Friday, January 20, 2012

Italian Show Trials

Italian Justice on Trial: Bob Hecht Vindicated?

by Peter Tompa

Well, that is one way this sorry tale can be spun:

After all the headlines, Bob Hecht, the alleged middleman at the center of an international conspiracy to launder looted art, has been freed because the statute of limitations has run under Italian law.

Paolo Ferri, Hecht's prosecutor, points the fingers at the "system." but presumably Ferri was responsible for moving the case forward, and with a little less show boating, perhaps that might have actually happened within the allotted time.

In any event, without a conviction in such a high profile case, perhaps Hecht can feel vindicated, at least to some extent.

The Italian show trial did convince US Museums to repatriate significant pieces to Italy. I wonder though, whether any have any nagging doubts about that now, at least with respect to some pieces. Also, the trial likely helped convince the AAMD and others to adopt a 1970 provenance rule. The foolishness of that decision is only now being felt, but nagging doubts about that one will grow too as fewer and fewer items become available for accession under these rules.




The Italian "show trials," beginning with the Getty Museum case, were in reality political maneuvers designed to create favorable publicity that would delude the Italian public into believing that Italy was "doing something" to protect its cultural heritage.

As such they were hugely successful. They generated a great deal of publicity and masked the true state of Italy's neglect in conserving and protecting the antiquities and monuments in State custody. Eventually, however, such publicity stunts will be forgotten, whereas the neglect endures and in Italy's case, worsens.

Meanwhile a very significant injustice was done to American museums and to individuals such as the Getty Museum's director and Hecht, who had solid cases prepared to demonstrate their innocence, but were never given an opportunity to present them in court; the prosecution abandoned these cases as soon as their publicity value was exploited.

In this respect Italy stands guilty of conducting media-circus "show trials," just as unfair and dishonest as those of the Stalinist regime during its purges. While the accused still live, their careers were murdered.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An Appeal to Reason

There is No Reason for CPAC to Change its Recommendations on Coins
by Peter Tompa

Here is my prepared oral statement regarding the proposed renewal of the MOU with Cyprus:

I’m speaking on behalf of IAPN and PNG, which represent the small businesses of the numismatic trade. In many ways, this hearing is a much greater test for CPAC than for coin collectors. Prior committees have twice recommended against import restrictions on coins for good reason. Yet, there will certainly be pressure to change course and to fall into line with the State Department’s controversial 2007 decision to impose import restrictions on “coins of Cypriot type.”

Each Committee member must ask themselves whether they can do so in good conscience after considering these undisputed facts, particularly because the restrictions at issue can lead to civil or criminal liability for American collectors and the American small businesses of the numismatic trade, including seizure of their coins:

1. Coins were evidently placed on the designated list on the orders of former Undersecretary Nicholas Burns – now of Harvard University’s Kennedy School-- as a “thank you” to Cypriot advocacy groups which had given him an award;

2. Jay Kislak, CPAC’s former chair, has stated under oath that the State Department misled Congress and the Public about CPAC’s vote against import restrictions on coins;

3. In 2007, the AIA claimed that Cypriot coins “rarely circulated” to justify restrictions on “coins of Cypriot type.” However, a top Cypriot official has admitted that “It is true that Cypriot coins shared the same destiny as all other coins of the ancient world. As a standard media of exchange they circulated all over the ancient world due to their small size, which facilitated their easy transport…” Moreover, this view has substantial scholarly support, as set forth in our papers;

4. The CPIA requires less drastic remedies to be tried first before import restrictions are imposed, but Cyprus has no coherent regulatory scheme for metal detectors and even allows British tourists to bring them to the Island;

5. Restrictions imposed on unprovenanced “coins of Cypriot type” only discriminate against American collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade; such coins may be shipped from abroad to anywhere but the USA, including Cyprus.

Moreover, there is no good reason to renew the MOU for yet another 5 years. Cyprus has already had the benefit of restrictions since 1999 on ethnological artifacts and 2002 on archaeological artifacts. Yet, a Swiss scholar reports most looted material goes to wealthy Greek Cypriot collectors, and not as has been maintained to collectors abroad. In addition, all this appears to be done with the full knowledge and acquiescence of Greek Cypriot authorities. Under the circumstances, why should the US burden its own citizens and small businesses with such restrictions? To do so will only reward Cypriot authorities for their own hypocrisy and thus make a mockery of the supposed purpose of such MOU’s to protect archaeological context.

In sum, please give heed to the 77% of the public comments posted on the website opposed to import restrictions on coins. Thank you.

Monuments for Rent?

Acropolis for Rent

by Peter Tompa

In a move that will no doubt leave archaeological purists aghast, the bankrupt Greek state is considering putting up its major historical sites for rent:

Hopefully, the next step will be the deaccession of excess museum inventory and the creation of a licit antiquities and numismatic market in the country.

What better way to generate much needed cash and to end a corrupt system that allows only the connected to collect what they want.




The failure of the archaeological and cultural ministry establishment to consider economic realities in forming their policies regarding private collecting of antiquities has now led to a situation in which nations such as Greece must choose between supporting an ever more costly and burdensome state-custody system for antiquities and other "archaeological artifacts," and providing social services which their citizens view as being essential. The European economic crisis has reached a point where hard choices must be made to avert consequences such as the collapse of the EEC, and forced return to national currencies for nations such as Greece and Italy with subsequent devaluation and severe austerity regimes.

In such an economic environment it is inevitable that reality will prevail, and rational decisions will be made regarding funding for archaeology, the custodial system for antiquities and maintenance of monuments. It will be found essential to give priority to measures that generate revenue, such as the proposed rental of monuments and maintenance of income-generating sites such as Pompeii.

Peter Tompa's observations regarding deaccession of excess museum inventory and the creation of a licit antiquities and numismatic market are very much in line with this forthcoming focus on revenue generation. Releasing excess museum inventory to the antiquities trade with provenance would be doubly beneficial, in that it would reduce costs at the same time as it would generate significant revenue. It would also create opportunities for collectors worldwide to become interested in these nations and their cultural heritage, and to perhaps visit them.