Most Egyptian artefacts held abroad were exported legally, says former Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damaty

Egyptologist professor says it is in his country’s interests to leave them where they are

Egypt’s former Antiquities Minister has said that retrieving Egyptian artefacts from abroad is not in Egypt’s interests, news sources from within the country report.

Prof. Mamdouh al-Damaty, an Egyptologist who was Minister from 2014-16 and believes that displaying his country’s heritage in other nations promotes Egypt across the world, also pointed out that the majority of Egyptian artefacts abroad were legally exported before laws were introduced to ban exports.

Vincent Geerling, chairman of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA), has welcomed Damaty’s speech, and is calling on the authorities in Egypt to take note.

Geerling has also suggested that re-introducing licensed sales of minor artefacts might be a way of helping Egypt to finance the urgently needed protection of archaeological sites.

“At IADAA, we have been campaigning for years on the issue of what has and hasn’t been legally exported, while watching with dismay as international bodies introduce inappropriate policy to deal with perceived wrongs that, for the most part, do not exist,” said Geerling.

“So much of what Prof. Damaty is saying is exactly what we have been arguing for a long time now, but our views have been ignored or dismissed. Hopefully, now someone as distinguished and knowledgeable as Egypt’s former Antiquities Minister has put forward the same arguments, we will all be listened to.”

Those arguments acknowledge the fact that Egypt traded its artefacts legally over long periods, including in the 20th century, when the Cairo Museum had its own saleroom.

“In many other cases,” one news report quoted Damaty, “artefacts were presented by Egypt’s kings as gifts to foreign dignitaries, rulers and officials, before the development of the current laws to protect antiquities and ban this habit.”

Foreign archaeological missions were also allowed to take a percentage of the artefacts they discovered in Egypt, making it impossible for Egypt to recover these artefacts now, because they were legally exported, he said.

In fact, Damaty went as far as stating that the majority of Egyptian artefacts abroad had been legally exported.

His speech came as Egypt’s ongoing financial problems led to the suspension of 14 restoration projects and cutbacks in measures to protect archaeological sites, reports said.

Significantly, before the coup the Antiquities Ministry paid for all the projects itself and was a net contributor to government coffers, but now depends on central funding.

Until recently, Geerling said, “Egyptian embassies have challenged the sale of many artefacts, that had been in collections for decades and more, at fairs or auction, without providing any evidence at all to show that they were stolen.

“The current Egyptian authorities’ view is that unless collectors, dealers and auction houses can demonstrate an unbroken provenance from when an object was excavated, it should be deemed illicit – guilty until proved innocent, if you like. That is legally flawed.”

He argues that following the spirit of the former Antiquities Minister’s speech, such a policy needs to be replaced by something more positive.

“Egypt had a legal trade in antiquities up until around 40 years ago. Why not revive a properly licensed, self-sustaining legal trade in minor objects that are of no great importance to Egypt’s national heritage, so that the trade can help Egypt create a revenue stream to finance the necessary protection of archaeological sites, as it is obliged to do under Article 5 of the UNESCO 1970 convention,” he said.

New find is UK’s earliest example of Iron Age gold

Exciting news that jewellery found in a Staffordshire field is the earliest example of Iron Age gold ever found in Britain.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the collection, made up of four twisted metal neckbands, called torcs and a bracelet, was discovered by two metal detectorists just before Christmas.

The paper has also published an article on the top ten treasure finds by amateurs in the UK.

Panel debates on Risk Management in the Art and Antiquities Markets

City law firm K&L Gates will host the second in a series of day-long seminars on February 7 addressing risk in the art and antiquities market. The first of three panels across the day will feature Professor Janet Ulph of Leicester Law School, the University of Leicester, Dr Sophie Vigneron, of Kent Law School at the University of Kent, and art market campaigner and advisor Ivan Macquisten, who also advises the ADA. They will be discussing the Cultural Property [Armed Conflicts] Bill, codes of conduct, ethics, due diligence and compliance for the market and museums, with Ivan adding his perspective on what is happening, why, and what this all means for the trade.

