Friday, June 25, 2010

The Krombach Case

In "Die Wacht am Rhein,"

I reported the tribulations of German coin collectors impacted by seizures of their collections under new laws enforcing German implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

In this post I observed that "In one recent case, a pensioner from the Thuringian Eisenberg acquired four old coins on an Internet auction site. Shortly afterwards his house was searched, ending with seizure of his entire collection."

The following detailed chronology of one case resulting from these seizures describes the experiences of a collector who, although I cannot determine whether he was the specific individual mentioned above, went through the process necessary to get a legal decision regarding the return of his collection:

After two years of anxiety and effort (and who knows what legal and documentation fees not reported in this article) the courts finally released the collection to its owner, after assessing a procedural fee of 864 Euros against the respondent.

Over the past six years I have observed that the broad philosophical approach pursued by the archaeology lobby - that decisions as to the propriety of private collectors acquiring unprovenanced artifacts should be made based upon general principles without taking account of practical difficulties involved in ascertaining and documenting provenance of objects of low value such as coins - is unreasonable and inherently impractical.

I believe that the Krombach case provides a clear illustration of what this dogmatic archaeology-centric perspective may be expected to lead to whenever it is embodied into law or related government issued regulations. Collectors everywhere: take note.

This case became, in my view, a monstrous and indefensible injustice in which the acquisition of a few unimportant, unprovenanced coins led to a catastrophe for the collector, because of an essential failure to grasp an overriding social reality: that protecting fundamental human rights and providing fair, understandable and reasonable laws are principles far more important to society than everything archaeology has contributed to civilization.

Experiences such as this case do not, in my opinion, advance the interests of archaeology in any way. Instead, such examples of social injustice breed resentment and confrontation. There is a limit to what society will tolerate and in my opinion it is unwise for archaeologists to seek expansion of repressive restrictions on private collecting in the expectation that such an approach will lead to society eventually accepting the abolition of private collecting. Such an outcome is not the only possible result.

There are so many more collectors than archaeologists, that if the intensity of such anticollecting measures continues to increase, it is also possible that society will decide to reassess its view of the importance of archaeology.

To ensure that the chronology of this important case is preserved, I append it below, with all respects due to the originator(s) of this valuable record.


Coin collecting in Hesse
A chronicle of the Krombach "case".

June 17, 2010 – It all started with a preliminary investigation against the 47 year-old installer Sylvio Müller. The police suspected him of fencing in 711 cases. He had purchased coins to clean them and sell them on eBay afterwards.
The inquiries of the police prompted 347 preliminary investigations against all those people who had bought coins from Sylvio Müller. They, too, were accused of fencing. Alexander Krombach was one of them.

May 15th, 2008
The logogram 2963alexanderk is identified as one of the eBay customers who had bought coins from Sylvio Müller.

July 28th, 2008
The Kriminaldirektion Gießen requests eBay to disclose the account 2963alexanderk including name, bank account and email address plus all connections with other eBay accounts. The reasoning reads as follows: “Using that account, goods are acquired and sold, perhaps other persons were deceived…”

July 28th, 2008
eBay provides all auction data on 2963alexanderk.

August 8th, 2008
The district court Wetzlar issues a search warrant on suspicion of fencing. The search shall serve to find evidence. The reasoning reads: „The defendant is accused of acquiring cultural artefacts (coins) on eBay without expertise. That act is punishable according to § 259 StGB. The suspicion is based on hitherto inquiries. A hearing of the defendant in advance remains undone because that would endanger the investigation purpose...”

September 22nd, 2008
The search scheduled for September 18th, 2008, cannot be undertaken because the defendant has moved. The new address is ascertained and a second date for a search is scheduled.

October 1st, 2008
The district court Wetzlar confirms the search for the new address.

December 4th, 2008
The search is undertaken by the Kriminaldirektion Gießen. The entire coin collection comprising 821 coins is saved as evidence. The owner estimates the value of his collection at Euros 8.000 to 13.000. The protocol records that the owner states to have no “proof of origin”. Of course, single objects are accompanied by notes of the coin houses they were bought at. For some pieces invoices of well-known German coin dealers (Künker, Lanz, Ritter et al.) are preserved.

