Protection Program, the Cultural Heritage Center administers the Department’s treaty responsibilities for the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property as enabled by U.S. domestic law. Through this process, the U.S. may enter into agreements with other countries to impose U.S. import restrictions on archaeological or ethnological material when pillage of such materials places a nation’s cultural heritage in jeopardy. These agreements also promote long-term safeguards for protecting cultural heritage; and promote international access to cultural property for educational, scientific, and cultural purposes. The U.S. has entered into bilateral agreements with 15 countries, and has special emergency protection for Iraq."

Presumably, the Antiquities Coalition will be working full time to keep their partners in the Cultural Heritage Center going, without any cutbacks.

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild , a non-profit organization committed to promoting the free and independent collecting of coins from antiquity, has become a principal opponent of the Cultural Heritage Center, because of CHC's slavish adherence to the archaeological "party line" promulgated by the Archaeological Institute of America:

 "The AIA speaks with a strong voice on behalf of the preservation of archaeological sites, monuments and artifacts and against looting of sites and the illicit trade in undocumented antiquities."

By "undocumented" the AIA means "without provenance." Provenance means documentary proof that an object was licitly discovered, or was in a collection prior to adoption of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. In the case of ancient coins (as is also true of most other artifacts that are not each worth thousands of dollars), such documentary proof simply does not exist for more than a few per cent of the objects in existing private collections. Arbitrarily imposing that rigid documentation standard on collectors and the trade would make private collecting impossible.

The ACCG provides a voice for ancient coin collectors on issues that threaten their avocation. Unless the legislative and administrative branches of government understand the views of the collecting community on complex issues regarding preservation of historical sites, there is serious danger that the long-established and traditional right to collect ancient coins and other antiquities will be legislated out of existence by ill-informed decision makers who have been told by the archaeological establishment that anything "old" inherently belongs to the government of the country where it is found, and that only academic elites should have a right to study and preserve the artifacts of the past.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Greek MOU Extended Without Expansion

The extension of this MOU is still very bad news for collectors worldwide, but efforts by the archaeology lobby to make it much worse did not succeed.

AGENCY: Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security;
Department of the Treasury.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: This document amends the U.S. Customs and Border Protection 
(CBP) regulations to reflect the extension of import restrictions on 
certain archaeological and ethnological material from the Hellenic 
Republic (Greece). The restrictions, which were originally imposed by 
CBP Decision (CBP Dec.) 11-25, are due to expire on November 21, 2016. 
The Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs, United 
States Department of State, has determined that factors continue to 
warrant the imposition of import restrictions and no cause for 
suspension exists. Accordingly, these import restrictions will remain 
in effect for an additional five years, and the CBP regulations are 
being amended to reflect this extension until November 21, 2021. These 
restrictions are being extended pursuant to determinations of the 
United States Department of State made under the terms of the 
Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act that implemented the 
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 
(UNESCO) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the 
Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. 
CBP Dec. 11-25 contains the Designated List of archaeological and 
ecclesiastical ethnological material from Greece, to which the 
restrictions apply.

DATES: Effective Date: November 21, 2016.
Greek MOU Extended Not Expanded
by Peter Tompa
Import restrictions on Greek cultural goods have been extended but not expanded despite the best efforts of the archaeological lobby to include all coins made or potentially found in Greece.  (Current restrictions encompass many archaic, classical and provincial types, but exclude Ancient Greek "trade" coins like Athenian Tetradrachms.)
Despite this "win," CPO hopes the new Trump Administration will review all current MOUs.  Unfortunately, they have become little more than a special interest program for a small group of connected academic archaeologists and the cultural bureaucracies of countries where they excavate.  
Meanwhile, the interests of ordinary Americans who collect ancient coins and other cultural artifacts and our great museums have been damaged for years by hard to comply with import restrictions. 
This observer joins Dr. Tompa in feeling relief that the existing very bad import restrictions have not been made worse.
These restrictions are, as Dr. Tompa observes, 
"little more than a special interest program for a small group of connected academic archaeologists and the cultural bureaucracies of countries where they excavate."
His observation that these restrictions are "hard to comply with" however significantly understates the crippling effect of imposing such onerous documentation requirements upon artifacts of relatively low value. The costs of compliance become not an additional cost of doing business, but a positive economic barrier prohibiting commerce. They have an effect on trade comparable to that of a 100% tariff upon importation of artifacts on the Designated List.
I join Dr. Tompa in calling for the new Trump Administration to review all current MOUs, and extend that approval to call for a review of the entire State Department secretariat process for administration of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act that implemented the 1970 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Political Correctness Loses

The 2016 US Presidential election is now history, and the big loser was political correctness.

Millions of ordinary Americans who were so tired of "everything being politicized" that they would not discuss their true views with pollsters or even their families, friends and neighbors, spoke decisively at the polls against that trend which became so obnoxiously intrusive on their lives during the past eight years.

In a few months a new Administration will take office, dedicated to the goal of "making America great again." That Administration will need to address many very important issues, which affect the entire nation and large segments of its population.

It is my hope that in applying its attention and energies to these large issues, this Administration will remember that there are also many smaller problems and injustices which in fairness and justice to their limited constituencies, should also be addressed. Taken together, these many smaller issues do add up to a big issue. It may be conceptualized as righting wrongs which have arisen from the failed and negative culture of political correctness.

Here is a plea for the remembrance of a wrong that has been inflicted upon American collectors of antiquities, specifically including my specialty of ancient coins, by a small coterie of dedicated ideologues in the US State Department bureaucracy. I refer to the exploitation and perversion of the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act by the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center and its predecessor agencies and bureaus, under the direction of archaeologist Maria Kouroupas, who over a period of thirty years of systematic and wily bureaucratic maneuvering twisted what was originally a carefully thought out, well balanced system for ensuring fair and equitable implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property into a tool for protecting and advancing the interests of archaeology, at the expense of those of US collectors.

The authority of the Cultural Heritage Center to administer this system derives from Executive Order number 12555, dated March 10, 1986, delegating specific functions conferred upon the President by the 1983 CCPIA to the Director of the United States Information Agency, a predecessor agency to the Cultural Heritage Center. This Order was signed by President Reagan.

By promulgating a new Executive Order revoking that delegation, and establishing a new agency to which these specific functions are delegated, the new Administration could with one stroke of the pen, remove the Cultural Heritage Center and its director from all future involvement in and influence upon the 1983 CCPIA, which they have so deviously and unethically maladministered.

I urge that this new agency be specifically chartered to, and tasked with, return of the administration of the 1983 CCPIA to its original legislative intent, of fairly and equitably balancing the interests of all concerned parties in considering requests by foreign governments for the imposition or extension of import restrictions upon designated artifacts.

Such an administrative process could, in this observer's view, best be directed by a respected and experienced administrative law judge with a background in international commerce. 

This new agency should, after whatever transition period is appropriate to set it up and transfer control of the delegated functions from the Cultural Heritage Center, become part of the Department of Commerce. No one in the staff of the Cultural Heritage Center should be transferred or in any way participate in the operations of the new agency, as it is glaringly apparent that their primary loyalty is not to the interests of the American people, but to the interests of archaeology.