The panel runs between 10 and 11.15am and will be followed by a panel between 11.45 and 12.45 on keeping track of lost and stolen artworks and antiquities, featuring Ariane Moser, COO of Artive Inc, James Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries & General Counsel at the Art Loss Register, and Sean Kelsey, Senior Associate with K&L Gates.

The final panel, from 2-3.15pm, will focus on risks associated with anti-money laundering and the Proceeds of Crime Act offences, and their mitigation. Speakers include Christine Braamskamp, Partner at K&L Gates, and Richard Abbey, Partner at Ernst & Young Fraud Investigation and Dispute Services.

Further details and tickets are available via this link

Charles Ede Ltd help solve museum’s 160-year-old riddle

Congratulations to ADA member Charles Ede Ltd, who hit the headlines in mid January thanks to their initiative and the expertise of Egyptologist Tom Hardwick.

As reported in Antiques Trade Gazette, two fragments of a decorative wooden box made c1400BC, during the reign of King Amenhotep II, were held at the London-based dealer until Egyptologist Tom Hardwick made the connection to a piece in the National Museums Scotland’s collection last April.

George Ludlow, gallery manager of Charles Ede, recalls that after finding out about the link, the gallery immediately contacted the museum. The museum was then able to purchase for £25,000, with support from the Art Fund and the National Museums Scotland Charitable Trust, the two missing fragments for the box which had been in the museum’s collection for 160 years.

The Scotsman also covered the story. Read both articles via the links here.

Now Ancient & Oriental scoop Best Stand Award

The ADA is punching well above its weight when it comes to awards at fairs these days. First Costas Paraskevaides of Art Ancient won Best Stand at the LAPADA Fair in Berkeley Square, London in September for the second year running; now ADA deputy chairman Chris Martin and Ancient & Oriental have scooped the LAPADA Best Stand Award at the Winter Art & Antiques Fair at Olympia.

The panel of judges included Caroline de Cabbarus (Principal, Hotspur Design), Noelle McElhatton (Editor, The Antiques Trade Gazette) and Nicholas Somers (Master, The Worshipful Company of Turners), who picked out the stand from more than 70 LAPADA members exhibiting at the fair. Here is what they had to say:

“The judges felt that the exhibitor’s use of curtains was innovative and created intrigue. It framed the stand and made the visitor want to come in closer to have a look. The display inside the stand was elegantly curated with small objects made accessible to view and a simple black backdrop allowed the artefacts to stand out.”

Well done Chris and colleagues!

Trade fears Cultural Property Bill’s criminal liability clause will damage the art market

The UK’s leading art trade associations fear well-meaning legislation to protect cultural property in occupied armed conflict zones might damage the wider legitimate market.
The warning came as they tried to persuade ministers to reword a vital clause in the new Cultural Property [Armed Conflicts] Bill that the associations otherwise fully support.
While the Bill aims to protect a very small but very special category of cultural objects, the associations believe its test for criminal liability would expose even honest dealers acting in good faith to possible prosecution, leading them to shun many works that might otherwise be traded legitimately.
On November 15 Victoria Borwick, President of the BADA and MP for Kensington, put the case for the industry as a member of the Bill committee.
Backed by submissions and support from the British Art Market Federation (BAMF), Antiquities Dealers’ Association (ADA), British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) and Art and Antique Dealers’ Association (LAPADA), she also argued that the lack of clarity over the definitions of cultural property, due diligence and acceptable codes of conduct under the Bill would leave the art market vulnerable.
The legislation, which is being brought in to protect the cultural heritage and treasures of occupied countries, states that people who deal in unlawfully exported cultural property “knowing or having reason to suspect” that it has been unlawfully exported would commit an offence.
Prior legislation, including The Theft Act (1968) and the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act (2003), limits criminal liability to dishonest intent, but the “having reason to suspect” term under this Bill means that someone with no intention of handling illicit items could be guilty even if their own honestly made assessment of information means that they are not actually suspicious.