December 17th, 2008
Dr Noeske, J. W. Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main, Ancient Coin Finds, renders a first opinion. He states the coins’ authenticity. They were commodities of lower and medium quality – he refuses to make a statement on the financial value. They were “solely coins” that “were discovered during excavations in so-called archaeological finds“. The major part of the coins came from the east part of the Roman Empire, only a few from the west parts. Because of the coins’ “diversity” he refuses to make specific statements about their provenance. Apart from that, Mr Noeske admits that “the diffusion of single coins…was very varied, even in those days”.
The police record stated that a more thorough examination of every single coin was omitted to leave the decision to the prosecution. According to the documents CoinsWeekly has at hands there was no more detailed opinion furnished. A basic overview listed in tabular form shows, in contrast, that the pieces’ provenance from the east cannot be asserted per se.
The material is Roman for the most part, from Roman Imperial Times with a focus on the 2nd-4th centuries.

December 23rd, 2008
In the preliminary report of the police the case handler POK Beisheim suggests to seize the coins and provide the Institute for History and Archaeology of the Roman Art and Subsidiary Science of Archaeology, more specifically Prof Dr Hans-Markus von Kaenel, with them for “reasons of study and education”. The coins were not allowed to be handed over to the owner since “that might provide the opportunity to resale them and commit another crime”. As reasoning of the start of judicial proceedings the following aspects were stated: the accused had acquired five historic coins without the necessary proof of origin an March 8th, 2005. In addition, he had bought another 358 historic objects, mainly coins, of which he did not have any proof of origin. “The coins’ provenance could not be clearly ascertained so far. With a probability bordering on certainty they were purchased illegally. According to § 259 StGB, there is suspicion of receiving stolen goods.”
The further procedure is at the prosecution’s discretion.

January 15th, 2009
On the basis of the named evidence the prosecution suggests the closing of the proceedings against the fine of Euros 1.000 and the release of the coins.

February 3rd, 2009
The accused refuses to accept the suggestion.

February 13th, 2009
The prosecution closes the preliminary proceedings on the following reasoning: “After all investigation approaches are exhausted, the accused cannot be evidenced wilful misconduct with a probability bordering on certainty necessary to a conviction because the Numismatic Commission of the Federal States has clearly stated on the acquisition and the resale of ancient, historic coins that a proof of origin is not required for the single coins. Hence, the accused was to assume – non disputable – that the resale and the purchase of ancient coins as well is not punishable.”

February 24th, 2009
Alexander Krombach asks for his coins to be returned.

April 3rd, 2009
Alexander Krombach asks a second time for his coins to be returned.

June 26th, 2009
The prosecution asks Alexander Krombach whether he renounces the return of his coins.

July 2nd, 2009
Alexander Krombach declines.

July 18th, 2009
The Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts, represented by Dr Reinhard Dietrich, issues a directive for the 821 coins to be seized for averting of a danger according to § 40 HSOG with the aim of preventing receiving stolen goods.
Dr Dietrich has no doubt that the owner did not legally own his coins: “After the fact established by the police and following the opinion furnished by Dr Noeske … it has been proved that the coins come from the east Balkans (Bulgaria, Serbia). Only very few coins may come from Germany and France and might be authentic, ancient coin finds that could – according to their kind, amount and composition – come from archaeological finds from different excavations.”
Dr Dietrich states the detailed reasons why a closing of the proceedings by the prosecution does not contradict a seizure of the evidence. His main argument is that the suspicious facts against the accused were not cleared up. The reasoning for the actual expropriation is: “The act of seizure is justified since the community’s interest of being protected against dangers for the public safety outweighs the interest of the accused to be given back items he does not possess. … Your rights have not been infringed because you were not able to prove any authorisation for proprietary possession.”

July 29th, 2009
The expropriated suits before the administrative court Wiesbaden the Federal State of Hesse, represented by the Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts. He claims the verdict to be unlawful, the laws referred to inapplicable. His lawyer, Dr Diethardt von Preuschen, stresses that regulatory agencies and police authority can only issue a directive for averting of a danger if it were impossible for other authorities to do that at all or in time. However, there was no emergency since the prosecution had already decided.

August 12th, 2009
The lawsuit is committed to the administrative court Gießen.

August 17th, 2009
The court assesses the amount in dispute at Euros 20.000 and charges a general procedural fee of Euros 864 to be paid by Mr. Krombach.

February 24th, 2010
The court hearing is scheduled for May 6th, 2010.

April 28th, 2010
The Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts present the administrative court Gießen with a six-page reasoning of its position.

May 6th, 2010
In the matter of Alexander Krombach against the Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts the following verdict is reached: “The decision of the Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts from July 15th, 2009, is abolished. The procedural cost will be paid by the respondent.”

It is to be hoped that that is the drama’s final act.