A matter of dishonest intent

The trade associations understand that the Government has a duty to protect cultural property under the terms of The Hague Convention 1954, which the Bill sets out to ratify, but have reservations about whether the liability clause goes beyond what is strictly necessary for compliance with the convention.
They have argued that the wording should be changed to “knowing or believing”, which includes the element of dishonest intent, but the Government and other campaigners for the Bill disagree that this is necessary.
Ministers have argued that the limited scope of the objects the Bill aims to protect means the art market will not have to change the way in which it operates and that anyone who has carried out proper due diligence is “unlikely” to find themselves at risk.
However, the Government is also refusing to publish a definitive list of countries that it considers to have been occupied since the Convention came into force in August 1956 because of what it refers to as “international sensitivities”, interpreted by some as not wishing to offend allies – would Israel be content to see the West Bank listed, for instance? – so the art market has no yardstick to measure against when it comes to compliance.
The new law would only apply to objects imported to the UK after the Act comes into force, but would cover items that had been exported from their country of origin since August 7, 1956, when the Hague Convention first applied.
Part of the difficulty with this is that while it may be possible to identify where an object has come from, it is not always possible to identify when it was exported and if that export took place illegally when a country was occupied, assuming that it is clear that the country was occupied under the rules.
Technically, if a dispute arises that is pursued, the first time a dealer or auctioneer would know whether or not they were at risk is when the Secretary of State assesses their case and gives a ruling, but by then they would already have broken the law if the ruling went against them.
For this reason, the concern is that an auctioneer or dealer might feel obliged to exercise undue caution because they fear they may break the law if they ignore a “reason to suspect”, which they do not regard as suspicious.
As Sir Edward Garnier MP, a lawyer opposing the clause, has argued, the “reason to suspect” an object may be so weak as to be all but untenable, but still qualify: “The mere making of an unfounded allegation that an item was unlawfully exported from an occupied territory after 1954 may place in the mind of the dealer or auctioneer a reason to suspect that it had been unlawfully exported; and although it may later turn out to be untainted, he will not go near it.”

Reversing the burden of proof to ‘guilty until proven innocent’

The Antiquities Dealers’ Association had argued that embassies and others fairly regularly challenged sales at auction houses, demanding to know the provenance of items and due diligence undertaken, but without offering any evidence to support their challenge. These usually happen within days or even hours of an auction, often, it is suspected, with the express purpose of blighting it.
As BAMF’s submission argued: “How is the auction house or dealer to respond if an assertion is made on social media or a blog that an object is illicit under the terms of the Bill? The allegation may subsequently be proved to have no foundation, but no auction house is likely to run the risk of possible criminal prosecution and if there is no time to investigate its veracity, there will be no choice but to remove it from the sale to the obvious disadvantage of the seller.”
Such a blight would inevitably have an impact on the future saleability and possibly the value of the item, even if there prove to be no grounds for the allegation, said ADA chairman Joanna van der Lande.
Victoria Borwick had success in pressing the case of the ADA over the definition of cultural property under the Bill, which as presently worded can be interpreted as encapsulating all works of art, regardless of their merit.
Statements by the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Tracey Crouch, during the 2nd Reading in the House of Commons on October 31, left some doubt over how the Government interpreted the definition, but when pressed by Lady Borwick at the Committee hearing, Ms Crouch confirmed that, as far as the Government was concerned, the definition – taken from The Hague Convention 1954 – only referred to works “of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people”.
Victoria Borwick later said: “The art market fully supports the aims of the Bill in protecting cultural property and heritage in occupied countries, and the Government is understandably keen to be the first permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to ratify the Hague Convention and its two protocols. However, it is essential that the Bill is fit for all its intended purposes when passed into law.
“We fear that as things stand honest dealers, auctioneers and collectors would be left with too much uncertainty for the UK art market to continue to operate undamaged. Nonetheless, I am grateful to the Minister for being so clear on the definition of cultural property and for promising to consult further with a view to setting out clear guidance on other parts of the Bill in order to make matters more straightforward for the trade.
“Those representing the industry hope to play a full part in that process.”
The Bill will go for further debate in the chamber of the House of Commons in the next few weeks as it reaches its Report stage, which is the final stage at which the criminal liability clause can be challenged.
Members of the trade or collectors who wish to support the trade in its aims should write to their local MP as soon as possible asking them to make those views known during the Report stage.